A pair of posts shared to Facebook on July 28 and 29 2019 carried a warning to consumers, claiming that a woman’s hair had “fallen out in clumps” because someone had added Nair (or another cream-based depilatory) to conditioner purchased at Walmart.
The first post was shared by the mother of the woman who purportedly bought the adulterated conditioner. Information was subsequently edited into the post, which in its original form said:
Attention new Richmond Walmart shoppers be aware of shampoo and conditioner you buy there as my daughter Ashley bought some 2 days ago and someone mixed nair in her conditioner bottle!!!!
A second post shared by daughter of the first poster, the apparent victim of conditioner tampering, included additional photographs and her claim of purchasing the conditioner on July 26 2019:
As I type this I’m crying bc that’s all I have done since this incident. This is raw and has hit me like no other. My hair was finally the way I loved it to be and now it’s gone. These photos I’m sharing are personal to me but apparently needs to get out there, most of these were from last night, through the night and morning on hair had fallen out and still was falling out in clumps before I shaved it. Picture do not do it justice or show the 100% damage it has caused me. My heart hurts terribly I don’t even have any words to say to anyone as I just can’t get anything out but that it hurts and has been scary. My only intentions for sharing is to prevent it from happening to anyone else. Check your bottles where ever you get them, nothing can be trusted anymore…Please do not bash me.
According to the second post, the New Richmond, Wisconsin woman purchased a Pantene conditioner at her local Walmart. Appended pictures appear to show squares of missing hair at her hairline and the base of her neck. Also missing from the first-person account was information about whether the product demonstrated signs of tampering. Nair and other hair removal creams have a distinct, overpowering scent similar to sulfur, which is stronger still when it is undiluted.
The New Richmond Police Department put out a press release saying they are investigating the incident:
On July 28, 2019 The New Richmond Police Department received a complaint of alleged product tampering. A 21 year old female subject indicated she used hair conditioner, recently purchased, and upon using the product for the first time reported immediate significant hair loss on her head. The product was reported to have a different smell and color than the original product. Product tampering can be a felony offense and is cited under Wisconsin State Statute 941.327. Due to the significance of this offense, New Richmond officers and detectives have been working with Wal-Mart staff to identify potential suspects and review video surveillance. The New Richmond Police Department will continue to follow the facts of this case.
While this appears to be an isolated case at this time, the New Richmond Police Department is asking anyone in this area that has been a recent victim of this type of activity to please report it immediately to your local police/sheriff’s department.
The New Richmond Police Department is also reminding people to be diligent in checking products for safety seals and prior to any use to make sure it is consistent with the product you are expecting.
Some news sites reported on the Facebook post as an isolated incident (“Woman loses hair ‘in clumps’ after Nair was allegedly mixed into conditioner bought at Walmart”), while others leapt to the conclusion that this was a trend:
People Are Now Putting Hair Removal Creme In Shampoo Bottles
Someone had replaced the brand new product with Nair hair removal creme.
I remember the rumors about people putting Nair in the conditioner and shampoo bottles of their worst enemies, but this is something entirely worse! Continuing into the post, she claims that she reported the incident to local police, and they are working to watch camera footage from the Walmart, to see if they can get to the bottom of the incident.
Warning! People Are Putting Hair Removal Cream in Shampoo Bottles
Great, it looks like we all have one more thing to worry about. A mother is urging shoppers who purchase products at Walmart to double-check if any of the items have been tampered with before buying them. This after her daughter discovered her conditioner bottle contained Nair inside the product. Nair is a hair removal product that works by breaking the “disulfide bonds of the keratin molecules in hair” which makes it easier for hair to be wiped away easily without using a razor.
As the first of the two sites noted above, claims about contaminating conditioner with hair removal creams like Nair are old urban legends, which does not mean that someone, somewhere has not attempted to execute such a prank. Further, the post alludes to targeting a person in that fashion; as presented, the purported victim in the Facebook posts appeared to have been randomly selected.
In the second excerpt, the site made reference to the manner in which Nair and other chemical depilatories function. In contrast with most conditioners (which sit on the hair for one to three minutes), Nair and hair removal creams sit on the skin for five to ten minutes — or even longer — to dissolve hair. On their website, Nair provides the following instructions for one product:
Smooth on a thick, even layer to cover hair. Leave cream on for 5 minutes.
Check a small area for hair removal. If your hair is thick, you may need more time. (Don’t leave on longer than 10 minutes.)
Gently wipe off the cream and hair with a damp washcloth. Don’t rub!
Rumors about contaminating conditioner (or shampoo) with Nair very likely antedate the internet. However, their plausibility was discussed on the Straight Dope message board back in 2001; forum members provided a laundry list of reasons the prank was impractical. It was cited other forums in undated posts, and appeared in 2010 on a forum for people with long hair. In an unrelated 2010 video, the “Nair in shampoo” prank appeared on YouTube.
In 2016, the “Nair in shampoo” rumor was the subject of a viral hoax. In 2018, a Reddit user claimed a disgruntled roommate put hair removal cream in her shampoo, and that same year the likelihood of the prank working was discussed on Quora. On the latter post, a self-identified hairdresser claimed to have witnessed the aftermath of one such incident.
In photographs, the woman making the claims appeared to be missing neatly bordered sections of scalp hair, not a diffuse amount throughout her scalp. Conditioner is distributed through hair, and whether strands had been shortened or unevenly dissolved was also not clear from the photographs.
In the photograph on the left side of Timm’s post, the conditioner is shown to be a large bottle with a pump, supposedly purchased just two days earlier. Hair removal cream surreptitiously added to the bottle in a Walmart aisle would be situated at the top and unlikely to move to the bottom of the bottle, whereas the pump would retrieve product from the bottom up. If an ill-intentioned shopper decanted hair removal cream into a very large pump bottle of conditioner, it seemed unlikely the affected product would migrate into the pump in the first day or two of use.
It is also possible that the uneven distribution was due to a tampered but unshaken product, where pockets of pure “Nair” were next to pockets of conditioner. However, massaging the product through hair ought to have diluted the “Nair” as well, making it less efficient. Presumably, a then-diluted formula would have sat on the skin for a shorter period of time than five minutes, lowering the possibility of hairless patches.
Another issue is that the articles quoted above asserted that “people” are “now putting” hair removal cream in conditioner; we found no other reports of such tampering in the time period during which the reports appeared. We emailed Nair for information about the feasibility of the rumor, but have not yet received a response.
In short, a woman claimed that a chemical hair remover was added to hair conditioner she purchased at Walmart, leading to hair loss. It is possible that Nair-tainted conditioner caused the hair loss shown here, but it is also possible that the hair loss was due to another reason and that the poster assumed that unexpected loss of hair was because of product tampering. The latter issue — product tampering in a store — had been recently reported, making it a possibility that news about product tampering led the woman to conclude that it had also happened to her.
We found no additional, similar reports to suggest that the claim indicated a widespread trend. Articles claiming it was more than an isolated assertion were misleading.
We will update this story as more details become available.