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Consumer Products

Ingredient suppliers turn attention to textured hair and ‘inclusive beauty’

At industry event, chemical firms emphasize diverse offerings for their cosmetic customers

by Craig Bettenhausen
May 5, 2022 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 100, Issue 16


A box of bottles and canisters with labels indicating the Dow products inside are for textured hair.
Credit: Craig Bettenhausen/C&EN
Dow says it worked with its own employees to develop sample hair-care formulations for textured hair.

At the Suppliers’ Day cosmetic ingredient conference, held May 3–4 in New York City, the chemical firms that supply the beauty and personal care industry came ready to talk about ways to better serve a diverse palette of skin tones and hair types.

BASF, Dow, Lubrizol, Indorama Ventures, Solvay, Clariant, and Evonik Industries all had displays and materials at their booths about both “inclusive beauty”—the term the industry is using to talk about cosmetic and skin-care products for people with medium and dark skin tones—and textured hair. For the most part, the firms are offering formulations made from ingredients in their current portfolios. What’s new is that the offerings are supported by studying and testing beyond the White and East Asian skin and hair types that the mainstream beauty industry in the US, Europe, and East Asia have long emphasized.

Samples of dark, curly hair of various textures hang from an oversized comb. Signs for Oxiteno and Indorama can be seen in the background.
Credit: Craig Bettenhausen/C&EN
Samples of dark, curly hair adorned many booths at the 2022 Suppliers' Day conference in New York City, to demonstrate how the ingredients on offer tighten, align, and otherwise enhance curls.

Esther Oluwaseun, a formulation chemist who is also a Black woman, said that approach makes sense. “Our skin and hair is fundamentally the same as someone with fairer skin and straight hair,” she said. But the beauty industry has neglected clinical testing on dark shades of skin and curly hair textures, she said, so the data needed to fine-tune formulations haven’t been available.

Kate Drummond, BASF’s head of personal care marketing in North America, said that as she and other staffers at the company learned in recent years about racial disparities in medical research—and the toll they’ve taken in medical outcomes for Black and Latino populations—the parallels in cosmetics and personal care became easy to see. In response, BASF recently relaunched an active ingredient that treats hyperpigmentation, a condition in which scarring and aging cause discoloration in some darker skin types. And for products in North America and Europe, the firm has implemented testing protocols that include the full range of human skin and hair types. It has sample formulations based on the results.

At the cosmetic testing firm Advanced Science Laboratories, Creative Design Director Neil Zimbaldi said his lab has seen a sharp increase in requests over the past year for efficacy and claims tests that incorporate medium and dark skin tones, a trend confirmed by other testing firms at Suppliers’ Day. Zimbaldi said major brands are hoping to find products that work for everyone, but that’s rarely the best solution. “There’s nothing wrong with being different,” he said, and more narrowly targeted products consistently perform better in clinical tests.

Narjis Askar, a global technical marketing manager at Lubrizol, said brands looking to formulate for curly hair need to increase the concentration of ingredients that strengthen hair, such as polymeric quaternary ammonium conditioners, because curls are more prone to breakage and split ends, especially when wet. The firm is also promoting an algae-derived substitute for argan oil, which is popular in hair-care products marketed to Black people. Askar said the algae-derived product has more omega-9 fatty acid, a conditioning agent, than the traditional seed-based oil.

Dow recently launched a textured hair-care kit that it developed in collaboration with the company’s employee resource groups. Separately, Verna Talcott, a personal care marketing executive at Dow, said the firm has identified mineral sunblock as a trouble spot because zinc and titanium oxide particles that provide ultraviolet protection can agglomerate, causing the skin to appear gray or ashen. Talcott said specialty silicone ingredients the firm offers kept the minerals dispersed and visually transparent in testing on racially diverse skin.

Talcott credits Fenty Beauty, a makeup brand launched in 2017 by the celebrity Rihanna that offers a wide range of shades, with spurring an increased awareness of the ways that many cosmetic and personal care products create off colors and other ill effects on darker skin tones. And Askar and Drummond noted that women especially are embracing their natural hair textures, which is decreasing demand for chemicals that straighten and relax hair and boosting demand for ingredients that reduce frizz and enhance shine.

A range of Black-owned or Black-founded firms have been serving some of these needs for many years. They include SheaMoisture, now part of Unilever, and Miss Jessie’s. “The downside of large-scale companies entering the market is that they can potentially put suppliers and brands out of business,” Oluwaseun said. But if a Black-owned firm is acquired by a big player, “this can also be a great opportunity for brands, as they have more accessible ingredients and data to back up their R&D for their products.”



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