An Ohio woman is among dozens of women to file a chemical hair straightener lawsuit claiming dangerous chemicals in straighteners and relaxers marketed to Black women caused her to develop cancer. Alicia Smith filed her lawsuit in Cleveland federal court. She no family history of cancer, yet doctors diagnosed her with uterine cancer in 2019. Smith, now 46, had used hair straightening products since she was 13. 

Smith’s lawsuit names popular hair relaxer manufacturers L’Oreal, Strength of Nature, SoftSheen-Carson, Luster and Godrej Consumer Products as defendants. Manufacturers knew their products could cause potential harm but continued to sell them and failed to warn the public, the lawsuit said. 

Studies cited in lawsuits link harmful endocrine-disrupting chemicals in hair relaxers, such as phthalates, to reproductive problems, cancer and other issues. The main injuries named in lawsuits include uterine cancer, breast cancer, uterine fibroids, endometriosis and preterm delivery. 

“For too long, the cosmetics industry has failed to warn consumers of the presence of harmful chemicals in hair relaxers,” Smith’s attorney, Ashlie Case Sletvold, told “This has led to devastating consequences for women like Alicia Smith.”

Plaintiff’s attorneys anticipate a larger number of cases and have filed a motion to consolidate cases into one multidistrict litigation in Illinois. A judge in Miami is set to hear the case on Jan. 26. L’Oreal filed a motion in opposition to the consolidation in December 2022. 

See if You Qualify for a Lawsuit Our Partners

Our Trusted Legal Partners

Drugwatch partners with trusted law firms to help you take legal action. After submitting the form, one of Drugwatch's partners will contact you for a free case review.

simmons hanly conroy law firm logo weitz and luxenberg logo sokolove law firm logo levin papantonio rafferty law firm logo nigh goldenberg raso and vaughn law firm logo morgan & morgan logo the ferraro law firm logo meirowitz & wasserberg law firm logo

Lawsuits Say Manufacturers Knew Chemicals Straighteners Were Harmful 

Lawsuits allege that manufacturers knew or should have known that harsh chemicals used in straighteners and relaxers were harmful to humans. Plaintiffs cited multiple studies that link endocrine-disrupting chemicals used in defendants’ products to many health issues, such as damage to reproductive organs, altered immune function, cancer, diabetes, breathing issues and others.

Defendants used marketing campaigns that targeted African American customers across the U.S., using “branding and slogans that reinforce straight hair as the standard.” These campaigns have existed for decades, lawsuits said. 

For example, Strength of Nature’s products depict “beautiful, happy, fair-skinned African American women with straight hair in seeming perpetual motion,” according to Tamara Sigars’ lawsuit filed in Missouri on Jan. 11. 

L’Oreal: Lawsuits Have No ‘Legal Merit’

So far, about 40 lawsuits have been filed across the country against L’Oreal and other companies. Women began filing lawsuits after a National Institutes of Health study in October 2022 linked chemical hair straighteners to an increased risk of cancer. Women who used the products regularly were more than twice as likely to develop uterine cancer, according to the study.

Study authors also found a higher risk among Black women. Defendants specifically marketed products to black and brown women to “‘tame’ their ethnic hair by making it smoother, straighter, and easier to manage on a daily basis,” Sigars’s lawsuit said. 

Like Alicia Smith, Sigars started using chemical hair straighteners at a young age. She developed ovarian cancer at age 35 and blames the chemicals in the products for her diagnosis. 

In response to the lawsuits, L’Oreal said it stands by the safety of its products. 

“We are confident in the safety of our products and believe the recent lawsuits filed against us have no legal merit. L’Oréal upholds the highest standards of safety for all its products,” the company said in an October 2022 statement. “Our products are subject to a rigorous scientific evaluation of their safety by experts who also ensure that we follow strictly all regulations in every market in which we operate.”