Mitchell said societal pressure is what pushed her to start using hair-straightening products at such a young age — that she felt a need for her hair to “look a certain way, lay a certain way, flow a certain way in order to look professional” and “fit in.”
Mitchell is suing L’Oréal, SoftSheen Carson, Strength of Nature, Dabur, and Namaste Laboratories, the makers of the chemical straighteners and hair relaxers that she says caused her uterine cancer. The lawsuit alleges that the companies knew, or should have known, that their products increased the risk of cancer but manufactured and distributed them anyway, while giving no warning to consumers that they carried such risks.
“I was devastated,” Mitchell, now 32 and living in Missouri, told The Washington Post.
In a federal lawsuit filed last week in the Northern District of Illinois, Mitchell blames the hair products that she’s been using since she was in grade school. Naming five companies as defendants, including L’Oréal, Mitchell alleges that the chemical hair straighteners she had been applying to her scalp for decades caused her cancer, which she said does not run in her family.Mitchell’s lawsuit was filed days after the National Institutes of Health released a study that found that women who frequently use hair-straightening products are at a higher risk of developing uterine cancer than women who do not use them. Tracking nearly 34,000 women in the United States over a decade, the study found that the risk more than doubled among women who reported frequent use of chemical straighteners, compared with those who didn’t use the products.
Uterine cancer is relatively rare, making up a little more than 3 percent of new cancer cases this year, according to the National Cancer Institute (NCI). Yet cases are on the rise in the United States, especially among Black women, who the NIH study notes use chemical hair straighteners or relaxers more frequently than women of other races and ethnicities. The NCI estimates there have been nearly 66,000 new cases of uterine cancer in 2022 and an estimated 12,550 related deaths.
The heightened focus on the potential negative health effects of straightening products comes as an increasing number of Black women are embracing natural hairstyles and rejecting White beauty standards.