Three men who used Just For Men hair coloring say there are many more like them who may have been injured by the product made by Combe Inc. of White Plains.
Ray Du Boc Ali, Izell McCloud and Clemon Williams filed a class-action lawsuit against Combe on July 2 in federal court in White Plains, alleging defective product design and seeking more than $5 million from the consumer products company.
“The Just For Men (JFM) hair dyes are more dangerous than an ordinary consumer would expect,” the complaint states, due to “potential for serious allergic response and the risk of scarring, vitiligo and other significant permanent injury.”
Anthony M. Santini, senior vice president and general counsel of Combe, said in an email, “We believe the plaintiffs’ claims have no merit and we will vigorously defend this lawsuit.”
Santini said JFM products have been on the market since 1987, with millions of satisfied consumers, and they fully comply with all regulatory and legal requirements.
“The safety and efficacy of our products, and the satisfaction of our customers, is paramount to our company,” he said.
The lawsuit alleges that JFM instructions are false and misleading, the products are marketed more as a medicine than a cosmetic, and consumers are being exposed to “human experimentation for no confirmed benefit.”
The men claim they were injured in 2015.
After applying JFM black dye to his beard, Ali, of Bossier City, Louisiana, claims his face began itching, he noticed skin flakes in his beard and his face began to sting, burn and swell. Over the following days, his skin allegedly became hard and scabbed, and he was left with permanent discoloration.
He contacted Combe, the complaint states, and a representative took pictures of him and said he would be provided with a dermatologist. He claims he never got the promised medical care.
McCloud, of Palatka, Florida, applied JFM to his goatee. After a few minutes his face itched and burned, he claims, and he immediately washed his goatee.
But his face allegedly continued to itch, burn, crack and peel. His chin and lower lip were discolored from dark brown to white, from loss of pigmentation in a condition called vitiligo.
He claims Combe referred him to a dermatologist who discouraged him from attributing the injury to JFM.
Williams, of Wake Forest, North Carolina, said he tested the dye on his arms, as recommended in the instructions, waited 48 hours, saw no reaction and used it on his beard.
A few days later, his face allegedly became itchy and swollen, his skin oozed and he experienced severe pain. He was admitted to a hospital for four days. Now he has permanent scarring and skin discoloration, according to the complaint.
The suspected substance in JFM is p-phenylenediamine (PPD).
Even when used as directed, the complaint states, PPD can cause mild to serious injuries, ranging from rashes to life-threatening anaphylactic shock.
The chemical is allegedly like coal tar dye that requires a warning label. The JFM label cautions users to do a 48-hour skin allergy patch test before using the product.
By requiring a patch test – to diagnose, mitigate or prevent a disease – Combe is promoting JFM as a drug, the complaint states.
The test described in the instructions is not actually a patch test, according to the complaint, the testing procedure is undefined, and customers have no training in interpreting the results. Users are also unlikely to do the test, because they have to leave the site uncovered and unwashed for two days, and must test themselves before every use.
The test itself, the complaint states, can expose the customer to 35 times more PPD than a standard patch test.
The complaint asks whether Combe has failed to comply with the federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, whether the instructions are adequate, and whether the risks of using JFM outweigh the benefits.
The law firm that represents the men – Berg Simpson Eldlredge Hersh & Jardine of Denver – said it already represents 140 people who qualify as members of a class-action lawsuit.
It is asking the court to certify the class, and it is demanding damages for their injuries, emotional distress and loss of enjoyment of life.