- Unilever faces additional class action lawsuits in Illinois, New Jersey, and even in Canada over allegations that its TRESemmé keratin shampoo and conditioner causes scalp irritation and hair loss.
- On March 2, 2021, the FDA issued an update to its notice about formaldehyde and hair smoothing products.
Two women who say they suffered hair loss and painful scalp burns from TRESemmé keratin shampoo and conditioner have filed a class action lawsuit against the manufacturer for failing to warn them about what they say is a dangerous chemical in the products. The issue has grown since, with several other class action lawsuits filed and updated guidance on hair smoothing products released by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Philadelphia Women Claim Serious Damage
Robyn Lipetz and Shannon Keener, both from the greater Philadelphia area, claim that Unilever United States Inc., the maker of the TRESemmé line of hair care products, and Conopco Inc., its distributer, should be held liable for the serious damage they and others have suffered.
The hair loss and scalp injuries they suffered were caused by a chemical in the products – DMDM hydantoin – which is related to formaldehyde, their class action lawsuit says.
Formaldehyde is a known carcinogen that can cause cancer, and other less harmful reactions, when absorbed into the skin, which tends to happen when applied directly to the scalp, for instance. Formaldehyde-releasing preservatives, such as the DMDM hydantoin in TRESemmé keratin shampoo, may prevent microbes from forming in water-based substances.
Its use in the TRESemmé products is unnecessary, the class action lawsuit claims, because there are safer alternatives on the market now.
The class action lawsuit alleges that Unilever and Conopco have violated the Pennsylvania Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law and consumer fraud laws. The company’s practice of not warning customers about the presence of DMDM hydantoin in the keratin products and the risk it poses of hair loss and scalp irritation amounts to breach of express, contract/common law and implied warranty as well as fraud and unjust enrichment, the class action lawsuit claims.
The TRESemmé keratin shampoos and conditioners are marketed as products that will “deeply nourish,” “gently cleanse,” and “repair hair,” while adding softness and shine.
“For approximately a decade or longer, Unilever has known that DMDM hydantoin can cause or contribute to hair loss and scalp irritation when used as a preservative in hair products, including keratin products,” the class action lawsuit says. Moreover, Unilever has faced similar legal action in the past, in connection with its Suave Professionals Keratin Infusion product line.
The company recalled the Suave products in 2012 and agreed to pay $10.2 million to settle that class action lawsuit in 2014.
Lipetz and Keener are seeking to represent a Class of TRESemmé customers who purchased the keratin products and suffered damage from using them. Their lawyers estimate there are “thousands, if not hundreds of thousands,” of potential Class Members.
Consumers Suffer TRESemmé Hair and Scalp Damage
Lipetz, 67, purchased TRESemmé Keratin Smooth Color between January and February and used the product for two weeks. She says she stopped when she began experiencing “redness, hotness and itchiness” on her scalp and noticed she was developing bald spots.
Keener’s experience was more severe, she says. The 32-year-old bought the same shampoo as Lipetz, plus the TRESemmé keratin conditioner. She used the products for two months and in the end had to seek medical treatment, according to the class action lawsuit.
“Keener noticed scalp irritation, blisters, pimples, and a burning sensation on her scalp after the first few uses.… After continued use of the products [she] also began experiencing hair loss, where clumps of hair would fall out when showering, brushing, or even touching her hair,” the class action lawsuit says.
In February, she sought medical treatment from her primary care doctor and dermatologist due to the continued irritation to her scalp and hair loss.
She was prescribed a medicated shampoo to treat the injury, she says.
“Nowhere on the package labeling or on Unilever’s websites or other marketing materials did Unilever warn [consumers] that they were at risk of significant hair loss and/or scalp irritation,” the class action alleges.
Class Actions Pile Up Over TRESemmé Hair Damage Claims
Several class action lawsuits have since been filed over claims that consumers suffered scalp damage and hair loss after using TRESemmé smoothing hair products.
The lawsuits make similar claims that Unilever failed to disclose that an ingredient in their hair smoothing line, DMDM hydantoin, could cause severe issues, including hair breakage and loss, as well as severe scalp injuries.
TRESemmé Keratin Smooth shampoo is “dangerous and unsafe for sale as over-the-counter hair smoothing shampoo products,” states a class action filed by a New Jersey woman.
“Despite having public knowledge since at least 2012 that DMDM hydantoin, as a formaldehyde donor, can cause or contribute to hair loss and scalp irritation, Unilever continued to proudly include this ingredient as a preservative in its products, and even goes so far as to represent to the public that DMDM hydantoin is safe for use in its hair care products,” states a consumer from Illinois in her lawsuit over TRESemmé hair damage.
Consumers in Canada echo those same sentiments in a class action lawsuit noting that numerous safe alternatives to DMDM hydantoin exist, but Unilever continues to use the dangerous ingredient and advertises the safety of its TRESemmé Keratin Smooth Shampoo products.
FDA Warns of Hair Smoothing Products
In a March 2 update to its publication “Formaldehyde in Hair Smoothing Products: What You Should Know,” the FDA says that formaldehyde gas is released into the air by most hair smoothing or straightening products used during the straightening or smoothing process.
Formaldehyde gas is a known human carcinogen, warns the agency, also stating “[f]ormaldehyde exposure can cause both short- and long-term effects that may impact your health.”
Have you experienced hair loss or scalp injury after using TRESemmé keratin shampoo or conditioner? Tell us about it in the comment section below.
Lead plaintiff Lipetz and the proposed Class Members are represented by Jonathan Shuba bd Kevin Laukaitis of Shub Law Firm LLC; Melissa R. Emert and Gary S. Graifman or Kantrowitz, Goldhamer & Graifman, P.C.; Andrew J. Sciolla of Sciolla Law Firm LLC; Daniel K. Bryson, Harper T Segui and Caroline Ramsey Taylor of Whitfield Bryson, LLP.
The Hair Loss Class Action Lawsuit is Robyn Lipetz, et al. v. Unilever United States, Inc., et al., Case No. 2:20-cv-06350, in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.
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