WASHINGTON — Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D., N.J.) is probing the Food & Drug Administration and the manufacturer of Wen hair-care products over what he said are persistent safety issues that have led more than 17,000 consumers to file complaints about a cleansing conditioner that has allegedly caused significant hair loss, visible bald spots and other adverse side effects.
“Consumers deserve to know that they are making safe choices when they purchase cosmetics,” Pallone said. “Unfortunately, since popular cosmetics and personal-care products are largely unregulated before they reach the marketplace, these products can contain harmful chemicals that have the potential to put consumers at risk.”
The Wen products are part of celebrity stylist Chaz Dean’s line of sulfate-free hair-care products that is marketed and distributed by infomercial giant Guthy-Renker LLC.
Pallone, the ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, sent letters to Georg Richter, president and chief executive officer of Guthy-Renker LLC, which he said is also the manufacturer of the Wen line of products, and FDA commissioner Robert Califf.
The New Jersey lawmaker asked Richter to provide information verifying the safety of the Wen Cleansing Conditioner.
“Complaints filed by countless customers on product forums, retail Web sites and consumer sites detail a number of adverse events related to the use of the product,” Pallone said in his letter to Richter.
In addition to the hair loss and bald spots, consumers have complained about hair breakage, scalp irritation, rash and burning scalp and eyes.
According to court documents, one consumer began losing “substantial and abnormal amounts of hair” within the first two weeks of using the Wen conditioner, Pallone said. He also noted that the consumer reported that despite discontinuing use of the product, the hair loss continued for nearly three weeks and resulted in loss of up to one-third of the person’s hair.
The complaints related to hair loss and breakage with use of the cleansing conditioner date back to 2008, Pallone said.
“Despite long-standing knowledge of safety issues related to the use of Wen products and thousands of consumer complaints, Guthy-Richter continues to deny safety issues associated with use of Wen hair-care products,” Pallone added.
He cited a statement made by the company defending its products, noting “there is no scientific evidence to support any claim that our hair-care products caused anyone to lose their hair.”
“Given the increasing number of consumers experiencing adverse events related to the use of your products, I respectfully request a briefing as soon as possible from the appropriate staff at Guthy-Renker to discuss the safety issues associated with Wen products,” Pallone said in his letter.
He also requested several documents from the company, including all assessments commissioned on whether the product causes hair loss or breakage, documents related to testing of the condition for safety and potential side effects or allergic reactions, a detailed time line of all interactions and communication with the FDA on potential side effects or safety issues, and all communication with the FDA about consumer complaints of hair loss or breakage, including a letter the company sent to the FDA in February 2014 detailing a company investigation, findings and conclusions.
Pallone asked the FDA when and how it became aware of safety issues associated with the Wen cleansing conditioner and what steps the agency took to address issues. He also requested information Guthy-Renker shared with the agency and whether it conducted its own inspection of the manufacturing facility and product to determine if proper controls are in place, and asked if the FDA has requested that Guthy-Renker and Chaz Dean Inc. conducted a recall of the product.