Afro hair is finally getting the premium, natural, nourishing products it deserves. Meet the boutique brand owners at the forefront of the charge.
Like so many women with afro and curly hair, I used to rely on high street afro beauty shops to stock everything my hair needed. I’d suffer the towering shelves full of products with garish packaging, suspiciously low prices and harmful ingredients (not to mention the poorly labelled bleaching creams masquerading as ‘brightening lotions’) and feel frustrated that my choices were so limited, and that none of these shops were run by people with afro hair themselves.
Slathering on thick, silicone-laden formulas that promised to both nurture and grow my hair only led to limp, coated strands and an itchy scalp. Despite the fact that Black women spend six times more on hair products than white women, shopping can often be a chore for us due to the lack of premium brands that aren’t just afro-friendly, but specifically cater to our long list of needs and have a trustworthy and decipherable ingredients list.
But changes to the hair industry are happening, propelled by the DIY nature of the ever-growing natural hair community. Black women are using their knowledge of their own hair needs to fill this gap in the UK market. Boutique hair brands with female entrepreneurs of colour at the helm are tackling issues like lack of representation, misunderstandings around afro hair and ingredient integrity by taking matters into their own hands.
The brand identities of these women-led start-ups, whose products are often small-batch and handmade are a growing force.
“Things are definitely changing for the better,” says Ekwy Chukwuji-Nnene, the founder of plant-based hair brand Equi Botanics. “In this age, Black female-owned businesses now have direct access to social media to spread the word. We have to create what we need, rather than waiting for mainstream brands. They do not understand our needs and try to ‘rescue’ us with half-hearted attempts just because they’re realising the power of the afro hair market.”
And she’s right – my targeted curly hair routine means my hair has never felt better, nor have I felt more understood since I switched to using products created by people who know my hair type first-hand.
The products of my past had been suffocating my fine curls with their filler ingredients. They simply oversaturated afro hair, without bothering to consider that there is a diverse range of curly hair types (ranging from 3A corkscrews to tight 4C coils, according to the natural hair community). One formula doesn’t fit all.
Here, I round up some of my favourite Black-owned hair care brands – plus, spotlight the incredible women behind them.
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Ibi Meier-Oruitemeka, founder and creative director of The Afro Hair & Skin Co.
Handmade in small batches every week using locally sourced, organic, natural British ingredients, this brand brings total plant magic to your haircare routine. Choose from gently cleansing (read: non-stripping) shampoo bars, extra intensive hair oils and a supercharged clay mask if your skin feels left out of the action.
Stylist’s pick: The Afro Hair & Skin Co. Flourish Totally Nourishing Hair Butter
This lightweight walnut butter nourishes hair while protecting it from external forces. Stylist contributor Ava Welsing-Kitcher says, “I massaged this into my 3B hair then rinsed it out the next day. It felt so bouncy and well-fed.”
Ekwy Chukwuji-Nnene, founder of Equi Botanics
“We avoid synthetic ingredients, opting for potent plant actives for fragrance and conditioning to combat the harmful aftermath of tight hairstyles and chemical relaxers,” says Chukwuji-Nnene. The three-product line-up (a sulphate-free shampoo, leave-in conditioner and hero mask) is your complete hair routine.
Stylist’s pick: Equi Botanics Babassu Deep Treatment MaskPacked with oils and butters, this mask melts tangles, especially post-braids. “This gives rich nourishment without being heavy and left my 4A curls so juicy I could barely feel the difference after rinsing,” says Stylist’s features editor Meena Alexander.
Tammy Facey, founder and director of Jim + Henry
Each Jim + Henry product is named after the number of ingredients it contains, meaning there are no unnecessary fillers. “Celebrities like Nathalie Emmanuel and Jamelia love our simple, potent product arsenal, from the nine-ingredient shampoo to the olive and rosemary hair oil,” says Facey.
Stylist’s pick: Jim + Henry Eight Leave-In Conditioner
Shea butter, rosemary and chamomile make this leave-in a treat for all hair types and a firm favourite of ours. “My 3B hair basks in this like it’s the nectar of the gods,” says Stylist contributor Elena Chabo. “You can really see the difference when you use natural, minimal ingredient products.”
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Melissa Sinclair, founder of Big Hair + Beauty
Born out of frustration at the lack of transparency around ingredients in afro hair products, Big Hair’s range makes choosing your product easier. “I’m obsessed with the science of Black hair – how differently ingredients affect it and the amazing variances in types and textures,” says Sinclair.
Stylist’s pick: Big Hair + Beauty Clean SLS-free Shampoo
“As someone with fine, curly hair who wants volume without stripping my scalp and strands, it’s hard to find a sulphate-free shampoo that does both,” says Ava. “This removes product build-up and rebalances troubled scalps – plus the citrusy scent lingers for days.”
Charlotte Mensah, hairstylist, salon owner and hair range founder
Twenty-six years of expertise and winning Best Afro Hairdresser three times has made Mensah a total powerhouse. “After discovering the powers of manketti nut oil in my native Ghana, I needed it for my product range, trying it on devoted clients before expanding it into a fully fledged company,” she says.
Stylist’s pick: Charlotte Mensah Manketti Hair Oil, £48
Charlotte Mensah Manketti Hair OilOrganic, sustainably sourced manketti and ximenia oils feel light and mend damaged hair, sealing in moisture. “My 4A hair loved this: heavy-duty but with a non-sticky texture,” says Aletha Davis, Stylist’s project manager.
Loretta De Feo, founder of Dizziak
Former Stylist beauty contributor De Feo wanted products that would work wonders on textured hair and look chic in her shower. Enter Dizziak, an ‘aphrodisiac for afro hair.’ “There was a gap in the market for attractive and effective products,” she says. “I trialled my mask on 30 testers and got 10/10 from everyone.”
Stylist’s pick: Dizziak Deep Conditioner, £22
Stylist’s pick: Dizziak Deep Conditioner“Within its first year, Dizziak built up quite the cult following – its powers include transforming frizz, reversing heat damage and stimulating growth,” says Ava. “If you’ve read my dedicated Dizziak review, you’ll know it’s my holy grail. It works wonders in post-bleach crises and everyday dry spells alike.”
Carine Mbala, founder of Elenge
Natural, organic, handmade, organic and vegan. Elenge ticks a lot of boxes as a brand, but its hero Shea Butter ticks the biggest by far. “Black women have always been the backbone of our community, and were seeing that same strength to support each other in business and care,” Mbala tells Stylist.
“We’re embracing our beauty and strength and using it to support each other and build opportunities so the younger generations will find it easier to move through this world with lustrous hair and divine melanated skin!”
Stylist's pick: Elenge Shea Butter
Although this was designed for your face and body, all the ingredients work wonders on hair, too. Shea butter, coconut oil, grapeseed oil, aloe vera gel, and rosehip oil really feed strands and scalp, and the smell rivals most designer perfumes. Get ready to gleam quite literally from head to toe.
Michele Scott-Lynch, founder of Bouclème
If the candy-hued bottles don’t draw you in, then how about the promise of a hair detox that promises bouncier, shiny strands in one month? Bouclème’s products are free of sulphates, parabens and silicones - the latter of which coats hair and initially add shine, but dulls and weakens it over time.
Started by Scott-Lynch in 2014, the brand has successfully transformed the way many curly girls value their hair. “We continue to outdo ourselves every year, but we still need to level the playing field,” Scott-Lynch tells Stylist. “We need more magazines like Stylist and buyers at key stores to step up their support for inclusion and diversity in the products they promote, then curls and coils will become normalised.”
Stylist’s pick: Boucleme Curl Defining Gel, £15
Stylist’s pick: Boucleme Curl Defining GelRake a 50p-sized dollop through soaking wet strands (trust me), then scrunch the excess out with a microfiber towel or old T-shirt. Leave to air dry, or diffuse, and prepare for the beautiful combo of shine, movement and hold (that isn’t crunchy or crispy at all) that’s guaranteed, every single time. Who needs gloopy gels?
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Rose Ovensehi, founder of Flora & Curl
Known for their botanical creations in the prettiest pink packaging, Flora & Curl works for all textured hair types and patterns. With products ranging from jasmine-scented refresher mists to ‘superfruit’ oil blends, there really is something for everyone.
“Black female business owners creating a platform is so mentally important and adds to the discussion about visibility and accessibility,” reflects founder Rose. “It ignites inspiration and motivation in others. Yes, we are here, and we are creating amazing, incredible things, not only for women for colour but for everyone.”
Stylist’s pick: Flora & Curl Jasmine Oasis Hydrating Hair Mist, £16
Stylist’s pick: Flora & Curl Jasmine Oasis Hydrating Hair MistWake up, pull your satin bonnet off, and face whatever’s been building up underneath throughout the night. Then whip out this super spritzer packed full of organic rosewater and aloe to restore and reshape strands. The blend of sandalwood, lavender and jasmine essential oils mean your morning hair routine will be a treat for the senses.
Badria Ahmed, founder of Holy Curls
Born in Somalia to Somali and Yemeni parents but raised in Sweden, Holy Curls founder Badria Ahmed felt like she had no options for caring for her hair except to relax it. Holy Curls was born after years of frustration of having to create her own products because nobody else was making them.
“I wanted to create the inclusivity I couldn’t find in the beauty world,” Badria tells me. “Within a year of launching, the curly hair community were loving it, celebrity hairstylists were using it on set, and Jorja Smith even shared us on her Instagram Stories. She said how amazing the brand was at moisturising and defining her curls – that was definitely a high point for us as a small brand.”
Stylist's pick: Holy Curls Curl Gel“The Gel is our bestseller – people love it because it’s lightweight and doesn’t leave a crunch while being super defining and moisturising,” says Badria. 100% naturally-derived with baobab and coconut oils, it’s a treat for curls and coils.
Kimberley Cowans, founder of Skimdo
After leaving a career in architecture, Skimdo founder Kimberley Cowans dedicated herself to interning at a London salon where she bottled, trialled, and sold the formula she’d been making for nine years – which is now her bestselling and sole product. Years later, having moved to Brooklyn, she still does pretty much everything herself. “It was so hard to market Skimdo initially, as it didn’t smell like a piña colada and wasn’t cased in gaudy packaging, and the packaging didn’t say ‘frizzy’ or ‘unruly’ like other curl brands did at the time,” Kimberley explains. “But it’s since grown organically, simply by being super authentic, and doing everything in-house.”
“Because of our history of being ignored, pigeon-holed and having to settle, there’s a lot of psychological repair that goes along with building a business, so I see the future of Black-owned business evolving holistically,” Kimberley continues. “I envision the community and its movement contributing to projects educating the next generations so they start off strong and self-loving.”
Skimdo Original Cream
From the moment you rub it between your hands, you can tell you’re dealing with a unique formula. It’s not just a cream: think of it as a gel, leave-in conditioner, and rich cream hybrid. My favourite way to use it is with wet hands, some added water (filtered if you live in a hard water area), and by squelching and squeezing it into the hair. Leave to dry fully, then carefully break apart bigger clumps. Prepare for curls with amazing beachy yet soft definition for up to a week.
Rose Madagwa, founder of Lava Cap
Adding heat to your deep conditioning routine has been a gamechanger for so many of us – and Lava Cap is here to make the process that much easier. No more steam or hooded hairdryers needed, as the heatable caps do it all for you. “As a brand, we embody inclusive beauty, and pay homage to places like Senegal’s pink-watered Lake Retba with our Retba Rose cap,” says founder Rose Madagwa. “We’ve been in pop-ups in Oxford Street and John Lewis, and our Tropikara Cap and Scalp Massager just got shortlisted for a Pure Beauty Award.”
Stylist's pick: Lava Cap Tropikara Hot Conditioning Booster Kit
Filled with flaxseeds that naturally retain heat, this cap takes deep conditioning to new heights. Simply pop it in the microwave for warmth that lasts up to 30 minutes and helps masks and oils to penetrate deeper into the hair shaft.
Salem Wynter-Baxter, founder of Root2Tip
Root2Tip’s been around since 2011, catering to hair needs that many of us didn’t realise we had at the time like breakage, build-up, and stunted growth. “Being so early into the market meant we had little support,” says founder Salem Wynter-Baxter. “Our brand had equity but we struggled, but luckily relaunching during lockdown – when everyone needed hair help – increased our sales by 400%.”
Salem’s journey started after suffering from seborrheic dermatitis, a scalp condition causing hair loss, which highlighted the lack of assistance available for Black hair when it needs it the most. Thanks to natural Ayurvedic remedies instead of her doctor’s medications, her hair grew back “like weeds,” leading to the formulation of the bestselling Root Energizer. Salem’s life has influenced the product line-up, from the no-tears detangling hero Honey Rain Juice formulated for her kids (which one customer bought 12 bottles of for her toddler), to the award-winning Quench Anti Breakage Creme. With vegan, natural formulations that actually work, Root2Tip truly is a trailblazer brand.
Root2Tip Quench Anti-Breakage CremeThose with Sahara-dry hair – listen up. This light yet buttery cream delivers nourishment with coconut milk, red palm oil and castor bean oil, plus grapeseed ceramides to repair. Either use just on dead split ends or on lengths for soft definition without weighing hair down.
Images: Getty/courtesy of brands