Two California consumers have filed a proposed class action lawsuit against Whole Foods Market, Inc. that alleges the grocer deceptively mislabels its supposedly “hypoallergenic” body care products. In the 38-page lawsuit, the plaintiffs allege Whole Foods’ labeling of its hypoallergenic products—sold under the private-label “365 Everyday Value” and WF product lines—is nothing more than a marketing scheme, and that the products themselves are replete with known eye- and skin-irritating allergens.
“Seeking to capture the growing hypoallergenic market, [Whole Foods] prominently labels many of its products as ‘hypoallergenic,’” the complaint reads. “However, despite its marketing scheme, [Whole Foods’] products are chock-full of known skin sensitizers (allergens), agents that cause serious skin damage, chemicals that cause serious eye damage lasting longer than 21 days, skin irritants, and eye irritants.”
Worse, the lawsuit continues, certain Whole Foods-brand body care products also contain known carcinogens, mutagens, reproductive toxins, and other synthetics the case describes as extremely dangerous to human health.
Claim: Whole Foods takes advantage of consumers who actively seek hypoallergenic products
The lawsuit’s primary allegation is the assertion that as a result of Whole Foods’ labeling and marketing practices, the company has been able to induce consumers nationwide into purchasing purportedly hypoallergenic products that, in truth, contain what the case calls “a shocking array of compounds known to cause allergic responses.” Although many of the ingredients in Whole Foods-branded skin care products are legally permitted components, the lawsuit charges the defendant erred in claiming these ingredients are “hypoallergenic,” claiming they’re otherwise toxic or hazardous when in contact with the skin or eyes.
“Consumers lack the ability to test or independently ascertain the toxicity of a chemical, especially at the point of sale,” the plaintiffs argue. “Reasonable consumers must and do rely on the chemicals company to honestly report the nature of the product’s ingredients.”
Bookending this, the case mentions, is the price the Austin, Texas-headquartered grocer reportedly charges for the body care products in question.
“By deceiving consumers about the nature, quality, and/or ingredients of its products, [Whole Foods] is able to command a premium price, increasing consumers’ willingness to pay and take away market share from competing products, thereby increasing its own sales and profits,” the lawsuit reads.
Which Whole Foods body care products are mentioned in the suit?
The case lists the following products as being falsely labeled as hypoallergenic by Whole Foods:
365 Baby Foaming Wash
365 Baby Lotion
365 Baby Shampoo
365 Bubble Bath
365 Gentle Skin Cleanser
365 Kids’ Foaming Wash
365 Maximum Moisture Body Lotion
365 Moisturizing Lotion
Whole Foods Market Baby Laundry Detergent
Whole Foods Market Organic Laundry Detergent
Wild Kratts Bubble Bath
Wild Kratts Kids Foaming Body Wash
Does the complaint mention any specific chemicals in the products?
According to the lawsuit, products in question reportedly contain, among 22 other chemical irritants:
Acacia Senegal (organic gum arabic) – A Category 1 skin sensitizer and Category 2 skin irritant, which the case explains causes “significant erythema/eschar (redness and dead tissue) or edema (abnormal accumulation of fluid beneath the skin).” Further, this component is considered a Category 2 eye irritant, which can have adverse effects on the cornea, iris, and conjunctiva;
Calendula officinalis flower extract – A Category 1 skin sensitizer and Category 2 eye irritant, according to certain testing;
Caprylyl glycol – A Category 1 eye irritant that can cause “serious damage to the eye tissue or serious physical decay of vision” that may not be reversible within 21 days of a product’s application;
Citric acid – A common food ingredient, citric acid reactions are “typified by ulcers, bleeding, bloody scabs, and by the end of observation after 14 days, by discoloration due to blanching of the skin, complete areas of alopecia, and scars.”
Polysorbate 60 – An irritant known to cause hives and swelling.
Phenoxyethanol – A supposed skin and severe eye irritant that, even from short-term exposure, is “toxic to the kidneys, the nervous system, and the liver.” According to the lawsuit, this component can degrade into an even more toxic substance, a suspected “germ cell mutagen.” Use of phenoxyethanol is restricted in Europe, the lawsuit says.
Glycerin – A mutagen the lawsuit claims is known to cause eczema in humans.
The lawsuit states all of “America’s Healthiest Grocery Store’s” body care products contain substances dubbed by “reputable authorities” as skin sensitizers, thus making Whole Foods’ “hypoallergenic” claims false. Moreover, the plaintiffs claim Whole Foods has gone so far as to “conceal the identity of several ingredients,” such as those that compose the fragrances added to the above-listed products.
Who does the lawsuit seek to cover?
The proposed class includes anyone throughout the United States who purchased any of the above-mentioned Whole Foods products at any time. Also proposed in the complaint are California- and New York-specific subclasses covering consumers in those states.