On July 19, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a safety alert to consumers about cleansing conditioners from Wen by Chaz Dean. It’s unusual for the FDA to issue warnings about personal care products, so here’s the lowdown on the most common questions.
Who is Chaz Dean?
Dean is a Los Angeles–based hairstylist. He began working on his Wen line in 1995, before promoting it on QVC and via celeb-endorsed infomercials starring Brooke Shields and Alyssa Milano. He also operates a namesake salon in Hollywood.
What is Wen?
Wen is billed as innovative haircare made with natural ingredients and designed as an alternative to sulfate-heavy, lathering shampoos. The line is best known for cleansing conditioners (co-washes) named after botanical ingredients, like Sweet Almond Mint, Fig and Tea Tree.
Why was Wen sued?
Complaints about Wen have been popping up in online forums for years. In 2015, a U.S. class action lawsuit was filed against Wen, with allegations that the products had caused side effects such as hair loss (including bald spots), severe hair breakage, scalp irritation, rashes and even infection. As of December, more than 200 women in 40 states had joined. (See the law firm’s original complaint here.)
Why is the FDA investigating Wen?
The agency doesn’t approve cosmetic products before they hit the market, but it does monitor consumer complaints it receives. (Learn more about how Health Canada regulates beauty product safety here.)
In the case of Wen, the high number of complaints was a big part of the decision to investigate. The FDA itself has directly received 127 consumer complaints about Wen—“the largest number of reports ever associated with any cosmetic hair cleansing product, including cleansing conditioners.”
The law doesn’t require cosmetic companies to pass consumer complaints they receive onto the FDA. But while inspecting the company’s facilities, the FDA discovered that Chaz Dean Inc. and distributor Guthy-Renker have received more than 21,000 complaints about its cleansing conditioners. The majority of these complaints relate to the Sweet Almond Mint co-wash.
A spokesperson for Chaz Dean has declined to confirm how many complaints it’s received.
What could be causing such reactions to a hair product?
The FDA says it doesn’t know the cause because it doesn’t have enough information yet to figure it out.
According to dermatologists interviewed by NPR, one common cause of such reactions is an allergy to ingredients like surfactants and preservatives. But it may be difficult for the plaintiffs to prove Wen’s cleansing conditioners caused their symptoms, as hair loss can also be triggered by a range of other factors, including stress, styling and hormonal changes.
What should consumers do if they experience a bad reaction to a product?
They should stop using it and see a doctor. In Canada, they can also go online to report their adverse effects to consumer products—including cosmetics and personal care items—directly to Health Canada.