Like many straight-haired women, I considered curly hair a blessing and never thought it could cause any trouble to its owner. Neither did I think that curly hair needed any special products or way of treatment. When DevaCurl came around, all the curly ladies out there started having a good hair day 365 days a year. Recently, however, numerous DevaCurl shampoo and conditioner consumers have complained that they have suffered hair damage and even hair loss due to these products and filed several lawsuits. If you know me, I like to look at product ingredients rather than rely on advertisement. So, let’s look at the ingredients of DevaCurl Low-Poo Original and DevaCurl No-Poo Original cleansers to see what we can uncover.
What happened to DevaCurl products?
To begin with, DevaCurl is considered the driving force behind the curly hair movement. The DevaCurl salon has been specializing in curly hair since its opening in New York City in 1994. It became so popular that it launched a product line specifically designed for curly hair. In addition, the original founder Lorraine Massey even wrote a handbook about the Curly Girl Method, a must-have for every curly head.
Unfortunately, by February 2020, the company faced at least three class action lawsuits filed in New York, California, and Florida. Allegedly, DevaCurl products have caused scalp irritation, hair loss, thinning, breakage, and even balding. Thus, the lead plaintiffs claim they used DevaCurl No-Poo or Low-Poo cleansers and conditioners because of their benefits touted by the company. However, the users allege that the products turned out to be nowhere near as gentle as the company claims (source).
Meanwhile, Deva Concepts assures its users that all of its products “meet the safety requirements of the US Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) and Health Canada, and all of the formulas available in the EU comply with the requirements of the EU Scientific Committee on Cosmetics Safety (SCCS)” (source).
What exactly in the DevaCurl shampoo can cause hair loss?
For starters, the Facts About DevaCurl website presents a complete list of over 200 ingredients that they use. It also explains what they are used for and which products they are formulated in.
What hair experts think about ingredients in DevaCurl products
Upon reviewing the ingredients, Carlos Wesley, M.D., a hair restoration surgeon in Manhattan, said that some of them penetrate the skin’s uppermost layers. One such ingredient is aminomethyl propanol, a product stabilizer. Hence, depending on its place in the growing cycle, a hair can be open or closed to product penetration. This, in turn, makes it possible for a cream or cleanser, such as DevaCurl Low-Poo Original, to infiltrate the stem cell region of the follicle (source).
Furthermore, according to Maryanne Senna, M.D., a dermatologist and the director of the Hair Academic Innovative Research Unit at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, there is no need for a product to reach the hair bulb to cause hair loss. What can contribute to hair loss and breakage is the superficial inflammation that products may cause. Additionally, the inflammation around the follicle can cause it to harden, affecting hair texture and curl pattern (source).
As for the specific ingredient that may be causing the irritation, there are multiple possibilities on the DevaCurl ingredient list. For example, Dr. Wesley mentioned that propylene glycol causes redness. And Perry Romanowski, a cosmetic chemist and the founder of The Beauty Brains, suggested that it could be fragrance. Dr. Senna agrees with him, emphasizing that fragrance is a huge sensitizer. By the way, every DevaCurl shampoo, including the DevaCurl Low-Poo Original, contains fragrance.
So, I pass along these opinions by noted experts for what they may be worth.
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What I think and why my opinion might be important to you
First of all, I want to clarify that I have no degrees in medicine or chemistry. What I do have, though, is many years of experience in product research and formulation. It all started in 2012, when I searched for a safe shampoo for my soon-to-arrive baby. So, I relied on my 9-year college education and experience as a financial analyst to understand why “organic” and “natural” shampoos had unpronounceable ingredients.
In the end, I learned what ingredients a shampoo or a conditioner must have to function as such. Since then I have read the ingredients of hundreds of shampoos and conditioners and have compiled the Shampoo and Conditioner Rating Lists e-books. I also work as an ingredient safety consultant for product manufacturers and online retailers.
I believe that you do not need to have a doctorate degree to read ingredients. However, what you do need is time and patience for research. So, if you do not have time to do your own research (and who does these days?), I can read labels for you. Nevertheless, I do encourage you to learn the basics to be able to spot harmful ingredients right away.
With that said, let us study the ingredients of two kinds of DevaCurl shampoo to form our own opinion about their safety.
DevaCurl Low-Poo Original cleanser ingredients
As of August 24, 2020, the ingredients of the Low-Poo shampoo are as follows:
Water, Cocamidopropyl Betaine, Coco-Betaine, PEG-75 Lanolin, PEG-40 Hydrogenated Castor Oil, Achillea Millefolium Extract, Chamomilla Recutita Extract (Matricaria), Cymbopogon Schoenanthus Extract, Humulus Lupulus Extract (Hops), Rosmarinus Officinalis Extract (Rosemary), Melissa Officinalis Leaf Extract, Hydroxyethylcellulose, Fragrance (Parfum), PEG-7 Glyceryl Cocoate, Polyquaternium-10, Propylene Glycol, Polyquaternium-7, Aminomethyl Propanol, Diazolidinyl Urea, Iodopropynyl Butylcarbamate.
Let’s talk about the cocamidopropyl betaine surfactant, diazolidinyl urea and iodopropynyl butylcarbamate preservatives, and fragrance.
Cocamidopropyl betaine in DevaCurl shampoo
To begin with, cocamidopropyl betaine is a common surfactant in so-called natural shampoos. It is an ingredient that makes a shampoo lather. While it is made of coconut fatty acid, a renewable source, it is not so harmless, in my opinion. The Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) Expert Panel, a cosmetic industry association, has issued two reports on Cocamidopropyl Betaine (CAPB). In the 1991 CIR report, the industry experts concluded that CAPB was not an irritant or sensitizer when used at concentrations of 3% or less.
However, because of many reported cases of sensitization from the use of rinse-off products with this ingredient, the CIR Expert Panel re-opened its investigation into it. To clarify, sensitization is an allergic reaction after repeated contact with an allergen over time. So, in 2012, the Panel recognized that cocamidopropyl betaine had the potential to induce skin sensitization. Thus, it is possible that the DevaCurl Low-Poo Original users who noticed symptoms years after they began using this DevaCurl shampoo could have become sensitized to it.
Furthermore, cocamidopropyl betaine’s sensitizing potential may be due to the contaminants 3,3-dimethylaminopropylamine (DMAPA) and amidoamine, known as allergens and sensitizers. And how do they end up in CAPB? Well, during the manufacturing process for cocamidopropyl betaine, first, coconut fatty acids react with dimethylaminopropylamine, which produces amidoamine. Then, the amidoamine reacts with sodium monochloroacetate to yield CAPB.
Some interesting facts about cocamidopropyl betaine
First, the CIR Expert Panel concluded that with the reduced levels of dimethylaminopropylamine and amidoamine the number of people who react to CAPB decreases. Hence, the Panel advised manufacturers to continue minimizing the amounts of these sensitizing impurities.
Second, dermatologists in the Netherlands recommend that hairdressers should routinely patch test for cocamidopropyl betaine allergy.
Third, the American Society of Contact Dermatitis lists cocamidopropyl betaine as one of the allergens in concentrations as low as 1%. As a result of the high rates of allergic reaction cases, the American Contact Dermatitis Society named CAPB its Allergen of the year 2004 (source).
Lastly, the Environmental Working Group Skin Deep database used to rate it at 4 on a scale from 1 to 10 (with 1 as the safest) and now rates it at 1-6.
Diazolidinyl urea in DevaCurl shampoo
To start with, diazolidinyl urea is a preservative that protects a product from the growth of bacteria, yeast, and mold. Therefore, it is good that DevaCurl Low-Poo Original has a preservative in the first place. However, diazolidinyl urea releases small amounts of dangerous formaldehyde into a product over time. Thus, the EWG rates formaldehyde at 10 out of 10, and the formaldehyde-releasing preservative diazolidinyl urea between 3 and 5.
In the CIR 1990 report, the Panel concluded that diazolidinyl urea was not a sensitizer to most people if its concentration did not exceed 0.5% in a product. However, in 2015, the American Contact Dermatitis Society named formaldehyde its Allergen of the Year (source).
Moreover, people may develop an allergic contact allergy to formaldehyde or to diazolidinyl urea itself, but mainly to formaldehyde (source). Additionally, dermatologists determined that longer storage time and higher temperatures increase the amount of formaldehyde released from diazolidinyl urea. This, in turn, can lead to higher risks of an allergic reaction (source).
If you search the National Library of Medicine (PubMed), you will find many studies describing an allergic reaction to diazolidinyl urea. For instance, the American Cancer Society states that formaldehyde can cause an allergic contact dermatitis, which can lead to an itchy red rash or blisters. The Mayo Clinic also described similar symptoms of allergic contact dermatitis and listed formaldehyde in preservatives as one of the common allergens.
Another preservative in the DevaCurl Low-Poo Original is iodopropynyl butylcarbamate. It may also cause dermal irritation or allergic contact allergy. Therefore, the American Society of Contact Dermatitis lists it as one of the core allergens, even in concentrations as low as 0.1%.
In addition, the CIR Expert Panel published a report on it in 1998 and stated that it readily penetrated the skin. They determined that it was safe in concentrations less than 0.1%.
As for the EWG Skin Deep database, it rates iodopropynyl butylcarbamate between 2 and 5 depending on use.
Fragrance in DevaCurl products
The most important thing to understand about fragrance is that it is not just one ingredient. Instead, it is a mix of multiple ingredients that manufacturers typically choose not to disclose. Why? Because US law does not pose this as a requirement.
Did you know that there are thousands of chemicals that may be used to create fragrance mixes? If you scroll down the transparency list (as of August 28, 2020) published by the International Fragrance Association, you will see chemicals associated with cancer, endocrine disruption, and allergic reactions.
Even so-called “natural fragrance” is not that harmless, mainly because there is no uniform definition of the term “natural.” So, your understanding of the term “natural” and that of the manufacturer may differ greatly. Please, refer to my post about natural fragrance to learn more about essential oils and natural scent.
As for the DevaCurl shampoo and other products, they all use fragrance without exception. Both the DevaCurl Low-Poo Original and No-Poo Original have it, too.
On a positive note, DevaCurl openly states that their fragrances are made up of both natural and synthetic components, some of which are considered allergens. They warn their customers that they should stop using the product in case of a negative experience, such as itchy scalp, and to contact a doctor if symptoms persist. On top of that, DevaCurl assures customers that all their fragrances “comply with International Fragrance Research Association (IFRA) global safety standards” (source).
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DevaCurl No-Poo Original cleanser ingredients
Recently, this DevaCurl shampoo has been reformulated. Nonetheless, Amazon, Sephora, and iHerb online retailers still show the old ingredients that were similar to the Low-Poo shampoo ingredients. Specifically, they included diazolidinyl urea and iodopropynyl butylcarbamate preservatives. But, as of August 24, 2020, the ingredients of the DevaCurl No-Poo Original cleanser are as follows:
Water, Cetyl Alcohol, Glycerin, Isopropyl Palmitate, Behentrimonium Chloride, Laureth-4, Propylene Glycol, Vitis Vinifera (Grape) Seed Oil, Mentha Piperita (Peppermint) Oil, Wheat Amino Acids, Melissa Officinalis Extract, Humulus Lupulus Extract (Hops), Cymbopogon Schoenanthus Extract, Chamomilla Recutita Extract (Matricaria), Rosmarinus Officinalis Extract (Rosemary), Achillea Millefolium Extract, Cocamidopropyl Betaine, Menthol, Citric Acid, Polyquaternium-7, Phenoxyethanol, Ethylhexylglycerin, Fragrance.
As you can see, the cocamidopropyl betaine and fragrance are still there. Unlike the DevaCurl Low-Poo Original, the No-Poo original cleanser has no diazolidinyl urea and iodopropynyl butylcarbamate preservatives any longer. Instead, it has phenoxyethanol and ethylhexylglycerin. While ethylhexylglycerin does not have any major concerns, there are some concerns about phenoxyethanol that we will discuss below. Additionally, there is Laureth-4, which is an ethoxylated ingredient.
Phenoxyethanol in DevaCurl shampoo
To begin with, phenoxyethanol is a common cosmetic preservative in skin care products, shampoos, liquid washes, mascaras, and foundations. It is not the worst one, but I choose not to use or promote products with this ingredient on my blog.
First, the American Society of Contact Dermatitis lists it as one of its core allergens, even in concentrations as low as 1%.
Another reason I do not promote products with phenoxyethanol is its manufacturing process. Indeed, phenoxyethanol is the product of the reaction of carcinogenic ethylene oxide with highly corrosive phenol. To clarify, all forms of phenol may cause irritation. Even highly diluted solutions (1% to 2%) may cause severe burns in case of prolonged contact. To learn more about it, please read my post about phenoxyethanol in skin care.
Ethoxylated ingredients in DevaCurl Low-Poo Original and No-Poo Original cleansers
If you look at the ingredients of the Low-Poo shampoo again, you will notice PEG-75 Lanolin, PEG-40 Hydrogenated Castor Oil, and PEG-7 Glyceryl Cocoate. Along with Laureth-4 in the No-Poo DevaCurl shampoo, they belong to the group of ethoxylated ingredients. (To spot ethoxylated ingredients quickly, look for PEG, -eth, and Polysorbate as parts of an ingredient name.)
What is wrong with them?
Well, they are a group of ingredients made by the process of ethoxylation. In this process, carcinogenic ethylene oxide is reacted with other ingredients to make them less harsh on the skin (source). As a result of the ethoxylation process, carcinogenic 1,4-dioxane is created, and can be left behind in the product. Of course, 1,4-dioxane can be reduced or removed from a product through the vacuum-stripping process. But, as consumers, we do not know if the process actually took place.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has classified 1,4-dioxane as “likely to be carcinogenic to humans.” The US Food and Drug Administration studies showed that 1,4-dioxine can penetrate human skin. In other words, 1,4 dioxane might remain in a product as a contaminant, unless it is properly removed. However, it will not show up as an ingredient. So, to be on the safe side, I just avoid using or recommending products with ethoxylated ingredients. Plus, I do not believe that it is a good idea to produce carcinogenic substances.
Conclusion about DevaCurl products
In conclusion, I want to emphasize that I do not know whether the claims by the plaintiffs in the class action lawsuits are true. Nor do I have an opinion as to whether these products are causing hair loss.
However, the DevaCurl shampoo, namely DevaCurl Low-Poo Original and No-Poo Original, contain ingredients that, in my opinion, can cause allergic reactions documented in medical and scientific literature.
Further, an allergic reaction usually occurs to an ingredient rather than to the whole product. Anything can cause an allergy, even seemingly harmless plant extracts or oils. Additionally, according to the principle of sensitization, it may occur even years after you started using a product. DevaCurl products seem to have many sensitizers that can cause such a problem.
The good news is, however, there is a way out. It is education. As consumers we should educate ourselves on what we are consuming to be able to make informed decisions about products. By no means do I approve of any manufacturer who may have caused health issues to their customers. Nevertheless, we should understand that we are all in this together. A manufacturer of one product is also a consumer of another product. So, we all need to educate ourselves to bring positive changes to the world of consumer products.
Look for non-toxic products in my shop and book a consultation with me if you need help with living healthy. Also, get the Shampoo and Conditioner Rating List e-books and/or join the Savvy Consumer Circle to expand your knowledge of the consumer world.
Your Superpower To Read Ingredients
Imagine looking at the ingredients of any shampoo, conditioner, lotion, or cream and in a matter of seconds being able to decide if it is safe to use!
With this easy unprecendented method, you will be able to spot potentially harmful personal care or skincare products that may cause irritation, an allergic reaction, or increase the risk of endocrine disruption or cancer.