By: April Carson
Jenny Mitchell said that she first started using chemical hair-straightening products when she was in third grade, back in 2000.
Uterine cancer is most commonly diagnosed in women over the age of 50, but in recent years there has been an increase in the number of younger women being diagnosed with the disease. Mitchell was one of these young women. Despite having no family history of uterine cancer, she was diagnosed with the disease at 32 years old. To treat her cancer, Mitchell had to undergo a full hysterectomy to remove her uterus.
"For years, these companies have known about the dangers of their products but they continue to sell them without any warnings," said Mitchell's attorney, Ben Crump. "My client is just one of many women who have been seriously harmed by these products."
"It's been incredibly difficult not being able to have children of my own," she admitted on "Good Morning America." "It's something I've always wanted."
Now, Mitchell is suing five hair relaxer manufacturers, including L’Oreal USA, for cancer caused by their products.
Mitchell's lawyer, Crump told "GMA" that his client used various hair relaxers from different companies for years before being diagnosed with cancer.
One week after a study funded by the National Institutes of Health was published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, her lawsuit was filed in Illinois. The new study suggests that those who frequently use chemical hair-straightening products may be more likely to develop uterine cancer than those who didn't use these products.
Although these products have not been scientifically proven to cause cancer, the current research suggests a probable link.
In the study, approximately 60% of women who reported using chemical straightening products were Black.
This is an important factor to consider, as Black women have a higher incidence of uterine cancer than any other group of women in the United States.
The plaintiff's lawyers say that the companies knew or should have known about the potential risks of their products and failed to warn consumers.
Mitchell uttered disbelief when she discovered the study, afterward saying," Though I did have a sliver of hope this could be linked to my previous diagnosis."
Mitchell stated that lots of Black females, similar to herself, experience pressures to use hair-straightening items which conform to Eurocentric beauty standards. She explained that she generally straightens her hair every month.
"Society typically tells African American women that they have to style their hair in a certain way to look 'professional,'" she said. "However, many women face discrimination for wearing their natural hair in various settings."
Mitchell continued, "I hope that my case will inspire other Black women to speak up about the potential dangers of these products and to demand greater transparency from the beauty industry."
"I want to be a representative for all the other black women who go through this," she said, referring to how early in life many of them use chemical relaxers on their hair.
ABC News contacted the defendants for comment, but they did not respond immediately.
According to the National Institutes of Health, which tracked data from 34,000 women in the Sister Study for more than a decade, uterine cancer rates and deaths are on the rise in the U.S., with death rates highest among non-Hispanic Black women. The Sister Study is a project that's been tracking the health of about 50,000 women in the U.S. since 2003.
The study found that chemical hair straighteners contain endocrine disrupters which can potentially lead to hormone-sensitive cancers. These include parabens, bisphenol A, metals and formaldehyde, according to researchers in the NIH study. Chemical relaxers can cause burns and lesions on the scalp, Dr. Madeliene Gainers, a board-certified dermatologist told ABC News, which in turn makes it easier for the chemicals to be absorbed into the body.
The new study found that hair-straightening chemicals could potentially cause an increased risk for uterine cancer, though more research is needed to confirm this.
The study also only identifies an association between uterine cancer and the products, not a causal relationship -- that one thing directly caused another.
"We don't want to cause undue alarm," said Dr. Christopher Mitchell, an associate professor of epidemiology at the University of North Carolina's Gillings School of Global Public Health and lead author of the study. "But we think this is something that should be studied more."
Crump said they also hope the lawsuit will educate women about the harmful chemicals in hair relaxants and help them make healthier decisions.
According to him, now that we are aware of the problem, it is our moral obligation to take action and spread awareness about this public health crisis.
"It is time for the beauty industry to own up to its harmful ways and change its ways," Crump said. "We need to put an end to this dangerous cycle of putting profits over people."
The lawsuit is currently ongoing.
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About the Blogger:
April Carson is the daughter of Billy Carson. She received her bachelor's degree in Social Sciences from Jacksonville University, where she was also on the Women's Basketball team. She now has a successful clothing company that specializes in organic baby clothes and other items. Take a look at their most popular fall fashions on bossbabymav.com
To read more of April's blogs, check out her website! She publishes new blogs on a daily basis, including the most helpful mommy advice and baby care tips! Follow on IG @bossbabymav
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