Lawsuit alleges L’Oréal hair relaxer caused woman’s uterine cancer

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Jenny Mitchell always dreamed of having children. But those dreams were dashed in 2018 when the 28-year-old was diagnosed with uterine cancer and underwent a hysterectomy.

“I was devastated,” Mitchell, 32, who lives in Missouri, told The Washington Post.

In a federal lawsuit filed last week in the Northern District of Illinois, Mitchell blames hair products she’s been using since grade school. Naming five companies, including L’Oréal, as defendants, Michelle alleges that decades of chemical hair straighteners applied to her scalp caused her cancer, and that it doesn’t run in her family.

Mitchell’s lawsuit was filed just days after the National Institutes of Health released a study that found women who frequently use hair straightening products have a higher risk of uterine cancer than women who don’t. The study, which followed nearly 34,000 women in the United States over a decade, found that the risk was more than double among women who reported frequent use of chemical straighteners compared to those who did not use the products.

What to know about hair straightening chemicals and uterine cancer risk

Uterine cancer is relatively rare, accounting for a little more than 3 percent of new cancer cases this year, according to the National Cancer Institute (NCI). But cases are on the rise in the U.S., especially among black women, the NIH study notes, who use chemical hair straighteners or relaxers more often than women of other races and ethnicities. The NCI estimates that in 2022, there will be nearly 66,000 cases of uterine cancer and an estimated 12,550 related deaths.

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More attention is being paid to the potential negative health effects of straightening products as more black women embrace natural hairstyles and reject white beauty standards.

Mitchell said she started using hair straightening products at such a young age because of social pressure – that she “felt she needed to straighten” her hair. A certain way, a certain way to lay, a certain way to flow” and “fit” to look professional.

Michelle is suing L’Oréal, SoftSheen Carson, Strength of Nature, Dabur and Namaste Laboratories, the makers of the chemical straighteners and hair relaxers she claims caused her uterine cancer. The lawsuit alleges that the companies knew or should have known that their products increased the risk of cancer, but manufactured and distributed them anyway and failed to warn consumers of such risks.

It further alleged that the companies misrepresented their products as safe. For example, Strength of Nature, which sells Soft & Beautiful, sold products that used descriptors such as “botanical” and “super nutritional,” according to the lawsuit.

A spokesperson for L’Oréal, which owns the SoftSheen Carson brand, told The Post in a statement that the company “believes in the safety of our products and believes that the recent lawsuits filed against us have no legal merit.”

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“L’Oréal upholds the highest safety standards for all its products,” the spokesperson added. “Our products are subject to rigorous scientific evaluation of their safety by experts who ensure that we strictly follow all regulations in every market in which we operate.”

The spokesperson also pointed to a statement issued by the Personal Care Products Council, a group representing the cosmetics industry, after the NIH study was released. Kimberly Norman, the group’s senior director of safety, regulatory and toxicology, argued that the study did not prove that the products or their ingredients directly caused uterine cancer. She also noted that the companies’ products are subject to safety regulations, including those established by the Food and Drug Administration.

Other companies named in the lawsuit did not respond to requests for comment.

Mitchell told The Post that she learned about her uterine cancer after visiting a fertility clinic because she wanted to start planning a family. But during an ultrasound, a doctor at the clinic saw something and referred Mitchell to an oncologist, she said. About a month later, after her diagnosis, her uterus was removed, according to the lawsuit.

She said the diagnosis upset Mitchell. The cancer was rare, she said, and she was young and her family had no history of it. But last week, after seeing news of the NIH study, she said she believed she had found an answer.

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“I felt cheated. I was hurt. I felt like I’d been lied to my whole life,” Mitchell added. “In a way, you are had Conformity to looking a certain way to social norms.

The lawsuit seeks more than $75,000 in monetary damages, as well as payment for medical bills and other expenses.

What happened to the perm box girls? They wear natural hair.

Mitchell said she was constantly monitored after her hysterectomy and suffered from early menopause.

In filing her lawsuit, Mitchell said she was thinking of the millions of black women who use hair straightening products. “That’s my family. Those are my nieces. … Those young girls,” Mitchell said, “I don’t want to lose my dream of being a mother again at 28..

Ben Crump, one of Mitchell’s attorneys, told The Post that the case is about telling black girls and young women that they are “pretty enough, and having straight hair is not worth losing your uterus.”.”

Another attorney for Mitchell, Dandra Debrosse Zimmermann, expects more lawsuits to be filed. “A lot of women have come forward and will come forward,” she said.


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