The list of ingredients in Janelle Beauty's Diva Smooth reads more like a dessert recipe than a treatment to straighten your hair.
Honey. Sugar. Lemon juice. Molasses.
Diva Smooth is a natural alternative to traditional chemical relaxers. The finely tuned mixture of natural ingredients when applied together with a flat iron create smooth, shiny hair without breakage or hair loss. It is so gentle that it can be left on overnight, says Anika Janelle Pettiford, founder of Janelle Beauty.
Since it went on the market in June 2008, Diva Smooth has amassed a growing and loyal customer base who see it as an inexpensive and easy-to-use straightening treatment. Many stylists also have become fans, with more than 180 salons using Diva Smooth.
"It makes your natural hair look beautiful and you feel better, because you are not putting chemicals into your hair," says Diva Smooth user Lauren of Virginia.
Keep in mind I have not permed my hair since June 2, 2009," says Felicia of Dallas. "My hair turned out very soft and straight considering I had wavy and curly roots. When I begin blow drying, I noticed my hair was soft and straight at the roots to the ends. Yes, I will most definitely use it again."
It was Pettiford's own health scare that prompted her to find safe alternatives to the hair and skin-care products that lined her shelves. She realized a lot of the personal-care products she was using every day contained carcinogens.
"I threw out all of my shampoos and conditioners," says Pettiford, a former IBM consultant who left to start a family. "I had been relaxing my hair since I was 8 years old and I stopped."
Pettiford says she had no idea what her natural hair looked like, and began experimenting with different ingredients to help control her texture. Janelle Beauty's first product, Virgin Coconut Hair Serum, was born out of her transition to natural hair. The coconut oil contained protein that smoothed her hair.
One day, Pettiford got a call form a stylist who said she was using a chemical-free concoction on clients' hair to straighten it.
"My initial reaction was 'Whatever.," she says. "But I felt obligated to see what it was."
She had the stylist use her home-made mixture on her hair, and she was "blown away." Her hair was smooth and soft, with no damage or breakage.
"I said 'We need to market this product,'" Pettiford says. "At the time, it had no labeling or packaging."
The stylist signed an exclusive agreement with Janelle Beauty to bring it to market. Initially, there was skepticism in the market that an all-natural product could work. But through demonstrations and word of mouth, sales began building quickly.
With traditional lye and no lye relaxers, the chemicals penetrate the cortex or cortical layer and loosens the curl pattern. This inner layer of the hair shaft gives curly hair its shape, and provides strength and elasticity. Once the process is performed, it is permanent.
Diva Smooth, which contains such ingredients as jojoba oil and grapeseed oil, is brushed in, and can be left on from 35 minutes to overnight. It works by strengthening the hair with the virgin coconut oil, and creates a light protective coating that prevents heat damage through the use of honey and molasses. There is no stripping of hte hair cuticle because there are no chemical ingredients.
It is shampooed out with a sulfate-free cleanser that is included in the kit. It won't make the hair stick straight, Pettiford says. What it does do is make it easier to get smooth, straight hair when used with a flat iron.
For those who like to wear their hair curly, it makes the curls smoother and more defined. Since the hair is not chemically altered, the hair can be worn in twists, afros and other natural hair styles. Pettiford says it also can help women who are transitioning from perms to natural hair by making the demarcation less noticeable.
"For the first time, my hair is completely natural, and it's never looked better," says Pettiford, who uses Diva Smooth on a regular basis. "It has volume and shine and it looks healthier than it ever did when I was using a chemical relaxer."
The Janelle Beauty Smooth Deluxe Starter Kit - which contains Rosemary Mint Hair Wash, Tea Tree Hair Wash, Moisturizing Conditioner, Virgin Coconut Hair Serum, Diva Smooth, a brush, cap and gloves - sells for $49.99. Other Diva Smooth kits are available.
Diva Smooth is sold online, and Pettiford says she is getting requests from a growing number of stylists who have heard about the product.
In addition to Diva Smooth, Janelle Beauty is like a Sephora for natural and organic beauty products, Pettiford says. In addition to its own product lines, Janelle Beauty has evolved into an online e-tailer for other all-natural beauty brands.