December 3, 2023
Sheila Bush, who’s amongst girls who’ve filed hundreds of lawsuits in opposition to beauty corporations alleging they offered hair relaxers related to elevated danger of uterine most cancers, poses for an image in her front room holding a photograph of her with most cancers, in St. Louis, Missouri, U.S., September 26, 2023. REUTERS/Lawrence Bryant

Sheila Bush, a cosmetologist, was lounging within the recliner at her St. Louis-area dwelling final winter when an commercial from a legislation agency flashed up on her tv display, urging viewers to name a toll-free quantity in the event that they or a cherished one had used hair relaxers and been identified with uterine most cancers.

After seeing the advert 3 times, Bush, who mentioned she had used hair relaxers each six weeks for many of her life and was identified with uterine most cancers a couple of decade in the past, determined to choose up the telephone.

The adverts Bush noticed, on tv in addition to on her social media feeds, had been a part of a nationwide effort by legislation companies to enroll Black girls to file lawsuits alleging no less than a dozen beauty corporations, together with L’Oreal and Revlon, offered hair relaxers containing chemical compounds that elevated the chance of growing uterine most cancers – and didn’t warn prospects.

The recruitment marketing campaign launched in October final yr, days after a U.S. Nationwide Institutes of Well being (NIH) research discovered an affiliation, although not a causal hyperlink, between frequent use of chemical hair relaxers and uterine most cancers. Hair straighteners akin to L’Oreal’s Darkish & Pretty and Revlon’s Creme of Nature are marketed overwhelmingly to girls of colour, in line with the lawsuits.

A few of the adverts present Black girls making use of hair merchandise earlier than slicing to a abstract of the NIH research’s findings.

Attorneys looking for hair relaxer plaintiffs have posted on social-media platforms and attended neighborhood occasions.

Quiana Hester mentioned she and her sisters, Ariana and Nakisha, have been interviewing attorneys and are weighing whether or not to hitch the litigation after seeing adverts on social media from plaintiffs’ legislation companies.

The sisters mentioned they wished their mom’s demise final yr following a battle with uterine most cancers to imply one thing.

Patrice Hester, a former actual property agent, frequently recommended her daughters that carrying pure hair would entice undesirable consideration and hurt their careers. “She by no means wished us to do something to make us stand out or be a goal,” mentioned Ariana, 35, who shared a house along with her mom and sister Nakisha within the San Diego space.

L’Oreal and Revlon instructed Reuters their merchandise are topic to rigorous security critiques. The businesses famous that the authors of the NIH research mentioned they didn’t draw definitive conclusions about the reason for the ladies’s cancers and that extra analysis is warranted.

“We don’t imagine the science helps a hyperlink between chemical hair straighteners or relaxers and most cancers,” Revlon mentioned. L’Oreal added that it’s dedicated to providing one of the best merchandise “for all pores and skin and hair sorts, all genders, all identities, all cultures, all ages” and that its hair relaxers have a “wealthy heritage and historical past” originating with Black inventors and entrepreneurs.

Namaste, which markets ORS Olive Oil relaxers, mentioned all substances in its merchandise are permitted for beauty use by U.S. regulators. “We don’t imagine the plaintiffs have proven, or will be capable of present, that using Namaste hair relaxer merchandise induced the accidents that they allege of their complaints,” a lawyer for Namaste and its father or mother firm, Dabur India, mentioned in an e-mail response to Reuters.

The opposite corporations declined to remark or didn’t reply to requests.


The success of the authorized claims will hinge on demonstrating the merchandise had been dangerous and that the businesses knew, or ought to have recognized, of the hazard and didn’t warn prospects.

However the circumstances face hurdles: Along with the potential limitations of the NIH research, plaintiffs are suing a number of corporations, and if girls lack receipts, they could battle to supply proof that they used particular merchandise.

Ben Crump, who represented the household of George Floyd, the Black man murdered by a Minneapolis police officer in 2020, and one other lawyer, Diandra “Fu” Debrosse Zimmerman, filed the primary hair relaxer lawsuit on behalf of a Missouri lady, Jenny Mitchell, shortly after the NIH research was revealed.

Since then, greater than 7,000 comparable lawsuits have been filed by many plaintiffs’ attorneys. The circumstances have been consolidated in a Chicago federal court docket as a part of a multidistrict litigation continuing (MDL), a process designed to extra effectively handle lawsuits filed in a number of jurisdictions.

Despite the fact that the authorized claims asserted within the lawsuits don’t allege racial discrimination, Crump says the circumstances must be seen as “primarily civil rights points.”

For Black girls, “it’s projected on them that they must reside as much as some form of European normal of magnificence,” Crump, who represents plaintiffs in high-profile racial discrimination circumstances and is an everyday on cable information, mentioned in an interview.

Bush, aged 69, instructed Reuters about being mocked by the white kids within the schoolyard of her St. Louis faculty for her “cotton” hair, a typical derogatory time period used for Black hair texture. 

“You felt as if you didn’t belong, or weren’t pretty much as good as they had been,” mentioned Bush, who was born in 1954, the yr a landmark U.S. Supreme Court docket choice discovered racial segregation in public faculties unconstitutional.

The overwhelming majority of the plaintiffs are girls of colour, in line with Jayne Conroy, a lawyer whose agency has filed no less than 550 hair relaxer circumstances, including that attorneys don’t have full demographic knowledge on their purchasers.

A grasp criticism filed within the court docket continuing consolidating the lawsuits options many examples of ads that plaintiffs contend improperly took benefit of historic racial discrimination. One L’Oreal advert touted “how stunning Black hair may be,” the criticism mentioned.

The criticism seeks unspecified damages.

Framing the litigation as a civil rights subject may resonate with jurors past arguments over complicated product legal responsibility claims, mentioned Adam Zimmerman, a professor on the College of Southern California Gould College of Regulation who research mass tort litigation.

The circumstances come at a time Black individuals are more and more embracing pure hairstyles. Not less than 23 states have handed laws geared toward defending individuals from hair discrimination within the office and public faculties. The U.S. Home of Representatives handed comparable laws final yr that stalled within the Senate. 


Uterine most cancers is the most typical type of feminine reproductive system most cancers and rising within the U.S., particularly amongst Black girls, in line with the NIH.

The American Most cancers Society estimates there shall be about 66,000 new circumstances of uterine most cancers identified this yr in the US, lower than 1 / 4 of the variety of 297,790 new circumstances of invasive breast most cancers, and greater than 3 times the 19,710 circumstances of ovarian most cancers.

The NIH research of greater than 33,000 girls discovered that those that reported utilizing hair straightening merchandise greater than 4 occasions within the earlier yr had been greater than twice as more likely to develop uterine most cancers as those that didn’t. A complete of 378 girls within the research developed uterine most cancers. Black girls used the merchandise extra continuously than others, the research discovered.

The researchers didn’t acquire data on the substances of particular merchandise the ladies used, the NIH mentioned. However Dr. Alexandra White, the lead creator, instructed Reuters in response to written questions that hair straighteners have been discovered to incorporate phthalates, parabens, cyclosiloxanes and metals, and should launch formaldehyde when heated. She declined interview requests by way of a spokesperson.

The U.S. Meals and Drug Administration plans to suggest subsequent April a rule that may ban formaldehyde and formaldehyde-releasing chemical compounds from hair-straightening merchandise. An company spokesperson supplied no additional particulars on timing.

Formaldehyde is a recognized carcinogen and has been linked to nasopharyngeal most cancers and leukemia, in line with the World Well being Group. The NIH research mentioned phthalates and the opposite chemical compounds are suspected endocrine disruptors, which might intrude with the physique’s hormones and are suspected of contributing to most cancers danger.

“Formaldehyde just isn’t an ingredient in Namaste’s hair relaxer merchandise,” the corporate’s lawyer mentioned.

The opposite corporations declined to remark or didn’t reply to a Reuters question on whether or not their merchandise include or launch formaldehyde.

Corporations and protection attorneys have pointed to what they are saying are flaws within the NIH research. The businesses named within the litigation requested the presiding decide in July to dismiss the lawsuits, noting that the research was the primary to lift a potential affiliation between hair straightening merchandise and uterine most cancers, undermining plaintiffs’ argument that the businesses knew or ought to have recognized of any dangers associated to the merchandise.

The businesses additionally famous that the NIH research consisted of sisters of girls beforehand identified with breast most cancers “who subsequently could have a genetic predisposition,” they mentioned in a court docket submitting. Lead creator White mentioned in an announcement that there’s at the moment no robust proof linking household historical past of breast most cancers to elevated danger of uterine most cancers.

The plaintiffs “rely solely on imprecise allegations that the merchandise, usually, include ‘poisonous chemical compounds’,” the businesses’ protection attorneys at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind & Garrison, Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer and different companies mentioned in a court docket submitting.

Plaintiffs imagine the NIH research will persuade the decide that no less than a few of the circumstances ought to proceed to trial. Plaintiffs can advance their case with out proving the merchandise induced most cancers, mentioned Jennifer Hoekstra, a lawyer representing Bush. The research from a good authorities establishment such because the NIH is probably going sufficient to get circumstances earlier than a jury, she mentioned.

An FDA rule proposal wouldn’t alter the plaintiffs’ burden to show they had been harmed by the chemical compounds in hair relaxers, mentioned Zimmerman, the USC legislation professor. However proof regulators depend on to help a proposed rule would doubtless be admissible in court docket, he mentioned, and FDA actions “typically draw a lot of consideration — thus rising the numbers of individuals more likely to take part in any mass litigation.”

As well as, the decide overseeing the litigation over the summer season permitted a so-called short-form criticism that makes it comparatively straightforward for plaintiffs to file lawsuits.

Since November final yr, plaintiffs’ attorneys have spent about $8 million airing greater than 40,000 tv adverts throughout the U.S., with a lot of it concentrated in Baltimore, Houston and Washington DC, in line with an evaluation of promoting knowledge compiled for Reuters by X Ante, a agency that tracks mass tort promoting for big corporations, legislation companies and funding analysts.

Bush, the St. Louis cosmetologist, joined the litigation in August, she mentioned, due to the chance that hair relaxers trigger most cancers. “If we discover out that that’s the case,” she mentioned, “I wish to see that relaxers had been taken utterly off the market.”