Spending $1.1 billion on beauty each year, Black women are driving demand for brands to create products that meet their needs. Not to mention, they are the catalyst for beauty trends that get replicated globally. So, it should come as no surprise that Black women and men created many of the beauty products we know and love today. From hair tools and products to styling techniques, we can thank Black inventors for revolutionizing the beauty industry and creating solutions for beauty problems experienced by the Black community. These pioneers were well ahead of their time and carved a much-needed space for Black people in the industry. Their inventions put Black beauty aficionados on the map and opened the door for inclusivity and opportunities for more people of color.
Ahead, we’re giving props to the Black beauty inventors who paved the way for advancement and inclusiveness in the beauty industry. Learn the origins of six can’t-live-without beauty products and the Black pioneers who created them.
Lyda Newman: Patented the First Hairbrush With Synthetic Bristles
You can thank Lyda Newman for taking the roughness out of detangling your hair. She invented a hairbrush that was designed specifically for Black women. Newman was a hairdresser who realized that the brushes being used at that time—which were designed with animal hair bristles—were too soft to use on coarser textures. (Imagine trying to brush your curly mane with bird feathers or horsehair, impossible.)
Newman's invention consisted of synthetic fibers that were denser and sturdier than animal hair and thus more efficient at brushing textured hair. Her synthetic brushes were also more hygienic and easier to clean than conventional brushes. This was groundbreaking for Black women as they finally had a proper and more gentle way to brush their kinks and coils. Plus, Newman’s invention made styling easier. In 1898, she became the third Black woman ever to receive a patent for her invention.
Christina Jenkins: Invented the Hair Weave Sewing Technique
Next time you book an appointment to get a weave or wig installed, you can thank Christina Jenkins. Now known as a “sew-in,” the style was called a “hairweev” when Jenkins created it in the 1950s. This wildly loved hair technique was born from Jenkins' experience as a factory worker making wigs.
After hearing several clients complain about their wigs falling off and being too bulky, Jenkins began to experiment with different ways to solve this problem. Thus, the hair weave “sew-in” was born. Prior to Jenkins' invention, hair weaves were not a long-lasting hairstyle and were bulky because they required hairpins to adhere the extensions to the scalp.
In Jenkins' method, she attached the weave hair to a weft and sewed the weft to her client’s cornrowed hair using a needle and thread. This allowed women to wear their weaves, wigs, and extensions for longer periods of time. It also made the weaves more secure and allowed them to look flatter and neater.
Jenkins' method was so revolutionary that she was asked to fly to several different countries to teach cosmetologists how to sew in a hair weave using her method. She eventually opened her own salon (Christina’s Hairweeve Penthouse Salon), which she operated until 1993.
Theora Stephens: Invented the Curling Iron
Love creating ringlets or beachy waves on your hair? You can thank Theora Stephens, who invented a more efficient curling iron. Stephens was a hairstylist who experienced many frustrations using incompatible tools to create curly hairstyles for her clients. This often led to undesirable results and prompted Stephens to find a better way to curl hair.
Stephens' version of the curling iron included a spring clasp and a way to control the heat of the iron. With previous iterations of the curling iron, hairstylists could not control or know the temperature of the tool. Although Stephens did not create the first curling iron, she is the first person to patent the device. Stephens also owns the patent for the flat iron.
Madam CJ Walker: Invented Hair Products Created Specifically for Black Hair
There wouldn’t be a natural haircare aisle without Madam CJ Walker, born Sarah Breedlove. Walker revolutionized Black women's hair care by creating products specifically for them. From thickness to various curl types to maintenance requirements, there are many nuances that make Black hair different from other hair types. The creation of these products brought visibility to these differences and allowed for healthy and effective beauty routines for Black women.
Walker began experimenting and creating her own hair products after developing a scalp ailment that caused her to lose most of her strands. After mastering the formula, she developed the Walker System, a line of hair products to promote stronger and healthier hair. She created the first shampoo, conditioner, and treatment products that successfully treated and grew textured hair.
Over the course of expanding her company, Walker made room for several Black women entrepreneurs and employed over 3,000 Black women. Walker's success made her the first Black woman millionaire in America. An updated haircare line in her honor and namesake is available for purchase today.
Annie Turnbo Malone: Developed the Hot Comb
Many Black women have memories of getting their hair pressed by their mothers using a hot comb. These moments of bonding come courtesy of hot comb creator Annie Malone, who was also a close associate of Madam CJ Walker.
Malone noticed that Black women were moving away from common hairstyles like braids and cornrows, which were popularized during slavery, and opting for loose, flowing, and straightened hair. Malone became interested in simplifying the hair straightening process for Black women. At the time, animal fat, butter, grease, or oils were used to make the hair appear straight. Malone developed and later patented the hot comb. Just like Madam CJ Walker, she went on to become one the wealthiest Black female entrepreneurs in the United States.
Samuel H. Bundles and Henry M. Childrey: Invented the Afro Pick
Afros and Afro picks became emblems of beauty, power, and resistance for the Black community during the Civil Rights Movement. Samuel Bundles and Henry Childrey patented the first Afro pick in 1960; it went on to become a cultural and political symbol of Black liberation. During this time, the Black Panther Party was known for its Afro hairstyles adorned with Afro picks. Aside from being a counter-culture and statement-making hair tool, the Afro pick is also used for more practical things, such as fluffing the hair and creating straight parts.