Natural Hair Has Become a Heated Issue, But Brands and Celebs Are Stepping Up

Across almost every industry, businesses are trying to show they’re making a positive environmental impact. Some switch to electronic billing, while others vow to stop using harmful chemicals in their products. Green homes have become all the rage, too. You can use non-toxic cleaning products or high-efficiency appliances to reduce your carbon footprint. But even if they want to be more eco-friendly, there’s one area many people fail to consider: the impact of their personal toiletries and beauty products.

Black women, in particular, have historically felt pressured to use products that may damage the environment. African Americans spent $7.4 billion in 2009 on personal care products and services, including those geared towards hair care. But many black hair care products, like detanglers and hair relaxers, contain dangerous chemicals that negatively affect both their personal health and that of the planet.

Research has revealed that use of these products may lead to early puberty, respiratory issues, reproductive disorders, and even cancer. Then, these products end up in landfills (which are statistically more likely to be located near black neighborhoods) or are released into the atmosphere, causing further damage to the quality of our air and water. No matter how careful, these products will eventually make their way into our planet’s precious resources.

Not only are these products bad for the environment, but according to many experts, they’re damaging to black identities, as well as to the hair itself. Until recently, natural hair has never seen widespread acceptance in the American beauty industry, and most mainstream beauty brands have — however unintentionally — contributed to this bias by massively under-representing people of color in their campaigns.

Fortunately, some brands have come around and are sending out the message loud and clear: black is beautiful.

For the last 40 years, Pantene has helped define the cultural norm of healthy, beautiful hair. But with their newest campaign, “Strong is Beautiful,” they’ve chosen to highlight the heritage and strength of African American hair. Pantene’s Brand Ambassador, Jillian Hervey, appears in their newest ad alongside black women of all ages with all different hair styles and textures to prove that all strong hair is beautiful hair.

The campaign accompanies Pantene’s newly launched Gold Series, a premier hair care collection created with help from African American doctors, scientists, dermatologists, and scientists “to provide superior strength and moisture for women with relaxed, natural, and transitioning hair.”

Jodi Allen, VP of Hair Care for North America at Pantene’s parent company, Procter and Gamble, said in a statement: “We believe that all strong hair is beautiful, whether it’s straight, or curly, natural or in a protective style. Pantene has the power and voice to take action, spark conversations, and motivate a change in perceptions. We recognize the importance for African American women to feel confident wearing their hair in any style they choose, and we’re celebrating their strength in doing so.”

It appears that the attitudes towards natural hair in Hollywood may be shifting too — albeit slowly. Taraji P. Henson is intentionally casting women of color with natural hair for an upcoming film, and Netflix’s new Dear White People series manages to draw some attention to the fact that both black lives and black hair matter.

That being said, these positive attitudes toward natural black hair are often the exception rather than the rule. And even though this year’s Oscars weren’t quite as white as last year’s, American society undoubtedly has a long way to go in terms of equal representation and acceptance of people of color in the media.

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