The hair relaxer market has been under scrutiny recently due to lawsuits alleging harm caused by these products. In this blog series, we will explore the details outlined in the Master Complaint to help our readers understand the legal situation. Let's start with some history and background on the hair relaxer market and the Afro-textured hair that these products are primarily designed for.
The Unique Market for Hair Relaxer Products
The Black community plays a significant role in the personal care products market in the U.S. While Black people account for only 13% of the population, their spending contributes to nearly 22% of the $42 billion-a-year personal care products market. A significant portion of this spending goes towards hair care products.
Hair relaxers are products designed to straighten naturally curly or Afro-textured hair. An analysis of ingredients in beauty and personal care products marketed to Black and Brown women found that about one in twelve products was ranked highly hazardous by the EWG's Skin Deep® Cosmetics Database. Hair relaxers, along with hair colors and bleaching products, scored particularly high for potential hazard.
In 2020, the global black hair care market was estimated at $2.5 billion, with the hair relaxer market alone estimated at $718 million in 2021. The market is expected to grow to $854 million annually by 2028.
History of Afro-Textured Hair and Hair Relaxers
The texture of Black and Brown women's hair has been a subject of controversy and prejudice since at least 1619. Afro-textured hair, characterized by coily, springing, zigzag, and s-curve curl patterns, has been historically degraded in contrast to the Eurocentric beauty standard, which promotes straight hair as a symbol of social status, moral virtue, and professional competence.
Slavery played a role in shaping perceptions of Afro-textured hair. Enslaved Black and Brown people were often forced to cut their hair, which had once held cultural and spiritual significance, as a means of control. Afro-textured hair came to be seen as unseemly, and because it reflected African heritage rather than European ancestry, it was considered a symbol of low social status.
Historical events like the "Tignon Law" in 1786 further reinforced these prejudices, requiring women of African descent to cover their hair with a tignon (scarf), marking them as members of the slave class. Texturism, the idea that straighter hair is superior, became ingrained in American culture during slavery.
The desire for straight hair led to efforts to straighten Afro-textured hair. Initially, this was achieved with tools like hot combs, which were heated and pressed into hair strands to temporarily straighten them.
The Invention of the Chemical Relaxer
The invention of the chemical hair relaxer changed the game. Black inventor Garrett Augustus Morgan created a system that would permanently straighten Afro-textured hair, eliminating the issue of shrinkage. He stumbled upon the solution while working as a tailor, using a chemical to polish sewing machine needles. After noticing that the chemical straightened the curly fibers in a rag, Morgan developed the G.A. Morgan Hair Refining Cream, marketed in 1913.
Morgan's invention paved the way for the development of alkaline relaxers and lye-based formulas, which would dominate the market for relaxing Afro-textured hair.
In the following blog entries, we will further explore the history of hair relaxers, their impact on the community, and the allegations made in the lawsuits filed against manufacturers of these products.