multicultural hair

Stephanie Rodriguez is a light-skinned Latina with 3b curls. When she goes shopping for haircare products, she said she is looking for sulfate-free shampoos and curl-specific products from brands like Carol’s Daughter, SheaMoisture, Pantene and Garnier. “I think it should be organized by hair type/brands so it’s easier to pick out what you need for your hair, rather than just shoving the ‘ethnic’ section in the corner where people can feel left out.”

The terms “ethnic” and “multicultural” are fine when it comes to identifying one’s ethnic origin. But when it comes to shopping for haircare, these terms are increasingly outdated, according to TextureMedia’s recently released Perception Study: Ethnic and Multicultural Haircare Experience.

The study finds that most people with curly, coily or wavy hair – no matter what their ethnicity – consider their hair to be natural, textured or curly rather than “ethnic” or “multicultural. The term ‘ethnic’ on products or beauty aisles causes dissatisfaction among a major group of consumers who consider the term to be causing division.

Martha Fast, who is white, says she always feels like she is “intruding on someone else’s space” when she’s shopping in haircare aisles labeled “ethnic.”

“Curly hair isn’t limited to one ethnicity,” says NaturallyCurly community member Jennifer Jevy.

it’s something I think about every time I have to pick up hair stuff,” says community member Ada Nicole. “It’s no wonder ethnicities feel ostracized. Races don’t need to be “called out”, and not every white person has straight hair!‬‬”

For many who do search out the Ethnic aisle in their store for their favorite products, it’s more out of habit. “It points me in the right direction,” says Ebonie Andrews.

The textured-hair category has been one of the fastest growing and most dynamic in the beauty industry. Since NaturallyCurly’s inception 20 years ago, the number of products on the market has grown exponentially, with dozens of new brands launching each year specifically for texture. Every major hair care brand now offers products for textured hair, and traditionally “ethnic” brands have expanded their offerings to a broader customer base that wants to enhance their natural texture. The question about what to call the aisle or section devoted to these products is one of the most hotly debated among retailers.

There was a time when retail stores divided their haircare aisles up by general market and ethnic. As the texture category has exploded, catering to a diverse customer base, naming the section has become more complicated. How do you create a name that’s inclusive and descriptive? How do you attract new customers without alienating others?

We asked our community. TextureMedia’s Perception Study surveyed 613 women – Black, Caucasian, Latina and biracial/multiracial about the terms “multicultural and “ethnic” as it relates to haircare products and their shopping experience We also conducted eight online discussions with 31 NaturallyCurly community members followed by an online survey.

Among the key findings:

  • Almost half the respondents believe hair cannot be classified as ethnic or multicultural while some defines ethnic or multicultural hair as hair belonging to someone who is ethnic or multicultural respectively.
  • All ethnic groups other than ‘White/Caucasian’ group consider themselves to be ethnic.
  • The majority of White/Caucasian consumers started shopping in ethnic/multicultural aisles after getting educated about haircare for their hair types; Most Black/African consumers have always shopped on ethnic/multicultural aisles.

For Heather Wexler, the name of the aisle isn’t as important as what’s in it. “I don’t really care, as long as it’s there and it’s stocked. I understand that as a white/Jewish/Italian American woman with extremely thick and tightly curled hair, I’m not generally the target demographic for these products. I use them anyway because nothing else works for my hair type.‬‬”‬‬

How do you feel about the use of the words “ethnic” and “multicultural” to describe hair.

Let us know in the comments, we’d love to hear your opinion.

Michelle Breyer

Michelle Breyer

As co-founder of, a website for curly hair she began with her business partner and friend, Gretchen Heber, Michelle Breyer helped create the leading community and resource for people with curly hair. Frustrated by the lack of information on curly hair and the limited products available in the marketplace, the duo launched the site in 1998 with the help of a 14-year-old web designer. When Procter & Gamble called three years later to advertise to the® audience, Breyer knew they had indeed created a force in the industry, providing helpful information and unparalleled expertise for what was then considered a niche market.

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