Did This L'Oréal Relaxer Make Women Go Bald?

A relaxer marketed as a product that would make hair “instantly thicker and fuller, reversing damage from day one,” has allegedly done just the opposite, according to two women who tried it and are now suing the manufacturer, L’Oréal, for their subsequent scalp burns and hair loss.

The product in question, Softsheen Carson Optimum Amla Legend Relaxer Kit, which touts itself as being “no-lye” and containing “Amla oil from India,” allegedly changed the lives of the plaintiffs.

“When Dorothy Riles used the product as intended … it left her with bald spots, as well as burns and then scabs on her scalp,” notes the class-action suit, filed Sept. 14 in U.S. District Court by the Los Angeles firm Geragos & Geragos. Riles was then “forced to wear a wig for the first time in her life to cover her injuries,” the suit contends. “To date, she continues to struggle with thin, unhealthy, and damaged hair as a result of her use of the product.”

Another plaintiff, Sharon Manier, claims she experienced scalp irritation from the relaxer, followed by hair loss, and that she now wears hairpieces and takes costly vitamins to help foster regrowth.

The suit alleges false advertising, fraud, negligence, and other claims of misrepresentation against L’Oréal. And it seeks damages of an amount to be determined by the court — which, when looking at past cases, could easily be in excess of $100 million, attorney Ben Meiselas of Geragos & Geragos tells Yahoo Beauty.

Meiselas adds that his office has been “bombarded” with “literally hundreds of phone calls” from other women who have experienced product reactions similar to those of Riles and Manier. They began coming forward as soon as the lawsuit was filed, Meiselas notes, adding, “That data tells us we’ll be in the range of several thousand others coming forward.”

A L’Oréal spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment from Yahoo Beauty, but told BuzzFeed, “We do not believe the allegations in this lawsuit have merit. For more than 100 years, L’Oréal has been committed to the safety of its consumers.”

But the litigation — reminiscent of the recent class-action lawsuit against Wen’s low-lather conditioners — further claims that L’Oréal “has known for years that its product is dangerous and defective,” both because of its many toxic ingredients and the “host of consumer complaints on the Internet, including L’Oréal’s own web pages,” which report that the relaxer has caused reactions “including hair loss and breakage, as well as scalp irritation, blisters, and burns.”

On Amazon, consumer reviews were mixed, with some noting it worked well and many others complaining of hair loss, intense burning, “continual breakage,” and even being “traumatized.” In 2013, one reviewer noted, “I would love to sue this company!!!”

At the root of the suit’s claim of fraud, Meiselas explains, is the way the company targeted consumers who were likely seeking a healthy, natural way to relax their hair. “What was really striking about this case is that L’Oréal is trying to co-opt the mysticism of the gooseberry [Amla] oil, which many beauty bloggers say is great,” he says. “They use it to hook and lure unsuspecting consumers, when it contains only trace amounts and is listed as the last ingredient.” It’s mixed in with “a dangerous cocktail of ingredients,” he adds, including hexylene glycol and butylene glycol, known to cause skin and lung irritation, plus the relaxing agent, sodium hydroxide — also known as lye.

“These chemicals cause serious damage to the hair itself by making it weak and prone to breakage,” according to the relaxers (“creamy crack”) section of a green product guide published by the organization Black Women for Wellness. “However, these chemicals don’t stop there; they can cause serious burns around the face and scalp (and any other body part the chemicals come in contact with), permanent scarring and blindness. Also, these chemicals serve as a gateway chemical: a chemical that makes it easier for other chemicals to get inside our body through burns and sores. Furthermore, recent studies linked long-term use of relaxers to early puberty in girls and fibroids in African American women.”

Popular blogger Curly Nikki recently took the Amla oil itself to task, noting that it’s typically derived by soaking the dried fruit in another oil, such as coconut or sesame seed, creating more of a “botanical infusion,” and that because it’s high in vitamin C it can dry out hair.

Adding insult to injury, the suit notes, is how L’Oréal has gotten celebrities including Tracee Ellis Ross and even Michelle Obama to promote the Amla Legend line.

“The actual effects of the product present a sad contrast to L’Oréal’s claimed expertise ‘[a]s a leader of the multiethnic hair care industry,’” the suit says, “as well as to its brand imagery, featuring celebrities such as Beyoncé and Kelly Rowland.”

Let’s keep in touch! Follow Yahoo Beauty on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest.