Lawsuit alleges L’Oreal hair relaxer caused uterine cancer in woman

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

“I was devastated,” Mitchell, now 32 and living in Missouri, told The Washington Post.

In a federal lawsuit filed last week in the Northern District of Illinois, Mitchell blames the hair products she’s been using since she was in elementary school. Naming five companies as defendants, including L’Oreal, Mitchell alleges that chemical straighteners she had been applying to her scalp for decades caused her cancer, which she says does not run in her family.

Mitchell’s lawsuit was filed days after the National Institutes of Health released a study that found women who frequently use hair straightening products are at a higher risk of developing uterine cancer than women. women who do not use them. By following nearly 34,000 women in the United States for a decade, the study found that the risk more than doubled in women who reported frequent use of chemical straighteners, compared to those who did not.

What to know about hair straightening chemicals and the risk of uterine cancer

Uterine cancer is relatively rare, accounting for just over 3% of new cancer cases this year, according to the National Cancer Institute (NCI). Still, cases are on the rise in the United States, particularly among black women, who the NIH study found use chemical hair straighteners or relaxers more frequently than women of other races and ethnicities. The NCI estimates that there were nearly 66,000 new cases of uterine cancer in 2022 and about 12,550 related deaths.

The increased attention to the potential negative health effects of straightening products comes as a growing number of black women are embracing natural hairstyles and rejecting white beauty standards.

Mitchell said social pressure is what prompted her to start using hair-straightening products at such a young age – that she felt the need for her hair to “look like a certain way, pose a certain way, flow a certain way in order to look professional” and “fit in”.

Mitchell is suing L’Oreal, SoftSheen Carson, Strength of Nature, Dabur and Namaste Laboratories, the makers of the chemical straighteners and relaxers that she says 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, without warning consumers that they carried such risks.

He further alleges that the companies misrepresented their products as safe. For example, Strength of Nature, which markets Soft & Beautiful, sold products that use descriptions such as “botanical” and “ultra nourishing,” according to the lawsuit.

In a statement to The Post, a spokesperson for L’Oreal, owner of the SoftSheen Carson brand, said the company was “confident in the safety of our products and believes the recent lawsuits against us have no legal basis”.

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

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

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

Mitchell told the Post that she found out 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 noticed something and referred Mitchell to an oncologist, she said. About a month later, after her diagnosis, she had her uterus removed, according to the lawsuit.

The diagnosis baffled Mitchell, she said. The cancer was rare, she was young and her family had no history of it, she said. But last week, after hearing news of the NIH study, she said she believes she has found an answer.

“I felt cheated. I felt hurt. I felt like I’d been lied to all my life,” Mitchell said, adding, “In a way, you had conform to look a certain way for societal norms.

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

What happened to the permanently boxed girls? They wear their natural hair.

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

In filing her complaint, Mitchell said she was thinking of the millions of other black women who use hair straightening products. ” It is my family. It’s my nieces. … They are young girls,” Mitchell said, adding, “I don’t want another me at 28 to have to lose his dream of becoming a mother..

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

Diandra Debrosse Zimmermann, another of Mitchell’s attorneys, anticipates further lawsuits will be filed. “A lot of women have come forward and will come forward,” she said.

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