With more and more studies revealing the dangers of hair relaxers, we’ve started to see a number of groups take a stand against these hair straightening products and the companies that produce them. The latest to do so is UK feminist group, Level Up.
The organization recently penned an open letter to global beauty giant L’Oreal urging the company to withdraw its hair straightening products after research linked its usage to an increased risk of uterine cancer, particularly amongst Black women. In 2022, a study conducted by the U.S. National Institutes of Health found that women who used hair straightening products four or more times per year were more than twice as likely to develop uterine cancer. It was also noted in the study that Black women have a higher risk due to higher usage of these products.
“Last year further studies linked frequent, long-term use of hair relaxers containing lye to more than double the risk of developing uterine cancer for Black women,” the letter said. “As you will know, thousands of lawsuits have been filed against L’Oreal over the last decade in relation to the harm caused by the toxic ingredients in your hair relaxers—from scalp burns and permanent hair loss, to fibroids and uterine cancer. Why are lye-based L’Oreal products still being sold when they are risking Black women’s health around the world?”
The letter continues, “Black women should be able to trust that the products we use won’t hurt us, but Level Up’s 2022 survey found that 95% of Black British women don’t trust beauty brands that sell lye-based relaxers. This should come as no surprise since L’Oreal’s hair relaxers continue to be sold, including those intended for children, labeled as “no-lye” whilst listing sodium hydroxide (lye) in the ingredients.”
In the letter, Level Up also urges L’Oreal to invest in research on the long-term impact that chemical relaxers have on Black women.
“We know you have a commitment to being “number one in the world” regarding ethics but the harm caused to Black women by frequent and long-term use of chemical straighteners, some of which you make, doesn’t align with that,” the letter says. “There is a growing, but small, body of longitudinal research that looks at the impact of certain hair products on Black women. Investing in this kind of research and making it publicly accessible is a valuable reparative step. This research should be carried out by independent bodies who cannot be influenced by L’Oreal…Now is the time for L’Oreal to lead the way in the beauty industry by taking responsibility for the harms caused by your products. We know that Black women’s money matters to you so we’re calling on L’Oreal to demonstrate Black women matter too.”
As it stands, the open letter has been signed by a coalition of politicians, campaigners, and professionals, including Labour MP Dawn Butler; Mandu Reid, the leader of the Women’s Equality party; the peer Lola Young; Andrea Simon, the director of the End Violence Against Women’s Coalition; author Reni Eddo-Lodge; actor Lolly Adefopy; and #MeToo campaigner Marai Larasi.
L’Oreal Faces Lawsuits
As of February, almost 60 lawsuits claiming relaxer products sold by L’Oreal and other companies caused cancer and other health problems have been consolidated in a Chicago federal court. These lawsuits allege that the companies were aware that their products contain dangerous chemicals but marketed and sold them anyway.
Shortly after the first lawsuits were filed, L’Oreal spoke out via an online statement, saying it is “confident in the safety of our products and believe the recent lawsuits filed against us have no legal merit.”
Meanwhile, per the Business of Fashion’s reporting, the Cosmetic, Toiletry, and Perfumery Association, an umbrella organization representing cosmetic companies, has criticized the U.S. National Institutes of Health’s study. They said that the link between hair relaxers and cancer is unfounded.
To read the full letter, which is addressed to Nicolas Hieroniumus, CEO of L’Oreal Group and Jean Paul Agon, chairman of L’Oreal Group, click here.