You have probably seen some of the recent media attention surrounding litigation against WEN by Chaz Dean. If not click here and here. There have apparently been several lawsuits over the years, including a class action alleging that WEN products caused the plaintiffs to suffer hair loss. Hundreds of users of WEN claim to have experienced thinning hair, hair falling out in clumps, and bald spots immediately after using WEN products. When I first heard of the lawsuit I felt sympathetic. What a horrible experience to endure. If you are anything like me, your second thought was, “how can I avoid something like this?” Unless you farm and cultivate your own ingredients, and use those ingredients to make your own products, a WEN-type situation is always a possibility. But there are a few things we can do to shift the odds in our favour in our search for safer products and ingredients:
1. Don’t be fooled by greenwashing and puffery.
Greenwashing and puffery are both devices used to make consumers think a product is really, really good. In most cases both devices are perfectly legit. Greenwashing involves dressing up your typical mass produced, synthetic product in packaging that makes you think the product is clean, organic or environmentally friendly. Think of green, blue, brown or white bottles, and packaging that depicts waterfalls, flowers or other parts of nature. Nothing prevents a company from using a package design that brings about thoughts of nature, even though there is nothing natural in the product.
Likewise, puffery is a legal term that describes subjective promotional claims. Statements like “this is the best shampoo ever!” and “better ingredients, better product” are both examples of statements that could be considered puffery. The thing about puffery is that there is no way to determine if it is true or false – puffery is a matter of opinion. Unfortunately, having a discerning mind may or may not have helped the WEN plaintiffs. One allegation made by the plaintiffs is that WEN made claims such as “WEN has no harsh ingredients . . . .” Whether that statement is puffery, a verifiable fact, or a misleading statement is something that the judge or jury will have to decide. Frankly, I can see reasonable arguments on both sides. Bottom line: if a brand claims that its product is the best, don’t be fooled. Instead, find out what exactly is so good about it, and more importantly, find out what is not so good about the product. Researching the brand and product is point number two.
2. Research, research, research.
Everyone tries new things at some point in time. Even that one staple product that we always use, that we have no interest in replacing, was new to us once upon a time. So before you try any product – hair, makeup, or otherwise – do your research. Research the brand. Research the product. Research the ingredients. Whenever I am researching a product I’ve just discovered, I always read the reviews of people who have tried it, or tried other products from the same brand. In most cases, in between the company’s website, YouTube, Amazon, and elsewhere on the web, there are tons of reviews. And while positive reviews may be helpful, I’m mostly interested in credible negative reviews. Comments from trolls and hateful people are not credible. Reviews from people who have something critical to say are. Is the product effective, does it smell odd, does the company have questionable business practices or poor customer service, does the product contain harsh or toxic ingredients? These are all things I want to know before spending my hard earned money. Which leads me to point number three.
3. Educate yourself.
It is one thing to know that your product contains propylene glycol and ricinus communis, but it is another thing to know that one of those products is cosmetic grade antifreeze, and the other is castor oil. Taking the time to find out a product’s ingredients, and what those ingredients actually are, is so tremendously important. It might even make you re-think some of your favourite, so called luxury beauty products. Are you using a luxury product, or a product that merely has a luxury packaging design? Educating yourself on what is in your products can only help you. After reading and researching the ingredients, be selective in deciding whether that product is really something you should buy. Know that the words “natural” and “organic,” standing alone, are essentially meaningless. Unless a product is certified organic, there is no real assurance that a brand’s “green” claims are remotely true. Even if you have no problem using synthetic ingredients, it is still beneficial to know whether the ingredients in your products are potential allergens, irritants, or otherwise pose health risks. Of course no amount of research can protect you from a brand that misrepresents its ingredients, as alleged by the WEN plaintiffs. But as long as you’ve done your due diligence, you can feel comfortable knowing that you’ve done all you can to protect you and your family from unsafe products and unsafe ingredients.
If you’re looking for a good place to start your research, or a good explanation of what might have happened to the WEN products and plaintiffs, and why it is probably not cause to be alarmed, visit Bubble & Bee Organic’s blog, Chemical of the Day, here.
Has the WEN controversy made you cautious about trying new products? I’d love to read your thoughts in the comments section below.