MIDLOTHIAN — Fourteen women — including two from North Texas and one from Houston — are suing Unilever, the maker of a product they claim caused permanent damage to their hair.
"It transforms frizzy, unmanageable hair into hair that's sleeker and easier to style," said the commercial for the Suave Professionals Keratin Infusion 30-Day Smoothing Kit, which is no longer being sold.
Tonja Millet of Midlothian said the product did the opposite of what it promised. "It melted my hair," she said. "The hair was sticky. I couldn't comb it. It felt like sandpaper. It was just awful."
Millet, 45, said her naturally straight hair would sometimes turn slightly frizzy in humid weather. So in February she decided to try the straightening product, hoping it would help tame frizz during a trip to the beach over spring break.
"Instead of straightening and smoothing it, it acted like a perm and kinked it," she said. "I just sat in the bathroom and cried. I didn't know what to do."
Millet said she called the product's consumer hotline to complain, and was told she probably used the product incorrectly.
A few days later, she went to her salon, where her stylist told her her hair had been "chemically melted."
"So that day we cut off 10 inches," Millet said.
When she began looking online for more information about the product, she said she found some people who said it worked, but more who said it damaged their hair.
She discovered a Facebook page devoted to angry consumers, and there are multiple postings on YouTube.
Millet is now part of a lawsuit filed against Unilever. Dallas attorney Amy Davis represents Millet and 13 other women.
"What the complaint is alleging is that by using certain images and certain wording, that Unilever made consumers believe this was a product free of harsh chemicals, when we believe it wasn't," Davis said. "The complaint says women experienced hair loss to the point of visible bald spots, terrible breakage, discoloration... some of them had injury or burning to the scalp."
The complaint will not reach class action status, Davis said, because not all of the women experienced the same results.
Unilever said its practice is not to comment on ongoing litigation. But a spokesperson stressed that when Suave began to receive "a greater-than-expected number of complaints about the Suave Professionals Keratin Infusion 30-Day Smoothing Kit," the cmopany discontinued the product and recalled it from retail stores.
That was in May.
"We found the number and degree of consumer complaints to be unacceptable," a company spokeswoman said. But she stressed, "Overall, consumer complaints represented a small percentage of the product shipped into the marketplace. Many consumers enjoyed the product and had very positive results."
Millet said she's cut 12 to 13 inches off her hair since trying the Suave product in February.
"At the beginning I was like, 'I'm just gonna hide out for the next year so nobody will see my hair,'" she said. "I certainly wish I'd never done it. I really regret it."
"It's about accountability," she said of the legal action. "They didn't take it off the market for months, even after they knew there were hundreds — possibly thousands — of women affected the way I was... or even far worse."