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OWU Students Find Small Selection of Black Hair Care Products Challenging

Updated: Mar 3, 2023

Photo courtesy of the New York Times; includes actresses from various TV shows: Marsai Martin in “black-ish,” Zazie Beetz in “The Harder They Fall,” Issa Rae in “Insecure” and KiKi Layne in “Coming 2 America.” Credit...ABC (“black-ish”); Netflix (“The Harder They Fall”); HBO (“Insecure”); Paramount Pictures (“Coming 2 America”).

“I know how much hair products specific to Black women are very limited,” Sally Aluso, the assistant director of OWU Multicultural Student Affairs, said.

Few hair care brands cater specifically to textured hair types. Over the past decade a handful of well-known Black hair care brands have been added to popular super stores like Walmart, Target, Walgreens, and CVS.

This process allows products for people with textured hair to be more accessible to consumers. However, there are challenges with this advancement.

Aluso says living in Columbus awards her more resources than what can be found in smaller towns.

“I can go to CVS or Walmart, and there’s that little section in the corner. I can get Cantu or see products for curls. Columbus has serval stores that are specific to Black hair. I know depending on where I live, I have access to those products. I can see people using those products. I can go to a salon that is specific to my Black hair and get advice on what I can do and use for my hair.”

In diverse big cities, finding hair care products is much easier than it is in small towns, like Delaware. How are Black OWU students finding hair care products in such a homogenous and limited environment?

The closest stores to campus that sell Black hair care products are Kroger, Walmart, CVS, and Walgreens. These establishments are either a short drive or walk away from campus.

Camara Thompson, a first-year student, says she struggles finding hair care products and feels underrepresented by major hair brands found in stores near campus.

“Most of the hair products that are sold in Kroger and stuff is mainly targeted towards super thin, white hair. It makes my hair super dry and frizzy. It does not work for me in the slightest. Obviously, there are Black-owned businesses that are targeted towards 4c, 4b hair, other than that I don’t think major hair companies really care about representing Black hair types,” said Thompson.

Rheigna Gullatte, an OWU freshman, feels that finding hair care products for Black hair types is a “hard, long, and expensive” process. She says multiple obstacles as of late that make the process intolerable.

“Mielle specifically makes hair care products for textured hair. So, the brand’s hair oil selling out makes finding and accessing the right products for my coily hair even harder for the sake of a trend. That was possibly started by the wrong person.”

Coily is a way to describe Black hair types. It’s a way to say kinky curly hair.

Mielle Rosemary Mint hair oil has been flying off shelves, but is it going into the wrong hands? In December 2022, a white influencer named Alix Earle made a TikTok recommending Mielle Rosemary Mint hair oil to her viewers.

“I’ve only been using this for a little over a month and I’ve already seen tremendous hair growth,” said Earle.

She later posted a tutorial using the product incorrectly. Due to her large audience of three million followers, a large amount of other white creators and viewers bought and tried the oil. You may be thinking where’s the issue, isn’t this a win for the small brand? Aluso opposes this ideology.

“You [white consumers] have 100 things that work for you. We only have this one thing that works for us, and you want to take it? I don’t think that is fair. I wouldn't mind gatekeeping products that work for us because we don’t have that many!”

The hair oil was sold out on Amazon, Target, Walmart, Walgreens, and CVS for a month. However, the main consumers of Mielle Organics have not been able to purchase the product. This caused much frustration among long-time customers because Black people have been valuing their natural hair and hair care products since the 1960s.

Natural hair and maintaining it stand as a pillar to black culture and the black identity for decades. Black OWU students and staff were able to give insight on how the Mielle situation affected them and why Black hair care products are important to them.

Aluso adds that even growing up in Kenya, there were stigmas towards Black hair.

“We [Kenyans] were still conforming to beauty standards from the west. Women in media would where wigs or perm their hair straight.”

The background of these stigmas of Black hair dates to the late 1700s. Slave’s hair was described as ‘bad hair’ or ‘wool’, this referred to the kinky, coily, and short-hair types slaves had. Centuries later you could tell slavery had impacted black hair, a lot of Black women had alopecia and dandruff.

This widespread issue influenced Annie Malone to make the first Black hair care product in the early 1900s, which would promote hair growth and healthier scalp. Malone pioneered a Black hair care industry that wasn’t predicted to boom until decades later.

Products like Malone’s represents why products like Mielle Rosemary Mint hair oil are so important to Black people and Black culture. Hair in general is important to Black culture and identity. It’s one of the main sources of confidence. If their hair looks good, they’ll feel good. It’s important to Black individuals on campus to have products that are accessible and work for them.

Teaching younger generations to love and embrace their natural hair is imperative to keep the Black tradition of healthy hair. Aluso is teaching her daughter this important lesson now.

“I make sure that I am intentional about praising her hair and doing her hair in different styles that she appreciates. To a point now she knows ‘My hair is different, but it’s beautiful. It’s even more beautiful because my hair can do all these amazing things, that other hair types can’t do.’”

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