Mitchell’s lawsuit was filed days after the National Institutes of Health released a study that found that women who frequently use hair-straightening products are at a higher risk of developing uterine cancer than women who do not use them. Tracking nearly 34,000 women in the United States over a decade, the study found that the risk more than doubled among women who reported frequent use of chemical straighteners, compared with those who didn’t use the products.
Uterine cancer is relatively rare, making up a little more than 3 percent of new cancer cases this year, according to the National Cancer Institute (NCI). Yet cases are on the rise in the United States, especially among Black women, who the NIH study notes use chemical hair straighteners or relaxers more frequently than women of other races and ethnicities. The NCI estimates there have been nearly 66,000 new cases of uterine cancer in 2022 and an estimated 12,550 related deaths.
The heightened focus on the potential negative health effects of straightening products comes as an increasing number of Black women are embracing natural hairstyles and rejecting White beauty standards.
Mitchell said societal pressure is what pushed her to start using hair-straightening products at such a young age — that she felt a need for her hair to “look a certain way, lay a certain way, flow a certain way in order to look professional” and “fit in.”
Mitchell is suing L’Oréal, SoftSheen Carson, Strength of Nature, Dabur, and Namaste Laboratories, the makers of the chemical straighteners and hair relaxers that she says caused her uterine cancer. The lawsuit alleges that the companies knew, or should have known, that their products increased the risk of cancer but manufactured and distributed them anyway, while giving no warning to consumers that they carried such risks.
It further alleges that the companies misrepresented their products as safe. For example, Strength of Nature, which markets Soft & Beautiful, has sold products that use descriptions such as “botanicals” and “ultra nourishing,” according to the lawsuit.
In a statement to The Post, a spokesman for L’Oréal, which owns the SoftSheen Carson brand, said the company is “confident in the safety of our products and believe the recent lawsuits filed against us have no legal merit.”
“L’Oréal upholds the highest standards of safety for all its products,” the spokesman added. “Our products are subject to a rigorous scientific evaluation of their safety by experts who also ensure that we follow strictly all regulations in every market in which we operate.”
The spokesman also pointed to a statement issued by the Personal Care Products Council, a group representing the cosmetics industry, following the release of the NIH study. Kimberly Norman, the group’s senior director of safety, regulatory and toxicology issues, argued that the study did not prove that the products or their ingredients directly caused uterine cancer. She also noted that the companies’ products are subject to safety regulations, including those established by the Food and Drug Administration.
The other companies named in the lawsuit did not respond to requests for comment.
Mitchell told The Post that she found out about her uterine cancer after visiting a fertility clinic because she wanted to start planning for a family. But while conducting an ultrasound, a doctor at the clinic noticed something off and referred Mitchell to an oncologist, she said. About a month later, after her diagnosis, she had her uterus removed, according to the lawsuit.
The diagnosis baffled Mitchell, she said. The cancer was rare, she was young and her family had no history of it, she said. But last week, after she saw news of the NIH study, she said she believed she had found an answer.
“I felt deceived. I felt hurt. I felt like I’ve been lied to my whole life,” Mitchell said, adding, “In some sense, you had to conform to look a certain way for societal norms.”
The lawsuit seeks more than $75,000 in monetary damages, as well as payment for medical bills and other expenses.
Mitchell said she is regularly monitored following her hysterectomy and suffers from early menopause.
In filing her lawsuit, Mitchell said she’s thinking about the millions of other Black women who use hair-straightening products. “It’s my family. It’s my nieces. … It’s young girls,” Mitchell said, adding, “I don’t want another me at 28 years old to have to lose their dream of becoming a mother.”
Ben Crump, one of Mitchell’s attorneys, told The Post that the lawsuit is intended to tell Black girls and young women that they are “beautiful enough, and having straight hair is not worth losing your uterus.”
Diandra Debrosse Zimmermann, another one of Mitchell’s attorneys, anticipates more lawsuits will be filed. “A lot of women have come forward and will come forward,” she said.