It?s not news that natural personal care products are experiencing double-digit growth. For a long time, health-conscious consumers wanting to re-create that ?salon-fresh? look at home have had few natural alternatives to the industrial-strength, chemical-laden products sold in hair salons.
But now naturals manufacturers are creating numerous salon-style hair products, including molding creams, specially formulated shampoos that can extend the life of color treatment, and so on. And these effective natural products, combined with snazzy labels and clear directions, along with a little retailer input, make safe, appealing alternatives, available where consumers do the rest of their naturals shopping.
Colored hair—highlights or all-over color to enhance natural shades or camouflage gray—is now commonplace. And it?s no longer just for the ?ladies who lunch,? experts said. As many as 70 percent of women color their hair, according to Francisco Guzman, director of marketing for ShiKai, based in Santa Rosa, Calif. The company just introduced ?Color Reflect,? a line of color-enhancing shampoos and conditioners formulated with sunflower extract, UV filters and vitamins.
Company founder and product formulator Dennis Sepp noted an interesting statistic: ?We?ve found that 90 percent of the women who shop natural, color their hair,? further evidence that the naturals customer is decidedly mainstream.
?The health food consumer has matured, in wisdom and age,? Sepp said, and that means gray hair but with a philosophical shift to where it?s considered OK—not vain, not politically incorrect, not risky enough to health to avoid?to chemically treat hair. ?Colored hair is no longer a symbol of political debauchery,? Sepp said, but something that is an investment that requires high-end products to protect.
?We did a study 15 years ago and found out that most health food shoppers were buying their hair care products at the salon,? Sepp said.
Now, in addition to ShiKai, other manufacturers are developing salon-style products that rival the traditionals in performance, but with the added draw of natural ingredients. Among the choices are Jason?s Shaman Earthly Organic shampoos and styling aids; Alba Botanica?s Alba Hair line of salon-style shampoos, gels, creams and sprays; and Giovanni Cosmetics? ever-growing selection of organic shampoos, styling waxes and molding creams.
The basic difference between these products and conventional is that the nasty ingredients are gone. ?We?ve eliminated the sodium lauryl [and] laureth sulfate and other harsh chemicals,? said Laura Genoway, consultant for Petaluma, Calif.-based Avalon Organics, which makes Alba Botanica hair care products. Alba?s products include shampoos and conditioners geared to replenish, balance or volumize; styling agents such as Brilliant Shine Gloss Serum or Ultimate Strong Hold Style Gel; and a range of hair sprays containing vitamins and organic herbs.
Manufacturers are creating products with as many natural ingredients as can be used without compromising performance. If no natural alternative can be found, then some synthetics may be added. Even that is an improvement on the standards of mainstream manufacturers, say industry experts. ?The hair business doesn?t care what?s in their products,? said Arthur Giovanni, who was a hairdresser for 20 years before starting his Carson, Calif.-based company. He was motivated to create a naturals line when his hands started to develop an allergic reaction to the products he used at work. Giovanni products are made with the best natural ingredients that can be found, he said, but some less-than-natural substances are in the mix. ?If you don?t use them, you won?t get the results,? he said. Nevertheless, ?These are the healthiest hair care products that work.?
Manufacturers say both retailers and customers are eager for natural salon-style hair products. ?We saw that in the natural hair area there was a need for salon-quality products,? said Alba?s Genoway. Alba Hair hit store shelves last May and the products from the get-go were well received, Genoway said. ?Our retailers were ready for products like these,? said Guzman, regarding ShiKai?s products for color-treated hair. But old habits die hard, and customers, he thought, might initially need some nudging. ?We know that women traditionally look for cosmetics in department stores or pharmacies, so we debated how to convince them that these new hair care products [in naturals stores] have the same features and benefits as what they are used to.? But instead of merely providing point-of-sale information, they encouraged sampling. ?The results speak louder than any marketing copy,? Guzman said. Retailers said that winning over customers has not been difficult. ?There is no question about it. People who are looking for natural [products] are very grateful there are alternatives,? said Theresa Flemming, who works in the Natural Living Department at the People?s Market in Evanston, Ill. Shoppers there had been on the lookout for natural high-quality hair products for some time.
Without the stylist on hand, the retail shopper often relies on store staff for information. And the latter?s ability to discuss the various possibilities, to be conversant on how and how well they work, comes from using the products themselves. ?We don?t have testers,? Flemming said, but if asked she will test a hair spray on an arm so that the customer can assess if its degree of hold versus stickiness is satisfactory.
?A lot of our customers are label readers,? said Nicole Kangas, who works in the health and body section of the Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op in California. ?They really care about the purity of the ingredients and ask a lot of questions.? She tries many of the products and cites Alba Hair?s Smooth & Straight Style Gel as one she routinely recommends.
The terms used by a salon stylist to describe products (creams, gels, sticks) and properties (molding, sculpting, plumping, defining and so on) are distinctive and may not always be clear to retailers or consumers.
There?s a big difference between the environment of a salon and store aisles. ?There?s a difference in the language, a different way of communication,? Giovanni said. With no one available to translate, manufacturers try to keep most product names and descriptions of salon-style store products simple and clear.
This is a nuance that may be more easily conveyed by a professional, but retailers said that sophisticated packaging has done much of the work to name and explain the benefits of natural ingredients, as well as to draw attention to these products and set them apart as specialized, high-end and high-performance. ?The packaging is now so attractive,? said Kangas. ?That really helps the stuff sell well.?
Barbara Hey is a Boulder, Colo.-based free-lance writer.
Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXV/number 6/p. 58, 60