EJS Lawsuit Against Hair Product Makers on Behalf of 100s of Black Women with Cancer is Impacting FDA Policy

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is planning to propose a ban on certain chemicals in hair-straightening products, as reported by CNN and other media outlets.

Because of racism against natural Black hair, many Black women use hair relaxer and related products at a higher rate than other women to relax their hair, likely putting them at a higher risk of developing uterine cancer and other negative health outcomes.

This movement by the FDA is certainly motivated by lawsuits against manufacturers of hair relaxer products, such as those filed by the Equal Justice Society and Lieff Cabraser, and the advocacy of U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley and U.S. Rep. Shontel Brown. 

EJS and Lieff Cabraser represent over one hundred women who have been diagnosed with cancer after using hair relaxers. Their lawsuits are consolidated with thousands of others in federal court in Chicago in front of Judge Mary M. Rowland, which allows plaintiffs to litigate collectively against the companies responsible for these products.

Judge Rowland created a Plaintiff’s Leadership Committee to manage the collective litigation, and appointed Lieff Cabraser’s Kelly M. Dermody to serve on the Plaintiff’s Executive Committee.

In 2020, the global Black hair care market was estimated at $2.5 billion, with the hair relaxer market alone estimated at $718 million in 2021. It is estimated that as many as 90% of Black women in the United States have used relaxer products.

The National Institutes of Health published an October 2022 study showing a connection between hair relaxer usage and uterine cancer, with even higher cancer rates if relaxers were used frequently (i.e., four or more times/year). This follows other studies which have raised concerns about the toxicity of ingredients in hair relaxers.

In March 2023, Reps. Pressley and Brown issued a letter urging the FDA to investigate whether chemical hair straightening products contain carcinogens and pose a public health threat.

After the FDA issues the proposed rule, the agency plans to solicit public comments. After reviewing those comments, the agency will decide whether further action is needed.

Subscribe to the EJS and Lieff Cabraser Health Equity Newsletter to receive updates on submitting public comment on the FDA’s proposed ban.

Educator and author Ernest Crim III talks about the EJS/Lieff Cabraser lawsuit on one of his popular Tik Tok and Instagram videos.