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Damaging Hair Products Targeting Black Women Causing Cancer

“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,” Rhonda Terrell said, “And I want to hold them accountable because I have granddaughters.”[1] Terrell is just one of many women seeking to hold manufacturers accountable for harmful effects of hair relaxer and straightener products.[2] On October 21, 2022, there was a complaint filed in the Northern District of Illinois against L’Oréal USA, Inc, and its product manufacturers[3] by Plaintiff Jenny Mitchell.[4] Jenny Mitchell is a 32-year-old Missouri resident whose plans to have children were taken away from her when she was diagnosed with uterine cancer at the age of 28 and had to undergo a hysterectomy.[5] L’Oréal is a French Personal Care Company who “did not return a request for comment as to whether its products could or did include these ingredients.”[6] “One of the attorneys representing Ms. Mitchell is Ben Crump, who recently visited with law students at UIC Law to discuss this case.”[7] Mr. Crump has stated these lawsuits seek to bring awareness about the harmful effects of these products and to “tell every Black and brown parent out there that we should not conform to European standards of beauty” where the outcome is cancer, or worse.[8]

Allegations in the Complaint

In the complaint, Ms. Mitchell alleges that her “uterine cancer was directly and proximately caused by her regular and prolonged exposure to phthalates[9] and other endocrine disrupting chemicals found in Defendants’ hair care products.”[10] The complaint focuses not only on Ms. Mitchell’s diagnosis with uterine cancer, and resulting hysterectomy, but also on the marketing of these products to Black women specifically.[11] Among these marketing practices, there are numerous reasons that Black women use and depend on hair  straightening products, such as the lasting effects of slavery and internalizing “acceptable” beauty norms,[12] media, assimilation and economic security, easing hair maintenance, and culture.[13] These forms of advertising uphold and enforce unrealistic beauty norms on Black hair[14], which, in this case, caused a woman to use a product that led to her suffering from uterine cancer.

Study Conducted of the Association between Straightening Products and Uterine Cancer

In a study conducted by the Journal of the National Cancer Institute regarding L’Oréal’s hair products, researchers examined the associations between using these hair products and incidents of uterine cancer with 33,497 participants with uteruses between the ages of 35 and 74 who enrolled between 2003-2009.[15]  These diverse participants self-reported using L’Oreal hair products, such as straighteners and relaxers, among others.[16] The results showed that over an average of 10.9 years, there were 378 cases of uterine cancer identified, with the numbers being higher when women used the straightening products in the last 12 months.[17] This association was twice as likely when comparing participants who used these straightening products more than four times a year versus those who never did.[18] The numbers were connected to the straightening products, not dyes, permanents, or body waves.[19] This study was the first significant epidemiologic[20] piece of evidence regarding the association between straightening products and uterine cancer, with no replicated findings thus far.[21] This study indicates a pressing need to further explore the connection between hair products targeted towards Black women and the harmful health effects of prolonged use.



Legal and Social Ramifications of Damaging Straightening Products

There are 15 counts advancing numerous legal issues in the Complaint, one of which is violation of the Illinois’ Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Trade Practices Act (Count Nine).[22] The applicable legal standard states:

To prevail under the Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act, 815 Ill. Comp. Stat. Ann. 505/1 et seq. (2004), a plaintiff must show proximate cause, and to properly plead the element of proximate causation in a private cause of action for deceptive advertising brought under the Act, a plaintiff must allege that he was, in some manner, deceived.[23]

For Black women like Ms. Mitchell, there are societal pressures to keep up with unrealistic beauty standards, paired with companies who deceptively advertise to Black women consumers.[24] Because of the deceptive advertising practices[25] used by companies like L’Oreal, Black women have suffered from uterine cancer and have been deceived by a product Defendants’ tell them is necessary to “tame” their natural hair.[26]

Further, counts 10 and 11 involve fraud.[27] The allegations within these counts include fraudulently misrepresenting the products as using “natural” ingredients and Ms. Mitchell justifiably relying on that misrepresentation.[28] In the fraudulent misrepresentation of the hair products at issue, Ms. Mitchell alleges that  Defendants “actively and intentionally concealed and/or suppressed material facts, in whole or in part, to induce consumers, including Plaintiff, to purchase and use the Products and did so at her expense.”[29]

The Road Ahead

This lawsuit implicates various legal, social, and medical components that are important for Black women around the world. This case is opening the door for impacted Black women to receive the damages they deserve for the irreparable harm they endure and took inspiration from the Johnson and Johnson Talcum Powder cases.[30] The Complaint was only recently filed, and the road ahead promises to be a long one. The medical study and findings implicate a need to further explore the connection between harmful hair products and the intentional, targeted, and deceptive marketing towards the Black community. As of now, these products are still on shelves and heavily used in the Black community.[31] In the words of Jenny Mitchell “‘I felt deceived. I felt hurt. I felt like I’ve been lied to my whole life . . . In some sense, you had to conform to look a certain way for societal norms.’”[32]

[1] Janelle Griffith, They were diagnosed with uterine cancer and tumors. now they're suing the makers of chemical hair straighteners, NBCNews (Nov. 20, 2022),

[2] Id. (discussing multiple instances of litigation currently being filed against various manufacturers of chemical hair straighteners, including the one discussed herein).

[3] Complaint at 1, Jenny Mitchell v. L’Oréal USA, Inc, et. al., No. 1:22-cv-05815 (N.D. Ill. Oct. 21, 2022). Product manufacturers named in the Complaint include: Strength Of Nature Global, LLC, Soft Sheen/Carson Inc., Soft Sheen Carson (W.I.), Inc., Dabur International Ltd., Dabur USA Inc., and Namaste Laboratories, LLC.

[4] Dave Simpson, L'OREAL Sued For Uterine Cancer After NIH Hair Products Study, Law360 (Oct. 24, 2022),

[5] Griffith, supra note 1.

[6] Griffith, supra note 1.

[7] Simpson, supra note 4. The attorneys’ names are Diandra S. Debrosse Zimmermann, Eli J. Hare, Adam J. Levitt, Blake Stubbs, Mark A. DiCello, Mark M. Abramowitz, Bernadette Armand, Elizabeth P. White and Éviealle J. Dawkins of DiCello Levitt LLC, and Benjamin Crump and Nabeha Shaer of Ben Crump Law PLLC. Id.

[8] Griffith, supra note 1 (further stating the lawsuits seek to bring awareness to a public health crisis).

[9] “Phthalates are a group of chemicals used to make plastics more durable.” Phthalates Factsheet, Ctr. for Disease Control & Prevention (April 5, 2021), Phthalates are in many products, including personal-care products. Id.

[10] Complaint, supra note 3, at 1.

[11] Id. at 5.

[12] Id. at 7 (stating that slave owners would often cut the enslaved people’s hair to “break their spirit and make slaves easier to control.”) (internal citations omitted). See also Rumeana Jahangir, How Does Black Hair Reflect Black History?, BBC News (May 31, 2015), (discussing that Black people felt immense pressure to assimilate into white society and changes to their hairstyle post-Emancipation reflected this).

[13] Complaint, supra note 3, at 18. Companies disproportionately advertised to Black women and neighborhoods populated by Black women by adding pictures of Black women to their boxes. Id. at 14.

[14] Id. at 6 (stating that in its natural state, “afro-hair texture is characterized by coily, springing, zigzag, and s-curve curl patterns; as well as its density, fullness, texture, and feel.”), Id. at 9 (expressing that “’lighter skinned

and straighter haired slaves were favored and selected for more desirable positions in the house’” rather than in the fields and “’the texture of an enslaved person’s hair could determine their value and working conditions, which in turn might impact their overall health, comfort and chances for freedom.’”).

[15] Che-Jung Chang et al., Use of Straighteners and Other Hair Products and Incident Uterine Cancer, J. Nat’l Cancer Inst. (Oct. 17, 2022),

[16] Id. Other products include hair dyes, straighteners, pressing products, and permanents or body waves. Id.

[17] Id.

[18] Id.

[19] Id.

[20] “Epidemiology is the method used to find the causes of health outcomes and diseases in populations.” What is epidemiology?, Ctr. for Disease Control & Prevention (June 17, 2016),

[21] Chang, supra note 14.

[22] Complaint, supra note 3, at 63 (other counts alleged include Strict Liability for Failure to Warn, Negligent Misrepresentation, Fraud, and more).

[23] Kitzes v. Home Depot, U.S.A., Inc., 872 N.E.2d 53, 55 (2007).

[24] Complaint, supra note 3, at 13 – 16 (providing example of targeted marketing efforts by Defendants).

[25] Griffith, supra note 1 (stating “[t]here was never anything on the products' packaging, they said and their lawsuits allege, indicating that normal use of the products could cause them to develop uterine fibroids or breast or uterine cancer.”).

[26] Complaint, supra note 3, at 1, 17.

[27] Complaint, supra note 3, at, at 66, 68.

[28] Complaint, supra note 3, at 67.

[29] Complaint, supra note 3, at 68. The Plaintiffs argue that the Defendants knew or should have known that there were harmful ingredients used in the Products but that there were no warnings or indications in the product label or ingredients to ensure the safety of the consumers. Id. at 22. They also intentionally warped the way they titled ingredients in a way that one would not realize they were using something that would be harmful. Id. at 21.

[30] These cases involved the “first epidemiological study to investigate a link between talc and ovarian cancer” and for decades, “researchers have published over 30 additional epidemiological studies exploring whether there is an association between talc use and ovarian cancer.” Johnson & Johnson Talcum Powder Cases, 37 Cal. App. 5th 292, 298, 249 Cal. Rptr. 3d 642, 649 (2019).

[31] E.g., Dark & Lovely Triple Nourished Hair Relaxer, Walmart, (last accessed Nov. 4, 2022). See also Complaint, supra note 3, at 6 (stating that in 2020 “the global Black Hair care market was estimated at $2.5 billion, with the hair relaxer market alone estimated at $718 million in 2021” with an expected growth of $854 million by 2028).

[32] Julian Mark, She was diagnosed with cancer at 28. Her lawsuit blames hair relaxers, The Wash. Post (Oct. 27, 2022),