Hair straighteners have been around for over 100 years.
In a matter of minutes, these chemicals can straighten curly hair.
But now Over 100 lawsuits have been filed in the United States against the companies that make some of these straighteners.
The US subsidiary of L’Oréal and manufacturers of other relaxers for hair are mentioned in the lawsuits: the brands include Dark & Lovely, ORS Olive Oil and Motions.
The plaintiffs claim that the products contain dangerous chemicals that can cause cancer and other health problems.
They also allege that the companies knew this, but marketed and sold the products anyway.
The first lawsuit was filed days after the publication of a study last October by the National Institutes of Health, a biomedical research agency of the US government.
Experts investigated a potential link between the use of hair straighteners and uterine cancer.
Nearly 34,000 participants were followed for more than 10 years. During that time, 378 cases of uterine cancer were diagnosed.
The study found that people who used straighteners more than 4 times in a year showed a slightly higher risk of developing the disease.
Lead author Alexandra White said the researchers “estimated that 1.64% of women who never used hair straighteners would develop uterine cancer by age 70.”
“But for frequent users, that risk goes up to 4.05%,” he added.
more research is needed
Karis Betts, Cancer Research UK’s senior manager of health information, says that while the study suggested a link, it doesn’t provide clear evidence that hair-straightening products can increase a person’s risk of developing uterine cancer, or otherwise. If so, how much greater the risk could be.
“At the moment, there is not enough solid scientific evidence to show that these products cause cancer,” he says.
“More research in larger, higher-quality studies is needed to confirm if there is a link. It is important to remember that even if there were an increased cancer risk from hair straightening, it would probably be less than known cancer risk factors such as age, smoking and obesity.”
Betts adds that uterine cancer is relatively rare, so even with a slightly increased risk, it wouldn’t be common.
How do hair straighteners work?
- Relaxers are creams or lotions formulated with chemicals to straighten Afro and curly hair.
- These products break down disulfide bonds, a type of chemical bond found deep within the hair fibers, smoothing out curly hair patterns.
- There are different types: lye relaxers use sodium hydroxide, no-lye relaxers use other active ingredients like calcium hydroxide or guanidine hydroxide, and thio relaxers use ammonium thioglycolate.
- They are permanent, but the new hair will continue in its natural texture.
- Some companies offer alternative products for women with frizzy hair.
Scientists have not been able to identify a particular chemical or ingredient in hair relaxer formulas that may be dangerous and have said more research is needed.
But the lawsuits also claim that the products have caused other health problems, such as fibroids.
These non-cancerous tumors in the uterus can cause menses abundant and painfultoyes.
A woman named in the US lawsuits claims she underwent a hysterectomy as a result of the disease.
She is one of at least 20 clients represented by personal injury attorney James Foster and his firm.
“She ended up being one of the models on the box cover of one of the products she used,” she says.
“She really believed in these products and was willing to put herself on the cover.
“And now that this has come to light, it has been very devastating for that particular client. She’s very young, and obviously this was very hard on her.”
Some believe that chemicals found in certain hair straightening products can interfere with the body’s production of hormones.
Some cancers are sensitive to hormones, such as ovarian, breast, or uterine cancer.
“We are being ignored”
In 2021, the group launched the petition #NoMoreLyes (in Spanish, #NoMásLejías, but which sounds the same as “no more lies”) after a study published in the Carcinogenesis Journal from the University of Oxford found evidence that heavy use of relaxers that include bleach may be associated with an increased risk of a particular type of breast cancer.
However, the researchers said more research needs to be done to be sure if this is indeed the case.
This inspired the British activist group Level Up to launch their # campaign in 2021NoMoreLyes to ask big brands like L’Oreal to stop using the ingredient.
Level Up claims that has not yet received a response from the company to a request for more detailed information on the safety of the chemicals in your straighteners.
The group has now published an open letter to L’Oréal asking it to remove bleach-containing relaxers from sale and invest more in research.
The letter was also signed by 10 British lawmakers.
“I feel like we are being deliberately ignored,” says activist Ikamara Larasi. “With an open letter, I hope it’s something they take the time to respond to.”
“It makes me feel frustrated,” she adds.
“I think people have attitudes of ‘okay, so don’t use [estos productos]’, but there are so many reasons why people choose to straighten their hair that it’s just not a useful argument.
A spokesman for L’Oreal in the UK said that while it does not import or sell Dark & Lovely products in the UK, it has responded to all consumer requests it has received. “We maintain the highest safety standards for all our products”he claimed.
He added that L’Oréal’s priority is the “health, well-being and safety” of all its consumers and that its products are subject to a rigorous scientific evaluation of their safety by experts who also ensure that they strictly follow all regulations. in each market in which they operate.
The company also maintains that the lawsuits filed “have no legal merit.”
The BBC also contacted Godrej SON Holdings Inc and Dabur International Ltd. These companies also make hair straightening chemicals and were named in the lawsuits but did not respond to requests for comment.
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