Recent lawsuits have alleged links between the use of chemical hair relaxers and uterine cancer. These lawsuits suggest that the manufacturers of these products knew about this risk as early as 2015.
You might wonder about the strength of the evidence linking these products to cancer cases. More to the point, you might wonder how using these products affected your risk of developing cancer.
Before examining the evidence linking chemical hair relaxers and uterine cancer, you must understand how scientists study diseases. The scientific method is a process for testing a hypothesis. Scientists designed the method so that it:
- Provides evidence for its conclusions
- Tests the hypothesis in a way that other scientists can verify and repeat
- Explains where scientists may need to conduct additional research on the topic
The goal of the method is to separate coincidence from causation. For example, perhaps you observe that you got a stomachache when you drank milk. You form a hypothesis that you have developed lactose intolerance. You have a few options for testing your theory.
You could try drinking milk again. You could ask family members if they become lactose intolerant at your age. You could even try consuming other dairy products like ice cream and cheese to determine how they affect you.
Any of these experiments will help you determine whether the milk caused your stomachache or merely coincided with it.
For example, you might find out that you get a stomach ache every time you consume dairy products. This verifies the hypothesis that you have developed lactose intolerance.
But you might also find that you cannot replicate the original stomachache using dairy products. You might then adjust your hypothesis based on the fact that you had a peanut butter cookie with your milk. Instead, you might hypothesize that you are allergic to peanuts rather than milk.
Scientists have conducted studies meant to determine whether the use of chemical hair relaxers causes uterine cancer. These studies have generally shown that using these chemicals correlates to an increased risk of uterine cancer. The links take two forms:
Scientists formed a hypothesis that chemical hair relaxers cause uterine cancer. This hypothesis was based on observations that Black women:
- Have twice the risk of uterine cancer or endometriosis compared to women of other races
- Use chemical hair relaxers at a much higher rate than women of other races
But scientists could not assume that one event caused the other without evidence. Some alternate hypotheses that they needed to eliminate include the following:
- These women had something else in common that caused their cancer
- All hair products increase cancer risk
- The increase in risk was simply a statistical anomaly
The first experiment was statistical. They surveyed women about their use of chemical hair products and whether they developed uterine cancer or endometriosis.
A study published in 2022 surveyed over 200,000 women who had non-endometrioid uterine cancer or endometriosis. This study concluded that Black women were twice as likely to develop uterine cancer or endometriosis.
A later study pursued the link to chemical hair relaxers. In this study of over 33,000 women, researchers specifically asked cancer patients about their use of chemical hair relaxers. It also asked women whether they developed uterine cancer or endometriosis.
This study reached an important conclusion: The likelihood of developing uterine cancer or endometriosis was in direct correlation with a woman’s use of hair relaxers. In fact, women who used hair relaxers had twice the risk of uterine cancer or endometriosis — exactly as observed in the earlier study.
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These results suggested that the use of chemical hair relaxers — not race — was to blame for the increased risk of uterine cancer and endometriosis in Black women.
Scientists have also studied possible causes for the increased risk of uterine cancer in those who used hair relaxers. Again, these studies cannot conclusively establish a link between chemical hair relaxers and uterine cancer. Instead, they merely show these hair products contain chemicals that set the stage for uterine cancer.
Specifically, some chemical hair relaxers contain phthalates. Phthalates are part of the PVC plastic family that act as plasticizers. Chemists add plasticizers to shampoo, soap, and hair products for two reasons.
First, if the product includes any plastic products, plasticizers soften those plastics and make them easier to handle. Second, plasticizers make fluids flow more smoothly and feel more viscous. As a result, phthalates cause hair relaxers to flow out of the bottle more easily and stick to your hair better.
But scientists know that phthalates belong to a class of chemicals that disrupt the endocrine system. The endocrine system regulates and releases hormones in your body. When the endocrine system gets disrupted, reproductive organs (such as the uterus) often experience the most serious effects.
Endocrine disrupters like phthalates have links to cancers of the uterus and ovaries. Since chemical hair relaxers contain phthalates, scientists have hypothesized that chemical hair relaxers disrupt the endocrine system, leading to the development of uterine cancer and endometriosis.
The Constantly Evolving Science and Lawsuits About Hair Relaxers
Because the science shows fairly strong links between hair relaxers and the risks of non-endometrioid uterine cancer and endometriosis, injured consumers and their families have already begun filing hair relaxer lawsuits. Every state has a deadline that states how much time you have to file a lawsuit for bodily injuries caused by someone else’s actions. Filing now can help preserve your rights.
New study results about cancer risk and hair products are released every few months. So far, these studies have supported the links among phthalates, uterine cancer, and endometriosis. Lawsuits might shake loose some evidence from the manufacturers of these products that they knew of the increased cancer risks. If you have developed non-endometrioid uterine cancer or endometriosis and want to learn more about your options, contact Slater & Zurz for a free consultation with an experienced personal injury lawyer. We will discuss the rights you may have against hair straightener manufacturers.