SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - Hundreds of women suffered hair loss and scalp burns from using Suave Professionals Keratin Infusion 30-Day Smoothing Kit, a class action claims in Federal Court.
Lead plaintiffs Josephine Wells and Catherine Reny sued Unilever, Suave's manufacturer, LEK Inc., and Conopco. They claim Unilever used deceptive advertising and failed to warn consumers though it knew of the risk of hair loss and scalp burns before the product was introduced in late 2011.
Reny claims her hair began "melting" immediately after she applied the product.
"Unilever knew, but failed to disclose to plaintiffs and the class, that the treatment contains an ingredient or combination of ingredients that causes significant hair loss upon proper application," the lawsuit states. "The active ingredient in the treatment, thioglycolic acid, including its salts and esters, is the same active ingredient that is used in hair depilatories and some hair perming solutions."
The "devastating" effects of the treatment were documented by hundreds of women on a public Facebook page, "Suave-Keratin-Infusion-Kit-Destroyed-my-Hair," screen shots from which are included in the complaint.
Furthermore, the class claims, Unilever falsely advertised that the treatment contained "No Formaldehyde," though it contains DMDM Hydantoin, a chemical that releases formaldehyde, a carcinogen.
Unilever recalled the product in May 2012, characterizing it as a decision to "discontinue" it, but maintaining that it was still safe to use, and without disclosing reports of scalp burns and hair loss, according to the lawsuit.
Wells claims she's still suffering the wretched effects of the product today, 2 years after she used it: "After proper application of the treatment, Wells noticed her hair breaking at the crown and she experienced significant hair loss at the crown and on the sides of her head. Because of the breakage and hair loss, she has had to cut approximately ten inches off her hair and has spent thousands of dollars on weaves, hair extensions, and other treatments to attempt to restore the damage to her hair. The straightening effects and damage to Wells' hair continues to this day - nearly two years after she used the product. Her once long, beautiful, natural curly healthy hair is now dull, fragile and short. Her hair is extremely thin and the bald spots caused by the treatment are still visible."
Finally, the women claim, Unilever tried to placate distressed women with an unconscionable release form: "In its continuing efforts to conceal the dangers and serious harm attendant to use of the product, Unilever has also engaged in a campaign designed to obtain unconscionable and unenforceable releases from consumers injured by use of the product. Upon information and belief, Unilever has solicited and obtained numerous releases from California consumers and others in the United States who were injured by use of the product, without advising them of their right to obtain legal counsel to review the form releases that Unilever propounded and without fully explaining the terms or legal effect of the form releases, including that (a) the form releases purport to release third party retailers for no extra consideration; (b) the form releases purport to release personal injury claims for no extra consideration beyond the economic losses incurred by the consumer; (c) the form releases require consumers to indemnify Unilever for all losses 'from any and every claim or demand of every kind and character, including claims for contribution;' (d) the form releases require the consumer to indemnify Unilever from any claims for payment of medical expenses by Medicare/Medicaid; and (e) the form releases require the consumer to hold Unilever harmless 'from any and all adverse consequences in the event this settlement results in the loss of right to Social Security and/or Medicare/Medicaid.' The release forms that Unilever required its unrepresented consumers to sign - in order for them to get meager reimbursement from Unilever for as little as $50.00 for a haircut - contain terms that are so outrageous that they should be set aside as unconscionable and unenforceable."
The women seek class certification, cancellation of the releases, and damages for negligence, gross negligence breach of warranty, deceptive advertising, unjust enrichment, and violations of the Magnuson-Moss Act and business and consumer laws.
Their lead counsel is Azra Mehdi in San Francisco.