Civil rights and personal injury attorney Ben Crump and mass tort counsel Diandra Debrosse Zimmermann have filed a lawsuit on behalf of Jenny Mitchell, a 32-year-old Missouri resident, claiming that her uterine cancer “was directly and proximately caused by her regular and prolonged exposure to phthalates and other endocrine disrupting chemicals” found in hair straightening products sold by L’Oréal USA, the maker of Dark & Lovely products, and other companies including Namaste Laboratories, Godrej Consumer Products and Dabur International.

According to the lawsuit, Mrs Mitchell was diagnosed with uterine cancer at the age of 28, and underwent a full hysterectomy at Boone Hospital Center in Missouri on September 24, 2018. She attended mandatory medical appointments every three months for two years and now has appointments every six months.

At a news conference, Mitchell said that she started using chemical hair relaxers around 2000, when she was about 8 years old, “as most young African-American girls.” She continued using hair-straightening products until March 2022. She claimed to have no family history of cancer or uterine cancer.

The lawsuit comes on the heels of a study published last week in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute that found the risk of developing uterine cancer in women who use chemical hair-straightening products frequently was 4% by age 70, compared to 1.6% in those who hadn’t used any of the products in the previous 12 months. The study was conducted by the National Institute of Health’s National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences among 33,497 American women aged 35 to 74, over a period of nearly 11 years.

Black women have long been the victims of dangerous products specifically marketed to them,” said Ben Crump in a statement. “Black hair has been and always will be beautiful, but Black women have been told they have to use these products to meet society’s standards. We will likely discover that Ms. Mitchell’s tragic case is one of countless cases in which companies aggressively misled black women to increase their profits.

The fact that these companies targeted Black and Latin women for their own profit motive and without regard to the serious health risks that these hair-straightening products cause is a serious wrong that needs to be corrected,” emphasized Diandra Debrosse Zimmermann. “We have commenced this important litigation to seek and obtain justice for those women and their families.

Commenting on the study conducted by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, Kimberly Norman, Senior Director, Safety and Regulatory Toxicology, at the Personal Care Products Council (PCPC), the trade body representing personal care and cosmetics manufacturers in the US, said it failed to establish a causal link with any specific ingredients in hair products or any specific chemicals.

Mrs Mitchell is seeking compensation in excess of USD 75,000, according to the lawsuit.