Former aficionados of the popular haircare brand DevaCurl are now decrying the company, alleging that consistent use of its products has led to adverse symptoms, such as hair loss and damage, scalp itchiness and burning, curl relaxation and dandruff, and their complaints are now the basis of a class action lawsuit.
Though Stephanie Mero, a hairstylist based in Florida, began speaking out against the company in August 2019 when she started the Facebook group "Hair Damage & Hair Loss from DevaCurl — You're Not Crazy or Alone," the social media allegations grew after influencer Ayesha Malik posted a YouTube video Jan. 31 about her experiences using the products.
According to Malik, the Facebook group had around 4,000 followers when she posted her video. As of Monday afternoon, the group had more than 35,000 members.
"These products are really expensive, so when you pay the money, you're expecting high-quality and that's why I feel like I've been lied to," Malik said in her video, after detailing how her hair, which she considers a major part of her identity, has lost its curl. "I've been trying to make this video for so long. I can't even look at myself."
The emotional impact of hair loss
Consumers aren't sure which DevaCurl products may allegedly be responsible for their hair damage, as many have used multiple products from the company, but what's clear is that the damage is not superficial. For them, the products represent a breach of trust and the changes in their hair have caused severe emotional turmoil.
"I'm really insecure about my hair. It's all I talk about and it's consumed me," Ginger Cox Dixon, 39, told NBC News. "I feel like I have to wear a hat when I go out because of my hair loss and I cry about it all the time."
Though Dixon had been using DevaCurl products for nearly 10 years, it wasn't until last week, after the publication of Malik's video, that she said she realized that the styling cosmetics could be the cause of the distressing hair loss, "red rashes" and "intense dandruff" she'd been experiencing.
"I sat and cried for a good few hours before a sense of relief washed over me," Dixon said. "Because I finally saw that I wasn't alone and that I wasn't crazy."
Dixon has been to multiple doctors — none of whom could pinpoint with certainty the reason why her hairline was becoming more pronounced or why her nails kept breaking. They chalked her symptoms up to stress or female pattern baldness and speculated that she had thyroid issues. Yet, other than "losing 100 strands of hair per day" and having to take Benadryl to "numb" her raw scalp, Dixon said she felt perfectly healthy.
Dixon was not the only DevaCurl devotee to recently connect her hair loss with the company's products.
Carine Ghm, 21, began using DevaCurl in June because she had heard friends, family and influencers she respected "rave about their products." At first, she loved the way they made her hair look.
"Using the products helped me finally come to terms with my curly hair," Ghm told NBC News. "I was so proud of my hair; everyone associated me with my curly hair."
Yet, she said, a few months later she began losing clumps of hair every time she'd shower.
"I started questioning whether it was normal to be losing the amount of hair I was, but I thought it was because of the weather changing," Ghm, who recently moved from Miami to Scotland, said. "I couldn't think of anything else it would be, since I'm so young and have no preexisting health conditions."
Yet, after other women began publicly criticizing DevaCurl products, Ghm began to think that her symptoms could be attributed to the beauty brand.
"I started looking at pictures of me from five months ago and realized how much fuller my hair was and that I now had a bald spot," Ghm said. "I got so so scared and so upset, but getting no answers from DevaCurl is what's scariest to me."
What's next for DevaCurl and its users?
A spokesperson for DevaCurl states that its formulas are "subject to rigorous and thorough testing" to ensure their safety, but that to "provide the community with extra reassurance following recent conversations about curl and scalp health," it will be conducting additional testing with independent parties.
The company added that it will announce additional measures this week to "better understand the concerns that have been shared by the curly community" and will share additional resources regarding how to maintain healthy hair.
Yet, some consumers say they plan to take action against DevaCurl.
Brooke Marr, who said she had only used DevaCurl products four times since purchasing them in December, said she would like to get involved with a class-action suit against the company and she may have a chance to. On Monday, Gary Klinger of Kozonis & Klinger filed a complaint against DevaCurl, accusing the company of "unambiguously having knowledge of hair loss and irritation" caused by its products.
Marr said that before using DevaCurl, she "never had issues" with her hair. Now, she states that she has "red lesions and psoriasis skin" on her scalp and that she can't wear black because of "embarrassing" dandruff flakes. She added that she is also in physical pain from the bumps on her scalp.
"I don't want people to suffer in the way I've suffered," Marr said. "This has been an eye-opener; no matter the brand or its reputation, do your research."
Other women in the group say they have filed complaints with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, hoping the agency will launch an investigation into DevaCurl. A spokesperson for the FDA said the agency cannot discuss specific investigation plans at this time, but an investigation into a hair care company would not be unprecedented. In 2016, the FDA announced that it would conduct an investigation into WEN by Chaz Dean Cleansing Conditioner products after receiving nearly 2,000 complaints from consumers reporting hair loss, hair breakage, balding, itching and rashes after using the products. WEN settled a class action lawsuit for approximately $26 million.
"The one bright spot in all of this has been seeing people support each other and giving tips," Marr said. "It's devastating but we need to stay strong."
The first DevaCurl salon was founded by Lorraine Massey in 1994 in New York City to give women "curl confidence." The company has become a cultural phenomenon, especially in recent years as influencers promoted the products. Some consumers suspect the company has changed its formulations in recent years, but DevaCurl, which was acquired by a German company called Henkel in November, has not announced any adaptations to the make of its products.