Black Hair: Boomin' Billion Dollar Industry

Fueled by African American women’s desire for eye-catching tresses, the Black hair care industry is worth an estimated $10 billion to date.  And that’s not including synthetic and human hair sales.

Madame C.J. Walker gained a place in the Guiness Book of Records in 1910 as the first American female to become a self-made millionaire.

The world had changed and was ready and waiting for her line of beauty and hair products for black women. 


In 1971, Johnson Products, the maker of Soft & Sheen products, became the first African American owned firm listed on the American Stock Exchange.

Until the 80’s, black owned hair and skin product lines prevailed in the market, primarily due to large white owned companies ignoring needs of the black consumer and the power of their spending dollar.

With their revenue declining, white owned companies noticed that blacks spent a much greater percentage on hair and skin products than their counterparts and strategized a market takeover.  They began buying struggling black owned hair and cosmetic product companies, and signing major endorsement deals with black entertainers for advertising and promotion.

In a 1986 edition of Newsweek magazine, former president of Revlon, Irving Bottner, stated, “In the next few years, black owned businesses will disappear. They’ll all be sold to white companies. “ He also insinuated that products made by black companies were inferior, stating  “We are accused of taking business away from black companies, but black consumers buy quality products, too often their black brothers didn’t do them any good.”

In a controversial move, Black owned Carson Inc, creator of Dark and Lovely and Optimum, acquired Johnson Products in 1998. In 2000, L’Oreal purchased Carson for an estimated $370 million, picking up 20% of the fragmented market.

In the same year, Alberto-Culver, a personal care products manufacturing company in Illinois, bought Pro-Line, the third largest black owned manufacturer, for an undisclosed amount.

As a result of Soft Sheen and Carson brands being under the L’Oreal umbrella, AHBAI, the group responsible for the proud lady logo on all black owned hair care products, estimated L’Oreal’s position in the hair color market at 61.9% and women’s relaxer market at 51.2%, making them the world’s largest manufacturer of ethnic hair care products. L’Oreal disputes those numbers for the relaxer market, stating only 35% though they do admit to owning more than one-third of the market. Even by their modest estimations, for one company, that is market domination.  L’Oreal was convicted in 2007 of refusing to hire women of color for models and sales in France.

According to industry statistics, Black women purchase 80% more hair care merchandise than any other ethnic group. Beauty product lines designed for African Americans were once 100% owned and operated by African Americans, today we claim less than 30%.

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