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The Truth About The Pantene Hair-Burning Controversy

Photo: Getty Images.
Pantene products have recently (literally) come under fire, for ostensibly causing hazardous side effects during routine dye jobs.

Patrik Alan Simpson of Mixed Elements salon in Maryland took to Facebook last week with a public service announcement for anyone willing to listen (uh, read). "For the love of anything holy...PLEASE stop using this crap in your hair!" he wrote.

"This crap" unceremoniously refers to Pantene's Moisture Renewal shampoo and conditioner, which he included a picture of in the post. He went on to recount a situation in which a client's hair started to burn — with smoke "billowing out" of the aluminium foil — after he applied a light-blond, ombré colour to her hair. He stressed that he's been doing this process for years without incident.

"I asked the usual questions i.e. Well water, medication etc. the only thing that was there, she used Pantene shampoo and conditioner for over a year," he explains on Facebook. "With the build up of parabens and plastic and silicones when it comes in-contact with a bleach or hi-lift colour it reacts and the bleach will melt off the build up and becomes a very hot liquid and if it come in contact with skin it will cause a burn. [sic]"

This seems to be a hot-button issue. Many Pantene users claim to have experienced similar issues — some of them flocking to Simpson's post (which has 56,000+ shares and counting) with their own stories. "This happened to me yeeeears ago! My scalp bubbled from the burns. It was awful. Now, I only use Organix or Renpure," one Facebook user wrote. "I used to use this when my mum dyed my hair back blonde. Same thing happened to me, very scary," another recalled. There are even several discussion threads — from 2013, 2010, and 2006 — where people complain about the negative effects they attribute to the brand's products, which range from burning incidents to hair loss.

Despite the number of complaints, we couldn't uncover any scientific evidence that proves Pantene is at fault in any of these incidents. And the experts we spoke with didn't seem to be convinced of the claims.

PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT!!!!!!!For the love of anything holy...... PLEASE stop using this crap in your hair! I...

Posted by Patrik Alan Simpson on Tuesday, 22 March 2016

"There is no ingredient in Pantene that is flammable in that manner; I couldn't even begin to give you a theory!" says cosmetic chemist Ni'Kita Wilson. She explains that placing the blame on the ingredients misses the mark. "Plastics is such a broad term that it really can't apply here. Silicones coat the hair strands to seal down the cuticles. If there is buildup on the hair, then the only negative impact could potentially be the colour not taking as well."
, a website regarded as "an online touchstone of rumour research," echoes Wilson's sentiment. As it points out, none of the ingredients Pantene lists on its website are out of the ordinary. In fact, when compared with pricier hair products, there is a ton of overlap — including the silicon-based polymer dimethicone.

As far as the plastics rumour goes, well, beauty blog The Beauty Brains debunked that claim years ago, stating that it was "a myth started by stylists to keep you from buying salon products." In a separate post, the blog even challenges users to compare Pantene's ingredient list to that of any other hair-care brand. "Even though the names vary, you'll see three basic types of ingredients: fatty alcohols (like cetyl and stearyl alcohol), conditioning ingredients (like stearamidopropylamine and quaternium-18), and silicones (like dimethicone and cyclomethicone)," the article states. "There's nary a plastic to be found in Pantene. And no, it doesn't make your hair fall out either."

The brand also sent us an email to confirm that its products do not contain plastic.

So, what is causing these hazardous instances? Colourist Aura Friedman says that other substances in the hair could be at fault. "That kind of chemical reaction happens when there are heavy metals or henna in the hair," she explains. "I haven't had that sort of chemical reaction on people's hair that use Pantene."
Hairstylist Paul Cucinello also places the blame elsewhere. "In the event that foil highlights start puffing up and literally exploding (colour specialists refer to this as a 'heat reaction'), it is not because of the silicones contained in many shampoos and conditioners — it's due to a perfect storm between sodium hydroxide, ammonia, and aluminium," he says. "When a lightener is applied to hair that has been shampooed with products that contain sodium hydroxide, using aluminium foil can create extreme heat reactions. This can make foils heat up and expand, potentially causing chemical burns and hair breakage. (Have you seen Chris Rock's documentary Good Hair?)"

Cucinello stresses that this is why it's vital for colourists and clients to be honest with each other. "It's important for colourists to ask what products their clients are using at home, so they can avoid the unpleasant experience of having foils explode on your head," he says. "Pantene is not really the culprit here. It's a lack of knowledge about what ingredients are in the products consumers are using in their hair and on their bodies."

Despite Simpson's inflammatory claims, Pantene stands firmly by its products. "The people’s trust in the quality of our products and their safety is of our utmost priority," the brand said in a statement released to Refinery29. "Millions of consumers use and enjoy our Pantene products daily and colour regularly as well. There is no connection between our products and the reaction this hairdresser saw on the client’s hair. We don’t know what caused this; shampoos and conditioners cannot."