Thursday, December 24, 2015

On the lawsuit filed against WEN cleansing conditioners...

Having serious back pain means loads of time to surf the 'net. (Way too much time!) In my meanderings, I came across a few interesting things, like this article on the Daily Beast about a class action lawsuit against WEN hair products alleging that their cleansing conditioner made users' hair fall out or caused permanent damage to their hair or scalp. The writer doesn't always get the chemistry right - she claims that fatty alcohols, like cetyl alcohol, in hair products "can be drying", which is not the case - but it's an interesting read.

A few thoughts I had while reading this article...

The ingredient list from Amazon, which may differ slightly that one that came directly from the company or QVC: Water, Aloe Vera Gel, Glycerin, Chamomile Extract, Cherry Bark Extract, Calendula Extract, Rosemary Extract, Behentrimonium Chloride, Stearamidopropyl Dimethylamine, Cetyl Alcohol, Emulsifying Wax, Panthenol, Trimethylsilylamodimethicone, Hydrolyzed Whole Wheat Protein, PEG-60, Almond Glycerides, Menthol, Essential Oils, Citric Acid, Methylchoroisothiazolinone, Methylisothiazolinone, Fragrance

WEN is a conditioner. They call it a cleansing conditioner, but because there's no definition for the words "cleansing conditioner", this really doesn't mean anything. Any conditioner could be called a cleansing conditioner. I think the no-shampoo concept suggests that you don't use anything with silicones in them, but there's no reason a conditioner with silicones can't call itself a cleansing conditioner. (This product does contain a silicone in the form of trimethylsilylamodimethicone.)

In the article, one of the lawyers notes, "What we understand about the product and how it causes hair loss is it contains virtually no cleanser". This isn't some big secret: There isn't anything in there that anyone would consider a shampoo-like cleanser. (In fact, I think that's one of its selling points?) The lawyer also notes it's like "using lotion to wash your hair", but there's no "like" about it. When you wash your hair using only conditioner, you are using a lotion - which is to say water and oil brought together with an emulsifier - to clean your hair.

In the article, the writer notes that a customer said, “Not only did it not clean my hair, it made it look like I combed it out with a pork chop". I'm guessing this customer had oily hair and conditioner washing didn't agree with her. This problem isn't exclusive to WEN products, and all hair types can have this experience when washing only with conditioner.

In the interests of disclosure, I have very oily hair and had the same experience the few times I conditioner only washed my hair. Others swear by this method. Not judging no-shampoo, just noting my experiences. 

There are ways to "avoid sulfates" and still use a good foaming and lathery shampoo. There are loads of surfactants we can use that are mild and gently cleansing. Really, the only surfactant that might not be great is sodium lauryl sulfate because it's considered "harsh", but if we really wanted to use it, we can make it feel milder by reducing the concentration or including loads of ingredients to increase mildness.

The word "sulfate" itself tells you very very little about a surfactant. It doesn't tell you if it's mild or an effective cleanser or even if it's an appropriate for a shampoo. Take behentrimonium methosulfate. It's a great positively charged conditioning agent, the main ingredient in Incroquat BTMS-50 or Rita BTMS-25, that is used as a conditioner and emulsifier. It isn't a foaming, lathering surfactant or one that cleanses in a conventional sense. (When someone says to avoid sulfates, they don't mean this one.)

I appreciate that everyone is entitled to choose their ingredients as they wish, but I would like to encourage you to read a bit on a surfactants rather than just eliminating ones that contain the word "sulfate". I think you're missing out on some lovely surfactants like sodium laureth sulfate or ammonium laureth sulfate, both of which are considered mild detergents and pH balanced.

Related post: How to interpret surfactant names. 

Why is this happening to these customers? I don't know if anyone knows the answer to this. From the article: “WEN seems to be good for certain hair types, especially those that are coarse or frizzy,” says Kelsey Smart, a stylist at Fox & Jane salon in New York. “But for women with fine hair, it becomes more important for the scalp to stay really clean—otherwise, product can build up and lead to breakage.” Ironically, women who need a squeaky-clean scalp may be in most need of the sulfates that Dean has tried so diligently to avoid."

As a note, there are many ways to get a squeaky clean scalp without using sulfates, as there are many many lovely surfactants out there that will clean hair gently! You can see those recipes in the hair care section of this blog. 

I did do some surfing to read complaints about WEN, and this issue came up again and again. This whole situation is awful, and I'm so sorry anyone had to go through this. My heart breaks, and I hope those affected find some consolation. As someone who is a little hair obsessed, I can't imagine how they feel. I hope they find some answers...

14 comments:

Mollie said...

How very interesting. Thank you. I don't use Wen, but I have been using Purely Perfect cleansing creme which I'm guessing is very similar. I trade off with a moisturizing shampoo. I have straight fine hair and have trouble with snarls after shampooing. This doesn't happen when I "shampoo" with a conditioner!
I haven't made any hair care products yet, but this article is pointing me in that direction.
I really appreciate your blog. I have learned so much to feed my addiction of lotion making. I have been hesitant to get into the hair care line because the combinations to try with lotion ingredients is mind boggling. So much fun though. And not fattening like baking.

Mollie

Kim Vermeiren said...

The conditioner I make always has a bit of foaming action. i think it's the cetrimonium chloride (as it began when I started to use it). I really like what i brings to my conditioner and I have no intention on leaving it out but I wonder if the foaming, which I assume works slightly cleansing, can make my conditioner less conditioning. In the way that a lotion pretty much dissapears when you wash the spot where you applied it with soap, but in a much lighter form. Any ideas?

Kirk said...

Your conditioner will not be conditioning if you removed cetrimonium chloride (assuming it is the only ingredient in your conditioner with substantivity).

Kimberly said...

Hi! May I repost this on my Facebook account as well as my beaut blog Facebook account? There are a couple of beauty blogs here in the US that are very anti-SLS however, I know they do not know all the facts.

Also, I am one of the WEN users that had excessive hair loss. I never put two and two together until all this hoopla. But, I must say, the product did leave my hair very soft!

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Kimberly! Please feel free to link away! Can you send me the URL of your blog and Facebook page?

Baby Kat said...

Very interesting information. I have very fine, thin and frizzy hair and I read a lot about Wen when it started to become popular and realized that this type of product was not going to work for me. Now that I have learnt a bit more about surfactants from you, I feel more comfortable about being adventurous and making my own hair care products.

pat bortolin said...

FIGURES!! I just made a purchase of the almond/mint conditioner as I was curious for the results of my thick course and frizzy hair becoming soft and luxurious..lol, anyway, 200 women claiming hair loss from this product won't even put a dent in a 100 million $ industry mainly because there are to many reasons for hair loss in women. So for now I will continue to use wen as a conditioner until it is finished and go back to making my own conditioner with all the lovely ingredients like keratin, silk and panthenol-D. Thanks Susan for all your great info. and formulas, Happy New Year!!!

Kimberly said...

I have been using Wen for over a year. My hair would not grow no matter how much Biotin I took or what I did to help it. Since using Wen my hair has grown about 7" or more and is in beautiful condition! I am a HUGE supporter of Wen and encourage friends and family to try it. I wonder if the people who are having problems are actually having a reaction to something in the product specifically and not the Wen as a whole. My hair is very fine and thin too. I still scrub my scalp very well and rinse well too. Since they cannot possibly know how people use the product, maybe they leave it too long or don't scrub or don't rinse well, any number of factors. I'm willing to bet that each person will have different habits with hair care too. I hope he doesn't take a huge hit for this I would be so upset to lose my Wen! I will be very interested to see where this goes.

Lou Jatras said...

I have used Wen for years and my hair has never been healthier. I have fine, thin, straight hair. I have been on a quest to remove all chemicals from my body care products and the shampoo will be the last to change. I had just received a Christmas special of 5 bottles of Wen when I heard about this law suite. I am really disturbed about it. I have had periods of hair loss but always attributed it to thyroid and adrenal issues, hence the quest to remove chemicals, and I still do believe that was the issue. While I do agree with another commenter that there are so many factors that can cause hair loss, I am still really concerned about it. Coincidentally, I have been wondering if it was possible to create my own Wen like cleanser recipe in an effort to remove unknown factors and then I found your site while looking for more information on making lotion bars. I was really surprised (and happy) to see that you are talking about Wen and this issue. I can't help but wonder that with all your knowledge and being able to look at an ingredient list of a Wen cleanser if you can see where an issue might be... I would also love some direction on how to make my own "cleansing conditioner" for future use. I am really excited about finding your blog, it is comprehensive and very helpful...

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Lou. If you click on the links in the post, you'll see how to make your own version of this product. There is nothing unique to WEN. Hundred of other conditioners you can buy at the store and those you can make at home have very similar, if not the same, ingredients. That's the funny thing about all of this, and will probably be WEN's defence. There isn't anything unique about what they make. They make a conditioner with a few nice ingredients in it, but charge quite a lot for it. You can use any conditioner in the store as a "cleansing conditioner" because there's no difference between a cleansing conditioner and a regular conditioner.

As for removing chemicals, we can't. Chemicals are merely things made of elements, which means everything on our planet is a chemical. I wonder if you aren't thinking of synthetic ingredients? There is no such thing as a natural conditioner: All conditioners contain a positively charged ingredient that has been made in a lab. Any company that claims to have a natural conditioner is either not telling the truth and stretching what we would think of as "natural" or they haven't made a conditioner. I encourage you to check out the hair care section of the blog to learn more about products we can make with all kinds of recipes!

Tawakana said...

I think cleansing conditioner are not necessary for Caucasian hair , but do work well with african hair types. I know many people of African descent who only use co-washes and have thriving hair

sandra margot-escott said...

I too suffered moderate hair loss after using Wen for about 6 weeks. Stopped using it and hair stopped falling out. I have thick but baby fine hair.

DeeDee said...

Thank you for this post....very informative Susan. As an aside, I also have very severe back pain and that has led me to trying to find a "hobby" I guess and attempt (and I really mean attempt....lol) to make my own shampoo, cleansers and lotions, etc. I am due to see my neurosurgeon in September to discuss my surgery after suffering for about 8 1/2 years with no diagnosis. Just wondering if there was the slight chance that you also had Tethered Cord?? I know this is like a needle in a haystack but I've experience weirder coincidences...lol. Either way, I do hope you can find some relief from your back pain soon. There isn't much that is more like torture than a really bad back. Thank you for all the information you provide, especially while struggling with pain. I am in awe of you. I can't imagine doing what you do. I just could not find the persistence you have. Good for you Susan and all the best!!! ((hugs))

DeeDee

p said...

I just heard a podcast and saw a NY Times article about Wen (and new proposed cosmetics regulations). I was shocked to hear of the many adverse reactions to this product, because I remember your posts on it, and it seems like such a standard product! Never tried it myself, but I'm super curious about what could be causing these terrible reactions. Naturally one of my first thoughts was to see if you'd posted about it! :) Thanks for sharing your take.

I found this article in Allure about the Wen hair loss issue: http://www.allure.com/story/wen-hair-loss-lawsuit In it, a cosmetic surgeon says the following:

"Not cleansing the scalp can be detrimental to hair.... Although many people believe the myth that shampooing your hair can lead to fallout, the real problem with not cleansing the scalp periodically is that our scalp oil (sebum) contains a trace of dihydrotestosterone, which is the androgen implicated in causing hair to cycle and thin out."

Another dermatologist they quote demurs. But I still thought this was super interesting, and I'm curious what you make of this DHT idea! Thanks as always, Susan -- you're awesome!