Update (July 25, 2016): The FDA has decided to investigate the WEN hair care controversy, according to a recent report. As of July 7, the FDA had received 127 separate consumer complaints surrounding the adverse effects, including hair loss, scalp burns and itching, caused by WEN by Chaz Dean Cleansing Conditioner products, which is the “largest number of reports ever associated with any cosmetic hair cleansing product.”

Because of these reports, and the 21,000 complaints made directly to Chaz Dean, Inc. and Guthy Renker, LLC, the FDA is urging consumers to report any reaction received after using WEN cleansing conditioners — no matter how big or small — to the FDA. And on top of that, the agency has reached out to the brand for more information as to why its products are causing such reactions, and is also notifying doctors and other healthcare providers to share these reactions with their patients so they, too, can report any additional complaints to the FDA.

Originally published on Dec. 15, 2015:

Chaz Dean has a high-profile clientele (including Brooke Shields, Alyssa Milano and Nicollette Sheridan), and a massive empire built around his hair care line, WEN (which you definitely have seen on an infomercial at 3 a.m.). But 200 Dean customers claim that WEN gave them anything but red carpet-ready hair — and have filed a class-action suit against the brand and infomercial giant Guthy-Renker in California Federal Court, claiming severe injuries to their hair and scalp.

Chaz Dean
Credit: Gabriel Olsen/FilmMagic

The hair care line is known for its 5-in-1 sulfate-free Cleansing Conditioners, which according to the website, are designed to “give you five products in one bottle.” In the suit, plantiffs claim that the cleansing conditioner caused them significant hair loss and scalp burns. They also claim the brand failed to warn consumers of the risks and dangers associated with the products quickly enough once consumers began complaining of the hazards, and removed negative reviews on social media instead of addressing them.

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The lawsuit provides online reviews showing that user complaints went back to 2012. One claimed her hair “was healthy, now it’s like straw and brittle.” Another said, “Almost immediately after using the product I noticed huge amounts of hair caught in the drain.”

Wen and Chaz Dean refute the allegations, telling PeopleStyle in a statement, “There is no scientific evidence to support any claim that our hair care products caused anyone to lose their hair. There are many reasons why individuals may lose their hair, all unrelated to WEN. We intend to vigorously contest the allegations made.”

The statement continues, “We take great pride in the quality of our products and believe every product meets our high standards. We want all of our customers to have positive experiences with our products, and we encourage any customer with any questions to contact us.” That includes customers who claim the ingredient lists differ from the informercial bottles to those sold on Dean’s website, which a spokesperson explains is the result of international regulations.

Adds Guthy-Renker spokesman Joe Hixson, “With well over 10 million WEN products shipped since 2008, our customers’ overwhelmingly positive response to WEN is a testament to the benefits it can deliver for its users. These benefits are reflected in consistently high rankings from independent consumer product sites as well.”

Dean’s high-profile celeb endorsers have not commented on the subject, and dermatologists agree that the causes of hair loss are hard to pin down specifically. Dr. Nicole Rogers, Assistant Clinical Professor of Dermatology at Tulane University School of Medicine, gave PeopleStyle her take on the suit. “In the grand scheme of things, 200 people is not that many. If you look at how many product sales that they probably have, I suspect it’s just a drop in the bucket,” she said. “I really think what they’re going to find is just a vast majority of these are coincidence and mainly caused by hair loss that’s unrelated to the product.”

She also noticed patterns among the photos people posted as evidence for the suit: “There were pictures of women who have typical female pattern hair loss. There were also pictures of people with alopecia areata, which is an autoimmune form of hair loss.”

To prove their case in court could be especially tricky. “There would have to be some sort of link between one or more of the ingredients in particular. We don’t know this for sure, but most of the products listed are generally-accepted safe. Most are just standard ingredients,” she explains. “There are a lot of natural ingredients and so, is there a chance that someone could develop a contact dermatitis to one of the plant-based products? Possible.”

She adds, “But that can happen with almost any cosmetic product that contains fragrance. Fragrance is one of the most common cases of contact dermatitis. So if you have a really terrible, strong reaction to something, it could contribute to hair loss, but unless the patients also complain of itching, scaling, that kind of thing, each of the patients in this lawsuit would need to be seen by a board-certified dermatologist and have their case evaluated individually.”

While the case waits to go to court, Dallas-based law firm Christiansen-Davis is still accepting complaints, and WEN continues to be sold (and garner rave reviews from many users).

Have you ever used WEN hair products? What are your thoughts on the lawsuit? Share with us in the comments below.

–Colleen Kratofil