In June 2021, a lawsuit was filed against Johnson & Johnson alleging that several of its shampoo and conditioner products contain a known human carcinogenic linked to dermatitis of the scalp and/or hair loss. However, as of this writing, a court of law has not established a cause-and-effect relationship between the use of the product and baldness.
In June 2021, a lawsuit was filed against the cosmetic and pharmaceutical company Johnson & Johnson amid allegations that certain shampoo and conditioner products contained a carcinogenic chemical that could cause scalp irritation and baldness.
Snopes readers sent our team iterations of social media posts that made claims surrounding the class action lawsuit and asked our team to verify the factuality of the contents made within.
We have rated this claim as unproven due to the current standing of the legal case. But here’s what we found.
A woman named Larissa Whipple brought forth a class action suit against Johnson & Johnson Consumer Inc. and claimed that certain of the company's products contained an “ingredient or combination of ingredients that causes significant hair loss and/or scalp irritation upon proper application.” Shub Law, the firm representing Whipple, sent Snopes the 48-page filing that was submitted on June 7, 2021, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.
The ingredient in question is a chemical known as dimethyloldimethyl hydantoin (DMDMh), a preservative used in cosmetic products typically to lengthen shelf life. DMDMh has been used in Johnson & Johnson products for “well over a decade” as a preservative, but that its use “creates an entirely unnecessary risk because various safer alternatives exist,” claims the lawsuit.
That’s because DMDMh is a “formaldehyde donor.” Over time, it can slowly release formaldehyde, a known human carcinogen, into the skin. And because the company allegedly knew of the harmful effects of DMDMh, the lawsuit alleges that Johnson & Johnson failed to properly warn consumers of the risks and dangers, and that they concealed the dangers of their products by failing to fully recall products they knew were unsafe.
“In fact, for approximately a decade, Johnson & Johnson has known that DMDM hydantoin can cause or contribute to hair loss and scalp irritation when used as a preservative in hair products, including shampoo and conditioner products. In August 2012, Johnson & Johnson announced plans to remove DMDM hydantoin, and other similar ingredients, from all consumer products by the end of 2015,” the lawsuit alleges.
And while it is true that Johnson & Johnson removed DMDMh from existing consumer products at that time, Shrub Law argues that the company did not change the ingredient profiles of products it took on in 2016 after an acquisition. At this time, Johnson & Johnson also allegedly failed to properly label products or websites that were at risk of hair loss or scalp irritation, the law firm furthered.
Johnson & Johnson denied any wrongdoing and told Snopes in an email that the company stands behind the “performance and rigorous testing” of its products.
“We carefully select our ingredients and include a list on the product’s label,” a spokesperson told Snopes, adding that OGX is “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.”
Many preservatives do not meet our safety and care standards. Examples of preservatives that we will not use in any skin care product include bromochlorophen, formaldehyde, paraformaldehyde, formic acid, bronopol, dichlorobenzyl alcohol, triclocarban, p-chloro-m-cresol, triclosan, methenamine, ketoconazole, silver citrate, thimerosal, chloroacetamide, 5-bromo-5-nitro-1,3-dioxane, butylparaben, isobutylparaben, and benzylparaben. In addition, examples of preservatives that don’t meet our standards for baby products also include methylparaben, ethylparaben, propylparaben, iodopropynyl butylcarbamate, quaternium-15, DMDM hydantoin, imidazolidinyl urea, and diazolidinyl urea
The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics lists the following ingredients -- including DMDMh -- as formaldehyde donors:
- DMDM hydantoin
- Imidazolidinyl urea
- Diazolidinyl urea
- Polyoxymethylene urea
- Sodium hydroxymethylglycinate
- 3-diol (bromopol)
DMDMh is found in a variety of products, including nail polish, hair gel, body wash, and soap. Because of its carcinogenic properties, it has been banned for use in cosmetics and toiletries in Japan and Sweden as well as restricted in the European Union. In the U.S., the FDA recognizes DMDMh as a top allergen in consumer products, and a 1987 study found a link between certain amounts of the carcinogen and skin conditions like dermatitis.
The attorneys representing Whipple said they are also looking into other products that contain DMDMh.
We will continue to update the story as more information becomes available. Snopes has made the lawsuit available to view here. As for the current case at hand, below is a list of the products named in the filing:
- OGX Biotin + Collagen shampoo and conditioner
- OGX Renewing Argan Oil of Morocco shampoo and conditioner
- OGX Anti-Breakage and Keratin Oil shampoo and conditioner
- OGX Detox + Pomegranate & Ginger shampoo and conditioner
- OGX Marula Oil conditioner
- OGX Nicole Guerriero Midnight Kisses shampoo and conditioner
- OGX Nicole Guerriero Mistletoe Wishes shampoo and conditioner
- OGX Nicole Guerriero Ice Berry Queen shampoo and conditioner
- OGX Extra Strength Hydrate & Repair and Argan Oil of Morocco shampoo and conditioner
- OGX Ever Straightening and Brazilian Keratin Therapy shampoo and conditioner
- OGX Kandee Johnson Candy Gumdrop shampoo and conditioner
- OGX Kandee Johnson Frosted Sugar Cookie shampoo and conditioner
- OGX Kandee Johnson Sparkling Cider shampoo and conditioner
- OGX Quenching + Coconut Curls shampoo and conditioner
- OGX Hydrate + Defrizz and Kukui Oil conditioner
- OGX Youth Enhancing + Sake Essence conditioner