Some Black women have been using these products for years or decades
Popular hair products made by companies like L’Oreal and Revlon have been found to contain chemicals that could be causing serious illnesses. Now, Black women have filed lawsuits against these manufacturers.
In recent years, the beauty industry has come under scrutiny for several reasons, from issues of representation to the ethical sourcing of ingredients. But recently, another alarming concern has arisen. Black women have been taking legal action against some of the biggest names in beauty, such as Revlon and L'Oréal, alleging severe health complications due to the use of their hair relaxer products.
How do hair relaxers work?
Hair relaxers, which have been popularly used by Black women to straighten their naturally curly or kinky hair, contain chemicals that break down the hair's protein structure. However, over the past few years, numerous reports have emerged of severe side effects. Women have reported hair loss, scalp burns, and, most distressingly, cases of illness and infertility which they attribute to these products.
Rhonda Terrell, along with three other Black women, filed a federal lawsuit against L’Oreal and other cosmetic companies. She alleges that chemicals in products she used as hair relaxers have caused her to become seriously ill.
Terrell, now 55 years old, began using hair relaxers when she was eight years old. She stopped when she was in her late 30s or early 40s, she says. She developed uterine and other cancers that she says are the result of her using these products.
Kenya Appling was diagnosed with uterine cancer when she was 42 years old, and she underwent a hysterectomy, along with other treatment. She was devastated that she would never be able to have children.
Rugieyatu Bhonopha and Jenny Mitchell
Bhonopha filed a lawsuit in October 2023 because she believes her fibroids were caused by regular and prolonged exposure to phthalates and other chemicals in her hair care products.
Both Bhonopha and Mitchell are no longer able to have children. In Mitchell’s case, it was because uterine cancer at age 28 required her to have a hysterectomy.
None of these women knew when they were using the products that they could cause harm. Each said they wouldn’t have used them if they’d known. None of the packaging or use warnings indicated that normal use of the products could cause illness.
Hair relaxer lawsuits
Chemicals in these hair products contain chemicals that include phthalates, parabens, cyclosiloxanes, and metals that might release formaldehyde when heated. While the companies being sued have said that a recent study tying their products to these types of illnesses does not offer proof, these women and their lawyers believe otherwise. They are suing for compensatory damages including medical bills, attorney fees and other costs.
These women allege that the companies failed to warn consumers about the potential risks of their products and neglected to conduct adequate safety tests. They contend that the brands put profit over people, a sentiment that has only gained traction with the swelling numbers of complainants.
Concerns began to surface in 2022 when a study by the National Institutes of Health indicated that women who used these products frequently were more than twice as likely to develop uterine cancer as those who did not. A later study by Boston University researcher yielded similar results. However, the studies said that although women who used hair relaxing chemicals had higher incidences of these cancers, they stopped short of saying that the products caused the illnesses. Both L’Oreal and Revlon have declined to comment on the lawsuits.
What happens next?
We have to wait and see what happens in the courts.
However, the rising number of lawsuits and testimonials have prompted calls for stricter regulations, especially concerning products targeting Black women, a demographic historically underrepresented in clinical safety trials.
This controversy isn't just about hair relaxers. It's a glaring example of systemic neglect. Historically, beauty standards and products have often excluded or misrepresented people of color. This most recent spate of lawsuits underscores the importance of inclusivity, not just in advertising but in product testing and formulation.
Black women's hair is not only a significant aspect of their identity but also deeply rooted in culture and history. By selling products that could harm this integral part of their identity, these companies are seen as committing not just a legal violation but a deeply personal betrayal.
FDA takes action
In 2023, the FDA proposed a ban on hair relaxers that contain formaldehyde. Formaldehyde is a known human carcinogen, and it can also worsen asthma and cause other breathing problems. This is not the end-all, be-all for hair relaxers, though, because they contain other chemicals that are also harmful.
Hair relaxer class action lawsuit
If you’ve been injured or fallen ill after using hair relaxing products, you might be eligible to join a class action or multi-district litigation lawsuit. These lawsuits allow for several plaintiffs with the same or similar claims to join lawsuits.
Factors that affect the financial settlement you could receive include:
- Type of illness you developed after using a hair relaxer
- Severity of your illness
- The degree of pain and suffering you’ve endured
- Medical expenses
- Lost wages
As the legal battles ensue, there is hope that they will shine a light on the broader issues in the beauty industry. The calls for transparency, accountability, and inclusivity are louder than ever. It's hoped that these events will usher in a new era where Black women's health and beauty are not just an afterthought but a priority.
Ultimately, it's a lesson for all of us about the costs of beauty and the responsibility brands have to ensure that their products are not just effective but safe for all users.
- They used chemical hair straighteners, then lost the ability to have children
- Chemical hair straighteners linked to higher risk of uterine cancer for Black women, study shows
- They were diagnosed with uterine cancer and tumors. Now they're suing the makers of chemical hair straighteners.
- The FDA moves to ban chemical hair straighteners containing formaldehyde