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FDA launches WEN by Chaz Dean hair loss investigation

Update: The FDA is investigating 127 reports from customers who complained of "adverse" effects from using WEN by Chaz Dean Cleansing Conditioner products. That's the largest number of reports ever associated with a hair-cleansing product, according to the statement.

The agency will continue to investigate more than 21,000 complaints related to Chaz Dean, Inc. and Gunther Renker, LLC.

The company shared the following statement with TODAY:

The Wen by Chaz Dean family cares deeply about everyone's hair health. We encourage people who inquire about any hair issues to seek qualified medical assistance because it is a complex topic.

WEN® by Chaz Dean is safe, and millions of bottles have been sold over the last 16 years. We have consistently cooperated with the FDA and will continue to do so. We love our brand and our customers.

Through this experience, we have learned that there is an immediate need for more education about hair health and common hair concerns in the industry, unrelated to Wen. There is no evidence that WEN products cause hair loss and the ingredients and formulations meet or exceed safety and quality standards set by the cosmetics industry. We stand behind them.

This story was originally published on Dec. 15, 2015.

Two hundred people have joined a class-action lawsuit against hair care brand WEN by Chaz Dean and its parent company, Guthy-Renker, claiming the brand's popular products contributed to their extreme hair loss.

The plaintiffs, mostly women, say it's WEN's cleansing conditioner, which claims to clean hair without the harshness of shampoo, that lead to "hair loss, dryness, breakage and other injuries and adverse effects," according to the complaint.

Chaz Dean is a Hollywood hair stylist whose A-list clients have included Brooke Shields, Alyssa Milano and Christina Applegate. And while celebrities and beauty experts alike have long gushed over the cult favorite conditioner, a quick online search turns up dozens of complaints, too.

"My hair was coming out in clumps in my hands as I washed and rinsed it," one reviewer wrote. "I would have a palm full of hair."

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Others posted photos showing frightening bald spots or clumps of hair in the sink.

The complaint alleges that the conditioners "contain one or more active ingredients that act as a depilatory or caustic agent, causing a chemical reaction that damages the hair strands and/or follicle."

Which ingredient that is, however, is still unclear. Some reports have raised concerns over hydroxycitronellal, a known allergen, but one widely used in cosmetics. Dermatologist Doris Day said she's had patients complain about WEN products in the past, but said more testing is necessary to know exactly what it is, if anything, that's causing the problem.

"Some people just have natural sensitivities," Day told TODAY. "It could be an ingredient, it could be a preservative, it could be the overall formulation."

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It could potentially even be a corrupt batch of products, or improperly stored products, she added. But examining the ingredients list isn't enough; the brand should test actual product used by people who claim they've lost hair, Day said.

WEN says there's no scientific proof that something in the conditioners is to blame for the women's hair loss. WEN spokesperson Joe Hixson sent the following statement to TODAY, and stressed how small the number of plaintiffs is compared to the number of products the brand has shipped.

"We take great pride in the quality of our products and believe every product meets our high standards," the company said. "We want all of our customers to have positive experiences with our products, and we encourage any customer with any questions to contact us. With well over 10 million WEN products shipped since 2008, our customers' overwhelmingly positive response to WEN is a testament to the benefits it can deliver for its users. These benefits are reflected in consistently high rankings from independent consumer product sites as well."

"Importantly, there is no scientific evidence whatsoever to support any claim that our hair care products caused anyone to lose their hair," the statement continued. "There are many reasons why individuals may lose their hair, all unrelated to WEN hair care products. We intend to vigorously contest the allegations made against our products."

Amy Davis, the attorney for the plaintiffs, declined to comment beyond the complaint, explaining that "the parties are attempting to settle their differences."

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