Broekhuizen v. L'Oreal: Why You Need To Neutralize
Court case against Carson/L'Oreal The Optimum relaxer caused Isabella Broekhuizen to go bald and forced her to break off her US modeling career. Now she is back home in Maastricht, the Netherlands fighting for justice.
Isabella Broekhuizen was diagnosed with chemical burning caused by sodium hydroxide, the main ingredient in lye relaxers. She sues because her aspiring modeling career is over, her bald and burnt scalp still hurts and she has to wear hair-prostheses for the rest of her life. Here is her story.
Isabella this is quite a story. How old were you when you first started to use relaxers and what were your reasons to straighten your hair? I was 12 years when I started to use relaxers. I straightened my hair because I thought it improved my looks.
So you were quite familiar with the process when you used the Optimum relaxer. So what went wrong that day? Was this the first time that you relaxed your hair yourself? No it wasn't the first time I relaxed my hair myself. So I think it was the brand. Optimum was probably too strong.
What exactly did you? Can you explain what happened? I used the relaxer same as usual.
What do you mean the same as usual. Can you be a little more specific? I used the relaxer the same way everybody does. I added it to my roots, close to my scalp to make it as straight as possible, from roots to ends. Then I wanted to let it sit for a couple of minutes like the directions said. According to the box I could have left it on for 13 to 18 minutes but it started to burn immediately. I thought the relaxer wouldn't straighten my hair if I rinsed it out instantly so I left it on for 4 minutes. After that I could not take it anymore and rinsed it out.
Did you neutralize? No. There was no neutralizer in the box. I suppose any other brand includes a neutralizer in a home use kit. The Optimum instructions said rinse with warm water and condition afterwards.
When did this all happen? How long is this ago? In 1996.
When did you realize you were loosing your hair and how did long did it take to loose all of your strands? I realized I was losing hair after a couple of months and within a year I was completely bald.
I suppose you go crazy when you see that you are losing lots of hair. What did you think was causing you losing your hair and what did you try to do against it? I realized it was caused by the relaxer and I did go to hospital. They gave me a heavy dose of vitamin A.
You went to 3 different doctors. What did they say? What was causing the itching and what caused you to go bald? About 60 doctors examined me in total. Each on of them diagnosed me with chemical burning caused by sodium hydroxide. This ingredient also caused itching. It was a main ingredient in the Optimum relaxer and as I understand now in lye relaxers in general.
How is the lawsuit going? Preparing a lawsuit and going for justice is not easy. It is also a fight for justice.
When is the trial? It's true that L'Oreal wanted to settle for 50.00 Euros? There is no date for the trial yet. I hope it will be as soon as possible. It is true that L'Oreal tried to settle for 50.00 euros.
When and why did you give up modeling? Did you try modeling with wigs? I gave up modeling in 1998. I was in too much pain. No, I didn't try modeling with wigs.
Do you work now? No, I don't work now, according to authorities I am not physically fit to work.
Does your head still itch? Isn't there a chance that your hair will grow back? Do you really have to wear wigs for the rest of your life? My head still itches and I still have wounds. There is no chance that my hair will ever grow back. So, yes, I have to wear wigs (actually hair prostheses) for the rest of my life.
What do you think if you look back? If I knew then what I know now, I would have never used Optimum.
Can you explain what you mean? Sodium Hydroxide is a main ingredient in lye relaxers, the main ingredient in no-lye relaxers is Calcium Hydroxide. These are quite strong and harmful ingredients but necessary to straighten hair.
Are you saying that if you knew then what you know now you would use another brand, a no-lye relaxer or no relaxer at all? I think I would do something else with my hair. Like Braiding or weaving. If I could change anything I would take the whole relaxing experience away, so I would have no more pain, no more prostheses to wear, no more doctors to visit, no more worries, no more thoughts that bother me day by day by day.
Are you against the use of relaxers? No, I'm not against the use of relaxers but I think its very important to inform people about the hazards of using them. I really wasn't aware that relaxers were so hazardous that one could get injured for live. No one ever told me that they were hurt by the use of a relaxer. All I heard was ''it burns a little but it will be over before you know it." So I truly never saw any harm in relaxing my hair. And even now when I try to warn people, they don't listen. They act like nobody has ever has a problem with relaxers and that something like this won't happen to them. That's why I think the product needs a more explicit warning, especially for home using. A warning like those on the cigarette boxes. It explicitly says that cigarettes can cause long cancer etc. Relaxers need a warning like that. It should be clear what the implications can be. Because believe me, If only I had known, I would have been very alert and way more careful.