Four Black women have filed lawsuits against L’Oréal and other companies claiming that their chemical hair-straightening products have caused them to develop uterine cancer, among other severe health problems.
Rhonda Terrell, 55, told NBC News that she used chemical hair straighteners from age 8 to her late 30s or early 40s. She was diagnosed with an aggressive form of uterine cancer that has since spread to her abdomen and liver and underwent a hysterectomy along with chemotherapy.
“If I had known all those years ago, if they had a warning on the box to say this could cause cancer, I wouldn’t have used it,” Terrell told the outlet. “And I want to hold them accountable because I have granddaughters.”
Additionally, Bernadette Gordon, 49 — who used chemical hair straighteners from around 1983 to 2015 — believes the products caused her to develop uterine and breast cancer, per NBC. She said the “devastating” experience resulted in her undergoing a hysterectomy and double mastectomy, along with months of chemotherapy.
Rugieyatu Bhonopha, 39, and Jenny Mitchell, 32, were the other two women who filed lawsuits. They both also underwent hysterectomies after being diagnosed with uterine cancer.
“It’s a hard thing to have to come to the realization that you’re dealing with fibroids, pregnancy loss,” Bhonopha said, NBC reports. “And you had no inkling that these products were dangerous, you didn’t know that any of these harmful products were in it. Obviously, you wouldn’t have used them if you knew.”
The lawsuits come after a new study published last month by the National Institutes of Health found that women who use hair-straightening chemicals are more than twice as likely to develop uterine cancer than those who don’t.
Health experts warned that Black women may be affected more due to higher use of chemical hair-straightening products than their counterparts. About 60% of the study participants who reported using straighteners in the previous year were self-identified Black women.
“Because Black women use hair straightening or relaxer products more frequently and tend to initiate use at earlier ages than other races and ethnicities, these findings may be even more relevant for them,” said Dr. Che-Jung Chang, author of the study and research fellow in the NIEHS Epidemiology Branch.
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According to NBC, all of the women in the lawsuit said they were unaware that using chemical hair straighteners put them at higher risk of cancer until the study was published. The lawsuits also reportedly claim the products’ packaging didn’t state any risk.
L’Oréal said in a statement to the outlet that it is “confident in the safety of our products and believe the recent lawsuits filed against us have no legal merit.”
“L’Oréal upholds the highest standards of safety for all its products,” the company said. “Our products are subject to a rigorous scientific evaluation of their safety by experts who also ensure that we follow strictly all regulations in every market in which we operate.”
While the NIH study did not analyze specific brands or ingredients, it stated that several chemicals have been found in straighteners — such as parabens, bisphenol A, metals, and formaldehyde — that could be contributing to the increase in uterine cancer risk after being absorbed through the scalp.