Lawyers on behalf of a Missouri woman filed a federal lawsuit Friday in Chicago against cosmetic manufacturers L’Oreal and four other companies for allegedly contributing to an increased risk of uterine cancer using chemical hair straightening products.
Ben Crump, civil rights and personal injury attorney, and Diandra “Fu” Debrosse Zimmermann, mass tort attorney of DiCello Levitt, filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court for Northern Illinois, on behalf of Jenny Mitchell, 32, of St. Louis, Missouri against L’Oreal USA Inc. and L’Oreal USA Products Inc., Strength of Nature Global LLC, Soft Sheen Carson (W.I.) Inc., Dabur International Ltd. and Dabur USA Inc., and Namaste Laboratories.
Attorneys for Mitchell claim that her uterine cancer was “directly and proximately caused by her regular and prolonged exposure to phthalates and other endocrine disrupting chemicals found in Defendants’ hair care products,” CNN reports. Mitchell was diagnosed with uterine cancer and underwent a full hysterectomy in 2018.
“My dreams of becoming a mother were gone,” she said, according to CNN. “As most young African-American girls, chemical relaxers, chemical straighteners were introduced to us at a young age. Society has made it a norm to look a certain way, in order to feel a certain way — and I am the first voice of many voices to come that will stand, stand up to these companies, and say, ‘No more.’”
According to Cleveland Clinic, uterine cancer includes endometrial cancer (more common) and uterine sarcoma, which cause bleeding between periods or after menopause and often leads to a hysterectomy treatment to remove the uterus.
Zimmermann told CNN that the lawsuit could be a “watershed moment” for women who have used such products.
“Millions of little girls have this put on their head at 7, 8, 9 years old, sometimes twice a month or every other month,” Zimmerman said, according to KTLA.
Mitchell’s lawsuit comes days after the Journal of the National Cancer Institute published a study that showed women using chemical hair straightening products had a higher risk for uterine cancer than women who did not report using these products.
Researchers from the study said they tracked 33,497 U.S. women ages 35-74 for approximately 11 years to identify risk factors for breast cancer and other health conditions. During that time, 378 uterine cancer cases were diagnosed, according to the study.
“We estimated that 1.64% of women who never used hair straighteners would go on to develop uterine cancer by the age of 70; but for frequent users, that risk goes up to 4.05%,” Alexandra White, Ph.D., head of the NIEHS Environment and Cancer Epidemiology group and lead author on the new study, said in a release. “This doubling rate is concerning. However, it is important to put this information into context – uterine cancer is a relatively rare type of cancer.”
Crump called the products “dangerous,” and said the companies have “aggressively misled black women to increase their profits.”
He added that Mitchell’s case would likely lead to “countless” others.
The companies named in the lawsuit have not responded to requests for comment.