SAN FRANCISCO (CN) — The maker of Just for Men hair dye uses endorsements from black athletes to dupe African Americans into buying the toxic Jet Black version of the product, a man claims in a federal class action.
Lead plaintiff John Stringer sued Combe Inc. and three subsidiaries Monday, claiming their Jet Black dye for hair, beards and mustaches has 17 times more p-Phenylenediamine, or PPD, than other versions of the hair dye. PPD can cause kidney failure, asthma, vertigo, tremors and convulsions, according to the lengthy lawsuit.
“Beyond being a dye component, PPD is utilized in the manufacture of rubber tires, as an additive to gasoline and as a photographic developing agent,” the complaint states.
It says the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission “flagged PPD as one of only five substances requiring the cautionary designation of ‘strong sensitizer,’” one with a “significant potential for causing hypersensitivity.” So significant, in fact, that “the American Contact Dermatitis Society declared PPD the ‘Allergen of the Year’ in 2006,” according to the complaint.
It adds that a scientific study by the Cleveland Clinic concluded in 2001 that “the sensitization rate to PPD in black men was 21.2 percent compared to only 4.2 percent in white men.”
Nonetheless, Stringer says, Combe “knowingly designed, produced, marketed and sold Just for Men products that were disproportionately unsafe and hazardous for African American males compared to white males.”
Combe’s senior vice president and general counsel Anthony Santini called the lawsuit “uninformed, baseless” and without merit.
“Combe’s Just for Men hair coloring products have been on the market since 1987, with millions of satisfied consumers,” Santini said in an email. “The safety and efficacy of our products, and the satisfaction of our customers, is paramount to our company.”
But Stringer says that in 2000 the Environmental Protection Agency reported that exposure to PPD can cause kidney failure, asthma, vertigo, tremors, convulsions, skin irritation, convulsions, gastritis, kidney failure and comas.
Stringer says Combe recruited famous black athletes such as NFL Hall of Famer Emmitt Smith and NBA star Walter “Clyde” Frazier, to lure black men into purchasing the hazardous hair dye. And he claims Combe markets the product to black consumers, despite evidence of its health risks and consumer complaints.
“Defendants omitted, concealed, and inadequately provided critical safety information regarding the Jet Black color shade in order to induce its purchase and use by African American males,” the complaint states.
The lawsuit accuses Combe of violating a federal anti-discrimination law under the Civil Rights Act and two California consumer protection laws.
Stringer seeks nationwide class certification, a permanent injunction and damages for civil rights violations, unfair competition and violations of consumer laws.
He is represented by Elise Sanguinetti with Arias Sanguinetti Tahle & Torrijos in Los Angeles.