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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  • Josie

    it doesn’t seem to me like anyone claiming this is a racist article is reading it with an intent to understand what the author is actually saying. I don’t see anywhere where she claims that white women or anyone else who has had hair loss because of Wen should just accept the loss or shut up about it just because the product works for black women. The point I see her making is that maybe the problem is with the makers of Wen for not being willing to target the product to the audience it clearly works best for. There’s plenty of money to be made for a good niche product in this market. We may only be 13% of the population (or whatever), but I bet on a per capita basis, we spend ten times what the average white woman spends. As a black woman with relaxed and color-treated hair, I spend over $200 every seven weeks getting touch ups. And I can’t just use any old bottle of dollar shampoo off the drug store shelf. I have to use high quality products to compensate for all the chemical treatments and that ain’t cheap at all. Don’t even get me started on the anti-frizz creams and serums and ionic hair dryers and other special tools and treatments. Other women I know spend hundreds or even thousands on a regular basis on braids, or weaves, or extensions. I’d bet when all is said and done, most of us spend thousands every year on hair upkeep. I’m sure there are white women who spend a lot, as well, but none of my white friends spend anywhere near as much as I do. So, don’t tell me there isn’t plenty of profit to be made here.

    And yet, the mainstream market doesn’t want to make products to meet our needs, cause I guess our money isn’t good enough, or something. All those products on the pages of Vogue or Glamour or whatever, that claim to be for “everyone” really aren’t. They know it and they’re fine with that. They don’t even try to create a more inclusive product line. That’s what the author is referring to. The vast majority of the mainstream brands don’t have to say the actual words – for whites only – because they say it by the formulation of their products, which wreak havoc on our hair, and by their lack of effort to create products that work for us, too. No one in the beauty industry seems too worked up about that, because hey, it only affects black women. So, who cares? We have to learn on our own which products to use and not use (sometimes the hard way). No one thinks that’s racist. But if Wen had targeted itself to black women, somehow that would be racist???? Yeah, okay. I guess that’s nothing like white privilege, at all.

    Personally, I’ve used Wen for at least five years, maybe more, and I love it to death. It detangles my hair like nothing else. With just about every other product, trying to comb after shampooing was long and painful and would end up with clumps of hair in the comb and on the floor (traumatizing!), even when I used products that claimed to be moisturizing or detangling (some of which were targeted to black women). With Wen, the comb glides through my hair like nothing else and after drying, it’s soft and silky. Some of the “flavors” worked better than others, but really, the only reason I wouldn’t use one of the Wens is if I didn’t care for the scent. I’m not giving it up. But I could see that it may not work for everyone and I wouldn’t assume that it would. Marketing is always going to oversell things. I take all of it with a grain of salt and base on my own experience and Wen has passed my test. If Wen got too ambitious in it’s marketing and the result was that people who shouldn’t have used it, did, and were harmed by it, then it should pay the price. But that doesn’t mean the product shouldn’t be available for those it does work wonders for.

    Finally, there’s an interesting article in Glamour about this, which makes the point that Wen has settled similar suits before; however – as the author stated – no one has ever established that Wen is at fault, especially given that most of the ingredients are used in other products that are not facing similar allegations. In these litigious days, most companies settle quickly because it’s cheaper. I’m not saying Wen isn’t the cause of the loss, it may well be. But with a product that sells as much as Wen, I’m guessing the likelihood that a small number of people in the universe of users could be losing their hair for other reasons is probably pretty high. It could be coincidence that the loss happened while using Wen. We look for connections, but correlation does not necessarily equal causation. Who knows? If you’re claiming the product caused the loss, it’d be nice for you to be able to establish that, factually, but I doubt that will happen because it will likely be settled to avoid the headache.

  • DeWight Smith

    I’d recommend Aveda products. Cost is high on them. They have products geared towards hair types — not one size fits all. But worth a try. Been using the Invati line for 2 years now and love it.

    – Old White Dude w/ really fine straight hair (naturally) 🙂

  • I_am_a_Gladiator/Scandalista

    That stuff was terrible on my hair. While I different experience any hair loss, it left my hair feeling like straw and you have to use way too much of it at one time. I’ll stick to my Trader Joe Spa Conditioner for cowashing

  • Yvonne Watkins

    Any time the advertisers have to fake up the ad’s before and after, I know better than to buy it. If it’s good, why the fakery? Example, the before models had hair that has been teased/back combed to make it look more tangled and frizzy. Then for the after pics, the teasing was combed out. Fake.

  • Alexandra

    There is no one product that’s going to work for everyone. Wen works for many people and that’s why Qvc and other places sell it to repeat customers. The mentol might be the problem for some woman…???? I am a user and haven’t had any negative side effects with using the products. I received it as a gift when I 1st big chopped and just kept with it. My hair is full and dense. No hair loss here. I feel for the woman affected and hope they can find out what ingredients are causing the reactions..

  • Ohioguest

    Why the hate Ms. Ball? Not all things are for all people, but there is never a reason to be nasty or condescending to those adversely affected. We can’t see racism in everything. #save it for when it makes a tangible difference.

  • Theresa Henderson

    so what does this have to do with black women ? i am so confused

  • Terietta M. Ingram

    This is all my products are owned by black folks. I am working on transitioning my makeup next. I need to spend my money on people who value me as a costumer.

  • Rodmilla De Ghent

    This article is kind of despicable and low-key racist, these women are loosing their hair, should black women rejoice because “Becky” as you call them, have non- Africanized hair? I have mostly experienced racism at the hands of Caucasian women, sad as it is true, but i don’t walk around wishing them ill. ALL women take pride in their hair. I wish mine were easier to handle but i wont be bitter about my ancestry. Disappointed in Madame Noir, is this mainly an op-ed site? Are there no editors then? Legit questions

  • Chanda

    Smdh. Some Black women are doing the most when it comes to natural hair care. Back in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s Black women had long beautiful hair with nothing but shampoo, conditioner, a comb and a can of grease. With so many co-washes and cleansing conditioners on the shelves (and at a fraction of the price), what do you need WEN for?

    • Mamma D

      Cause Wen works for some people and they like the results. Cheap doesn’t mean better. I tried REN and other cleansing Conditioners but nothing worked like Wen for me and I’m in my 6th year with waist long natural hair….Plus I use the kids formula on my 2 girls and they too have long hair. No problems here

    • BlueCornMoon

      I use WEN, too but i also go back to old school Blue Magic,S Curl, & Pink Oil, in the winter

    • GG

      Also worth noting is the fact that food was far more nutritious in the 60’s and 70’s. Once GMOs, corn fed beef and corn syrup in just about everything became the norm, our bodies became less organic. We digest more inorganic substances nowadays which affects our hair growth and our bodies overall. We also didn’t eat as much fast food back in the 60’s and 70s because people cooked more. I came of age in the 70’s and backyard gardens were very common. I rarely see them nowadays because both parents usually work. No one has time to tend a garden. We also weren’t glued to computers and cell phones and were far more active decades ago. Kids played outside back in the 60’s and 70’s now they play computer games. So it wasn’t just the simplicity of the hair products back in the day that may have encouraged hair growth but the fact that we were all healthier due to a more organic environment.

  • Summer Stills

    I am a black female and I have used the six-thirteen daily cleansing treatment and luckily my hair has not fallen out. But I am seriously thinking about just going back to regular shampoos and conditioners like Dove and Suave. lolol

  • GG

    I’m black and my hair fell out after using Wen’s Fig shampoo which is supposed to be the best product for black hair out of the line. My hair is 4b and Fig dried my hair out and I experienced breakage after using. Fortunately it wasn’t major breakage but I realized the product is not for me. Perhaps others experienced more positive results.

    • BlueCornMoon

      I use fig , 613 & pomegranate & they work fine for me. Everything isn’t for everyone. People rave about Denman brushes. I may as well use a lawnmower on my hair! Rips it out even if modified.

  • Jones

    so are black women suing the relaxer makers too?

  • missmack

    Someone seems mad. You get back what you put out there.

  • shawn

    People can be so gullible. Any adult should know that TV advertisements don’t show the true picture of how the product really works. If it really worked like he says it does beauticians would buy it by the gallon. Go to a hair stylist and if you are happy with the services buy those products for home use.

    • Gina

      Its not about being gullible. The product works for some and doesn’t work for others. Using products that don’t have sulfates such as Wen Cleansing Conditioners is cathing on and lots on black woman are using this method. Some stylist use Wen others don’t due to cost and other reasons. My stylist knows I use when and I only go to her for cuts, etc….

  • So Wen is Rio 2015. Who would have thunk it? A hair product/miracle creme didn’t solve all of your hair problems. Real talk: How was WEN different from plain old, cheap Herbal Essences or VO5. Need a deeper clean? Two Words: Dr. Bronners.

    • Chanda

      I was thinking of Rio too. The relaxer that is so natural that you can eat it lol. They f’ed up a lot of Black women’s hair back in the day.

  • Ricialove

    Yeah, I don’t get the premise of this article. It seems like the writer might be trying to be sarcastic, but I just don’t get it. As a black woman, I know if something I used in my hair made my hair fall out by the handful, permanently….there would be no words to console me. So yeah, the white women sued…as they should have. I don’t get it.

  • NewYorkBunny

    I didn’t even know Black people used Wen. I only just heard about it when I worked at QVC a couple years ago and it was middle age to elderly white women I ever placed orders with. But if I’m not mistaken, only one scent is for all hair types. The other scents are specific – dry, oily, fine, coarse, etc. I don’t like products that are for all hair types because that really means “normal” hair. Normal porosity, normal density, etc. It’s right on the middle of the spectrum, it doesn’t cover the entire spectrum. Get things that have been made specifically. And if y’all didn’t know, always use the conditioner from the same line as the shampoo you used. That will return your hair to its normal pH balance that was disrupted by the shampoo.

    • Truthbetold

      Hey there are even black people who don’t live in South Chicago.

    • BlueCornMoon

      I’ve been using WEN for going on 3 years. I use Fig,pomegranate, & 613 & love them. Not really interested in trying all those new ones when I found 3 that WORK !!

  • Adele

    So White women are supposed to “just deal with hair loss” because WEN doesn’t cause the same hair loss in Black women. What if the reverse were true would you be so flippant with your comments about Becky snatching the wig off a Black woman’s head. Why the need to make this racial is beyond me.

  • YEET

    Man the writer is so racist I loved the “Becky” comment at the end to seal the racist deal.

  • Amhoney22

    Yeah, that’s it, find the racism and blame game in white women losing their hair because of a product.

    • Guest

      Lol! This clearly went over your head.

  • Toni LeAnn Williams

    I used it once and sent it back, pronto. It did nothing it claimed. Just use plain ol’ baking soda and apple cider vinegar on your hair. Put maybe 1/4 cup of baking soda in a quart of warm water to wash your hair. Work it in, and then rinse with a little vinegar in a half-gallon of warm water. So easy to do even in a bathroom sink. Your hair comes out clean, fluffy, shiny, soft and silky. Never buy shampoo or conditioner again. These products are cheap, too.

    • NewYorkBunny

      ACV rinses are very harsh and should be done sparingly. It is called a deep clean for a reason. It greatly disrupts your hair and scalp pH and if done too frequently will cause hair to become dry and brittle. And you should absolutely, positively NEVER do an ACV rinse without doing a deep condition afterward. You absolutely need to replenish the moisture that was just lost during the rinse.

      • Toni LeAnn Williams

        I haven’t found that to be true. I’m 71 and my hair is in very good condition with plenty of moisture now, and I’ve always had very curly, very dry hair. I’ve even been dying it at home every 6-8 weeks since high school, too. That is 54 years! I only use a conditioner right after dying my hair. I do wash it less than once a week now. I even drink a little apple cider vinegar daily. A little vinegar and baking soda twice a day in a small glass of water will cure acid reflex. It restores one’s body to an alkaline state which is optimal.

        • NewYorkBunny

          Internally, apple cider vinegar is very beneficial. Externally, even with all the benefits, when coupled with baking soda, it is very harsh. I’m glad it’s worked for you for so long. There exceptions to every rule. There will not be an excess of people who experience the same positive result. Chemically, ACV rinses should be done sparingly.

          • I_am_a_Gladiator/Scandalista

            Yep. I only ACV rinse once a month. Throws off my PH if I use it too often

        • I_am_a_Gladiator/Scandalista

          The only time you use conditioner is after you dye your hair? No other time?

    • Yvonne Watkins

      That may work for oily hair but it sounds like a recipe for disaster for dry hair. Baking soda alone is too harsh for delicate hair then to add insult to injury, vinegar? On another note, all hair isn’t supposed to be ‘shiny’ or ‘silky’ (kinky, 4c hair isn’t shiny and that’s fine, neither is it ‘silky’ its ‘soft as cottony’), so your demographic may differ from this site’s target audience. This might work for you, but all and all, not so much for a different demographic.

    • BlueCornMoon

      That mix would wreck my fine 4ab hair. Too much baking soda or too strong an ACV rinse make my hair feel crispy & dry. I would NEVER use the two together. A mild ACV rinse makes my hair feel nice.

  • Nya

    I have 4c hair and WEN worked wonders for me. I guess everything ain’t for everybody.

  • Taz

    They can still file the lawsuit tho. I dont see it as them tryna mess blk women up.

  • Melle Be

    Theres a lot of money in the black hair care industry. Don’t sell black people short like that!! It infuriates me when black people excuse racist behaviors. Everyone knows there’s TON of money in the black community and its prejudice and racism why they try to cater to “universal” system, not money.

    • Terietta M. Ingram

      I think by comparison.We are only 13% of the US population so in theory its better to market to everyone.

      They on the other hand are being smart. If you know your product is best for a particular group market towards that group. Its called niche marketing. I would think someone should of brought that to their attention.