And it’s exactly what the mainstream beauty industry has long been missing.
Welcome to Texture Talk, a new weekly column that celebrates and deep dives into the dynamic world of curly hair, from springy S-patterns to densely-packed coils — because curly hair is far from one big category. This week, we’re revisiting our (pre-pandemic) trip to industry giant Procter & Gamble’s headquarters, where FASHION got an inside peek into Gold Series, a haircare line that was co-created with Black scientists, stylists and dermatologists.
Black women often feel bullied about their hair choices, and Rukeyser Thompson isn’t having any of it. “If you choose to wear your hair straight, great! If you choose to wear it natural, fantastic!” she declares during a panel discussion at Procter & Gamble’s largest research and development centre, in Mason, Ohio.
Thompson, P&G’s section head of haircare research and development, is seated before a group of Black Canadian journalists and influencers. She is joined by her colleagues Rolanda Johnson Wilkerson, principal scientist and senior manager of scientific communications, and scientist Sawanna Lucus. Together, the three women of colour represent the larger group of researchers of African descent who created Gold Series. The wallet-friendly collection is one of the first mass haircare lines targeted solely toward afro-textured hair that is natural (with voluminous coils), relaxed (chemically altered to straighten strands) or transitioning (moving from relaxed to natural).
Launched in the United States in 2017 and finally available in Canada as of this year, the seven-piece Gold Series line offers products like a sulfate- and paraben-free shampoo and a braid cream for protective styling. It’s an incredibly refreshing change of pace within an industry where textured hair has long been neglected by a mainstream ruled by Eurocentric beauty standards.
“When you think about a company as big as Procter & Gamble, whose mission is about improving consumers’ lives, you can’t just say that you’re only going to talk to straight-haired women; you can’t just create products that are good for them. What about this whole other set of shoppers?” says Lucus, founding scientist for Gold Series. “The same products that a Caucasian person uses will not delight a Black woman,” chimes in Wilkerson.
A P&G veteran, Lucus shares that the company’s research into textured hair had been in the works for a while. P&G just needed a leader to take concrete action. “There was always somebody dibbling and dabbling in this space,” she says. “Our research goes back probably 15 years. But we hadn’t taken that data and curated it into something.” The banked info includes studies that were done in countries such as Brazil, Nigeria and other parts of Africa, as well as in the United States, to better understand the hair habits and practices of the textured-hair consumer globally, explains Lucus. The most common custom? “We have a reduced wash frequency, and it has nothing to do with hygiene,” answers Wilkerson. “And no matter the country, there were key arguments of what was needed: scalp care as well as stronger, more moisturized hair.”
What came next for the scientific team was more years of research to truly understand the unique structure of textured hair. By examining human hair fibres of African ancestry and comparing them to other hair textures, “we know that at every point that coily hair turns, curves, twists and bends there’s an uplifting of the cuticle and it knots very easily,” notes Wilkerson. And the more tightly it’s wound, the harder it becomes for natural oils from the scalp to travel down the hair shaft. “Our hair is drier as a result.” Coily hair is also more porous (with higher levels of oxidative stress) than straight strands, as well as more fragile, making it sensitive to excessive manipulation. And with relaxed manes, the hair is even more delicate due to the chemical manipulation. “That’s why we’ve got to have products that actually help to cushion, support and nurture the hair,” says Thompson.
Choosing the right hero ingredients was also key for the scientists, as research showed that certain compounds deposit differently onto the hair depending on the nature of the strand. “It’s not a one-size-fits-all solution,” says Wilkerson. In Gold Series, you’ll find an infusion of strengthening lactic acid and non-drying fatty alcohols, moisture- boosting argan oil and savvy silicones that can seek out damage-prone areas. And Lucus urges men not to be fooled by the feminine-leaning packaging. “Even my sons use Gold Series,” she shares.
So whether you’re rocking a buoyant and bountiful afro, straight-back cornrows or a poker-straight ’do, Wilkerson offers this advice: “It’s OK if you want to choose to go back and forth through different styles. That’s the beauty of Black hair. We rock so many different styles!” Just make sure you properly care for that glorious mane along the way.
Below, Sawanna Lucus describes the Gold Series lineup, and if you missed last week’s column, click here.