It's more than a little emotionally damaging to lose clumps of hair in the shower, especially when the culprit could be a product you trusted to help your hair look its best. That's unfortunately the case for a number of people across America, as the formaldehyde-releasing preservative DMDM hydantoin has come into the spotlight for allegedly causing hair loss.
The news blew up on social media platforms like TikTok over the past week thanks to a wave of videos focusing on the class action lawsuit filed against Tresemmé in November. The lawsuit is based around the inclusion of DMDM hydantoin in the brand's Keratin Smooth Color Shampoo, and the hair loss that, according to the suit, over 100 people saw after using it.
This isn't the first time the impact of formaldehyde-releasing ingredients in personal care products has been called into question. The suit's filing includes the nugget that in 2012, Suave, also owned by beauty conglomerate Unilever, recalled its Keratin Infusion products in light of complaints that it caused hair loss and scalp irritation. The line included DMDM hydantoin, which is found in many hair and skincare products.
Last year, there was a similar class action lawsuit brought against the curly hair product brand DevaCurl. Facebook groups discussing people's inordinate hair thinning gained over 60,000 members and, as of April, the New York Times writes that there were at least 10 class-action lawsuits pending in which customers say DevaCurl damaged their scalps and made their hair fall out in clumps. Although those suits didn't name a specific ingredient of concern, it's worth noting that some DevaCurl formulas also include a formaldehyde-releasing preservative, diazolidinyl urea.
That said, dermatologist Joshua Zeichner, director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology and an associate professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital, tells Health that, while direct contact to formaldehyde-releasers can lead to allergic contact dermatitis, it's rare. Dermatitis can look like red, itchy, flaky skin, he says, and can temporarily interfere with functioning hair follicles, leading to shedding.
But so many people having an issue with a certain kind of ingredient does stir up doubt—and Dr. Sharima Rasanayagam, science director of Breast Cancer Prevention Partners, confirms that when it comes to a known carcinogen, irritant, and allergen like formaldehyde, any exposure is worse than none. Small doses of it can trigger reactions in sensitive individuals, Rasanayagam says, either from encountering it in different products or from continued use of just one.
The good news? Zeichner says it's unlikely there'll be any long-term damage and, while unpleasant, allergic contact dermatitis isn't harmful to your overall health. There's no way of predicting who will react to formaldehyde-releasers, he says, and genetics play a determining role—so if you have an history of eczema or other skin allergies, you could be more likely to develop a reaction.
If you want to be on the safe side, the even better news is that there are tons of shampoos that don't contain formaldehyde-releasing preservatives like DMDM hydantoin, diazolidinyl urea, or quaternium-15, so you don't have to wonder if your hair routine is causing hair loss.
Tresemmé released a statement in response to the class action suit:
"We assure you that the health and safety of our consumers is our top priority and Tresemmé products are safe to use. Our products are rigorously assessed for safety by our scientific experts to meet the highest global standards, and are compliant with all applicable laws and regulations," the statement reads. "DMDM hydantoin ('DMDM') is used in select Tresemmé formulas. It is a safe and effective preservative widely used in the beauty industry to keep products in good condition. Leading industry scientists and regulators agree that DMDM is safe in the manner it is used in beauty & personal care products. You can find more information about DMDM here."
We love these 10 shampoos without DMDM hydantoin:
- Pura D’Or Original Gold Label Anti-Thinning Biotin Shampoo, $30
- Ethique Eco-Friendly Solid Shampoo Bar, $16
- OGX Thick & Full + Biotin & Collagen Extra Strength Volumizing Shampoo With Vitamin B7, $7
- Herbal Essences Bio:Renew Birch Bark Extract Sulfate-Free Shampoo, $6
- Redken All Soft Shampoo, $28
- Maple Holistics Tea Tree Shampoo, $16
- Garnier Fructis Pure Clean Shampoo, $3
- Olaplex No.4 Bond Maintenance Shampoo, $28
- Maui Moisture Thicken & Restore + Bamboo Fibers Strengthening Shampoo, $7
- Acure Coconut & Argan Shampoo Bar, $9
Best Shampoo for Regrowing Hair: Pura D’Or Original Gold Label Anti-Thinning Biotin Shampoo
The reviews for this anti-thinning shampoo are stunning, with nearly 17,500 five-star ratings and 9,600 glowing reviews. Shoppers credit it with restoring hair where they’d entirely lost hope from severe shedding, and some say that one bottle lasted them four years because it’s so concentrated that just a few drops is enough to work up a cleansing lather.
Available at amazon.com, $30
Best Zero-Waste Shampoo: Ethique Eco-Friendly Solid Shampoo Bar
Ethique’s bright turquoise shampoo bar comes in a compostable box for as little waste as possible, and shoppers write that it makes their hair feel light, clean, and frizz-free. It excels at vanquishing oily roots and dandruff with a luxuriously moisturizing formula—just keep it in a dry place when you’re not using it for best results.
Available at amazon.com, $16
Best Shampoo for Fine Hair: OGX Thick & Full + Biotin & Collagen Extra Strength Volumizing Shampoo With Vitamin B7
It can feel like every shampoo out there promises strong, long strands, but reviewers say OGX’s is the rare one that fully delivers. People say it leaves their hair “much thicker and fuller,” even those with “baby-fine, thinning hair” writing that they’re “amazed at the results.” Plus, the smell is to die for.
Available at amazon.com, $7 (was $9)
Best Shampoo for Dyed Hair: Herbal Essences Bio:Renew Birch Bark Extract Sulfate-Free Shampoo
This sulfate-free formula features a meticulously-tailored pH balance that keeps your hair color glossy and intact, and the ingredient list is verified by the Environmental Working Group, so you know there’s nothing shady included.
Available at amazon.com, $6 (was $8)
Most Softening Shampoo: Redken All Soft Shampoo
An oldie, but a goodie: Redken’s iconic gold bottle is a mainstay for people who like their hair feeling like cashmere, with the shampoo transforming even coarse textures into soft hair with lots of body. It gets the job done without weighing your hair down, leaving frizz-prone types smooth and easy to style.
Available at amazon.com, $28 (was $34)
Best Shampoo for Dandruff: Maple Holistics Tea Tree Shampoo
Maple Holistics’ super gentle formula is a lifesaver for people with dandruff and scalp skin conditions, from seborrheic dermatitis to preteen hairline acne. In just a week, shoppers write that they see major improvements: “It smells good, feels good, and does a great job!”
Available at amazon.com, $16
Best Shampoo for Oily Hair: Garnier Fructis Pure Clean Shampoo
On top of being an incredibly appealing price, Garnier’s aloe-based shampoo is like a deep cleaning session for your hair. Commenters revel in how well it eliminates persistent grease between washes, with the non-drying gel effortlessly washing away built-up products and oil.
Available at amazon.com, $3
Best Shampoo for Shine: Olaplex No.4 Bond Maintenance Shampoo
Olaplex first rose to fame for its bond-rebuilding salon treatment, miraculously restoring damaged and weak hair patterns to near-virgin hair status. The line’s shampoo is just as powerful and has earned over 14,500 five-star Amazon ratings for the way it sweeps away the aftermath of dye jobs and heat-styling in favor of strong, shiny, and healthy hair.
Available at amazon.com, $28
Best Shampoo for Natural Curls: Maui Moisture Thicken & Restore + Bamboo Fibers Strengthening Shampoo
Brittle hair meets its match in this emerald bottle, containing a potent combination of aloe juice, castor oil, neem oil, and bamboo fibers to help revive brittle hair. Shoppers say it “drastically reduces” hair falling out and brings on the baby hair regrowth that we love to see after fragile curls give up the gun.
Available at $7 (was. $9), amazon.com
Best Vegan Shampoo: Acure Coconut & Argan Shampoo Bar
Acure’s unassuming white shampoo bar belies the deeply conditioning results people see from the coconut and argan-infused slab. Where shoppers say other harsh ingredient-free formulas can leave disappointingly greasy hair in their wake, especially for thin hair, Acure’s delivers a clean, shiny, hydrated effect—and it smells fantastic.
Available at amazon.com, $9
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