a bottle of wine

Clean formulas, clean hair: Hair care brands emphasize ingredients

As hair care takes its cues from skin care trends, ingredients are front and center for manufacturers looking to deliver on consumers’ hair care needs.
David Salazar
Managing Editor

The mass-market hair care aisle is getting a makeover — thanks in large part to COVID-19, which accelerated the introduction of new trends over the last year.

Specifically, the always-changing industry is undergoing a metamorphosis where clean formulas are a must, sustainable packaging is on the rise, merchandising will be driven by texture, men will make a bigger impact and celebrities are entering the fray.

Additionally, the “skinification” of hair — where hair is treated more like skin with regimens starting with a healthy scalp — continues to gain steam.

Online sales of hair products skyrocketed during the pandemic — a pivot for a category that had previously skewed heavily in physical doors. “Last year was tough for every category except hair, which grew 7% in a market down 19%,” said Larissa Jensen of New York-based NPD Group. She acknowledged that homebound consumers washed their tresses less often, but they colored, styled, masked and experimented with hair at new highs.

The pandemic gave consumers more reason to experiment with their hair, a factor that helped many smaller companies gain traction at retail and online.

“Overall, COVID has had a positive effect on Mane ‘n Tail sales for 2020. When the lockdown hit America in mid-March, the Mane ‘n Tail brand experienced double-digit growth as people were doing more hair maintenance at home, as well as washing their own pets,” said Devon B. Katzev, president of Straight Arrow in Bethlehem, Pa. Mane ‘n Tail established a cult following for its formula, which was found to not only help manage horse’s manes, but humans, too.

an empty bottle on a table

“Through the spring and summer, Mane ‘n Tail had double-digit growth, according to IRI, and finished the year ahead 4.4% in units. For an established brand, this is excellent growth for 2020,” Katzev said, noting that the brand saw online sales grow that year. “We believe this change will continue into 2021 and well into the future as the retail landscape is changing. Mane ‘n Tail sales to brick-and-mortar retail will always be a prime focus, but for those consumers who want to order online, we are ready and will support our retailers who do this.”

According to dollar volume produced during the 52-week period ended Feb. 21, most hair care categories in mass doors tracked by IRI posted gains at a time when many beauty categories were flat. Shampoo sales rose 1.1%, conditioners 8%, hair color 7% and hair accessories 3.2%. The surge in hair color is notable because before the pandemic, the category had been in the red for several years.

What made hair color particularly interesting, according to sales reports, was the spike in bold shades from brands like Splat and No Fade Fresh.

an empty plastic bottle on a table

“We saw customers rely on our products as they were unable to get to the salon. More consumers have been playing with vibrant shades while stuck at home, and used the opportunity to color their hair vibrant colors as they were unsure of when schools and offices would open back up,” said Leland Hirsch, CEO of No Fade Fresh, a line of vivid and pastel shampoos and conditioners meant to be used as at-home color refreshers or for extending bold color.

The Davie, Fla.-based brand’s best sellers underscore the trend with silver platinum, light pink and purple bordeaux leading the pack. The brand, sold at such retailers as CVS Pharmacy, Target, Wakefern/ShopRite, Wegmans, Harris Teeter, H-E-B and Rite Aid, was launched in early 2020 at the request of retailers who wanted a mass version of parent company Celeb Luxury’s professional range.

As an added benefit, the formulas are cleaner than traditional box options. According to Hirsch, No Fade Fresh has embarked on an education program to alert the beauty industry to the rise of consumers using products from e-commerce or direct to consumer that have “Dirty Dyes,” which are used in textiles and are not acceptable for hair. No Fade Fresh is 100% cruelty-
free and contains no sulfates, parabens, peroxide, PPD, ammonia or gluten.


Clean Ingredients Become Must-haves
No Fade Fresh is far from the only brand breaking into hair care while touting what is — and isn’t — on its ingredients label. Emboldened by success in its deodorants, San Francisco-based Native expanded into hair care, and the formulas reflect what consumers, especially younger shoppers, desire. That includes eliminating sulfates, parabens and dye. The lineup also is cruelty-free and vegan.

L’Oréal’s Garnier is a trendsetter of natural formulations. Its latest is a new Sulfate-Free Remedy collection. Beyond being sulfate-free, ingredients include floral extracts, beeswax, coconut oil, cocoa butter and shea butter.

Just as important as what is not in formulas is what is in, observed Yarden Horowitz, co-founder of New York-based Spate, which tracks beauty trends. The top searched ingredients last year, she said, were coconut oil, olive oil, aloe vera, rice water and amla oil.

Brands created for textured tresses traditionally have been ahead of the general market in ingredient advances. Lines marketed to consumers with curly, coily and wavy hair have posted some of the biggest gains in hair care.

It is estimated that more than 60% of Americans have some form of textured strands. While multicultural shoppers account for a larger portion of sales, the tide is turning, and many Black-founded brands are reaching a larger audience. That’s prompting big changes on shelves, with some chains now merchandising by hair type. Consumers are starting to understand different hair types, which can be classified from 1A (stick straight) to 4C (tight coils).

The industry is reacting with a slew of new offerings. Sky Organics, based in Miami, is going full throttle to grow its business with its Curl Care Collection, a bio-based hair care system checking off all the consumer wish list boxes. The collection fuses plant-based ingredients with formulas to combat breakage, yet still produces a healthy shine. Key ingredients include castor oil, apple cider vinegar, aloe vera gel and coconut oil.

Palmer’s has two new ranges in hair care for all curl patterns and textures — the Cocoa Butter Formula Length Retention range and the Coconut Oil Formula Moisture Boost.


Multicultural Consumers Fueled Pandemic Sales Growth
With salons and professional beauty supply stores shuttered for much of 2020, essential retailers garnered a larger portion of sales. Much of that was sparked by multicultural shoppers, according to Tara James Taylor, senior vice president of the beauty personal care vertical at NielsenIQ in New York.

“Multicultural consumers drove personal care during the pandemic,” she said. What was crucial is that these consumers purchased more than just shampoo, but full regimens. For example, she said 17% planned to deep condition their hair. That helped push hair treatments, with African Americans 2.4 times more likely to buy hair treatments, she said.

Emboldened by that growth, Curls just inked a deal with Beauty By Imagination that will help propel the next level of growth for the company, founded by Mahisha Dellinger.

She retains majority ownership of her Richardson, Texas-based company, but the partnership will help her raise her brand’s awareness, speed up innovation and afford her the chance to expand her community give-back programs. BBI, based in New York, is the parent company to stand out hair brands, including WetBrush, Goody, Ouidad and Bio Ionic.



Chains Carve Out Space for Men
Men represent budding potential in mass hair care, too. Calvin Quallis, founder of Scotch Porter, based in Newark, N.J., said his brand has secured distribution to about half of Target’s doors and 1,900 Walmart stores. Even during the pandemic, his brand’s sales soared more than 80% — partially because of its ability to offer men’s products that meet textured hair care needs.

“Textured hair care products have been responsible for the largest share of growth in the hair care space over the past year, representing about 80% of the growth, and the multicultural hair care category is up 16% at retail,” Quallis said.

“Men are now more style conscious and discerning; he takes care of himself and his hair, but he still has limited access to an assortment of enhanced products and a shopping experience that addresses his needs,” Quallis said. “Products that were created with him in mind, that speak to him in a language that he understands. We believe it’s an area where he can be served better, and we are well positioned to be the go-to brand for boys’ to men’s textured hair care needs.”

a close up of a bottle

Hair Care Borrows from Skin Care Marketing
The move to better-for-you ingredients in hair mirrors what has been happening in skin care. Since the scalp is skin, many hair care brands are releasing products that benefit the scalp.

Scalp care is crucial for those who wear such protective styles as weaves, locs and braids. That was the driving factor behind recent line extensions from Revlon-owned Crème of Nature. The company is building out its Pure Honey franchise with the launch of Pure Honey Scalp Refresh Collection.

The range is formulated with the brand’s signature blend of pure honey, natural coconut oil and shea butter infused with aloe and mint to refresh and restore moisture balance to a dry scalp. The lineup includes Cleansing Scalp Treatment, Invigorating Leave-In, Invigorating Scalp Oil and Restorative Daily Scalp Cream.

Scalp care is a hallmark of TPH by Taraji P. Henson, which the actress said is created for all users. “My scalp wasn’t being cared for,” said Henson at the brand’s launch in early 2020. “No one was paying attention to it and that was what led me to develop products for the scalp,” she said of the line currently exclusive at Target.

Leveraging its strength in skin care, Los Angeles-based Neutrogena recently introduced a new line called Healthy Scalp, which it markets as the No. 1 dermatologist-
recommended brand.

Just as moisturization was crucial during the frequent mask wearing in facial care, moisturization moved to the forefront in hair, too. Fastest-growing brands for the 52-week period ended Feb. 21 in mass doors included Maui Moisture, Dove Nutritive Solutions, and Tresemme Moisture-Rich shampoo and conditioner combo pack.


The Fun Factor
While ingredients and sustainability are on the front burner, another category leader is putting some zest back into the category. As part of its 25th anniversary, the Marc Anthony brand is refreshing with a new visual identity designed to separate it from the pack.

“As a growing brand that is rooted in innovation, it is important that we continue to evolve with our consumers. With our new packaging design and positioning, we aim to energize our current brand loyalists while also attracting new consumers into the franchise,” said Tim Bunch, president and CEO of MAV Beauty brands.

With the new positioning, the brand has shortened its name to Marc Anthony from Marc Anthony True Professional. The thought was most consumers already knew the brand was professional — wording that also has been replaced on packages with such verbiage as “Long Hair Don’t Care.”

Celebrities and influencers also are behind products garnering more shelf space. A notable figure can help build immediate traction for a brand, experts said. The list includes Tracee Ellis Ross with Pattern, Taraji P. Henson with TPH, Gabrielle Union, celebrity hairstylist Kristin Ess and influencer/hair expert Mindy McKnight. 

This ad will auto-close in 10 seconds