Can Monat shampoo cause hair loss? Safety of MLM's products called into question.

Kaleigh Fasanella
·8 min read

Founded in 2014, Monat Global Corp. is a Miami-based vegan and cruelty-free beauty brand that operates on a multi-level marketing (MLM) partner program, which relies largely on people (in Monat’s case, mostly hairdressers and influencers) to help sell products. They’ve garnered a great deal of success using this marketing tactic: In August 2019, they were named South Florida’s second-fastest-growing company by South Florida Business Journal with more than $25 million in sales and between 2016 and 2019, the brand increased its growth by a whopping 758.86 percent.

Some — if not most — of this success can be attributed to social media. Just look to Instagram and you’ll find a myriad of folks waxing poetic about the brand. There’s even an account dedicated to positive Monat hair testimonials that has 110,000 followers; and if you search the hashtag “monat testimonials,” nearly 5,000 posts will pop up with reviews from customers claiming the brand’s products worked miracles on their hair.

Speaking of products: Monat offers several different lines that target different hair concerns, including a collection for hydration, volume and color-treated hair. In addition, they also make products for kids, as well as pets, and promise to use only “naturally-based” ingredients within the products. That, and they claim to be free of “toxic” ingredients, such as sulfates, parabens, and potentially harmful colors and fragrances, too.

The downfall

Despite Monat’s widespread success, it’s received major flack from customers claiming the products lead to issues like hair loss, balding, itching and skin lesions. While these types of complaints aren’t exclusive to Monat, and can actually be quite common in the beauty industry, what’s unusual is just how much negative feedback the brand’s amassed since launching. For instance, it’s one of few hair companies that’s had many lawsuits (at least six) filed against them and hundreds of folks come forward to complain about the products and side effects to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Better Business Bureau (BBB). Angry customers have also aired their grievances about Monat’s goods on almost every social media platform — from Reddit to Twitter to YouTube.

“I’ve had client complaints about #Monat with balding, and hair loss. PLEASE be careful with products you use!!” wrote one user on Twitter on September 21. “Do not use #Monat products. That shit literally broke my hair,” added another Twitter user on September 23.

Additionally, according to the South Flordia Sun Sentenial, the company was recently forced to sign an agreement with the state’s office of the attorney general promising not to “engage in unlawful and misleading sales and marketing practices,” which have been alleged in complaints sent to the BBB and FDA dating back as far as 2015. (The agreement in its entirety can be found here.)

Monat has also been accused of telling customers that their hair was going through a “detox period” when they complained about thinning and hair breakage.

In February 2018, Monat filed its own lawsuit against a woman by the name of Vickie Harrington after she started a Facebook group for critics of the brand. She is one former user who says she was told her hair was “detoxing” when she complained about hair loss. The company sued her for defamation and libel and alleged that they lost $75,000 worth of revenue due to her claims about Monat’s products. Harrington was sued for $225,000 in damages.

In April 2018, the federal court ruled in favor of Monat in a case that would have prevented the brand from protecting itself from “defamation and malicious claims” from plaintiffs who filed lawsuits against the company. In this case, the plaintiffs — Trisha Whitemire and Emily Yanes de Flores — sued for $5,000,000 in the largest class-action lawsuit against the brand. The lawsuit claimed Monat’s website used misleading marketing jargon to convince people its products would provide health benefits like hair regrowth. In the denying motion, the judge ruled that the plaintiffs had “failed to establish a ‘likelihood of success on the merits.’”

According to the BBB, they are not taking any positive or negative reviews for Monat at this time due to the organization’s inability to confirm the authenticity of the reviews being submitted. This decision came after the BBB received several hundred complaints within a three-day period in January 2018, with many of them coming from marketing partners for the brand.

All of the lawsuits against Monat have been consolidated in a Florida court and, as of now, the legal action is still ongoing.

Expert insight

This brings us to the question: Are Monat’s products safe? According to Allergisa — an international third-party testing facility that ran allergy tests on the brand’s products — the answer is yes. In 2018, the company provided a 48-hour patch test on human volunteers using Monat products and found no evidence that they caused irritation or adverse reactions on the skin. After a six-week period of tests, the products were deemed safe by Allergisa.

Additionally, Yahoo Life tapped two experts for their insight on Monat’s products.

“As I took a look into Monat’s hair products, there was nothing completely out of the ordinary that I was able to see compared to other haircare and skincare products on the market today,” says Missouri-based cosmetic chemist, David Petrillo. “They do seem to have many natural and botanical extracts and oils in the formulas that I was able to look at, which typically have many skin benefits and properties.”

Petrillo also points out how common customer complaints are among beauty brands. “When it comes to cosmetic products, there is always going to be complaints on even the safest and gentlest products on the market simply because each person is unique and reacts differently to products and ingredients,” he explains. “This is something every brand experiences.”

On the other hand, Washington D.C.-based dermatologist Adam Friedman says Monat’s products contain some potentially harmful ingredients, such as surfactants (an agent that when added to liquid reduces its surface tension) and essential oils. “Surfactants are not meant to stay on the skin, as they can disrupt the integrity of the skin barrier and ultimately penetrate deeper into the skin, causing an immune reaction, and in turn, inflammation,” he explains. “The pain and hair shedding could easily be attributed to an irritant contacting dermatitis.”

In regards to essential oils, Friedman says that they generally contain furocoumarins, which are types of chemical compounds found naturally in many plant species that have phototoxic properties. This means that when furocoumarins are exposed to sunlight they can create free radicals that can harm the skin.

Monat’s stance

Amid the legal action and online complaints, Monat has remained steadfast in its stance that its products are safe and do not cause the health issues cited by the plaintiffs. The brand has denied all charges by the plaintiffs and even placed blame on them for “breaching their duty of care” by failing to know what ingredients they were allergic or sensitive to before using Monat’s products.

Friedman weighed in on this response from the brand, saying: “I am shocked that the company outrightly blamed consumers for not knowing what they are allergic to — that’s a puzzle that often requires advanced allergy testing from someone with specialized training.”

Yahoo contacted Monat for a comment on these matters, and they provided the following statement:

“As we approach a billion dollars in sales with more than 2 million customers in 5 markets around the world, we continue to focus on manufacturing the most safe and effective premium hair care, skin care and wellness products.

Each year we spend hundreds of thousands of dollars — over a million now in total — to conduct thousands of tests to ensure our products are safe and effective. We continue to engage third-party scientific testing laboratories to validate the safety and effectiveness of our products. In each case the findings are conclusive — our products are safe and effective for their intended purpose.

This litigation has been going on for over 2 years and, in all that time, the plaintiffs have yet to state how the products caused the damage they allege. At the same time, MONAT has provided the plaintiffs with thousands of pages of safety studies showing the safety and efficacy of the products and the plaintiffs have not refuted those safety studies. These types of cases are not unusual and tend to drag on for years. MONAT will continue to defend vigorously the litigation, and the safety of our products and the good name of the company.”

The bottom line

Ultimately, the courts are still out. Of course, the substantial complaints the company’s received is a cause for concern, but that’s not to say Monat’s products will negatively affect you. Before investing in Monat products — or any products for that matter — be sure to do your research first and consider consulting a dermatologist to see if they’re safe for you.

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