Hair Relaxer Recalls May Be Required By FDA Ban On Straighteners Containing Formaldehyde

FDA decision to ban chemical straighteners that emit formaldehyde comes as thousands of hair relaxer lawsuits are being pursued by women diagnosed with uterine cancer, ovarian cancer and other injuries

Federal regulators appear likely to ban all chemical hair straighteners that contain or emit formaldehyde, which could lead to massive hair relaxer recalls next year, amid growing concerns about the risk of cancer and other side effects.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a proposed rule this week, which would ban formaldehyde and chemicals that release formaldehyde (FA), such as methylene glycol, from being used in hair relaxer products nationwide.

“These chemicals are used in certain cosmetic products that are applied to human hair as part of a combination of chemical and heating tool treatment intended to smooth or straighten the hair,” the proposed rule states. “Use of hair smoothing products containing FA and FA-releasing chemicals is linked to short-term adverse health effects, such as sensitization reactions and breathing problems, and long-term adverse health effects, including an increased risk of certain cancers.”

The ban would go into effect in April 2024, and comes as manufacturers already face nearly 6,000 hair relaxer lawsuits brought by women diagnosed with uterine cancer, endometrial cancer, ovarian cancer and other injuries that were allegedly caused by endocrine disrupting chemicals contained in many products widely used by African American women, including Dark & Lovely, Just for Me, ORS Olive Oil Motions, Optimum Care and others.


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Calls for Hair Relaxer Recalls

The ban comes after a series of studies that have identified potential cancer risks with hair relaxers, and years of monitoring by the FDA, which first began working on the proposed hair relaxer ban in 2016. However, some environmental and consumer watchdog organizations, such as the Environmental Working Group, have been calling for a formaldehyde ban for hair relaxers since at least 2011.

Concerns about the safety of these widely used products spiked late last year, following the publication of a study that highlighted a link between use of hair relaxer and uterine cancer, finding that frequent use was associated with a 156% increased risk compared to women who did not use hair relaxers.

In January 2023, the racial justice group Color for Change launched an online campaign to recall hair relaxer products, calling for consumers to pressure major retailers, such as Giant Food, to sell only non-toxic hair relaxer products. This was followed by similar calls by the feminist U.K. health group, Level Up, for L’Oreal to remove Dark & Lovely and other hair relaxer products from the market due to cancer risks.

FDA Hair Relaxer Formaldehyde Warnings

In conjunction with the proposed formaldehyde ban, the FDA has released a guide for consumers of hair smoothing products and formaldehyde, discouraging them from using products that contain the chemical.

“When such products are heated, formaldehyde gas is released into the air,” the FDA warns. “Breathing in formaldehyde gas can be harmful and cause immediate reactions ranging from irritation of the eyes and throat to coughing, wheezing, or chest pain to chronic or long-term problems such as more frequent headaches, asthma, skin irritation, and allergic reactions, and possibly cancer.”

The agency notes that hair relaxers are required by law to include a list of ingredients, and urges consumers to avoid any such products that do not.

October 2023 Hair Relaxer Cancer Lawsuit Update

Given common questions of fact and law involved in Dark & Lovely lawsuits, Just for Me lawsuits and other claims being pursued against manufacturers of popular chemical straighteners, the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation decided earlier this year to consolidate and centralize all hair relaxer lawsuits as part of an MDL, or multidistrict litigation, and appointed U.S. District Judge Mary M. Rowland to preside over all pretrial proceedings out of the Northern District of Illinois.

Judge Rowland has proposed a series of early trial dates designed to help the parties gauge how juries may respond to certain evidence and testimony that will be repeated throughout the claims.

Following the MDL proceedings and any early bellwether trials scheduled by Judge Rowland, if the parties fail to negotiate hair relaxer settlements for individuals diagnosed with uterine cancerovarian canceruterine fibroids and other complications, Judge Rowland may later remand each individual lawsuit directly filed in the MDL back to the U.S. District Court where it would have originated for a separate trial.

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