Taraji P. Henson is best known for playing powerful women, like a brilliant astrophysicist in Hidden Figures or a hard-as-nails music executive in Empire. Her characters tend to have a way of blasting away doubters, racists, and misogynists. And that same fearlessness can be seen in her latest role, as the founder of her own cruelty-free, parabens-free, vegan haircare line TPH by Taraji.
Henson was motivated to start the line out of sheer necessity. She was wearing a lot of protective hairstyles such as wigs, weaves, and braids, and found no product to nourish her scalp back to health. “The first time I went to get the weave taken out, it smelled like mildew. I was so embarrassed. I was washing my hair, but wasn’t drying the weft,” she told Allure. “When you have a weave or an install, your hair is braided down, and then sometimes they sew a hair net down on top of that, and then they sew the hair tracks on top of that. My dilemma was how do I get to my scalp? How do I clean it? I didn’t ever want that mildew smell again.”
So Henson set to making her own, naturally-inspired formulas in her kitchen. The hero product, Master Cleanse (a deep scalp cleanser) includes tea tree oil, eucalyptus oil, and joazeiro bark extract in a witch hazel water base. Mint Condition is a scalp conditioner that hydrates your thirsty scalp with aloe and shea butter—just like a facial moisturizer. The products also come with unique applicators designed to reach into the scalp and natural hair even if you’re wearing protective hairstyles. But the truly inclusive line caters to all hair textures including straight, wavy, curly, and coily.
The line is now available at Target after 10 (!) years of experiments, but her love of hair goes back even further. When Henson failed to get accepted to a performing arts school, she assumed that she just didn’t have talent and tried to go to a cosmetology school instead. When “God blocked that,” she ended up pursuing acting seriously again, and the rest is history. Like, Oscars, Golden Globes, and SAG Awards history. And the way she embraces her triumph after hardship is just one reason we find her so inspiring.
Another reason that Henson resonates for us at Peaceful Dumpling (and yours truly, the founder and editor), is that she speaks to all of us. Let me explain. Back in 2017, one of our staff editors, Audrey Enjoli, wrote this article about using flax and chia seeds for beauty (Omega 3, obvi). She chose a photo, which I later took out because of the weird way a shadow was falling across the model’s face. I replaced it with a photo of a model with long, straight hair. Then Audrey asked me to please add that original photo back in—it was important to her, as a curly-haired woman, to see that representation of beauty with her writing and in media.
I was just floored. Before that point, I had never seriously thought about the diversity of representation in our own peaceful little land. As a Korean American, I tend to think that I bring diversity to any organization of which I am part—not to mention one I founded with my own bare knuckles. But even then, I had thought fleetingly a few times that we have so many images of a specific kind of beauty—a thin, white, young kind—and not enough of others. We used those images because they were objectively high-quality and abundantly available. But at that moment, I became painful aware that we were reinforcing the strange conflation of white, vegan, and aspirational.
In 6.5 years of Peaceful Dumpling history, we’ve had almost 400 contributors. The vast majority of them were white, followed by Latinx (2nd) and Asian (3rd). Less than 10 of them were black. As editor, I believed in letting talent find us (like attracts like). But maybe, publishing more topics like these would help attract *different* voices, who in turn write distinctive pieces that they’re passionate about. I think this is especially important because our values of veganism, sustainability, art, conservation, and wellness are for everyone.
Who knew haircare could get so political?! Well, all the curly-maned women in the world, obviously. I’m just thankful that Taraji is here to unite all women in the name of vegan self-care.
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Photo: TPH by Taraji; Tiko Giorgadze on Unsplash