7 Latinx-Owned Curly Hair Brands Fighting The “Pelo Malo” Mindset

Johanna Ferreira
·15 mins read
Photo credit: instagram.com/botanika_beauty
Photo credit: instagram.com/botanika_beauty

From Oprah Magazine

Even years after embracing my natural hair, the term “pelo malo” still hits a nerve today. I had a pretty complex relationship with my hair growing up. When you’re constantly told that long, silky, straight hair is the standard of beauty, it’s hard to love and embrace your own curls. Like many curly-haired Latinas, I spent years wearing my hair mostly straight. I spent money and most of my Saturday mornings (sometimes going into the early afternoons) from my teens until I hit 30 in the Dominican salon getting my long hair blown-out straight because I grew up to believe this is how I looked my best.

And this experience is in no way, shape or form unique to me. In fact, many young girls and women within the Latinx community grow up hearing terms like “pelo malo” which literally translates to“bad hair” in Spanish and often refers to curly or kinky hair. The reason for this is because afro-textured hair has for centuries held complex, racial history in Latina America, where racism is still often a taboo topic.

The few times I would wear my natural curls growing up—usually during the summers or if Mami didn’t have time to blow out my hair that week—I would often be presented with the words “pelo malo” (or “bad hair) by fellow Latinx family friends or hairstylists, who were more often than not curly-haired Dominicans themselves. The words would sting every time, especially when I would hear folks refer to straight hair as “pelo bueno,” or, “good hair.”

I’d even sometimes hear older folks encouraging brown-skinned boys and girls to marry lighter and to someone with straighter hair to “mejorar la raza”—to “better the race.” The mentality is deeply rooted in the racism and white supremacy that began with our colonizers, and has trickled down through the generations with many in the Latinx community—like many other cultures—believing that the whiter you are, the more beautiful you are.

“Pelo malo” often goes hand-in-hand with “con buena presencia” which means “with good presentation,” applied to important situations like job interviews. I realized during my own career journey that my head full of curly hair could actually hurt me at job interviews; even my college counselors and professors would advise me to dress professionally and get my hair blown out before an interview. It was then that I realized that the societal pressure to maintain Eurocentric beauty standards like straight hair go way beyond Latinx culture. It’s a global problem.

A decade after I’ve graduated college, and the world really has changed the way they look at curly hair, thanks to so many women of color who are fighting the “pelo malo” narrative. In fact, there are quite a few Latinas in the beauty business who have made it their mission to tackle the deeply rooted racism ingrained in our beauty standard by launched businesses that help us embrace our natural and curly hair. From Rizos Curls to Pink Root, here are a few you can shop not just during Hispanic Heritage Month, but all year round.

Julissa Prado of Rizos Curls


In 2017, Julissa Prado who is of Afro-Mexican descent and based in Los Angeles, launched her Rizos Curls product line in an effort to encourage curly haired Latinas to proudly embrace their natural hair, beauty, and culture. “I remember hearing the term pelo malo my whole life. I can remember hearing it as young as 3 years old,” Prado says. “It was such a normalized term for me and for our culture. Unfortunately, it did motivate me to want long straight hair and for years, I’d straighten my hair by any means necessary, including using a clothes iron.”

Prado believed she did in fact have “pelo malo” because of the constant bullying she received regarding her texture in both elementary and middle school. It wasn’t until high school that she started embracing her natural texture.

“I went to a progressive high school where we learned race theory, and how many of the standards of beauty we have internalized as a result of systems of inequality against people of color. I realized that I needed to love my hair and dismantle my previous beliefs,” she says. “The thought of “pelo mayo” made me want to love my curls and motivated me to create Rizos Curls in 2017 after years of walking around with my own natural concoction of ingredients in my bag.”

Prado eventually found herself sharing tips with family, friends, and even strangers who were inspired by her own healthy hair journey. The lack of options and resources out there is what ultimately motivated her to bottle her formulas.

“Even now when I look back I realize so many of those companies had NO idea what they were talking about with the product selection they had and ingredients they were claiming to create amazing curls results,” she says. “I created Rizos Curls because I always felt Latinas were left out of the curly conversation, and I wanted to change that.”

Prado’s self-funded hair care line is now available at Target stores across the country.

“The journey to natural hair is different for everyone. Some may not see their hair as pelo malo and genuinely have fun going from curly to straight, and some go through what I went through, the dismantling of the pelo malo idea. Ultimately, self-love is what guides our lives, so if embracing your natural hair texture allows you to love yourself more, then go for it.”

Aisha Ceballos-Crump of Honey Baby Naturals


After years of working in the beauty industry, Aisha Ceballos-Crump, a Puerto Rican woman from Chicago, decided to launch her own hair care line inspired by her own children with curly hair. “My husband is African American, and my Afro-Latino children have beautiful brown skin and curly kinky hair. Not only did I find myself having to buy different products for everyone in my family in different departments of the store, but I was frustrated with the lack of options for Latina women that embraced their natural hair,” she says. In 2016, Ceballos-Crump launched Honey Baby Naturals, a family brand formulated with honey and other natural ingredients for textured hair.

‘“Pelo malo’ isn’t mentioned or discussed in our home,” she says while also adding that her kids aren’t even aware of the outdated term. “My three kids have grown up in the beauty industry and understand my passion to change the narrative about hair and texture and general perception of beauty. My daughters take so much pride in their beautiful natural hair, and we use our platform to showcase their ‘crowns’ and to educate others.”

Ceballos-Crump created Honey Baby Naturals with the intention to change the way we think about hair and overall beauty and eventually followed up with the launch of Botánika Beauty in 2019, in partnership with fellow Dominican and beauty influencer Ada Rojas.

“Afro-Latinas were never included in retail conversations, and now we have end caps and products created by us, for us. We control the dialogue and the narrative, and now is our time to showcase our strength and desire for natural hair products developed for us.”

Ada Roja of Botánika Beauty

After studying marketing and public relations in college, followed by years as a successful beauty influencer creating content that resonated especially with curly-haired Afro-Latinas, Ada Rojas partnered with Ceballos-Crump to launch a daughter brand that specifically catered to Latinas with textured hair. Botánika Beauty is inspired by the botanica stores Rojas herself used to visit in Latinx communities located in the Bronx and uptown Manhattan. This is where her family would find their herbs, natural remedies, and ingredients for DIY beauty solutions. The brand launched in 2019 and has already experienced tremendous success, generating over a million in sales and sold in over 800 retail stores, including Target.

“For as long as I could remember, my hair always seemed, ‘bad,’” Rojas said in a recent Good Morning America segment, where she shared her own journey to embracing her natural hair and her Afro-Latina roots. “It was always a struggle to maintain. It was always a struggle to do.”

After years of using whatever curly products were actually available at the stores, she went on to straighten her own hair using a flat iron during her college years, eventually damaging her curls. In an effort to transition back to healthy, curly hair, Rojas found her calling. She noticed that there was a lot of content on YouTube by African American women on natural hair and transitioning to natural hair, but not as much content like that from Latinas and for Latinas. That’s when she decided to launch her own blog to share her journey.

“10 years and my very own haircare line later, I have managed to foster an incredible community of Afro-Latina women who are so proud of their roots and embrace the curls that naturally grow out of their head,” she adds in her GMA video.

Adassa Ramirez of MicMasRemix

Unlike Rojas and Prado, Adassa Ramirez didn’t grow up in a home where terms like “pelo malo” were used. “I was very fortunate growing up in that my family didn’t talk negatively about coarse hair. As a matter of fact, my sister doesn’t have coarse hair at all, and my family never made me feel like either of our hair’s texture was better,” she says. “It wasn’t until I was older that I understood the connotations behind what ‘good hair’ meant.”

After years of using hair relaxers and heat styling, the Puerto Rican from the Bronx soon started to experience significant breakage. She was no longer able to retain length, and her friends encouraged her to consider going natural. She did the big chop and started treating her curls with natural ingredients including olive oil, aloe vera, and coconut oil. Before she knew it, her natural curls were growing in.

Now, her haircare line features three products: A deep conditioner, a scalp treatment oil, and a porosity formula specialized for low-porosity hair.

“What inspired me to come out with my own curly hair line was the great results I was seeing with my own formulations. My friends and family were noticing the difference in my hair and wanted me to make mixes for them too,” she says. “I went back to the basics and didn’t rely on hair products from the store when I went natural because most of those products were loaded with parabens, fillers, and alcohol.”

Now, MicMasReMix’s motto is “Todo pelo es pelo bueno” or, “all hair is good hair.”

Lulu Cordero of Bomba Curls

Born and raised in Villa Bella in Semana, Dominican Republic, Lulu Cordero never questioned her blackness. Her Black Dominican mother made it a point to raise her in a very pro-Black household. But moving to the states and being surrounded by her paternal side of the family— who are relatively lighter-skinned—exposed her to some rude awakenings.

“Some of my family members would make disparaging comments about my ‘pelo malo” and complain to no end about how difficult it was to style—especially when my curls broke the teeth off combs. Their words did sting,” she says. “But my mom wanted me to know that my hair and I were born to be as we are, and that there were no flaws in that.”

Cordero came to the states to live with her paternal side of the family at 6 years old, while her mom stayed behind in the Dominican Republic. Because none of her family members knew how to manage her curls, Cordero’s hair was relaxed from the age of 9 until she was 17. “All I knew was my relaxed texture. At 17, I decided to go natural because I wanted to live a cleaner, healthier lifestyle, and letting go of toxic relaxers was a part of the process for me.”

Shortly after going natural, Cordero started to experience severe traction alopecia. She quickly turned to homeopathic medicine and the secret natural remedies of the Dominican Republic. She would create her own cocktails using ingredients from the island like coffee beans, and before she knew it her curls were growing back in and her hair loss had stopped. After getting asked by so many close friends and families for her remedy, Cordero decided to bottle her secret hair potion and called it Bomba Curls Forbidden Dominican Oil.

“Through Bomba Curls, I wanted to make it easy to embrace and care for your natural hair. I wanted to help us heal from generational trauma. I wanted to empower curlistas everywhere to celebrate the beauty of the skin they’re in.”

Mariel Mejia of Pink Root


For Mariel Mejia, founder of Pink Root haircare line, wearing her hair straight for years felt like something she had to do. “Growing up with natural hair in a Dominican-American community was very difficult, because I didn’t want to be the outcast who had their natural hair out, but I was also tired of damaging my hair to make it look like a certain texture,” she says. “I remember constantly going to the hair salon and getting my hair straightened every week just to look ‘presentable.’”

In 2015, Mejia launched her haircare line Pink Root, and then relaunched it in 2019 with the mission to help encourage curly girls transition from chemically treated or heat damaged hair to natural hair with confidence. The products are all formulated with organic ingredients and rich formulations that promote growth and healthy curls. The brand’s slogan? “We don’t believe in bad hair, just bad hair care.”

“When I first went natural a few years ago, the curly hair products available to me were just not cutting it. I felt that they were really catered towards women who were already experts at having curly hair, and really did close to nothing for transitioning hair types,” she says. “I desperately needed moisture and products that would penetrate the hair shaft and hydrate it, but all I would find were products with a bunch of fillers and chemicals that held a style for a few hours but had no actual benefit for my curls.”

As a result, Pink Root’s products include no fillers, sulfates, or silicones. The line features three products: A Curl Enhancing Lotion, Curl Styling Paste, and the Leave-In Conditioner made with nourishing ingredients like castor oil, sweet almond oil, cocoa butter, and vitamin E oil that don’t just deeply condition curls, but also prevents hair loss and promotes growth.

“When you embrace yourself for all that you are, you take your power back and put yourself back in control of your self image.”

Kay Cola of OrganiGrowHair


“Anytime a special occasion came up, that was the time that we got our hair done, which led us to believe that our own natural hair was not good enough. This began the very toxic love of straightening my curls,” says Cola, who is Black, white, Puerto Rican, Spanish, and El Salvadorian.

The LA-based singer/songwriter, beauty entrepreneur, and mom of three confesses that she hated her curls growing up. After years of damaging her hair and a terrible haircut that left her traumatized, Kola was inspired to develop her own formula.

“I created my line in early 2016 and used it on myself. At the time, I did not have a name, nor did I plan to sell it. I was simply trying to find something to help me grow, revive, and restore my hair, which had been damaged by weaves, bleaching, and wigs,” she says. “My daughter—who was five at the time—inspired me to wear my natural hair to be a role model for her, as she was already dealing with her own curly hair struggle at a predominately white school. It was challenging encouraging her to embrace her curly hair when I was always straightening mine.”

OrganiGrowHair includes a number of hair products that work for various textures including shampoos, conditioners, styling products, scalp treatments and more. She even expanded to OrganiGlowSkin, which she partnered with her co-founder Kristin Smith, as well as OrganiGoLife, which features an array of lifestyle products.

“Self-love comes from within, not from what outside sources tell you. We have a lot of information and content bombarding us daily, telling us what is beautiful, what is acceptable, and it changes every year with the times. It is our responsibility to know ourselves and what we like and love.”

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