WEN Class-Action Suit Receives Preliminary Settlement Approval

Michael GrossmanNovember 02, 2016 3 minutes

Continuing the saga I recently addressed about Chaz Dean's WEN Hair Care Products lawsuit, it looks like there has been some traction for the thousands of women who experienced adverse side effects from loyal use of the line of five-in-one shampoos.

A federal judge in Los Angeles, where the consolidated class-action suit has been heard, recently issued preliminary approval for a settlement agreement. Joint defendants Guthy-Renker (a large firm that handles the marketing of WEN products) and celebrity hairstylist Chaz Dean (the eerily tan "face" of the WEN product line) may be on the hook for a cumulative settlement of $26.3 million. This means some six million collected plaintiffs who have reportedly suffered damages from standard use of the product may be entitled to awards of up to $20,000 apiece.

The Lawsuit: A Quick Recap

While I went a little more in-depth in my previous article, the allegations against Dean and Guthy-Renker involve reports of significant hair loss and damage to users' scalps. That skin damage takes the form of itching, reddening, and in some severe cases, the development of rashes or sores.

WEN has been on the market since 2008, and enjoyed a loyal customer base for many years. It is unclear what elements may have changed within the shampoo's formulation, but the company itself received over 21,000 consumer complaints involving the purported damages. In addition to those complaints, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has logged 127 adverse event reports--the highest number by far they have ever received about any cosmetic hair cleansing product.

Attorneys representing the class of plaintiffs allege that the shampoo contains very little in the way of cleansing or lysing agents. In terms of its composition it is actually closer to a lotion than a shampoo. While this may seem like an arbitrary distinction, it does mean that unlike normal hair care products, WEN does not rinse away entirely under running water. The remaining substance has been found to impact in hair follicles, damaging them and causing hair loss, as well as causing damage to pores on the scalp.

Loyal customers purchased the products through the WEN.com website, as well as home-shopping TV networks like QVC. Applying the product during showers started doing more harm than good, and angry, tearful customers began to flood social networks with photos of significant hair loss, bald spots, and rashes--not just on themselves, but on their children.

balding head from WEN use
One such customer--and not even the worst known example.

The Defendants Are Paying to Make It Stop.

WEN had this to say about the settlement:

"Wen by Chaz Dean is safe and we continue to provide our hundreds of thousands of customers with the Wen by Chaz Dean products that they know and love. Since the process of litigation is time consuming and costly, we made a business decision to pursue a settlement and put this behind us so that we can focus on delivering quality products."

To paraphrase: "We're not saying we did the thing, but we would really like you all to go away. So we won't admit guilt, but here's something for your trouble. And now if you'll excuse us, we need to continue aggressively marketing this product like nothing ever happened."

A U.S. District Court judge will still have to give final approval of the settlement before the suit can move forward, but it looks as though the action is drawing to a close.

That would only be the end of WEN's immediate consumer-side problems, though. Remember that record number of adverse event reports to the FDA? Those have prompted the agency to open an investigation into WEN's practices. If WEN can be believed, they have nothing to hide aside from maybe Chaz Dean's real age. However, whether millions of people are successfully bought off in the class action or not, it cannot be denied that something caused all that hair loss. Taking into account that not every hair-loss claim may be directly related to WEN use (other risk factors for hair loss include smoking, thyroid disorders, and menopause), that's still going to be a powerful number of people without intersectional factors that need explaining.

I hope they can find what (if anything) is wrong with the product so the issue can be corrected in future batches.