Hair Straightening Products
Hair Straightening Products
Chemicals used in hair relaxers straighten hair by altering the structure of the protein components of the hair shaft. These chemicals are found in a range of consumer hair straightening products including shampoos, conditioners, sprays, gels, and moisturizers. Data from most but not all studies show an association between relaxer chemicals and adverse health effects such as an increased risk of uterine fibroids.
Many chemicals, both natural and man-made, may mimic or interfere with the body’s hormones. These chemicals are linked with developmental, reproductive, brain, immune, and other problems. Because these chemicals impact the functions of the body’s endocrine system, they are commonly known as Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals (EDCs).
Clinical evidence strongly suggests the association between prolonged use of EDC-containing hair-relaxing products and the development of fibroids, endometriosis, or uterine cancer. This is also supported by data harvested from studies exploring the chemicals’ effects on both humans and animals. However, other risk factors play a role, making it difficult to confirm the causal effect of hair-relaxing products in any specific case.
The underlying cause of fibroids appears to be estrogen dominance or an increased circulating estrogen-to-progesterone ratio. This leads to the reprogramming of myometrial stem cells and their subsequent transformation into tumor-initiating stem cells. Such a process has been linked to exposure to EDCs. The same exposure may also increase the risk of endometriosis and uterine cancer, both of which are estrogen-dependent.
Litigation was kicked off by a Missouri case in the fall of 2022, where the plaintiff alleged L’Oréal’s hair straightening products are linked to her uterine cancer. The suit further claimed that the beauty company knew about the link between EDCs in their products and cancer since 2015. Upon filing in Illinois, the case sought certification as a class action on behalf of women who developed uterine cancer after relying on various L’Oréal products.
In the past four months, nearly 60 cases have been filed across the country against L’Oréal and various other companies. On January 26, plaintiffs urged the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation to consolidate their lawsuits. Consolidation would be overseen by one federal judge. This aids in streamlining the discovery and pretrial process across all cases.
On February 6, the panel announced its agreement with the plaintiffs. The lawsuits will be consolidated in Chicago federal court before U.S. District Judge Mary Rowland. Further details and upcoming deadlines will be announced soon.
Expert Witness Opportunities
Litigation related to the negative health effects of hair straightening products is yet another avenue for toxicologists to flex their expert witness muscle. They would be able to opine on the potential risks and complications of EDC exposure, of which they are aware from the literature and from personal experience managing patients with this condition.
Gynecology is also a specialty in which vital subject-matter experts can be found. An expert in gynecology would be able to opine on the etiology, risk factors, and management of uterine fibroids. Whether the knowledge comes from directly treating patients or studying and interpreting the data received from clinics, gynecologists can expect demand for their services to increase as these cases increase.
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