Over the last few years, Johnson & Johnson Consumer Inc. has been defending a series of class action lawsuits claiming that the company’s OGX line of shampoos and conditioners contain chemicals that cause hair loss. Specifically, the lawsuits accuse J&J of marketing OGX hair products as safe and capable of repairing, nourishing and reviving hair. According to the plaintiffs, however, these products contain chemicals such as formaldehyde and DMDM, which are known to be harmful and actually cause hair loss.
OGX is a line of shampoo, conditioner, and other hair care products originally developed and sold by a company called Vogue International. In 2016, Johnson & Johnson acquired Vogue International for $3.3. billion and assumed ownership of the OGX hair product line.
Since the acquisition, J&J has continued marketing and selling OGX hair care products to both men and women seeking smooth, shiny, soft, healthy hair. The OGX products contained representations on the labels about reviving, enhancing, and repairing damaged hair leaving it fuller, thicker and better.
According to several lawsuits, however, these representations were entirely false and the OGX hair care products actually contained 2 harmful chemicals, formaldehyde and DMDM.
Formaldehyde and DMDM
Formaldehyde, a recognized human carcinogen and allergen known to cause cancer and other damaging reactions when applied to the skin, forms when DMDM combines with water. For a long time, DMDM has been linked to hair loss, thinning hair, dermatitis, and other harmful scalp reactions, prompting many complaints and various lawsuits, even before the plaintiff suffered injuries.
Formaldehyde releasers or agents that release formaldehyde are chemical substances gradually emitting formaldehyde and are included in beauty items to deter microbial growth and prolong shelf-life. DMDM, an organic compound in the hydantoin category, is utilized in the cosmetics sector (and are allegedly present in the OGX products). It discharges formaldehyde, functioning as a preservative and enhancing shelf-life by making the environment less conducive to microbes.
For at least a decade, the defendants have been aware of the risks posed by DMDM. In August 2012, J&J acknowledged the damaging effects of DMDM, announcing its plan to remove formaldehyde and other harmful ingredients from its adult personal care products by the end of 2015. This announcement closely followed J&J’s earlier commitment to remove these same ingredients from infant care products by the end of 2013.
The dangers of DMDM, as acknowledged by J&J, are further substantiated by the company’s website which states their commitment to limit preservatives in any skincare product, including DMDM hydantoin, due to safety concerns.
In 2016, J&J acquired Vogue, a leading manufacturer and distributor of hair care and personal care products in America, including the OGX Products implicated in this lawsuit. Yet, despite acknowledging the risks and taking steps to remove harmful DMDM from J&J’s line of adult and baby care products, the defendants continued to design, manufacture, and sell Vogue OGX Products with DMDM until around September 2021.
In or shortly before September 2021, the defendants announced they would cease manufacturing the OGX Products with DMDM, subtly explaining the reformulation of OGX Products to remove harmful DMDM. The defendants continued to manufacture and sell OGX Products with DMDM until around September 2021, and even now, they continue to sell OGX Products with DMDM that remain on store shelves, despite fully comprehending that the dangers posed by OGX Products containing DMDM outweigh any benefits those OGX Products provide to consumers.
OGX Lawsuits Against J&J
Starting in 2021, J&J has been named in a handful of consumer class action lawsuits involving the OGX hair product line.Larissa Whipple was the pioneer in these claims, filing the initial lawsuit in 2021. Her lawsuit in California state court contended that she experienced hair loss after using OGX’s Biotin + Collagen Shampoo and Conditioner.
Other lawsuits followed. All of the lawsuits make very similar allegations. Based on the facts outline above, these lawsuits accuse J&J of engaging in false and deceptive advertising by marketing the OGX products as safe and effective while concealing the fact that they contained harmful chemicals that have actually been shown to cause hair loss.
The specific claims asserted against J&J in these lawsuits have included fraud, unjust enrichment, and violation of various state consumer protection laws. The lawsuit seek economic damages in the form of refunds for all consumers who purchased the OGX products based on J&J’s false representations.
The first OGX consumer class action lawsuits against J&J were filed in the summer of 2021. Both cases were filed in federal court, one in the Northern District of Illinois, the other in the Central District of California. Both of these cases were later transferred to the District of New Jersey. In March 2022, both cases closed by entry of a stipulated dismissal, which indicates that there was a confidential settlement.
There is at least 1 consumer class action lawsuit involving the OGX hair products that it still pending. That case, Carr v. Johnson & Johnson Consumer Inc. et al. (1:21-cv-06557), was filed in the Eastern District of New York several months after the first two cases. There has been no dismissal in this case and it is still being actively litigated on both sides.
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What J&J Knew About DMDM
All of the OGX lawsuits are based on identical allegations that J&J (and Vogue International) were well aware of the hazards of the chemicals in the OGX product line. A chronological outline of these OBX beauty lawsuit allegations is set forth below.
- A 1988 patch-test study – over 30 years ago – investigating the association between DMDM in cosmetics and adverse effects in patients predisposed to formaldehyde concluded that aqueous solutions of DMDM hydantoin contain sufficient free formaldehyde to cause dermatitis in concentrations similar to those in cosmetic products. They also suggested products with formaldehyde-releasing compounds should carry a warning that they “contain formaldehyde.”
- The North American Contact Dermatitis Group (2005-2006) found that of all of the allergens, DMDM is 21st most common allergen. What did they recommend? They argued for complete avoidance of DMDM for all formaldehyde-allergic patients.
- Recognized as a human carcinogen by the United States National Toxicology Program and the International Agency for Research on Cancer, formaldehyde has been linked to leukemia.
- A 2010 study found that some people were allergic to formaldehyde releasers but not formaldehyde itself, and DMDM hydantoin was discovered to be “reactive per se.”
- According to a 2015 study, extended storage time and higher temperature can increase formaldehyde release, potentially leading to more severe health concerns.
- A 2017 analysis observed a significant rise in positive reactions to formaldehyde and DMDM hydantoin.
- Considered a top allergen by the FDA, DMDM can trigger the immune system, leading to itchiness, red rashes, or more severe reactions.
J&J also failed to reformulate or manufacture (or delayed doing so) the OGX Products with safer preservatives or a combination of preservatives even though such alternatives were readily available and practical, considering the substantial risks associated with DMDM as evidenced by DMDM-free formulations for other shampoos and conditioners manufactured and sold by J&J.
Furthermore, J&J falsely and/or misleadingly marketed the OGX Products to enhance hair health and appearance, including directly on the OGX Products’ labeling and through other advertising channels such as the OGX Products’ website.
J&J advertises the supposed benefits of OGX Products without disclosing known risks to consumers, including potential hair loss, scalp irritation, and allergic reactions. Consumers rely on J&J to disclose those risks but are instead exposed to false, misleading, or incomplete representations about the safety and benefits of the OGX Products and suffered injuries as a result.
Hiring a Lawyer
We are unaware of lawyers currently reviewing OBX beauty personal injury lawsuits. That is not to say they are not out there – we don’t know who they are or we would tell you. The focus right now in on consumer class action lawsuits. This could change (and may have already changed when you read this).