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Blog Hair Relaxers and Health: Unveiling the Hidden Risks of Chemical Hair Straighteners

Hair Relaxers and Health: Unveiling the Hidden Risks of Chemical Hair Straighteners

We are proud to have one of our founding partners, Buffy Martines, at the forefront of this litigation. As a member of the Plaintiff's Steering Committee of this multidistrict litigation (MDL), Buffy is among the select group of attorneys leading and overseeing this important case.

June 2024 Update

In a thoroughly researched article published by the New York Times yesterday, author Linda Villarosa provided a comprehensive overview of the history of hair relaxers, the research linking them to reproductive disorders and cancer, and a scathing critique of the ongoing marketing of these products specifically to Black women. 

Villarosa’s piece highlights the serious health hazards associated with the use of hair relaxers and the alarming, disproportionate health consequences affecting Black women. We’ve extracted a timeline from her article detailing the product’s development, use, research, and ongoing litigation. However, we sincerely encourage anyone interested to read her piece in its entirety.


1950s: Chemical hair relaxer (invented by Garret A. Morgan) gained wide use when George E. Johnson, a Chicago chemist, invented a more effective formula using sodium hydroxide as the active ingredient.

1957: “Johnson and his wife, Joan, brought Ultra Sheen, a relaxer targeted to Black women, to the market, and it became a sensation.”

1975: After many Black consumers complained about scalp burns and hair damage from lye-based relaxers, the Federal Trade Commission demanded that Johnson put warning labels on lye-based products.

1979: Revlon, the first non-Black company to enter the lucrative Black hair-care market, introduced a relaxer cream called Realistic.

Mid 1980s: Many manufacturers replaced sodium hydroxide in relaxers with a milder chemical, calcium hydroxide.

1995: Researchers at Howard and Boston Universities, frustrated by the lack of research on the disproportionately poor health outcomes of Black American women, launched the Black Women’s Health Study, recruiting 59,000 participants.

1997: The Black Women’s Health Study asked their first questions about chemical hair straighteners.

1998: Dr. Chandra M. Tiwary published a study detailing early puberty signs in four Black patients under 8 years old, linking the issue to high levels of female hormones in hair products marketed to Black children.

1998: “Carson Products bought Johnson Products for $70 million.”

2000: L’Oréal acquired Carson and SoftSheen, capturing 20% of the Black hair-care market for an estimated $370 million.

Fall 2000: Boston University associate professor, Nancy Irwin Maxwell, published research finding that ads for hair-care products containing synthetic and natural hormones were very prevalent in Black women’s magazines like Essence and Ebony, but rare in magazines aimed at white women.

2003: The Women’s Circle of Health Study was established to track breast cancer, and “asked participants, half of whom had been diagnosed with breast cancer, about relaxer use.”

2003: The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences started the federal Sister Study, eventually “recruiting more than 50,000 women ages 35 to 74 whose sisters had breast cancer.”

2012: The Black Women’s Health Study published in The American Journal of Epidemiology found an association between hair-relaxer use and fibroids– “with a higher risk for women who had used the products for at least 10 years compared with those who used them rarely or not at all.”

2017: The NIH’s federal Sister Study began examining the connection between chemical hair relaxers and breast cancer.

2018: Silent Spring Institute found dozens of hormone-disrupting chemicals in 18 different hair products marketed to Black women — “but 84 percent of the toxic ingredients weren’t listed on the packaging.”

2020: A study co-authored by James-Todd revealed that “an estimated 89% of Black women in the U.S. have used hair relaxers at least once…often beginning in childhood.”

2020: The Sister Study research, “published in The International Journal of Cancer, found a higher breast cancer risk associated with any straightener use — and the more frequent the use, the higher the risk. Those who used straighteners at least every five to eight weeks had a 31 percent higher breast cancer risk, compared with 18 percent for less frequent use.”

2021: The Sister Study researchers co-authored “a new study in Carcinogenesis finding that frequent use of hair relaxers — more than four times a year — was also associated with ovarian cancer.”

2022: An investigation headed by Dr. Adana Llanos, a cancer and molecular epidemiologist, “found that women who used relaxers before age 12 and those who used the products for longer than 10 years were more prone to larger and more aggressive breast tumors.”

Oct 2022: The landmark Sister Study, published in The Journal of the National Cancer Institute, “found that those who frequently used chemical hair-straightening products, a majority of whom were Black women, were two and a half times as likely to develop uterine cancer.”

Oct 2022: The first lawsuit was filed just after the Sister Study research was published.

Feb 2023: As lawsuits multiplied, they were brought together into a multidistrict litigation (MDL). The suit claims that L’Oréal USA, Revlon, and other companies knew, or should have known, that their products increased the risk of ovarian, uterine, and endometrial cancer, but manufactured and distributed them anyway while giving no warning to consumers that they carried such risks.

Spring 2024: Eight more companies were added to the suit, which now includes over 8,900 plaintiffs and is in the discovery phase. In April, the F.D.A. missed its own deadline to advance its proposed ban of formaldehyde in hair relaxers, later stating that “the proposed rule continues to be a high priority and is still in the rule-making process.” 

Villarosa leaves us with this poignant observation:

 “Even if the ban on formaldehyde in hair relaxers is approved, it could take months to go into effect. In the meantime, the products still fill shelves and salons and in recent months have even enjoyed something of a revival on social media, where TikTok videos hashtagged #relaxerisback have received more than 24 million views.”

Villarosa, Linda. “The Disturbing Truth About Hair Relaxers.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 13 June 2024,


New Cases

Laminack, Pirtle & Martines is filing lawsuits on behalf of individuals diagnosed with uterine, ovarian, and/or endometrial cancer after using chemical hair straighteners for two years or more. If you or a loved one have been affected, please contact us at 713-292-2750 or via email at

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Nov 2023 Post by Buffy Martines

I've had curls all my life, and like countless other women, I often found myself wanting what I didn't have—straight hair.

Around 15 years ago, I turned to chemical straighteners to achieve the sleek look I desired. I religiously maintained this routine until the onset of COVID-19, which prevented me from visiting my stylist.

During the pandemic, my natural curls made a comeback, bringing with them a heightened awareness of the toll my years of straightening had taken on my hair. What was once thick and healthy hair had become thinner and more brittle. I even noticed small burns on my scalp, not debilitating, but certainly not normal.

Reflecting on this, I now realize how fortunate I am. The chemicals I subjected my hair to hadn't caused any permanent damage. Unfortunately, tens of thousands of women across the country weren't as lucky as I was.

Little did I know that my pursuit of a more traditional standard of beauty had unknowingly exposed me to a serious health risk—cancer.

In 2022, a study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute revealed a concerning link between the use of chemical hair straighteners and uterine cancer. This study was the first epidemiological evidence of an association between the products and uterine cancer. These findings hold particular significance for Black women, as the increased frequency of hair straightener use contributes to alarming racial health disparities.

This revelation hit me like a ton of bricks. Cancer. All because I wanted straight hair? Had I been aware of the risks, I would undoubtedly have made different choices. However, like many others, I was unaware. The pressing question now is: what did the companies know?

Did the companies manufacturing, marketing, and selling these products possess knowledge of the risks? If they did, shouldn’t they have informed users?

I'm now focused on seeking the truth about these products and the companies responsible for the harm they cause. On February 6, 2023, the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation created MDL No. 3060, In re: Hair Relaxer Marketing Sales Practices and Products Liability Litigation, and transferred all cases nationwide to the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. Presiding Judge Mary Rowland is overseeing litigation of the case.

Judge Rowland has appointed me to the Plaintiffs’ Steering Committee, charged with representing all Plaintiffs nationwide. This appointment underscores the gravity of the situation and the need for collective action against those responsible for withholding crucial information.

In addition to my leadership position, our firm is actively accepting cases from individuals diagnosed with uterine, ovarian, and/or endometrial cancer after using chemical hair straighteners for two years or more. We understand the physical, emotional, and financial toll these situations can take on individuals and their families. It's time to hold the manufacturers accountable for the harm they may have caused.

If you have suffered harm from these products, please contact our office right away to discuss your potential case. Your voice matters, and together, we can bring attention to the hidden dangers of chemical hair straighteners and seek justice for those who have been affected.

For more detailed information, visit our page on Chemical Hair Straightener Product Liability.