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Johnson & Johnson’s OGX hair care products, which regularly show up on shelves at drugstores and major retailers, is the subject of a class-action lawsuit that claims the popular shampoos and conditioners lead to hair loss.
Plaintiff Larissa Whipple says in the lawsuit that the main concern is the ingredient DMDM hydantoin, a preservative that shows up in certain OGX products. The lawsuit specifically calls out the brand’s argan oil, biotin, coconut oil, collagen, and pomegranate lines.
“Johnson & Johnson made a number of affirmative misrepresentations … that the products ‘deeply nourish,’ ‘gently cleanse,’ and ‘repair hair,’” the lawsuit reads. “However, the products’ formula contains an ingredient, or combination of ingredients, that has caused Plaintiff and thousands of consumers to experience hair loss and/or scalp irritation.”
Johnson & Johnson sent the following statement to Prevention:
“We stand behind the performance and rigorous testing of our products. We carefully select our ingredients and include a list on the product’s label. At OGX, we are constantly evolving our formulas to improve hair care results and haven’t launched any new products with DMDM hydantoin in the last several years.”
“Some of our existing products contain a small amount of DMDM hydantoin, a preservative used to prevent mold from developing while the product is in the shower. Every preservative used in our products must clear our rigorous safety assessment process. We are working with our partners to ensure our evolved formulations are included across the entire collection of shampoos and conditioners.”
Johnson & Johnson announced in 2012 that the company would remove DMDM hydantoin from their products by 2015. The company says on its safety and care commitment website that DMDM hydantoin “do not meet our safety and care standards,” but later says that the preservative is used “in a small number” of some of its products when other preservatives are “incompatible” with other ingredients.
How does DMDM hydantoin work, exactly?
Again, DMDM hydantoin is a preservative and antimicrobial agent used in shampoos, conditioners, and cosmetics, according to Jamie Alan, Pharm.D., Ph.D., associate professor of pharmacology and toxicology at Michigan State University.
The inclusion of this ingredient is not unique to OGX. DMDM hydantoin is “commonly used in personal care products,” says Joshua Zeichner, M.D., associate professor of dermatology and director of Cosmetic & Clinical Research in Dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City.
DMDM hydantoin is “usually found in small amounts in these products to prevent bacterial and fungal growth by releasing trace amounts of formaldehyde,” explains board-certified dermatologist Ife J. Rodney, M.D., founding director of Eternal Dermatology + Aesthetics in Fulton, MD.
In case you’re not familiar with it, formaldehyde is a known carcinogen that, in the short term, may cause symptoms like watery eyes, a burning feeling in your eyes, nose, and throat, coughing, wheezing, nausea, and skin irritation. Long-term exposure has been linked to leukemia and brain cancers, according to the National Cancer Institute.
Does DMDM hydantoin cause hair loss?
Because DMDM hydantoin releases a small amount of formaldehyde over time, “this may damage the hair and cause it to fall out,” Alan says.
“In excess, DMDM hydantoin can be an irritant,” Dr. Rodney says. However, she adds “shampoos and other products do not contain enough amounts of this ingredient to cause severe hair loss.”
Dr. Zeichner says that DMDM hydantoin will “rarely” cause an allergic reaction on the skin of the scalp which “may temporarily interfere with functioning of the hair follicles and can lead to hair shedding.” He also agrees that “it is highly unlikely that there will be any long term harm.”
What should you do if you have OGX shampoos and conditioners at home?
Right now, these are just claims, and there is no proof that OGX products actually cause hair loss. According to the experts we talked to, if you’re using an OGX hair product and have had no issues, there’s no need to toss it.
“The levels of DMDM hydantoin found in shampoos and the amount of formaldehyde it releases is negligible and should not affect your hair health,” Dr. Rodney says. “You can monitor your hair for irritation, inflammation, and potential hair loss. If it happens, there could be one of several ingredients in the formula causing irritation.”
If you suspect you may not be reacting well to a specific ingredient or formula in any hair or skin product, touch base with a board-certified dermatologist, who will be able to give you guidance based on your personal history. If the irritation is consistent, they may recommend doing an allergy patch test to figure out the culprit.
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