What Does The WEN Lawsuit Mean For Black Women?

December 14, 2015  |  

Photo Credit: Sephora.com

A class-action lawsuit aimed at a popular co-washing system might have many Black natural hair wearers ready to snatch the wig of the nearest White girl for, once again, messing a good thing up for us…

According to The Daily Beast, nearly 200 women have signed up for a class action lawsuit against WEN hair care alleging that it failed to warn consumers that use of the product may result in temporary and permanent hair loss.

More specifically, the news site reports:

Billed as a sulfate-free alternative to shampoo, WEN promises to “take the place of your shampoo, conditioner, deep conditioner, detangler, and leave-in conditioner.”

But the cult favorite products have also attracted controversy. Over the years, horror stories from customers have circulated online—on WEN product forums and sites including Pissed Consumer and Amazon—about WEN’s 5-in-1 Cleansing Conditioners causing hair to come out in handfuls, as well as clogged drains and bald spots.

Now, more than 200 women in 40 states have joined a class action lawsuit against WEN by Chaz Dean and infomercial giant Guthy-Renker in California Federal Court. They claim that the WEN products can cause severe and possibly permanent damage to hair, including significant hair loss to the point of visible bald spots, hair breakage, scalp irritation, and rash.”

At the center of the lawsuits appears to be WEN’s Sweet Almond Mint basic kit. The kit bills itself as an all-natural mix of botanicals. The cleansing conditioner in particular includes such ingredients as:

Water, Glycerin, Cetyl Alcohol, Cetearyl Alcohol, Stearamidopropyl Dimethylamine, Chamomilla Recutita (Matricaria) Flower Extract, Prunus Serotina (Wild Cherry) Bark Extract, Rosmarinus Officinalis (Rosemary) Leaf Extract, Prunus Amygdalus Dulcis (Sweet Almond) Oil, Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Juice, Hydrolyzed Wheat Protein, Vegetable Oil (Olus Oil), Panthenol, Butylene Glycol, Behentrimonium Methosulfate, Polysorbate 60, PEG-60 Almond Glycerides, Amodimethicone, Citric Acid, Menthol, Phenoxyethanol, Ethylhexylglycerin, Fragrance, Hexyl Cinnamal, Limonene, Linalool, Geraniol, Benzyl Benzoate, Hydroxycitronellal, Hydroxyisohexyl 3-Cyclohexene Carboxaldehyde.

However as the Daily Beast article notes, many of those ingredients are widely used in the hair care industry, with exception of hydroxycitronella, which is currently banned in the European Union for being toxic to the immune system.

And while no one knows for sure what ingredient in WEN is allegedly causing hair loss (the article quotes experts who said that determining the root causes of hair loss in women in very complicated and include many factors from genetics to hormonal changes to prolonged flat-iron use), the law firm representing the plaintiffs in the case estimates that as many as “in the thousands or tens of thousands” could eventually be named in the lawsuit.

It should be mentioned that the plaintiffs featured in many of the articles about the lawsuit (including this USA Today article from earlier this year when the lawsuit was announced and features pictures of some of the women alleging WEN caused their hair loss) appear to be non-Black women. This is important to note as the WEN system, which allows you to clean your hair with conditioner, has been marketed as a product made for all hair types and textures.

Likewise, it has become very popular among Black women with natural hair who are looking for alternatives to harsh sulfates and other chemicals that are in standard shampoos and known to cause damage to our hair.

And although the Daily Beast article said that there are negative reviews of the product all over the internet, the article also highlights this interesting quote from a hair stylist who says:

“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.”

In fact, my own quick Google query for negative reviews of the WEN hair care line within the Black online hair care community has resulted in unrelated complaints about its price (it’s too expensive) and double-billing.

I bring this up because over the last few years we have seen hair and beauty companies, including Black-owned businesses, steer away from marketing to Black women specifically for a more universal customer base.

From a marketing standpoint, it is genius. Black women in particular have long felt excluded from the mainstream health and beauty industry. Therefore, who doesn’t like the idea of a product that can be used by all hair types?

But is that really realistic? More specifically, is there really such a thing as a universal product that addresses the needs of all textures and types?

Arguably, WEN could just be a product that is more “botanically” aligned with African-American and other ethnic hair textures. And if the allegations are true, this entire lawsuit could have been avoided if it had just sought to cater more to its real customer base while telling Becky and ’em to go elsewhere – just like I am told with about 80 percent of the hair care products for “women” on the shelf.

But I understand, there is little money in that…

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