Victoria's Secret: Formaldehyde in Bras?

A class action suit claims Victoria's Secret bras cause injuries.

November 10, 2008, 7:33 PM

Nov. 11, 2008 — -- The secret is out for one of the world's most recognizable lingerie brands, according to a potential class action lawsuit in which consumers claim they've experienced very uncomfortable symptoms, like rashes, hives and permanent scarring from Victoria's Secret bras.

"I had the welts ... very red, hot to the touch, extremely inflamed, blistery. It itched profusely," said Roberta Ritter, who describes herself as a longtime Victoria's Secret shopper. "I couldn't sleep, waking up itching.

"I was just utterly sick," she added.

Ritter, 37, filed a lawsuit against the company May 14 in relation to the Angels Secret Embrace and Very Sexy Extreme Me Push-Up bras she said she purchased.

But the Ohio resident isn't alone in her complaint. Her lawyers said dozens of other women have contacted them with similar claims involving a number of the intimate brand's collections. Many seek to be a part of the potential class action lawsuit.

"I was floored. I thought, 'I have to come out with this. The can of worms has to be opened because it's not just me, it's other people as well,'" Ritter said.

The medical Web site also features numerous complaints against the underwear company.

"I, too, had an awful itchy, red splotchy rash from the Secret Embrace bras," one poster complained.

A Victoria's Secret spokesperson admitted the company had received direct complaints from customers, but added the bras remain on store shelves.

The company said it is investigating complaints and released a statement that said, "We are sorry that a small number of people have had an issue and we want to help them determine the cause.

"Customer safety and satisfaction are always our primary concerns and we take seriously any issues our customers may have with our products," the statement continued.

Moving Forward

The firm representing Ritter has done some investigating of its own. The firm said it purchased the same bra types named in the suit from Victoria's Secret and sent them to a lab. It said the bras tested positive for the chemical formaldehyde.

But, Victoria's Secret denied the accusation.

"We have strict quality controls around our products, and we do not use formaldehyde in our bras," the company said in a statement.

But Ritter's attorney said somehow the chemical is making its way into the bras.

"It may not be something that they're specifying to put in their bra, but somehow it's making its way into the manufacturing process because it was certainly present," said attorney Dawn Chmielewski of Climaco, Lefkowitz, Peca, Wilcox & Garofoli Co., L.P.A.

And though Ritter's bra has not been tested, she said her doctor diagnosed her with an allergic reaction that could have been caused by formaldehyde.

"It's not something you think about every day when you grab your underclothes, when you put them on, but it's woken me up, and I just hope to wake people up to the reality that it can happen," she said.

The class action paperwork already has been filed, but a judge won't decide until May if enough evidence exists to move the case forward. Dozens of women are seeking compensation for medical bills and suffering as part of the claim.

This isn't the first time a consumer has sued Victoria's Secret. In June, a Los Angeles woman went after the retailer, claiming a thong malfunction injured her. She is seeking unspecified damages and the case has yet to be resolved.

Editor's Note: After this story was reported on Tuesday, Nov. 11, "Good Morning America" was contacted by the trade group representing formaldehyde manufacturers with a response. Read that response below and visit The Formaldehyde Council's web site by clicking here.

As the leading resource for information about formaldehyde we would like to offer a few additional points that might benefit viewers. First, synthetic materials used to make clothing -- such as the bras in the story -- are not treated with any products derived from formaldehyde. It's even harder to imagine that the bras were inadvertently contacted with formaldehyde -- that's because it quickly dissipates in air, water and sunlight. It's telling that the plaintiff's lawyers haven't released their lab test specifics -- especially since false positives for formaldehyde are common in trace amounts.

But if the plaintiff and her doctor are concerned that she had an allergic reaction to formaldehyde, as the story indicates, there's an easy way to find out. Doctors typically give a simple, harmless allergy patch test to determine the precise cause of a reaction. According to the public court documents in the case, plaintiff has inexplicably refused to take that test.

When serious health accusations are made publicly, journalists have an extra duty to apply verification and skepticism about the claims. A story involving the Victoria's Secret brand may have a certain sex appeal but viewers deserve to know that the claims made by the source are unproven, untested, and highly implausible.

Betsy Natz

Executive Director

The Formaldehyde Council, Inc.

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