In 2022, a lawsuit was filed in Illinois alleging that products used to straighten hair caused uterine cancer. That lawsuit opened the floodgates. Since then, dozens of additional women have filed lawsuits, several of which were consolidated into a class action lawsuit in Illinois.
These lawsuits are still in the early stages. But they have developed quickly, and recent events could convince the manufacturers of hair relaxers and hair straighteners to resolve these cases through settlement rather than letting a jury decide their fates.
Brief Background of Hair Relaxer Lawsuits
Hair relaxers and straighteners use lye and other harsh chemicals to break down the protein structure of the hair. After certain chemical bonds are broken inside individual hairs, the hair loses its natural curl.
These products were marketed primarily to Black women and men as a way of allowing greater versatility in styling their hair. In other words, the products gave Black people a hair texture more similar to that of Europeans.
Scientists have hypothesized for nearly ten years that chemicals in these products might be harmful to users’ health. Specifically, these products include phthalates — PVC plasticizers that make the product more flowable and viscous and thus easier to handle and apply. Phthalates also stick to the hair so the lye can break the protein bonds and straighten the hair.
Manufacturers allegedly knew about the cancer risk as early as 2015. But they have never issued any warnings to users. In 2021, researchers from Boston University and the University of Connecticut published a groundbreaking study in the journal Carcinogenesis.
This study analyzed a database containing survey responses from over 50,000 Black women about various health issues. Importantly, the survey asked participants about their use of hair relaxer products.
After analyzing the data, researchers determined that women who used hair relaxers and straighteners had a 30% higher risk of developing cancer than those who did not. The threshold where the statistics jumped was seen in women who used hair relaxers and straighteners at least seven times per year for at least 15 years.
The hair relaxer lawsuits assert product liability claims against the manufacturers of hair relaxer and straightener products. The products identified in these lawsuits include:
- Dark & Lovely and other L’Oréal products
- ORS Olive Oil Hair Relaxer
- Just for Me
- Revlon Realistic
The legal standard for product liability claims is called “strict liability.” Under this standard, injured plaintiffs do not need to prove the manufacturer’s intent. Specifically, the injured person does not need to prove that the manufacturer:
- Intended to market a dangerous product
- Concealed the dangers of the product
- Knew or should have known about the dangers posed by the product
Instead, the plaintiff only needs to prove that the product was defective when the manufacturer put it into the stream of commerce. A defect can take three different forms:
- Products with design defects are inherently dangerous with no safe use
- Manufacturing defects get introduced during the manufacturing process
- Warning defects happen when the instructions or warnings are deficient
The hair relaxer and straightener lawsuits allege the products have design defects because they contain phthalates that disrupt the endocrine system. As a result, they are inherently dangerous because they expose users to the risk of uterine and ovarian cancer or other cancers of the reproductive system.
Within just a few months after the first hair relaxer lawsuits were filed, many more lawsuits followed. By the beginning of 2023, about 20 lawsuits had been filed in Illinois, Ohio, the District of Columbia, and California.
In November of 2022, plaintiffs in several cases asked the court in Illinois to consolidate the cases into a single class action lawsuit. This type of lawsuit would allow the plaintiffs to pool their resources. It would also streamline the process of adding additional class members. This, in turn, would increase the size of the class.
As a result, rather than facing a few lawsuits worth millions of dollars, the manufacturers would face a huge lawsuit worth billions of dollars. The size of the lawsuit would raise the pressure on the manufacturers to settle the case instead of letting a jury hit them with a damage award so large it could send them into bankruptcy.
This motion was decided in February 2023. The multidistrict litigation panel determined that the district court in Illinois would hear a single class action lawsuit formed by consolidating lawsuits across the country alleging the same injuries.
Once the class action lawsuit was created, anyone who wanted to join the lawsuit simply needed to file their case in the Northern District of Illinois and reference the class action on their cover sheet.
Just a day before the class action lawsuit was formed, the EPA decided to regulate phthalates. According to the EPA, phthalates are toxic chemicals, and any company using them must report their use to the agency.
In mid-2022, Revlon declared bankruptcy. Revlon was named in the hair relaxer lawsuits because of the following products:
- Crème of Nature
- Herba Rich
- African Pride
- French Perm
- Revlon Professional
- Revlon Realistic
- All Ways Natural Relaxer
In April 2023, Revlon exited bankruptcy after wiping out its shareholders and transferring ownership to its creditors.
It is too early to determine whether the bankruptcy will affect the hair relaxer lawsuits. But in theory, the reorganized company will either inherit the original company’s legal liabilities or incur its own liabilities if it continues to sell its lines of hair relaxer products.
Download Our Free Hair Relaxer Lawsuit Guide
If you’re considering filing a hair relaxer lawsuit, the hair relaxer lawsuit guide can provide you with in-depth information and answer common questions to help you navigate the process. It also offers guidance on how to file your lawsuit.
The number of plaintiffs involved in the class action lawsuit will continue to grow. The parties will start conducting discovery, and damaging evidence against the manufacturers may come to light through this process. But most importantly, class action and individual cases will creep toward trials or settlements. To discuss your potential claim for the ovarian or uterine cancer you developed due to exposure to hair relaxers, contact one of our personal injury lawyers for a free consultation.