Updated: May 9, 2022
DevaCurl, a brand credited for influencers’ curly locks, is the focus of a class action lawsuit after allegations that its products caused hair loss. How did a brand who received such online praise find itself the target of such controversy?
DevaCurl started off in 1994 as a salon in New York City specializing in curly hair. Since then, the brand has expanded and is selling its products in retailers like Sephora and ULTA Beauty. The brand has ambassadors who model the products on the brand’s social media and — perhaps more convincing to the everyday consumer — influencers, who promote the brand through their own sponsored and unsponsored content.
One such influencer, Ayesha Malik, had been a longtime fan of DevaCurl and even partnered with the brand multiple times in the past. However, she changed the channel with her video “Why I Stopped Using DevaCurl.” In the summer of 2018, she noticed her luscious ringlets beginning to dry out. This escalated to her hair falling out in clumps. The following year, she received photos of women who “all looked like they got struck by lightning.” She soon realized that the products she had loyally sworn by for years were the culprit. In an interview with Forbes, she reported that DevaCurl not only damaged the cosmetic appearance of her curls, but also irritated her scalp and caused headaches and ringing in her ears.
Malik is far from alone. Online communities such as the Facebook group “Hair Damage & Hair Loss from DevaCurl - You’re not CRAZY or ALONE!” have racked up thousands of former customers who share their experiences after using DevaCurl. More former DevaCurl consumers experienced balding, damage to natural curls, scalp damage, headaches, brittle nails, and psoriasis.
It's not news that internet influencers have increased their power over consumers. This booming phenomenon is rattling the marketing world as influencers are gaining more power over a brand’s image than even the brand itself. However, this trend poses the question: why do so many average consumers esteem influencers who lack credentials?
Having credentials on a resume doesn't guarantee credibility or validity (see: Dr. Oz). However, it's alarming that consumers are putting such trust into those based on arbitrary characteristics such as an Instagram following or physical appearance.
This naive trust can have cringeworthy, but benign, consequences. Will we look back and wince at cartoon-y block eyebrows popularized by Instagram gurus? Sure. But the results of blind faith in online self-proclaimed experts can have graver consequences that consumers may carry for life.
Skincare brand Mario Badescu was once all the rage. However, 31 customers joined to file a class action lawsuit in 2014. Its products had unlisted surprises: steroids, hydrocortisone, and triamcinolone acetonide. These additions put consumers in danger of developing an addiction to these steroids and potential withdrawal symptoms. The plaintiffs in the case alleged these products led to "cataracts, glaucoma, mood disorders, heart issues, elevated cortisol levels, adrenal system suppression, and Cushing’s Syndrome." Some of the brand’s cult classics, like the face mists, continue to be popular. Even then, the brand has seemed to dwindle over the years and has failed to recover the hype it once had.
Of course, I'm not suggesting that everyone should ship off all of their home and personal products to a chemist and get a full report. Nor am I saying that you shouldn't buy anything until multiple professionals in a field agree that there is no possibility it will cause an adverse effect. What I do want to ask, however, is this: what kind of weight are we putting on word-of-mouth influences? Opinions from those without expertise, education, or training? Of course, it’s irresponsible for companies to release detrimental products and for self-proclaimed experts to give advice to vulnerable consumers. Still, it’s irresponsible for us as consumers to naively believe a certain hair care product will restore luscious locks because it comes from a highly-esteemed guru whose knowledge is limited to a Google search rabbit-hole, especially when brands offer monetary incentives for influencers.