One of the hottest toys for younger kids this holiday season - a set of interlocking squishy balls known as Bunchems -- is drawing less-than-rave reviews from parents who say they've had to perform emergency haircuts after the spiky spheres became entangled in their kids' hair.
"Unless you were planning on getting your kid a pixie cut or shaving their head already, don't buy these!" wrote one irate Amazon reviewer on a forum that includes almost 250 spirited reviews debating the merits of the product.
"Worse than gum in hair," wrote another, of the squishy rubber balls with Velcro-like spikes that allow them to be connected to make different shapes, sort of like round Legos. "I can't remember a worse product."
The toy's manufacturer, Toronto-based Spin Master Ltd., responded by adding a pop-up message on its website warning against "misuse" of the popular toy, pointing out that the sticky spheres are not intended for hair.
"They are intended only to be adhered to other Bunchems," Arlene Biran, vice president of marketing, wrote in an online statement. "This is particularly important for parents and caregivers to understand. The Bunchems packaging and directions clearly state: 'Caution: Keep away from hair. May become entangled.'"
Spin Master also posted a 48-second video that provides instructions on removing the orbs from tangled tresses. It recommends a process that resembles the procedure for removing lice from hair, involving an adult applying conditioner or vegetable oil to the affected hair, them combing beneath each separate sphere until the parent can slide the ball out of the hair.
But some parents also took issue with the company's remedial effort.
"The video put out by the company showing how to remove these toys is a joke," wrote one parent on the ever-expanding thread on Amazon comment forum. "Try getting these out of curls. I had to cut off (my daughter's) hair! Telling a child not to let a toy touch their hair when they play is like telling a child not to get marker on their hands when they color."
Not everyone has had a hair-raising experience with the toy. Many parents have praised the creative aspect of these toys.
The interlocking orbs are "great sensory toys" and wonderful for developing motor skills, counting and learning colors, wrote one commenter on Facebook. Others said it is refreshing to see their kids playing with non-electronic toys.
And some parents observed that hair entanglement can be avoided by closer observation when children play with Bunchems.
"I understand accidents happen," wrote one mom in a BuzzFeed comment forum discussing "Hairgate." "But it's not the toy's fault if your kid gets them wrapped in their hair. If it happened to my kid, I'd be upset about the hassle but I'd be more likely to give my kid a lecture about being more careful and explaining why the balls got stuck than write a negative review on Amazon trashing them."
Richard Gottlieb, founder and CEO of Global Toy Experts, said that argument has merits.
"It's a good toy with some unexpected and potentially uncomfortable consequences," he said. "Let's not forget the fun and learning that great tools of play can provide before we get too carried away with focusing on a problem that can be fixed with a little parental direction and observation."