Celebrity hair stylist Chaz Dean began developing the Wen Hair Care line in the 1990s. His goal was to create a conditioning product that would protect and moisturize hair, without the use of sulfates. The primary product, Wen Cleansing Conditioner, has a proprietary formula that combines shampoo, conditioner, deep conditioner, detangler, and leave-in conditioner.
The other four products within the Wen Hair Care line include:
- Anti-Frizz Styling Crème
- Nourishing Mousse
- Straightening Smoothing Gloss
- Replenishing Treatment Mist
The Wen Hair Care products do not use sulfates, a common ingredient in traditional hair products. Sulfates include any number of chemical compounds related to sulfuric acid. Sulfates are traditionally used to help create lather in products like shampoo and conditioner, but recent research has shown that sulfates can strip essential oils from hair, creating dry hair and long-term damage.
Common Uses of Wen Hair Care
The most common use of Wen Hair Care is as a cleaning, conditioning, and styling line for all types of hair. The products are meant to condition hair without lather or sulfates, both of which are common in hair products but are not necessarily healthy additives.
The Cleansing Conditioner is the first and flagship product of the Wen Hair Care line. Because of its purported gentle nature, the company maintains that the Cleansing Conditioner can be used on all hair types, and is gentle enough to use on children’s hair.
Wen Hair Care Safety Concerns
Users have reported adverse effects from the use of the Wen Hair Care line, primarily the Wen Cleansing Conditioner, including hair loss, hair breakage, balding, itching, rash, and burning eyes.
Serious Skin and Hair Reactions Related to Wen Cleansing Conditioner
Across the U.S., users of the Wen Hair Care line have reported significant adverse effects dating back to at least 2010. Some consumers have balded, in patches or completely, after use of the Cleansing Conditioner. In the most severe cases, users report balding after only one to three uses of the Cleansing Conditioner. Other users report itching and rashes on the scalp.
Due to limited regulation in the hair care and cosmetics industries, research about the product is limited. Some users report that Wen Hair Care is a good product for those with thicker hair, but those with thinner hair follicles do need proper cleansing. The Wen Cleansing Conditioner may not provide enough cleaning agent, which can lead to build-up around the hair follicle, and could contribute to some of the severe side effects.
Other Medical Problems
Some consumers have reported more mild hair loss, hair discoloration, hair breakage, and burning eyes.
Regulation of Wen Hair Care
Wen Hair Care is considered a cosmetic. As a result, the FDA is the primary agency to oversee Wen Hair Care products, due to its authority under the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act (FD&C Act).
U.S. Food & Drug Administration
The FDA is the federal agency responsible for protecting public health by regulating and supervising many industries, from food and drug safety to medical devices and pet care. Cosmetics, including hair products like Wen, are regulated by the FDA branch called Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. The FDA is able to regulate cosmetics labeling and marketing, and requires cosmetics to provide warning when they have not been safely tested before commercial use and distribution.
As of early July 2016, the FDA had received 127 adverse situations as reported directly from consumers. These consumer reports allowed the FDA to further investigate the Wen manufacturing and distribution facilities, and the more than 21,000 complaints that have been reported directly to Wen, Chaz Dean, Inc., and parent company Guthy-Renker, LLC.
The FDA is currently investigating reports of serious skin and hair reactions as related to Wen Cleansing Conditioner; they have not yet determined a cause or link to the severe effects.
Wen Class Action Lawsuits
In December 2015, more than 200 women across 40 states had joined a class action lawsuit filed against Wen Hair Care. The primary claim is that the sulfate-free hair products, especially the Cleansing Conditioner, caused their hair to fall out partially or completely. The court papers allege that the company and its parent distributer were aware of these severe side effects, but at no point provided warning to users or potential customers. The U.S. District Court for the Central District of California is overseeing the case (Amy Friedman v. Guthy-Renker, LLC).
Wen’s parent company, Guthy-Renker, filed a settlement on June 28, 2016, which could provide up to $20,000 to some consumers. As of October 2016, the proposed settlement is awaiting approval by federal court. Wen does not warn users or customers on its website about the possible adverse side effects of using its hair care products.