Can Hair Products Actually Make Your Hair Fall Out? We Investigate.
Your scalp is a like a snowflake: No two people have the same one, and you’ll likely have a different experience with a product or ingredient than a close friend or colleague might. What’s hair perfection for one user can be hair hell for another. But can hair products make your hair fall out? With any hair care product, every situation is unique in itself.
Within the last few months, DevaCurl got tangled in hair loss drama after a pile of attention-grabbing accusations and class-action lawsuits were filed. In the summer of 2019, a Facebook support group titled “Hair Damage & Hair Loss from DevaCurl — You’re Not CRAZY or ALONE!” was created by Florida hairstylist Stephanie Mero as a place for users to share their stories. What started as a trickle has led to the dam bursting, and the group now has more than 59,000 users showcasing examples of alleged hair damage, loss, and irritation. In a recent statement to The Zoe Report, DevaCurl maintains that its products are proven to be safe and non-irritating.
At the end of January 2020, former DevaCurl influencer Ayesha Malik posted a vlog titled “Why I Stopped Using DevaCurl,” in which she states: “I am suffering from severe hair and scalp issues. I used to recommend DevaCurl, but not anymore.” The video has amassed more than 2 million views to date.
Since mid-February, at least three class-action lawsuits have been filed against DevaCurl, claiming the products caused damage and hair loss. In the suits, users allege that the brand “failed to disclose the dangers of its products” and “users have hair fall out in varying degrees during and immediately after use.”
As a response, DevaCurl posted detailed lab results in early March, showcasing formulation results and in-depth answers on their new microsite, factsaboutdevacurl.com. They’re also addressing safety questions head-on. “Based on rigorous testing completed as recently as this week, consultation with medical professionals, scientists, and stylists, we can conclusively say: Our products are safe, they do not cause hair breakage or hair loss, and are proven to be non-irritating," the brand says in an early March 2020 statement to TZR. They’ve also announced they’ll be creating a Professional Curl Care Council, to be comprised of trusted medical professionals, industry experts, professional stylists, and members of the hair community. It will independently test DevaCurl products to ensure even more thorough safety reassurance, the brand promises.
But the question still lingers: Can hair products really make your hair fall out? We compiled our own council of sorts, consulting dermatologists, trichologists, and formulators about hair products — and specifically if shampoo and hair care can really cause hair loss (and what to do about scalp irritation, too).
Can A Product Make Your Hair Fall Out?
We asked a handful of experts this exact question and the answer is a resounding... no, not really. “Most cosmetic products, including the products in question, are made from a common pool of ingredients recognized as safe by the relevant authorities, e.g., the Cosmetic Directive in Europe,” Dr. Dominic Burg, Ph.D., chief scientist and trichologist at évolis Professional, tells TZR. It’s also worth noting that all DevaCurl products meet the safety requirements of the U.S. Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR), the EU Scientific Committee on Cosmetics Safety (SCCS), and Health Canada, too.
The majority of DevaCurl products in question have to do with the brand’s no- and low-poo products. The trend has rapidly risen in the last few years as a calming alternative to the traditional high-foaming and often-irritating shampoos, which are chock-full of sulfates and additives that give a product its commercial-worthy lather. This genre of low-foam cleansers are particularly targeted to curly hair as the hair follicle for curls are “delicate and need a gentle and hydrating cleanser,” says Anabel Kingsley, trichologist and president of Philip Kingsley.
But no- and low-poo products aren't necessarily right for all. “Low-poo shampoos typically contain more mild cleansing ingredients, which may be gentle but are not as effective for very dirty or oily hair,” says Dr. Joshua Zeichner, M.D., a New York-based board-certified dermatologist.
If your hair doesn’t positively respond to a milder cleanser, it’s possible you could have an excess buildup of sebum and styling products, which could cause excessive irritation from not effectively cleansing the scalp. On the other hand, “high-lathering shampoos are more effective at removing dirt and oil from the hair and scalp — but can cause irritation and dryness,” Zeichner says.
Can A Product Irritate Your Scalp?
There’s probably been a handful of times when you’ve tried a shampoo or conditioner and afterward, you're left with that itchy scalp feeling. Welcome to irritation. But can that irritation lead to hair loss? In extreme and severe cases, it’s possible.
“True hair loss, like hair coming out from the follicle, is very unlikely to be caused by product — unless you had a severe allergic reaction to a product, or your scalp was burnt by a chemical within a product, like with at-home bleach or coloring kits,” Kingsley says.
Indeed, you’re much more likely to have hair shaft damage from chemical relaxers, bleaches, and dyes. “In some cases, if these [chemicals] get on to the scalp, it can cause irritation and inflammation that may interfere with hair follicle function,” Zeichner notes.
If users truly had an allergic reaction to a product, it’s possible that the severe, painful irritation could lead to hair loss — but it’s quite rare. Burg notes that, generally, hair loss is influenced by internal factors such as aging, hormonal changes, genetics, diet, stress, and illness rather than external factors such as products.
Can Products Alter Your Curl Pattern?
Former DevaCurl users claim that the products, in addition to allegedly causing hair irritation and loss, even altered their curl pattern. Is that possible? “Curl patterns are defined by the shape of the hair fiber and the angle that the hair grows out of the scalp,” Burg notes. Products may alter the appearance of curls (perhaps from a lack of conditioning, which causes frizz, or chemical changes to the hair structure with extreme straightening treatments), but the underlying hair that grows out of the follicles won’t be altered, says Burg. “The only things that can do this are chemotherapy or severe injury, such as full-thickness burns,” he notes.
What To Do If You Have An Irritated Scalp?
Stop using the products immediately. “Using the wrong hair products for your hair texture could cause breakage,” says Kingsley. That might include a no- or low-poo shampoo, or another often irritating product: styling products. “Use of hair gels, pomades, and dry shampoos can accumulate on the scalp, causing inflammation that prevents hair from growing as well as it normally can,” Zeichner says.
“If your hair is breaking and brittle due to using the wrong products for your hair type, simply swap them for the right ones,” says Kingsley.
DevaCurl notes it has performed both the “Human Repeat Patch Testing” and “48 Hour Patch Testing” to look for irritation and allergy potential in all products. The brand says that over the course of three weeks, 48 HPT tests have shown no skin irritation or allergic contact sensitization. (It's worth noting these patch test procedures are performed by an independent third-party lab and signed off by a board-certified dermatologist.)
Can Hair Products Make Your Hair Fall Out? The Bottom Line
“Hair loss and changes in hair quality over time are complex issues that can have a number of contributing factors,” says Burg. Hair loss is an incredibly personal issue with a vast array of causes, one of the least likely being hair products. But if you have irritation or beginning signs of hair loss, stop using your products immediately and consult a dermatologist. Also, contact the brand(s) that are causing said irritation, as most companies have a money-back guarantee and want to hear from customers about product interactions.
Also, curly hair is particularly sensitive to not only products, but also your washing method. “It should never be piled on top of the scalp when you shampoo, as this can mat hairs together and cause subsequent breakage,” Kingsley says. Still irritated — emotionally and scalp-based? Consider a clarifying shampoo once a week, which can help remove any residue on the skin, Zeichner suggests. Additionally, discontinue use of chemicals and dyes, and find a sulfate-free shampoo that doesn’t irritate you. It might even be a DevaCurl product. And if it’s not irritating you, then feel free to continue using it.
Also, if you’re taking nutritional supplements, double-check the labels. “Don’t take a hair supplement containing too much vitamin A,” says Kingsley. “Excessive levels of vitamin A can cause hair loss.” The National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements recommends 700 micrograms of retinol activity equivalents for adult women. Also, if hair loss is occurring, she suggests stopping supplements containing both iron and calcium, as calcium impedes iron absorption. “Iron deficiency is a common cause of hair loss,” says Kingsley.
If hair loss is still top-of-mind, there are a few dermatologist-recommended steps you could look into next. Zeichner suggests trying hair growth supplements, like Rogaine, to help stimulate new hair, or consulting your doctor about PRP treatments, which, he says, act like fertilizer for your follicles.