A Missouri woman has filed a lawsuit against cosmetics company L’Oreal and others alleging that her uterine cancer diagnosis was the result of her long-term exposure to the hair straightening chemicals that she’d used since childhood. According to a lawsuit filed in Illinois on her behalf, her attorneys assert that her 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.”
According to the lawsuit, the plaintiff has no family history of uterine or any other cancer. She was diagnosed in August of 2018 and had a full hysterectomy just over a month later. In a statement, she says that “at that time, at the age of 28, my dreams of becoming a mother were gone.”
The case has significant societal and sociological implications. Straighteners are more frequently used by Black women than White, and by significant margins. In many cases, according to the plaintiff’s attorney, the products are used to meet societal standards. “Black women have long been the victims of dangerous products specifically marketed to them,” he said. “Black hair has been and always will be beautiful, but Black women have been told they have to use these products to meet society’s standards. We will likely discover that [plaintiff’s] tragic case is one of countless cases in which companies aggressively misled Black women to increase their profits.”
Studies have already started showing links between the chemicals used in straighteners and various types of cancers, including that of the uterus. One such study showed an increase from 1.6% to 4% in the risk of developing uterine cancer by the age of 70 in women who used the products over those that did not.
According to the American Society of Clinical Oncology, symptoms of uterine cancer include unusual vaginal bleeding, spotting, or discharge. The disease can also manifest as pain in the pelvic area and can cause abnormal results during a Pap test. Women who experience these symptoms are urged to bring them to the attention of their medical providers as quickly as possible, as a treatment plan can not be developed until the cause of the symptoms has been discovered.