Girl says she lost all of her hair after using popular conditioner
DENVER (KDVR) -- Imagine losing your hair at the age of 10 because of a product that claims to be safe and natural. Nearly two years later, the federal government has agreed to investigate if WEN Hair Products are to blame for thousands of complaints nationwide.
It turns out even if the Food and Drug Administration concludes WEN Hair Products are responsible for the record number of complaints the FDA has received, the agency lacks the legal authority to issue a recall.
Now, one Denver girl and her mother hope their story will convince Congress to pass pending legislation to fix that.
Eliana Lawrence played Annie in a local production of the famous musical. She didn't need a red wig; her natural hair was perfect for the part.
But two years ago, just before her 10th birthday, Eliana tried a new hair conditioner and the results were nothing to sing about.
"I was a little scared," she said. I was scared that I had cancer or something."
Photos tell the story. Her hair began falling out. Her mother showed the locks of hair she still keeps in a Ziploc bag.
"The first time I combed out her hair and it was about a third of her hair," Miriam Lawrence said after just three uses of WEN Hair Conditioner.
Her daughter was nearly bald and she's convinced the ingredients in the bottle are to blame.
The advertisement for WEN claims to cleanse, hydrate and condition hair without stripping it, but what happened to Eliana was far worse than stripping.
Nearly two years after using the product, her hair still hasn't grown back fully and her complaint is one of the 127 the FDA has received -- a record number for the federal agency.
More troubling is WEN's parent company admits to the FDA it has received more than 21,000 customer complaints. The company faces a number of class-action lawsuits, but the company continues to stand by its product.
"WEN® by Chaz Dean Cleansing Conditioners are safe to apply to the hair and scalp," the company said in a statement. "Millions of bottles have been sold over the last 16 years, which we believe is testament to the quality of the product.
"There is no evidence that WEN products cause hair loss, and the ingredients and formulations meet or exceed all recommended safety and quality standards set by the industry. We stand behind them. We have consistently cooperated with the FDA and intend to continue to do so."
Last month, the FDA announced it was opening an investigation into the safety of WEN, but even if the federal agency determines the product isn't safe, it has no authority to recall personal care products.
Which is an outrage for Lawrence.
"I think it's just unbelievable that it's voluntary to recall a personal care product. The FDA doesn't have that authority under currant law," she said.
Which is why her daughter Eliana wrote a letter to Colorado Senators Michael Bennet and Corey Gardner about WEN, asking them to support the Personal Care Safety Act.
"So don't please don't let this happen to other people," she wrote.
The act would give FDA recall authority.
Eliana's hair wasn't just part of her identity on stage or off; it's part of the reason she was home-schooled last year after fellow students teased her.
"Calling me names pointing and whispering at me and it was very hurtful," Eliana said.
She lost her hair and dignity, two things she says no child should ever lose.
"I think they should recall it and just not sell it," she said.