For the past two days I have been watching YouTube videos about a haircare product brand called Devacurl.
I am based in the UK and I have straight, straight hair – like no curl or wave whatsoever. No joke, I onced curled my hair and it ended up straighter than when I started. Another time, I went out with curly hair and my friend walking behind me asked if I decided not to curl the back. I curled it – the curls just fell out before my night out had even begun. Naturally, coming from an Irish family though, I love Irish dancing and Irish dance music (it is literally music for my soul) and I dream of curly hair like the beautiful Gillian Norris and would have killed to have beautiful curly hair. So not only was it difficult for me to potentially get Devacurl products, as I think they have only just begun distribution to outside America (correct me if I am wrong)…but I would have zero need for them on my hair. That does not mean I cannot sympathise with people experiencing potential reactions to Devacurl. When I was 19 I developed Alopecia (hair loss). I don’t really know what caused my Alopecia. I remember sitting in a Doctor’s Office with the Doctor saying, that you are experiencing Alopecia. We do not know what causes it. We do not know what can be used to treat it. We cannot tell you how much hair you could lose. We cannot tell you if your hair will grow back. But there might be around an 80 percent chance that if your hair does regrow it could fall out again. We can do some blood tests and investigate a bit. My blood tests came back fine I had no underlying health issues. I do not know what caused my Alopecia. SO I know how devastating it is to be in a society that is so beauty conscious and experience hair loss.
However, just because you do not use a product on your hair, does not mean that you should ignore what people are potentially saying or experiencing from using a product. I once volunteered in a school and there was a class in which the teacher was going through the answers to a recent GCSE test paper. She was giving the class the model answers to the most popular set of questions answered. There was a girl sitting there chatting with her friend. I asked her why she was not listening to the teacher and not writing the information down. Her response was that was not the question she had answered. I said it does not matter. She is giving you a model answer, that is great for the information alone. You will firstly learn something. You will learn how to build and structure a model answer for a future exam you are taking next year. You could also be given a model answer for a question that could likely come up in an exam because there is a limited about of material covered in the syllabus and often examiners do repeat questions or word questions in similar ways; so you could very well have the same if not a very similar question on your paper. The girl did not care, she did not write down the answers. However, I think this potential Devacurl situation has a similar parallel. Just because you do not use Devacurl and just because you did not use Wen Haircare (I so wanted to use Wen Haircare products when I saw a glossy hair advertisement for them), does not mean you should not learn the lessons that are being taught from these two companies.
In brief, there may be people reading this that have no idea about Wen Haircare and Devacurl so let me explain.
Wen Haircase is a company that specialised in a cleansing conditioner type product. It was supposed to revolutionise the way people washed their hair. I first came across it when I was looking to move away from commercial haircare and follow the No Poo method (basically giving up using commercial foaming shampoo and looking to reduce how much oil is stripped from the hair whilst washing. I did document that journey on my old blog and I no longer follow a No Poo method). Wen’s Cleansing Conditioner was a thick conditioner like substance that was not cheap, and it required you to use a lot of product, from what I remember it could be up to 16 pumps, four pumps on each section of hair, with your head being divided into four sections. Wash off and get beautiful hair or so you thought. If you did get beautiful hair though it was temporary and a lot of people using the product reported hair loss. So much so that a lawsuit was filed and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) began to look into the product. When I went to look for the product information just now I found I could not buy products directly from the Wen website and was directed to Amazon and the Cleansing Conditioner is not sold on there. The FDA reported that they had received 1,386 complaints up to the 15th November 2016. A subsequent investigation by the FDA into Wen Haircare found that the company had more than 21,000 complaints into the use of their product and the reporting of hair loss, hair breakage and hair balding.
However, what the Wen Haircare scandal highlighted was just how unregulated the hair and beauty industry is in America. The law in the US does not require companies to share a beauty company’s safety information nor the number or nature of complaints it’s products receive. The FDA said that although still in the process of conducting an investigation, it did not know what effect Wen Haircare was having to people to cause a hair loss reaction. It also stated that Wen Haircare could also not provide a correlation to their hair product and hair loss. More alarming is what really the FDA can do about a product. Firstly, it could tackle a product that did not comply with the law (if it is adulterated or misadvertised). It could work with law enforcement to seize a product to prevent it being sold on the market but it cannot recall a product off the market. It can only request that a company does recall it. Now, I live in the UK. I could not tell you how products are tested and what safety standards are in place. I know that all good imported into Mainland China have to be tested on Animals, which is why a lot of companies choose not to distribute their products in China, or even in Chinese Airports which can be subjected to random (not mandatory on all products) Animal testing.
Now, fast forward to Devacurl. Stephanie Mero, who has the instagram tag of @thecurlninja started reporting her hair issues and concerns that it was linked to Devacurl six months ago. Over the past two weeks to a month this issue has exploded with more people reporting similar issues and a lawsuit has been filed against Devacurl. Now Stephanie Mero, reported that her hair reacted very badly when she attempted to dye her blonde and ended up with dark purple hair. That should not happen. She noticed on herself and her clients (she’s a hair stylist) that their hair was being damaged. Issues being reported include suffering dryness, hair breakage, loss of density, scalp irritation, burning sensations, dandruff and baldness. Stephanie has also developed Raynaud’s phenomenon which has been also reported by others in the Facebook support group. Now Mero was alarmed when she read that Vinyl Chloride exposure could cause Raynaud’s phenomenon. Why is that important?
Well, Devacurl retains samples from their batches and they had released statements saying they have tested them and the product is fine. Yet Mero does not necessarily think it is the formulation of the product that is the issue. It could be what the product is packaged in or how it is distributed or a combination of the two. So Devacurl makes the product and retains a sample of that product. The product is then packaged and shipped off. So if the issue is not in the formulation of the product, but the packaging and the distribution then Devacurl’s sample would not show any issue. So the FDA is relying on Company’s doing their own tests to maintain the product is safe, they are only testing the batch product. Not the product on the shelf, not the product in your home.
From making the product and taking the sample. There are then multiple more steps from adding it to the packaging, to transporting it from the origin of manufacture to the place of sale, to the consumer. There can be a lot of additional steps. Mero believes that perhaps something in the distribution phase or the packaging is causing a problem. Now if Devacurl has not reformulated their products it would not be the formula that is the problem. Yet, over the past year or so that Mero has been noticing changes to her hair, and doing some subsequent digging there is a report that suggests this may coincide with Devacurl potentially began changing the way they package and distribute their products.
Now, why is this important? Mero was concerned that Reynaud’s phenomenon could be caused by Vinyl Chloride, which is used to make Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC), a plastic. Now, Mero is not saying Devacurl has caused her Reynaud’s phenomenon. She is merely stating that she has Reynaud’s phenomenon and that a potential component of plastic can cause Reynaud’s phenomenon. This highlights that perhaps how a product is stored before it reaches the consumer and what it is stored in is just as important as the formulation of the product itself.
Now the lesson I was beginning to learn by watching skincare videos and I began to learn when I started No Poo is: What am I putting onto my skin and my hair? Do I know? Honestly, I sometimes use Honey, Lemon and Bananas in my hair and skincare routine. I know what I am putting on my face and hair then. I make my own soap, sometimes I use it on my face and hair, but mostly on my body. I know all the ingredients that go into the soap I make, but I don’t really understand the chemical reaction of saponification (the process of turning oils into soap) and how that alters chemicals. I also heard about the hype and wonderful benefits of Coconut Oil, one of the oils I use in my soap, but there has been a bit of a backlash questioning if Coconut Oil is actually that great for your hair and face.
One of the things that drew me to No Poo in the beginning was that prior to the 1930s, when commercial shampoo as we know it came into being. Women did not really wash their hair anywhere near the amount we are used to today. The Victorians were very particularly about how often they washed their hair, about once a month. We see from photos that their hair was beautiful. Personally for me I would LOVE to go a month without needing to wash my hair and it look great. Who wouldn’t? It may also seem that because we now wash are hair more regularly because of commercial haircare products that potentially we are stepping away from remedies in the past that were better for your hair? BUT, the old methods don’t necessarily mean they were any good. Queen Elizabeth I, suffered from the Pox, had awful scars on her face and used to cover it with a thick white paste/powder…that contained Arsenic. Arsenic was a very popular method of poisoning because it was so readily available.
The message I am taking from this is to really begin to think about what products I am putting onto my face, how they are packaged and how far along in the distribution phase (in terms of time since manufacture and location and methods of transport) am I from the product. Just because a product has a big chemically important name does not mean it is necessarily bad for you. Just because something is natural doesn’t mean it is going to be great for you (I used to wash my hair with Baking Soda, and with Rye Flour, my hair wasn’t happy with the results. I wasn’t happy with the results and I am now using commercial shampoo).
I think for me, it is time to look at the ingredient lists, question what is contained within them. Question is this safe to put on me? In producing the product, is it causing a negative impact on the environment? Is the packaging having a negative effect on the product? Is the packaging having a negative effect on the planet? How could the distribution of the product affect the product? Does the company have full control over that? Does it store the product in it’s own warehouses? Does it rely on another company to do that? Does that company store the product according to the manufacturer’s guidelines? Does the store/supplier I buy it from store it safely? How old is the product when I get it?
I currently rely on the fact that I pay for products and the amount I pay equals quality and efficacy. Yet, companies may not always be passionate about their product being the best quality it can be or be kind to the environment. They might just be driven by profit and as a result people might be being hurt by that. In writing this I am beginning to internalise what I am thinking by watching this products and it has helped me to question what I am putting on my face and hair – and if it is good for me. I hope in voicing this, you may also begin to consider these things and I hope that it has a positive impact on you.