- A woman is suing L’Oréal and other cosmetics companies, claiming hair products contributed to her uterine cancer.
- Researchers are studying whether Black women are at a unique risk for health problems from hair products.
- Data does not show diethylphthalate, the phthalate common in beauty products, has a link to cancer.
A new lawsuit claims L’Oréal’s hair products contributed to uterine cancer in a 32-year-old woman.
Lawyers for Jenny Mitchell, a Missouri resident, sued L’Oréal and other cosmetic companies this week on Mitchell’s behalf, alleging they failed to warn her that hair straightening products contain chemicals associated with cancer.
The suit claims prolonged exposure to phthalates, a class of chemicals found in some cosmetics, as well as endocrine-disrupting chemicals that can cause hormone imbalances, led to her cancer.
While researchers haven’t found a link between uterine cancer and exposure to phthalates in cosmetics, scientists are still studying whether other chemicals in hair products can contribute to cancer, particularly in Black women.
The suit states Mitchell, who is Black, began using chemical hair straighteners when she was 10, and continued regular use until March 2022. Doctors diagnosed Mitchell with uterine cancer in 2018 when she was 28. She didn’t have a family history of the disease, according to the lawsuit.
Uterine cancer is rare, making up 3.4% of new cancer cases so far this year. But deaths from uterine cancer are rising in the US, particularly among Black women, according to a recent analysis by the National Cancer Institute. People in their 20s make up just 1.8% of new uterine cancer cases annually.
“Black women have long been the victims of dangerous products specifically marketed to them,” civil rights attorney Ben Crump, who’s representing Mitchell on the case, said in a news release. “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.”
L’Oréal and the other cosmetic brands listed in the suit did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment.
Researchers are studying whether Black women are at higher risk for developing cancer from hair products
Mitchell’s suit comes a week after a National Institutes of Health study of more than 33,000 people found that women who developed uterine cancer had a higher likelihood of having used chemical hair straighteners.
The study builds on emerging research looking at whether Black women are at higher risk for developing health problems from cosmetics. Nielsen data shows Black women spend more than other demographics on beauty and hair products.
Though Black people are at a higher risk for certain cancers, many are left out of cancer-related clinical trials. For instance, Black Americans account for 22% of multiple myeloma cases but just 4.5% of participants in trials studying myeloma, according to a 2021 meta-analysis.
Some phthalates can lead to health problems, but they aren’t found in cosmetics
Mitchell’s suit against L’Oréal lists phthalates as the primary class of chemicals she believes caused her uterine cancer.
Phthalates are a family of man-made chemicals used to manufacture plastics, solvents, and personal care products. There are many different phthalates, but only one type, diethylphthalate (DEP), is commonly found in cosmetics, according to the FDA.
Jen Novakovich, a cosmetic toxicologist who studies the effect of chemicals in beauty products, said researchers sometimes group phthalates together when discussing their dangers, but only certain ones are associated with risks.
For instance, in one recent study, breast cancer risk was higher in Native Hawaiian women exposed to Di-2-ethylhexylphthalate (DEHP), an ingredient used to make vinyl products flexible.
But studies have not found a cancer risk associated with DEP, the phthalate used in cosmetics, Novakovich said.