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Unilever in court for misleading claims on its formaldehyde product line

By Michelle Yeomans , 01-Oct-2012
Last updated on 03-Oct-2012 at 12:30 GMT

A Texas-based firm has filed a complaint against the global giant with regards to alleged false, deceptive and misleading claims in connection with its Suave Professionals Keratin Infusion 30 Day Smoothing Kit.

Amy Davis, partner at Christiansen Davis Bullock told CosmeticsDesign.com USA that; “We filed the complaint last week, and we are working with local counsel in New Jersey to obtain permission to appear in the New Jersey court.”

Status of the case

Davis further revealed to us that “The case is at the very beginning stages. It's been brought on behalf of 14 specific plaintiffs and we are receiving calls every day from other women who have had the same experience and who will be joining the suit.”

The filing features statements from 14 women who say they experienced hair loss to the point of "visible bald spots, terrible breakage, discoloration… some of them had injury or burning to the scalp” as a result of using the kit. Davis adds that the case will not reach class action status, due to the fact that the women did not all experience the same results.

Although this firm’s law suit is but a week old, the cosmetic giant is said to have received hundreds of complaints in recent months and numerous law firms including one in California announced as far back as May, that they were investigating what is claimed to be a ‘Formaldehyde Free’ product.

However, Davis says that her firm is “not working with any other firm, including that of Wasserman in California.

Unilever markets the Keratin-based hair straightening product as ‘an affordable at-home alternative’ to professional salon treatments that’s ‘formaldehyde free’.

However, the partner in the firm says that the global giant may not be able to substantiate those claims, and that it “may have failed to inform consumers that the product contains a chemical known as ‘Tetrasodium EDTA’ which is mainly synthesized from formaldehyde,” and “a chemical preservative known as ‘DMDM Hydantoin’, which is an antimicrobial formaldehyde releaser with the trade name Glydant.”

Unilever response

Back in May, Unilever went on the record to say that although it doesn’t comment on ongoing litigation, it had begun to receive “a greater-than-expected number of complaints about the Suave Professionals Keratin Infusion 30-Day Smoothing Kit,” and thereafter discontinued the product and recalled it from retail stores.

Despite numerous attempts to contact a company representative further on this matter, Cosmetics Design did not find a spokesperson available for comment at the time of publication.

Formaldehyde furore

Formaldehyde has been classified as a known human carcinogen (cancer-causing substance) by the International Agency for Research on Cancer and as a probable human carcinogen by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. In April, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued a hazard alert, warning that formaldehyde-containing hair-straightening products can cause serious health problems, including increased risk of cancer.

It is a colorless, flammable, strong-smelling chemical that is commonly used as a preservative in some consumer products, including hair straightening products. In small concentrations formaldehyde can irritate the eyes and mucus membranes, resulting in watery eyes, headache, a burning sensation in the throat, and difficulty breathing.

Over the past year it has come under increased scrutiny in the personal care industry following a string of lawsuits and health claims surrounding its use in hair smoothing treatments, prompting some members of Congress to request the Food and Drug Administration to take action to protect salon workers and consumers.

As a result of the risks posed, six countries have recalled the use of formaldehyde-based straighteners, however, the FDA has yet to issue a voluntary recall.

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