At-home treatments, natural and textured hair products fuel mass-market beauty

COVID-19 may have tangled the economy, but it actually has helped build sales within the hair care category. 

Industry observers said that the onset of the pandemic has caused many consumers to look more closely at home treatments, from simple shampoos and conditioners to more complex products usually made available at spas and salons, to take care of their hair care needs. 

The result is a significant uptick in sales in the $12.3 billion hair care industry, as well as an acceleration of megatrends that dominate the category. In fact, many industry officials said the confluence of these trends has not only positively impacted the category but has opened the door to new ways to merchandise mass-market hair care.  

A number of retailers have expanded their hair care assortment in recent months to respond to consumer needs. At the forefront is the much-discussed hair coloring segment that has seen significant growth since the beginning of the pandemic. Yet, retailers also said other segments are growing, too.

First is the “skinification” of hair care as ingredients and regimens traditionally associated with skin have been applied to hair, as well. Just as dry skin has special remedies, consumers now have options to tackle dry scalps and dry hair strands. 


The next trend is consumer demand for natural ingredients, which also parallels what has been prompting growth in skin care. “They are looking at what they are putting on their bodies and their hair. They are thinking about the ecosystem and what the future holds,” said Dan Taylor, chief revenue officer and senior vice president of global sales at Pasadena, Calif.-based Yes To.

The final trend has to do with consumers who could not or would not get to a salon or specialty store during the pandemic and are now sticking with mass-market brands even as stores and hair salons reopen. 

“Through the last six- to seven-month journey with the pandemic, we have seen a good response to our business,” Taylor said. “People who had regimens of getting their hair conditioned or styled at a hair salon were able to go,” He also said that what they found at mass stores with brands like Yes To were effective and affordable options.  

Experts said they think many of the do-it-at-home rituals — especially hair coloring, textured hair brands and a focus on scalp health — will remain, even as salons and specialty doors continue to reopen. Also, because of safety protocols, Taylor said, the sampling and makeovers so integral to specialty stores is missing, putting mass marketers on an even playing field.

With more time on their hands, self-care has emerged as a major pastime. As more people started to take better care of themselves, they sought natural formulas. “Consumers
are smarter than ever. They are reading labels and they are going to drug stores specifically for natural products,” said Allison Grossman, co-founder of Boulder, Colo.-based Seaweed Bath. 

“Consumers are smarter than ever. They are reading labels and they are going to drug stores specifically for natural products.”
Allison Grossman, co-founder, Seaweed Bath. 

Seaweed Bath’s naturally positioned brand caught the attention of Camp Hill, Pa.-based Rite Aid, which is putting the company’s Hydrating Body and Hair collection in 2,400 of its stores, Grossman said, adding that the brand also is going into Rite Aid’s “Store of the Future,” which will be a wellness destination. 

Yes To also is getting a boost from its positioning as a brand with formulas that are all 95% (and in many cases more than 95%) natural and tested by dermatologists. Originally a skin brand, Yes To leverages its knowledge in skin care into hair. For example, Yes To Tea Tree Gentle and Soothing Pre-Shampoo Scalp Scrub is equated with a deep cleanser for skin. Scalp health is top of mind and a centerpiece of the range, which also includes Yes To Tea Tree Soothing Scalp Treatment, Yes To Tea Tree and Sage Oil Scalp Relief, and Yes To Tea Tree and Sage Oil Scalp Relief Shampoo.

Target also has put an emphasis on a healthy scalp with its Kristin Ess private brand, created exclusively by its namesake, a celebrity hair stylist. 

“When you think of it, the scalp is an extension of your skin,” Ess said late last year when she expanded her brand’s range with such new items as Purifying Micellar Shampoo, Detoxifying Bubble Hair Mask, Weightless Hydration Daily Scalp and Hair Mask, Anytime Anywhere Scalp Plus Hair Milk Oil, and Instant Exfoliating Scalp Scrub. 

With its strength in sun care, Sun Bum, now owned by SC Johnson, also has made the progression from skin to hair. The brand plays off its sun care heritage with products for “beach hair.” CVS Pharmacy is among the chains with an in-shelf specialty presentation of such Sun Bum products as a Detox Shampoo, Blond Hair Lightener, and Scalp and Hair Mist. 


Products for textured hair, which typically have natural ingredients, are the fastest growing segment within hair care, according to data from Chicago-based Strategic Solutions International.

Without access to brands at salons or specialty stores, people with textured tresses — which, according to TextureMedia includes the 63% of Americans who self-report having coily, curly or kinky hair — migrated to online or essential merchants for their needs. Many of the brands posting growth are Black-founded, such as Alikay Naturals, Camille Rose, The Mane Choice (now owned by MAV Brands), Curls, Mielle, Urban Hydration, Uncle Funky’s Daughter and The Doux. 

Also growing fast is Teterboro, N.J.-based Ebin New York, which not only has popular styling products but items for wig care — a briskly growing segment. Retailers also singled out Shea Moisture, now owned by Unilever, as one of the most popular brands in the textured hair care arena. 

Several Black women who founded hair care brands are making it clear that their products do not only appeal to Black consumers, and they need retailers to help them educate other shoppers to this fact. That is prompting shelf shuffling at major chains, according to Carol Sagers, executive director of the Global Beauty Alliance, an association that supports multicultural brands and is based in Chicago.

“Shelves should be set how people shop for needs,” she said. “For many years, hair care was the only category in a store merchandised by ethnicity.”

For decades, mass aisles were divided by budget brands, salon-inspired, crossover-salon products and the outdated “ethnic” nomenclature. Such retailers as Walmart, CVS Pharmacy, Target and Ulta Beauty are starting to merchandise hair products the way shoppers search shelves. Examples are grouping by specialty brands like scalp care or lines that appeal to shoppers with textured hair. 

The pandemic also propelled sales in two other hair care segments, including mass-market hair color, which had been in a downward spiral for 10 years. Yet, sales started to climb when people couldn’t get out to the salon. According to IRI data, hair color sales grew nearly 8% each month from March to August of 2020. Interestingly, according to a beauty advisor at Walgreens, sales were strong in men’s as well as women’s products. There also was a huge spike in bold, temporary shades, such as the products from Corona,Calif.-based Splat. 

The other category that came to life during the pandemic is hair accessories as people on Zoom calls looked to dress up their look. As an example, Beauty by Imagination — based in Commack, N.Y. — whose brands include WetBrush and Goody, said an uptick in scarves and headbands occurred.  dsn