Back to basics: major areas for growth in R&D for Black hair, according to experts

By Ravyn Cullor contact

- Last updated on GMT

As more brands turn towards including products for textured hair, R&D also needs to include testing on the curliest and coiled hair textures. © Getty Images -  kate_sept2004
As more brands turn towards including products for textured hair, R&D also needs to include testing on the curliest and coiled hair textures. © Getty Images - kate_sept2004

Related tags: black hair, Hair care, Research and development, Innovation, Hair

Brands from the mass market to prestige products have been looking to be more inclusive of Black hair care consumers, but whether or not they’re doing that starts with R&D.

According to Mintel’s 2021 report on the Black hair market, the segment is worth $1.6 billion and is expected to continue growing, but R&D is not covering all the hair types, needs or styles needed by Black consumers, experts told CosmeticsDesign.

Crystal Porter, founder of Mane Insights, and Amber Evans, senior manager of product development at Moroccanoil, both long-time hair care researchers, said some progress has been made, but there is still a lot of work to be done in R&D.

“Companies are taking more responsibility in terms of understanding the habits and practices of textured hair consumers, how they use the products and actually testing the products on those hair types or testing within that population,”​ Evans said.

Testing and development for coiled hair types

Curly hair types, girls with different patterns of curl and waves. Portraits of diverse women, hand drawn doodle style vector. Kinky, coily and corkscrews hair
Hair textures are identified by curl levels 1, 2, 3 and 4, as well as a, b and c. © Getty Images

Porter said most of the inclusivity work in hair care has been front-facing and she hopes there will be more work done in the research and development space on filling gaps for actual consumer needs, including research for those with very tight curl and coiled hair types.

Most R&D for textured hair has tested on wavy or loosely curly hair types as opposed to very curly, coiled or kinky hair types, Evans and Porter said. Evans said she has seen some companies advertising products specifically for coiled hair types.

Outside of just expanding the hair types being tested, Porter said more development is needed to address concerns Black consumers may have, namely manageability. While many products focus on strength and robustness, Porter said improving manageability could actually improve those factors by not applying as much force on the hair.

“Lubrication of the hair definitely plays into consumer perception of strengthening because in some cases, it's not that the hair is stronger but that it's lubricated a little bit better, so it's more manageable, and it's actually being retained rather than strengthened,”​ Evans said.

Additionally, Porter said hair conditions like hair loss could use more specific research for Black consumers. While serums treating hair loss are on the rise, research into the causes of hair loss for specific people, as well as what treatments work for them and why, could be more robust for Black consumers, she said.

This R&D could help brands develop products that address hair issues and work with Black hair types. For example, many shampoos on the market which address dandruff and seborrheic dermatitis cause textured hair to feel coarse and brittle, Porter said. Products could be developed for Black consumers with scalp issues that don't damage their hair.

Approaching ingredients differently

The fact that Black hair in all of its textures and styles still needs to be included broadly in R&D means Porter and Evans haven’t seen a lot of actual innovation in the space, they said. 

In R&D, Evans said at this time existing hair care ingredients need to be specifically tested and studied on Black hair. 

“All of the ingredients that are out there are going to be the same,”​ Evans said. “But how you actually substantiate whether or not those ingredients are actually working on textured hair, I think that's where we've maybe seen advancements, or if not advancements, at least effort.”

She said that effort could look like developing new testing methods and instruments or adjusting existing methods and instruments to work for Black hair types. At this time, Evans said it’s not about developing new ingredients, but “demonstrating that (existing) technologies are relevant for textured hair.”

Mintel reports that 52% of Black hair care users are looking for clean and natural hair care products. While there is a group of consumers for whom natural and organic ingredients are top priority, Porter said efficacy is most important in the Black hair care space.

Porter also said some ingredients which have been seeing a push out of hair care, like silicones, will need to be reevaluated for their value in creating manageability in curly and coiled hair textures.

“I see that companies are moving away from banning so many ingredients that were deemed a long time ago as being bad,"​ Porter said. "There is value in those types of ingredients, like polymers, silicones and conditioning agents like fatty alcohols."

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