Imagine a scenario in which a woman, never before exposed to British haircare adverts, was asked to describe what – and, more importantly, who – haircare products from mainstream brands were for. What would she see?
Lustrous, flowing hair. Straight hair. Caucasian hair. Standardised slow-mo shot after slow-mo shot of shiny, digitally enhanced locks. Would the textured curls and kinks of black people feature at all? Unlikely.
And that’s because, for years, adverts for mainstream hair and beauty products have inadvertently communicated that products are not made with black people, let alone black women specifically, in mind.
That is, until now. After decades in the beauty business, Pantene has unveiled its first collection of products to British consumers, developed specifically for afro hair, whether it’s natural, chemically relaxed or transitioning (the period in which people with relaxed hair stop using chemical relaxers and grow out their natural hair). The Pantene Gold Series was formulated by scientists and dermatologists “with textured hair themselves”, and used black men and women in trials for the product series.
With six products, some of which include standard conditioners and shampoos, as well as a leave-in conditioner and a “hydrating Butter Crème”, the Gold Series was launched after the Pantene team recognised “a need” for afro-hair products.
Created with the expertise of scientists like Pantene’s Rolanda Wilkerson PhD, a black woman herself, who spoke to Elle about the origins of the haircare line, the products in the Gold Series range are said to “have higher levels of conditioning than the rest of the Pantene line, and were designed to provide higher order moisturisation, detangling benefits and protection of the hair shaft for a hair type that can be more prone to breakage”.
Pantene began by conducting research on stylists and their clients in Kenya and Nigeria, using their own prototypes to collect feedback on whether or not it helped with haircare. The company also launched a study – Hair Harvest – which looked specifically at afro-hair properties, such as oxidative stress, ingredient deposition, physical damage and hydrophilicity (how well hair absorbs water).
It follows in the footsteps of other moves to catch up with black hair and beauty consumers, a community that has been reported to spend six times more on hair products than white women
Finding products for afro-textured hair isn’t necessarily an impossible task for black women. We rely on local hair shops, homemade products and, in moments of desperation – at least in my experience – products from mainstream brands that often leave you feeling as though you’ve done more damage to your hair.
And, while the advent of this product series is unlikely to dramatically shift the haircare regimes of thousands of black women like me, Pantene’s recognition of the value of the so-called “black pound” is smart, if not encouraging. And it follows in the footsteps of other moves – slow as they may have been – to catch up with black hair and beauty consumers, a community that has been reported to spend six times more on hair products than white women.
Two summers ago, for example, beauty retailer Superdrug – which is currently selling the Pantene Gold range, with prices starting at £4.99 – pledged to up its stock of black and Asian beauty hair products as part of its women-of-colour-focused campaign, Shades Of Beauty. And, even more recently, it began to offer free hair bonnets – protective fabric worn by black women when they sleep – when customers purchased three black and asian hair products.
Whether Pantene’s move towards inclusive product offerings will inspire other hair companies as well as Proctor & Gamble-owned brands, like Herbal Essences, Aussie and Vidal Sassoon, to follow suit remains to be seen. More adverts like Pantene’s could potentially mean that black hair and black women would not continue to be relegated to the margins of the beauty and hair industry. And that would be wonderful, wouldn’t it?