Ethnic Hair Care Is a Healthy Segment

March 30, 2009

Natural ingredients and healthy tresses take center stage.

Ethnic Hair Care: A Healthy Segment

Natural ingredients and healthy tresses take center stage.

Christine Esposito
Associate Editor

Every woman wants her friends and co-workers to be envious of her hair,which just might be modeled after an actress, singer or celebrity du jour(or even the First Lady). The trouble is getting it there. Women in general devote considerable time and resources to create locks they love. For many “ethnic” consumers the task is often more complicated, stemming mainly from texture.

Photo: Mixed Chicks

While hair clearly matters to nearly every racial group, it is much more of a hot button issue for the African- American community (the core consumers in the U.S. ethnic hair care market). Case in point: Comedian Chris Rock this year presented a documentary on the subject at the Sundance Film Festival. In his film,“Good Hair,” Mr. Rock uses his wit to explore the culture—and, as the film puts it a “$9 billion” business—of black hair, by visiting salons, labs and hair shows and interviewing a bevy of celebrities (Maya Angelou, Rev. Al Sharpton, Nia Long, Raven Symoné and others) about the struggles they have had with their hair.The documentary shines a light on the wide range of services and products African American women and men use on a regular basis—relaxers, weaves, wigs and extensions—and delves deep into social and racial issues.

Natural Therapies

“Good Hair” market estimates aside, ethnic hair is a growing sector within personal care. According to a report released last summer from Packaged Facts, ethnic-specific hair care preparation sales were expected to top a record $1.2 billion in 2008, up 4.6% from 2007. Across the board, natural and organic ingredients continue to be a big trend, driven by a focus on maintaining and restoring hair’s health.

“The buzzword around ingredients is ‘healthy’—anything that can be recognized as a healthy alternative such as implied plant derivatives or organics answer the call with today’s ethnic consumer,” said Veronique Morrison, director of education for Mizani, which was created in 1991 by SoftSheen and Redken Laboratories, and is now a division of L’Oréal. “Consumers want visibly shiny viable, healthy looking hair.”

Style experts Happi spoke with noted that First Lady Michelle Obama will most likely keep the spotlight on healthy hair.

According to Ms. Morrison, consumers are no longer reaching for heavy sticky spritzes, but are merging to lighter more flexible hold products. “Environmentally friendly hairdresses that provide shine and vibrancy, and sprays that hold and shine simultaneously without eternal buildup will lead this year,” she said.

Luster’s new Shortlooks Colorlaxer colors, relaxes and conditions in one step.
Playing to the natural/organic trend, Colomer USA is rolling out revamped Creme of Nature shampoo and conditioners with certified organic ingredients.

“Creme of Nature shampoos and conditioners are well known for providing excellent conditioning and detangling benefits for all hair types. We have now made it even better by adding certified organic ingredients, which nourish and hydrate the hair for overall hair well-being,” said Shawn Tollerson, vice president of marketing, Colomer Multicultural Group.

The trio of reformulated shampoos and two conditioners, all of which are housed in revamped packaging, include Sunflower & Coconut Detangling Conditioning Shampoo, Kiwi & Citrus Ultra Moisturizing Shampoo, Red Clover & Aloe Soothing Shampoo, Lemongrass & Rosemary Leave-In Creme Conditioner and Chamomile & Comfrey Healing Conditioner.

Curls LLC is also zeroing in on organic ingredients. Its new Curly Gel-les’c (pronounced jealousy) botanically based, organic curl styler imparts brilliant sheen, banishes frizz and holds “twirls” in place.Not a gel or serum, it is formulated with a several certified organic ingredients including aloe barbadensis leaf juice, coconut milk, linden seed oil, flaxseed oil, chamomile and rosemary extract, according to the Elk Grove, CA-based company.

Baka International is rolling out a new natural shampoo, sold in powder form, which is mixed with rose water. In addition to cleansing, the shampoo heals the scalp, according to Brenda Searle, founder of the company, which is headquartered in Royal Palm Beach, FL.

Colomer USA has revamped the packaging and added organic ingredients to its Creme of Nature shampoos and conditioners.
Ms. Searle has been out in front of the natural movement. In the 1990s, she owned two salons in Philadelphia that offered natural relaxers. “At the time, the majority of consumers weren’t into it. They have come full circle. They are looking for natural products, and they are also looking for natural products for their children. That is very important. Parents are realizing the effects of thinning and balding from using chemicals for years,” she said.

A bad experience with chemicals is what prompted one African-American teen to create her own hair oil, and her own company.“If your hair isn’t healthy and strong, it will break off,” said Jasmine Lawrence, president and chief executive officer of Eden Body Works, who at 11 years old had most of her hair break off after a relaxer treatment at a local salon. This high school teenager’s five-year old company now touts a range of naturally-based hair treatments including Jojoba All Natural Temple balm, which moisturizes and treats the hairline to prevent weak hair from breaking or thinning, and Jojoba All-Natural Hair Oil, which is made with sweet almond, jojoba and coconut oil to decrease dandruff and itchy scalp. (See Happi.com for more on Ms. Lawrence and Eden Body Works).

Among SoftSheen Carson’s recent additions is Optimum Oil Therapy. Featuring “micro-oil” technology, the treatment penetrates each strand with micro-beads of essential oils and natural ingredients including coconut, olive, avocado, and jojoba oil to moisturize, nourish, repair, strengthen and protect hair with no greasy buildup.

While there’s a lot of buzz about natural ingredients, industry experts are quick to point out that when it comes to hair care formulations, efficacy, not marketing, is paramount.

McBride Research Laboratories has rolled out new Calm Soothing Scalp Protection.
“Product efficacy is a more important selling point than label copy like ‘organic’ and ‘natural’ that we see crowding the market more and more,” said Kathleen Johnson, hair care educator with Dr. Miracle’s, a brand of hair care products stocked at Sally Beauty and other beauty supply chains as well as mass retailers like Wal-Mart.

According to Ms. Johnson, Dr. Miracle’s proprietary Thermalceutical Complexraised the bar of product formula efficacy, delivering increased benefits for scalp and hair health.

“The formula utilizes a blend of ingredients giving our consumers a sensory tingling on their scalp, as well as containing anti-inflammatory properties. Typically, the scalp was never mentioned in hair care or treatment,” she said.

The company has recently added new Tingling Intensive Deep Conditioning Treatment packet, a single-use treatment containing the Thermalceutical Complex. Ms. Johnson said its $1.59 price point has “seen massive success in introducing new customers to the brand.”

Protecting the scalp is also a focus at McBride Research Laboratories, the Decatur, GA-based marketer of salon brand Design Essentials. “A number of our customers are still getting relaxers,” noted Sholanda Armstrong, director of marketing. Along those lines, the company is rolling out Design Essentials Calm Soothing Scalp Protection, a mineral gel-based crème scalp protector formulated with menthol, aloe vera, vitamin E and shea butter to soothe and protect the scalp from the chemicals.

Mixed Chicks takes a multicultural approach.
Also new from McBride is Colaura by Design Essentials High-Lift Color. “Our customers like to lift hair, and they like to do it safely. Rather than bleach, which is very damaging to hair that has been relaxed, this new product gives two to three levels of lift, and still maintains integrity of hair,” Ms. Armstrong added.

Also addressing relaxing and color is Luster, which is touting ShortLooks ColorLaxer, a system designed specifically to relax, color and condition hair four inches or shorter. ColorLaxer, which is available in passion red, diamond black and sable brown shades, does not contain peroxide or ammonia. The line also includes shampoo, conditioner and a hair lotion, the latter of which contains melanin to maintain richness of the color and reduce fading and breakage.

Using What Works

Even as more products hit shelves, ethnic consumers aren’t completely loyal to products specifically formulated for or marketed to them. In fact, overall, more money is spent on general market products. According to Tim Dowd, who authored the Packaged Facts chapter on ethnic hair care, U.S. Hispanics, African-Americans and Asians spent more than $3.3 billion on general-market (non-ethnic-specific) hair care products at retail in 2008.

The bottom line is, when it comes to hair, consumers will gravitate to products that address their specific needs—they will shop across the aisles in the local pharmacy or beauty supply and visit multiple outlets to find the right product, regardless of its positioning.

That’s a fact recognized by major hair care companiessuch as Procter & Gamble, which continues to reinforce its message to African-American consumers, yet does not offer an ethnic-specific hair care brand. P&G instead relies on “My Black is Beautiful”—an integrated, multi-brand campaign created by a group of African American women at P&G in 2006—to reach ethnic customers. The initiative is supported by high-profile brands including Pantene Pro-V Relaxed & Natural, the range within the Pantene franchise that addresses the hair care needs of women of color.

Earlier this year P&G announced a partnership with BET Networks to create a television series in support of the My Black is Beautiful campaign, and this month, the My Black is Beautiful 2009 tour kicks off in Charlotte, NC, with other stops planned in Atlanta, Chicago and New Orleans. P&G has also been increasing its marketing efforts in the Hispanic market. Late last year, it named New York-based hair stylist Antonio Rosales—one of the top 10 Hispanic hairstylists in the U.S. according to Latina Magazine—as Head & Shoulders’ first stylist and spokesperson devoted to the needs of the growing U.S. Hispanic market.

While cherry picking, exploration and experimentation may work for some consumers, for two women it had become a chore, and the seed that sprouted a new company.

“We had to shop urban aisles and the normal aisle to mix and match, making our own concoctions. We thought, ‘this is ridiculous.’ We are tired of spending money, there has to be one product. We need to be represented,” said Kim Etheredge, co-founder of Mixed Chicks, a brand of hair care products geared to multicultural consumers. Ms. Etheredge and her business partner, Wendi Levy, who are both bi-racial, set out to create a leave-in hair product that would style and define curl, “so we didn’t have to use 4 or 5 different products.”

Five years later, the Encino, CA-based operation has grown from a web-based business to a firm that sports a full line of conditioners, shampoos and leave-in products sold in salons and stores in the U.S., the UK, the Netherlands, Trinidad and Norway.

“Wendy and I feel like we are making our own category…We simply say, on the bottle, you don’t have to be specific race, you can be a combination,” Ms. Etheredge told Happi, noting that next up for the company is a line of products for straight hair.

Population statistics for the U.S. show there’s a bright future for companies targeting multicultural consumers. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the number of people who identify themselves as being of two or more races is projected to more than triple to 16.2 million by 2050.

Yet there’s something in the here-and-now that will factor into how well hair care companies will fare—and that’s the economy.

While a nationwide survey released in September 2008 by the ING Foundation found that 68% of black women say that they buy what they really want in good times or bad, many industry insiders suggest when it comes to hair care, the economy will force more consumers to stretch out trips to the salon or use at-home products.

“We will see more women taking their hair care into their own hands,” said Ms. Johnson of Dr. Miracle’s.

“We are seeing that lots of women are doing their hair at home,” agreed Ms. Armstrong of McBride. Yet while more women are incorporating at-home products into their hair care regimens, Ms. Armstrong contends healthy salons are faring well. “Overall, those salons that were struggling when the economy was good are the ones that aren’t doing well. Those who were doing well, are still doing okay,” she said.

Ms. Searle of Baka Beauty, who has hair care in her DNA, contends the beauty business will weather this current financial storm. “Before I was born, my mom had a salon. She went through the Depression—and the beauty business thrived. As long as products are reasonably priced, effective and good, they will survive the economic crisis.”

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