Taraji P. Henson was determined to take back her wash day.
While quarantined at home in 2020 at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, she realized more and more people were struggling with their mental health and sense of wellness. She didn’t want washing her hair to be a multistep chore but rather an opportunity to slow down and love herself.
“We had to fall in love with ourselves or else be doomed; we had no choice,” Henson said about the process. “We had been sick with ourselves all day every day so that’s when it dawned on me, when I was like, ‘Wow, we really look at this as a chore. And right now self-care is more important than ever. … Maybe this is a good time to try and change that narrative.’”
The Oscar-nominated actor never thought she would launch a hair-care line. Best known for her roles in the films “Baby Boy,” “Hustle and Flow” and “Hidden Figures” and the hit TV show “Empire,” she also founded in 2018 the Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation, an organization focused on destigmatizing mental illness in the Black community and increasing access to care.
In 2020, Henson channeled her decades-long passion for hair into TPH by Taraji — a vegan hair-care line focused on scalp health and all hair textures. Now, TPH is a staple in Black women’s bathrooms, among the shampoos, conditioners, edge control gels, curl creams, hair oils and misting bottles.
Henson is part of a growing number of Black women in Hollywood who have launched hair-care products in recent years. Others include Pattern by Tracee Ellis Ross, Sienna Naturals by Issa Rae and Hannah Diop, Flawless by Gabrielle Union and 4U by Tia Mowry. It’s part of a boom in the beauty industry, which has often benefited from Black buying power but seen only a small number of Black business owners prosper.
In 2021, Black consumers spent $6.6 billion on beauty products — 11.1% of the total U.S. beauty market — but still faced frustrating shopping experiences with few product options, according to a 2022 McKinsey report about representation in the industry.
The report found that only 4% to 7% of beauty brands carried in stores are Black-owned. Black-owned or -founded brands contributed only 2.5% of revenue in the industry and raised a median of $13 million in venture capital, while non-Black brands raised $20 million, according to the report.
Growing up, Henson said she “couldn’t just sit down” and let her mother style her hair because she had big ideas for hairdos. Because Henson was tender-headed, the sensitivity made her “dramatic” during the process, which often frustrated her mom. By the time she was in ninth grade, Henson did the big chop and her mom told her she wouldn’t continue styling her hair. But Henson said that was her intent all along.
She described her mom as a fly woman whom she would watch put on makeup, eyeshadow and eyeliner to head to work or go out with her girlfriends.
“I wanted to do that, I wanted to be girly and put on makeup and perfume and things like that, so I started doing it,” Henson said. “She was my inspiration.”
Henson started getting perms when she was 6 years old, but as she grew up, she became more conscious about keeping her hair healthy. She tried not to over-process her hair when she had a relaxer, and would sometimes wait six weeks or two months before getting a touch-up. When she moved to Los Angeles, one of the first things she did was look for someone to give her perms.
While on the set of “Baby Boy,” Henson said she was embarrassed for the hairstylist to see her roots because she hadn’t had a touch-up. But the stylist assured her that her hair was beautiful and convinced her to start growing her natural hair without a relaxer. Henson still had her hair pressed and she didn’t go natural — curls and all — until she was 30. At the time, she hated her natural hair and thought it was “unmanageable.”
“I’ll just never forget when I had to do my own hair for the first time,” Henson said. “I was in the mirror and I was crying. I had the brush and the comb stuck in my hair.”
Another Hollywood stylist told Henson to visit her salon. Henson said the experience “set her free”; she received a kit of natural hair products to use. It’s what led her to love doing her natural hair. Nowadays, she refuses to put any chemicals in her hair or dye it. She loves her curl pattern and the shrinkage.
“I love my hair because the curlier and the more strength that you have, the better your twist-outs are,” Henson said with a laugh. “Because I got girlfriends with them loose curls and they can’t do twist-outs and they’re like, ‘My hair won’t do that,’ and I’m like, ‘I know.’”
Hairstylist Kim Kimble, who has worked with Hollywood stars including Henson, Union, Vanessa Williams, Kerry Washington, Garcelle Beauvais and Zendaya, said when she first started her career, relaxers were popular. These days, she sees a combination of natural hairstyles and wigs. She said she’s not surprised Henson created her own hair products because she “definitely believes in taking care of herself and taking care of her hair.” While working with clients, Kimble started making hair-care products they couldn’t find on the market, eventually launching her own line.
There was an increase in the use of natural hair products before the pandemic, but a lot of salons were unable to provide remote services or went out of business altogether during COVID. This forced clients to figure out how to care for their natural hair and find protective styles they could use, such as wigs.
“I think we’ve always been kind of creative when it comes to our hair because of the type of hair we have,” Kimble said. “I feel like we had to find options and things to do, and I think the natural hair movement has kind of taken a big step. I really love that movement.”
She said there are several reasons why Black Hollywood has changed its views on hair, including the rise of natural-hair influencers on YouTube and social media, the increase in available products and concerns about how relaxers may affect long-term health.
Kimble said new generations of Hollywood stars enter the industry wanting to embrace their natural hair and don’t have the same hang-ups about having to straighten their hair or make it look a certain way. She said more TV networks are allowing stars to wear their natural hair and recognize the potential backlash in trying to dictate how Black people should style their hair.
“I think that we’re viewing ourselves different now, that we are beautiful, our skin is beautiful, our hair is beautiful,” said Kimble, who’s head of the hair department of HBO’s “Euphoria.” “Now that we could see people that know how to work with it and that are doing it, I think it’s just catching on.”
Henson marvels at how far the natural hair movement has come. Long gone are the days of only a couple of shampoos to choose from; now Black girls and women have whole aisles of products that are Black-owned or -created.
“We have proven our power in the economy because we were forgotten about and so just like the slaves did, they started inventing. That’s why I’m never surprised when someone goes, ‘A Black person invented that,’” Henson said. “No one cared about our hair but us and now, all of a sudden, you got all these big brands, now they got natural [hair] commercials.”
Henson said it’s gratifying to see Black women entering the hair-care business and showing the “deep economic power we’re proving that we have as Black women” because “we are a force to be reckoned with, baby, and the culture doesn’t move without us.”
“If there’s space for L’Oréal and Maybelline and CoverGirl to exist, why can’t we all coexist?” said Henson. “I love when I see videos, and they will have my products, they will have Mielle, they’ll have Pattern, they’ll have Carol’s Daughter, Miss Jessie’s. I love to see it because there’s space for all of us.”
Henson’s hair-care products, which include shampoos, scalp masks and curl creams, are made without parabens, sulfates or mineral oils. Newer products include a hair strengthening collection with biotin and Jamaican castor oil, and a wig care collection that uses apple cider vinegar to remove build-up from weaves and wigs. Henson’s products are sold at Walmart, Sally Beauty, Target, CVS and Walgreens.
Henson also launched Body by TPH in 2022, which includes shea butter, body oil and body scrubs with essential oils.
Henson was inspired to create her own hair-care products after having little luck finding something to help her clean her scalp while she wore protective weaves for her natural hair.
“I understood very young that your scalp is your foundation,” Henson said. “It needs to be healthy in order for your hair to grow. But now I have this weave and all of this, how do I clean my scalp? So that was a real problem for me that I had to find a solution to, but I never saw myself starting a hair-care line. It was literally out of my own necessity.”
She made her own scalp-care concoction that eventually became TPH’s master cleanse scalp wash. Henson said she was on vacation with a friend and their daughter when they both mentioned having itchy scalps underneath their protective styles — one of them had braids and the other a weave. Henson shared her creation and they enthusiastically said their scalps felt better and asked where they could get more. That was the moment Henson knew she was on to something.
Henson said she went down an Instagram rabbit hole, observing how Black women styled their hair and what they considered to be healthy hair. She realized there was a lack of education about the importance of scalp care. She recalled watching videos of women who had their weaves in for six months and thinking that their scalps were likely not clean or women with acne breakouts on their face because of oils from their scalps and pillows.
“I would see women with their weaves out and they would stretch their hair all the way out and it would be long, but it looked dry, it looked brittle,” Henson said. “They don’t get it, just because their hair was long, just because you have length, doesn’t mean it’s healthy.”
Looking ahead, Henson said she wants TPH to have more conditioning and styling products for people with thicker and curlier 4C hair “because there is still a huge deficit in that area” and she is holding herself accountable to be inclusive of all hair textures.
“We don’t come in all one shade, our hair is not all one way,” said Henson. “I want to be that brand where everybody can come and find something, it may not be everything in the line, but it’s like, ‘Oh my gosh, I can’t live without this TPH.’”
The line is part of Henson’s constant willingness to share her expertise and passion to make others happy. Her hair-care line is for the long haul, not a “get-rich-quick scam.”
“It makes me feel so incredible when I hear people say, ‘Oh my God, my hair has changed for the better,’ ‘My scalp has never been this healthy,’” Henson said. “I have a girlfriend who swears by my hair-care line, she’s like, ‘Girl, my hair is the healthiest it’s ever been, my curl pattern is poppin,’” and I’m like, ‘Girl, I know. I ain’t put my name on no junk now.’”
This story originally appeared on LATimes