You’ve probably heard by now that thousands of women have complained to infomercial mega-marketer Guthy-Renker that they suffered hair loss after using the popular hair care line WEN by Hollywood hairstylist Chaz Dean.
According to his promotional video, Dean claims he found inspiration (and supposedly the ingredients) for the product line in his yard.
As Dean tells the story on his official video, “I literally went to my garden. I got sage, rosemary, lavender, eucalyptus, apples, bananas and pears, went in my kitchen and did like an elixir, potpourri mix…. I knew I was onto something so I went and I met with a lab…. So that’s where it all started….”
Somewhere between his first inspirational harvest of whole herbs and fruits and the formulation of a finished product, Dean switched to a mixture full of synthetic chemicals, including known allergens.
Why is WEN by Chaz Dean allegedly causing hair loss? No one has gotten to the bottom of these allegations.
We do know that the federal Food, Drug and Cosmetics Act, which governs the safety of personal care products such as WEN, does not require manufacturers to substantiate the safety of their products before selling them. However, federal legislation introduced last April by U.S. Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) aims to fix this problem. Among other things, it would shift the burden for proving that cosmetic products are safe to manufacturers such as Chaz Dean, Inc.
According to the label, Dean’s cleansing conditioner contains two chemical preservatives -- methylisothiazolinone and its sister substance methylchloroisothiazolinone -- that have been restricted in the European Union for use in personal care products, on grounds that they are sensitizing allergens.
Labels on Dean’s products also list “fragrance” as an ingredient. “Fragrance” is a generic term for any cocktail of chemicals used to make a product smell good. These mixtures can contain individual ingredients linked to cancer, endocrine disruption and serious allergic reactions. By using the catchall term “fragrance” on the label, cosmetic companies such Dean’s can avoid telling consumers the whole truth about what’s in the bottle.
Confused yet? It gets even more complicated. If you’re buying WEN by Chaz Dean from Guthy-Renker instead of from Dean himself, you’re buying a product that is not the same one that Dean describes in his video. Although the bottles look nearly identical, the backs of the labels tell a different story. The ingredient lists are not the same.
And because Guthy-Renker sells its formula in Europe, where regulation of ingredients in personal care products is much more stringent, its bottle says that it contains seven known allergens in its “fragrance.” Are these allergens in Chaz Dean’s garden apple and banana-inspired WEN? We don’t know.
Guthy-Renker has reformulated its WEN line more than once since consumer complaints of hair loss began pouring in. Court documents show that Guthy-Renker has received more than 17,000 such complaints. We don’t know whether the complaints had anything to do with the reformulations (Guthy-Renker claims they did not), but we do know that one of the changes the company made was to lower the concentration of the botanical ingredients that so inspired the product’s inventor.
As is the case with all personal care products, Chaz Dean and Guthy-Renker can use almost any mixture of chemicals they choose to make WEN. The decades-old federal law regulating the personal care products industry has established one of the weakest regulatory systems on the books. It has remained largely the same since 1938.
The public deserves greater regulatory oversight of potentially risky personal care products such as WEN, and that’s where the Personal Care Products Safety Act could make a big difference. Among other critical reforms, the bill would require cosmetics makers to ensure that their products are in fact safe and would give the federal Food and Drug Administration the power to recall dangerous products. The FDA currently lacks the ability to order recalls. It would also require companies to tell the FDA when they receive complaints from consumers about adverse reactions such as hair loss.
For now, Chaz Dean and Guthy-Renker continue to peddle WEN hair care lines in infomercials, online and in retail stores like Sephora. And until the Personal Care Products Safety Act becomes law, they’ll be doing so with very little federal oversight.