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Warning Labels on Hair Relaxer Products: Holding Manufacturers Accountable

Several reasons exist as to why only lately have consumers become aware of the dangers presented by hair relaxers. One common reason is that companies routinely fail to include warning labels on hair relaxer products as well as list toxic chemicals on product labels, simply because they want to do everything possible to promote their hair straighteners as safe. Consequently, manufacturers can be held liable.

The Results of Hair Relaxer Studies

In 2021, the findings of a 25-year-old research study were revealed. The researchers examined 59,000 African-American women by sending them questionnaires every two years about factors that might influence their health. The study later discovered that African-American women who used hair relaxers with lye several times a year for 15 years or longer had a 30% increased risk of estrogen receptor-positive breast cancer as compared with less routine users. This 25-year-old study was an unprecedented examination of the use of hair relaxers and the associated dangers.

Currently, the Journal of the National Cancer Institute’s study involving hair relaxers examined 33,497 African-American women between the ages of 35 to 74 for 11 years. Among the women studied, 378 developed uterine cancer as a result of chemical hair relaxers. Women who used other hair products, including bleach, dyes, highlights, and perms, were discovered not to have a link to the disease. The risk of uterine cancer among women who use hair relaxers at least four times each year is double that of women who never use these products.

Failures to Include Warning Labels on Hair Relaxers Can Lead to Lawsuits

Besides simply not printing adequate details about the dangers of hair relaxers on labels, product manufacturers kept women unaware of these dangers in other ways too. Companies knowingly used other dangerous and toxic chemicals in hair relaxers, including bisphenol, phthalates, and formaldehyde. Companies decided not to include details about these ingredients on labels due to fears of losing both consumers and, ultimately, profits. Because companies failed to warn consumers about potential health harms born by exposure to these chemicals, countless hair relaxer manufacturers may also be accountable for the following:

  • Breach of implied warranties of safety by selling hair relaxers to consumers
  • Committing consumer fraud by making consumers think hair relaxers were safe
  • Deceptive trade
  • Failure to warn consumers about known dangers
  • Fraudulently concealing details about these toxic chemicals
  • Fraudulently misrepresenting details about hair relaxers to consumers
  • Gross negligence
  • Improper placing details about these chemicals on warning labels
  • Negligently misrepresenting hair relaxers to consumers

Legislative Loopholes Allowed for Inadequate Labels

In 2022, the Consolidate Appropriate Act improved the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA’s) powers to address safety issues in the cosmetic industry, which has long been unregulated. The bill is subtitled “The Modernization of Cosmetics Regulation Act” and signifies the first substantial reform of how cosmetic products are targeted since 1938.

While this change is welcomed and seen as a worthy change by many, some restrictions and limitations in the Act create limitations as well as loopholes that would allow manufacturers to continue placing toxic and otherwise unsafe ingredients in cosmetics. This is a troubling implication for African-American women, whose routine use of many hair products has occasionally been connected to higher risks of cancer and other serious illnesses.

Before the Act, the FDA’s authority was restricted, and the agency could only request manufacturers voluntarily recall products if their safety was brought into question. This remained true even when widespread contamination was reported. In becoming law, this new Act greatly widened the FDA’s ability to regulate, and the agency can now issue mandatory recalls as well as establish federally-applicable industry standards.

As of March 2023, cosmetic companies must now register their manufacturing facilities, adhere to “good manufacturing” guidelines,” increase what’s listed on ingredients, document and report adverse effects in a speedy nature, keep detailed logs, and offer proof of safety substantiation to the agency. Despite these well-deserved changes, several parts of the Act still introduce uncertainty about both the scope and ability to make sure that consumers remain safe.

While hair relaxers and other product manufacturers are now required to disclose details about “fragrances” and other materials that can cause allergies (allergens) to the agency, these manufacturers need not report these details to consumers. This disclosure limitation, however, applies just to allergens. The Act also vaguely defines safety substantiation. Due to the widely defined terms, manufacturers need only submit safety determinations written by groups who support the corporation, which thereby establishes a conflict of interest. This can create issues because the Act does not require manufacturers to issue a premarket notification or have the agency review and approve this information before it is placed on the market.

Societal Pressure

Another factor that led to the increased use of hair relaxers for decades is that African-American women face increased societal pressure to meet Euro-centric beauty standards, which promote straight hair. As a result, younger African-American women especially were more likely to spend an increased amount of time using hair relaxes. Some other societal issues that promoted the use of hair relaxers include the increased need for hairstyle versatility. Hair-relaxer manufacturers knowingly took advantage of these products and these people by purposefully marketing hair relaxers toward African-Americans.

The danger of hair relaxers also presents an occupational danger for African-Americans who work in hair salons and who routinely use hazardous substances. One recent 2021 study of the Washington D.C. and Maryland areas determined that African-American and Hispanic hairdressers reported phthalate metabolite levels 10 times greater than same-ethnicity office workers. 

Contact an Experienced Hair Relaxer Litigation Attorney Today

If you regularly used a hair relaxer during any period, you should give strong consideration to ceasing the use of these products immediately and seeking safer alternatives. If you are one of the unfortunate people who have already developed endometriosis, ovarian cancer, or uterine cancer and have a history of using hair relaxers, our lawyers can help you file a claim against the associate manufacturer to obtain the compensation you deserve. Contact the Law Office of Cohen & Jaffe, LLP today to schedule a free case evaluation.


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