Ethnic Hair Care

November 9, 2005

The ethnic market is flooded with new relaxers, bright colors and silky conditioners catering tto fragile African-American hair.

Changes are stirring in the ethnic hair care market, a segment worth $301 million in the mass market for the year ended Feb. 4, according to Information Resources, Inc. (IRI), Chicago. Though concerns with ethnic hair remain consistent, such as preventing breakage and enhancing any ‘do, the straight and natural looks are here, boosting the sales of relaxers and conditioners. But often consumers pay a price; industry executives agree that relaxers can strip the hair.

William Onyebuagu, president of Chicago-based Nasus Onye, Inc. and former Soft Sheen employee, is currently developing the Ethnosolutions hair care line for salons, set to launch the first quarter of next year. The line addresses the treatment of different types of ethnic hair to protect, control, prevent and repair environmentally-damaged hair caused by grooming. The line uses ingredients similar to hair and scalp structures.

“In the past five or six years in the industry, we’ve started to see a trend towards getting more natural,” said Mr. Onyebuagu. “There has been a slight decrease in hair relaxers due to their damaging properties, which prompted natural looks such as hair braiding.

“I left Soft Sheen because I saw a gold mine in terms of what consumers want—relaxers are the biggest part of the African-American market segment, and with these products come a lot of damage,” he continued. “I realized the market did not have good enough technology to improve relaxers and protect the hair and scalp. The problems identified in the African-American hair market—breakage, shading and irritation—can be controlled with this concept.”

Though relaxer sales were down 5.2% last year according to IRI, and they use chemicals that alter the chemistry of hair, making it impossible to revert to its original structure, they are one of the staples of the African-American hair care market. Mr. Onyebuagu explained that the damage of relaxers is related to the chemistry of African-American hair, which is very different from that of other ethnic populations.

“There are demarkations for hair care, and several ethnic groups fall between the straight (Caucasian) and kinky (African-American) hair,” explained Mr. Onyebaugu. “The makeup of hair chemistry has different constituencies in each group; disulfide bonds are not as concentrated in Caucasian hair. Also, if you take one strand of African-American hair, the diameter is different from root to end, which is not so with Caucasian hair, affecting the re-flection of shine on the hair’s top layer.”

And with uneven hair structure comes rough ends and severe breakage, making hair extremely brittle and more susceptible to further damage. So consumers are looking for products that promote softness and give the popular naturally-curly look or a straight, sleek look.

“The trend is leading to straightening products such as relaxers and conditioners,” said David Bigelow, director of marketing, E.F. Young, Jr. Mfg. Co., Meridian, MS. “More women with curly hair would prefer straight and soft hair.”

E.F. Young is currently promoting Lady Velvet Foaming Wrap styling lotion, a multipurpose foam wrap with setting, styling and conditioning properties. It provides softness, quick drying and retains curl. Additionally, it provides elasticity, holds the hair in place and gives the hair body, management, detangling, sheen and has thermal lubricants for moisturization during the drying process, according to company executives. The company has also recently added a neutralizing solution to its Curl & Body line.

Go With the Flow
J.M. Products, the No. 1 retailer in the African-American styling category with sales of $7.8 million according to IRI, leads the way with its Isoplus product line. Isoplus, a styling system of products from aerosols to spritzes and hair polishes to wrap lotions, is expanding with the launch of Hot Hot Hot products to enhance the performance of heated equipment. Company executives insist flowing and full hairstyles are what consumers want.

“Isoplus is the styling queen of the ethnic market, leading the category by 21% according to IRI,” said Connie Curry, director of sales, J.M. Products, Inc., Little Rock, AR. “Women are looking for nice, flowing hairstyles. There were periods where women wanted stiff styles, geri curls or braids, but now the preference is healthy, full of body and flowing.”

The new Hot Hot Hot Thermal Curler is sprayed on dry hair, giving it bounce and body after curling without sticking to the iron, and Hot Hot Hot Protection lotion which cuts drying time in half, providing a smooth blow dry finish, according to J.M. Products executives.

New York-based Colomer USA’s Creme of Nature brand is also introducing a new line, Care and Style, at the end of April. The line features Hair Fortifying serum to prevent breakage that can be used as a conditioner or wrap; Finishing styler in a spray to protect against heat damage and promote curl and shine; Spritz for use as a non-flaking brush-through holding spray and Shine and Control Elixir to control frizz and define the wave pattern of the hair.

“Consumers are constantly looking for products to make their hair healthy,” said Daryl Dunbar, marketing manager of the ethnic products group, Colomer USA, New York. “That’s the key, in addition to versatility in styling.”

Revlon’s Creme of Nature shampoo was repackaged in January with a more contemporary design, slim bottle line, rounded shoulders and a white bottle. The labels now indicate shampoo variant (regular, extra body and extra moist) in different colors. Executives re-vamped the line to keep it fresh and to continue to attract consumer attention.

At the end of last year, Colomer USA repackaged three of its relaxer kits under the Revlon Realistic, Creme of Nature and Fabulaxer brands. This year, African Pride’s relaxer has also been repackaged, making it more contemporary by retaining the Serengeti background for consistency and using a model shot instead of an illustration. All of these beckon a segment of consumers who desire straight hair. Yet at the same time, many desire natural hairdos.

“There is more variety in hairstyles today, but there is a bit of a trend for natural hair,” Mr. Dunbar said. “Though relaxers will never go away, the afro is back, but not in the same way—it is softer, with more manageability.”

In July, African Pride will launch Braid Spray-On shampoo and Braid-Weave Easy-Out to help detangle hair when taking out braids. Also in July, African Pride will introduce two new highlight shades —Nigerian Fire (dark red) and Namibian Glow (strawberry-blonde). Gros, a product to help the growth of hair, needed to be distinguished from the competition, so Colomer changed the lid from rounded to flat to facilitate shelf stacking.

The Color Craze
In addition to softer, more natural hairstyles, color is making a comeback. Ethnic color care is not just about covering grays; it’s about making a statement. Sales in the $11.9 million market, rose 6.6% last year, according to IRI. This is one of the few categories that saw growth in the African-American segment.

In an excerpt from the recently published Hair Story—Untangling the Roots of Black Hair in America, authors Ayana D. Byrd and Lori L. Tharps opined, “Change is occurring in the black community, as more and more people embrace natural styles that emphasize the unique texture of black hair rather than trying to hide it.

“But this is not to say that all of black America is scurrying to ‘free up’ their roots. Quite the contrary,” they continued. “When trendsetters like hip-hop queens Lil’Kim and Mary J. Blige change their hair color to match their mood and outfits, and their legions of fans follow suit, there is nothing natural going on there. The point is that more and more black people are letting go of the pain, the drama and community policing over hair and adopting a more open-minded mentality.”

Bristol-Myers Squibb’s Clairol Professional division is heating up the shelves with its new Textures & Tones Red Passion collection, featuring four new shades that are the first to use an advanced patented red dye in the ethnic category, according to company executives. Pre-lightening is not required to achieve the vibrant red color of the dyes. The four shades offered are Red Hot Red, Blazing Burgundy, Ruby Rage and Flamingo Desire.

“The industry is going crazy with color such as blondes, reds and soft brunette colors,” said Vernon Charles, Clairol Professional’s international color master and hairstylist at Crown & Glory, New York.

Textures & Tones’ elasticom conditioning complex makes application possible one week after using chemical relaxers. Elasticom combines wheat protein, panthenol and Brazil nut oil to improve moisture, elasticity and shine and penetrates deeply into the hair shaft to prevent damage during the coloring process. The formula is also ammonia-free. Textures & Tones hair color retails for $4.99.

“Consumers want their hair to feel soft, manageable and to have sheen, which Textures & Tones provides,” suggested Ms. Charles. “And there is always room for growth in the category by enhancing what exists, meeting the current demands of consumers and adding more colors.”

Hair care and cosmetic manufacturer Dudley Products, Kernersville, NC, is developing a new line that infuses permanent color and conditioning properties at the same time. The line is set to launch this September.

“In colors, the trend for women is to color their hair with soft highlights, instead of their full head of hair,” said Genea Dudley Gidey, hair care brand manager, Dudley Products. “African-Americans have become more sophisticated with coloring, using selective chunks of hair or just coloring the ends. They are also experimenting with different color uses.”

But it is not just young women who are bolstering the sales of the ethnic color market. Baby boomers and men are also coloring their hair.

“There is definite room for growth in the styling and hair coloring categories,” said J.M. Products’ Ms. Curry. “As the baby boomers get older, they’ve got to start coloring. And since men are wearing their hair longer, they are now buying products for themselves, instead of using what women in their lives were using.”

Men Who Style Don’t Eat Quiche
Since men are influencing the coloring market, it is not surprising that they are also infiltrating the styling market for the first time, though it is often behind closed doors. Though it is no secret that African-American men use styling products, until recently it has mainly been through significant others. Today’s hair fashions are more and more catered to using products just for men.

“Men are looking for ways to enhance their style,” said Ms. Curry of J.M. Products. “They are coming away from the bald style and now have more hair. So we are primarily extending the Black Magic line with a full assortment of products for male consumers.”

The new Black Magic line features an alcohol-free aftershave lotion in a signature fragrance that does not interfere with cologne, as well as moisturizing shampoo, gel, spray, neutralizing shampoo, texturizing cream to loosen natural kinks and aerosols.

“Men now need to accommodate a particular style to enhance shine, cleanliness and a good feel, which all takes more products than before,” added Ms. Curry. “That is a definite area of growth in the category.”

Here’s to Health
Industry executives insist that one of the main reasons African-American hair is brittle is the underproduction of scalp oil. Hair care products therefore need a bounty of conditioning agents to improve the hair’s cuticles. As a result, conditioning agents are increasingly found in all types of hair products, including hair dressing, styling aids and relaxers. This past year, Luster Products, Inc., the No. 1 player in the ethnic hair dressing and No. 2 contender in the curl/wave maintenance categories according to IRI, launched the Smooth Touch relaxer kits—with just one application rather than the traditional two—to straighten new hair growth. Executives insist that providing one application prevents excess hair damage and promotes less waste.

“We are offering just enough product so that there is no waste or over-usage, at an affordable price,” said Charles Johnson, product brand manager, Luster Products, Inc., Chicago. “The industry norm is a two-application kit, but women don’t need all of that. It can also be damaging to the hair. Consumers want quality, results, products that deliver and products that offer and promote healthy hair.”

Dudley Products, a salon-only Kernersville, NC-based company, recently introduced Hair Mask, a reconstructive treatment with mud that provides moisture and nourishment to the hair. The company now also offers PCA Moisture Retainer, an 8-oz. concentrated, leave-in moisturizing hair dressing that is designed to restore the hair’s natural oils and moisture. This daily lotion is enriched with moisture-absorbing humectants and creamy emollients that soften and retain moisture in the hair shaft for any style, from kinky to relaxed.

“Generally, ethnic hair needs moisture,” said Dudley Products’ Ms. Gidey. “African-American hair does not secrete as much oil as Caucasian hair, causing brittle ends, breakage—you name it. A major trend is healthy-looking hair. There is a move toward an update of the body wave so it is slightly wavy, less oily and less greasy.”

In addition, consumers prefer hairstyles that require little maintenance. Manageability is also a plus. Dudley Products recently created Easy Curling & Waving, a thick 4-oz. pomade that helps enhance the natural wave pattern in short, cropped hair. It is a combination of rich oils and wax designed to coat each strand of hair with a protective shield against curling irons while enhancing sheen.

“Consumers are looking for moisturizing products, such as Texture and Tone’s Balanced Crème Hairdress and Light Moisturizing Oil & Shiner,” opined Clairol Professional’s Ms. Charles. “They are also searching for holding sprays that do not contain alcohol, which is drying to the hair. This is the future of the hair care market.”

The trend is in-line with women who are wearing more natural and shorter hairdos. “They are going more natural, using their natural curl patterns—anything from curly to wavy to straight,” Ms. Charles added.

An Effort to Boost Sales
Overall, sales in the ethnic hair care industry fell 2.4% in the past year. But shampoo and color categories have enjoyed substantial gains at 15.7% and 7.6%, respectively. Industry experts offered several reasons for these results, such as ethnic consumers widening their purchasing arena.

“Sales have dropped in the category,” said Colomer USA’s Mr. Dunbar. “This is probably due to African-Americans now buying generic brands such as John Paul Mitchell, which has broadened its scope. Ethnic consumers are not solely purchasers of ethnic products; they are now trying other brands.”

And if traditional products continue to damage hair, many consumers may go elsewhere or embrace the natural chemical-free look that is gaining popularity.

“I predict that natural salon services will increase and coloring and relaxing hair services will decrease in frequency,” said Ethnosolution’s Mr. Onye-buagu. “As more African-Americans are educated about hair care, this trend will continue.”

Many hairstyle trends start in Africa, according to Mr. Onyebuagu, influencing the development of new or improved products. And there is no question that natural is back, but how long that will last, no one knows. It is the versatility, however, of ethnic hair and fashions that keep manufacturers brewing in the laboratory.

“Though I am under the belief that nothing is new, looks change and the versatility of ethnic hair textures allows the spin-off of many products,” said Luster Products’ Mr. Johnson.

Related End-User Markets:

Related Raw Materials: