How this woman became the queen of Jamaican black castor oil

Lois Hines is the co-founder of Tropic Isle Jamaican Black Castor Oil. Her business sales have doubled every year since the company launched in the early 1990s. (Photo courtesy of Lois Hines)
Lois Hines is the co-founder of Tropic Isle Living, which produces Jamaican black castor oil. Her business sales have doubled every year since the company was launched in the early 1990s. (Photo: Courtesy of Lois Hines)

#BeautyDisruptors is a series in which Yahoo Lifestyle Beauty Editor Jacqueline Laurean Yates interviews CEOs, inventors, and other extraordinary individuals who have managed to shake up traditional norms, launch innovative companies, and change the stagnant conversation on beauty.

In a trend-driven world of buzzy beauty ingredients that claim to have a plethora of skin, body, and wellness claims, it’s refreshing to come across one that’s an age-old essential that just keeps getting better with time. Jamaican black castor oil is one of those ingredients, and the co-founder of Tropic Isle Living, Lois Hines, has played a significant role in helping this Caribbean multipurpose product gain the international recognition it deserves.

Along with her late husband, Michael Hines, they brought their first gallon of Jamaican black castor oil to the United States in the early 1990s. Castor oils were already being sold in some traditional marketplaces, but according to Lois Hines, they were mainly cold-pressed and not the roasted nutrient-filled concoction they learned to create from the recipes of their late grandparents. “We pick the seeds, they come in little pods, and they burst out,” she told the Cobb Business Journal. “After we pick the seeds, we shell it off by parchment and the parching, we roast the seed, we boil the seed, then we skim off the oil. So it’s a tedious process.”

Fast-forward nearly a decade, and Hines recalls how Canada-based beauty blogger Valerie Bremang of Hairlicious Inc. was able to get her hands on a bottle of Jamaican black castor oil while vlogging about her hair-growth journey. From there, lots of curious women began inquiring about how they could obtain their own bottles of the oil.

“I remember a lady from California called and said, ‘Don’t you see what’s going on on the internet?’ I responded, ‘The internet?’ Of course, I knew what the internet was, but I didn’t understand what she was trying to tell me at the time” Hines tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “She pointed me to YouTube, and there it was. Needless to say, from there, we started with 1 gallon. One gallon became a 5-gallon bucket. Five gallons became a 35-gallon drum. That 35-gallon drum became a 55-gallon drum, and a 55-gallon drum became many drums into the future.”

Today, Tropic Isle Living’s Jamaican black castor oil continues to receive rave reviews from vloggers and has remained one of the most popular beauty-supply-store finds in a number of communities — making it a very lucrative business that continues to naturally keep its core ingredient at the heart. “With the onset of social media, we had to hurry and scurry and try to keep ahead of the wave,” says Hines. “We were kind of scared at first, but we acted fast and thought, ‘Oh my God, we need to now hurry up and plant more trees.’ Since starting, we have always doubled in business every year.”

Yahoo Lifestyle caught up with Hines to find out how this booming brand has changed her life forever.

Yahoo Lifestyle: Can you share some history behind using castor oil in Jamaica?

Lois Hines: When my ancestors came to Jamaica, they did not come as tourists. They were slaves that came over with many of their traditions from Africa. One of those traditions was making castor oil. There are many books that show that this particular seed, when pressed, was called “castor oil” in Jamaica. When slaves in Jamaica were physically punished by their masters, they didn’t have medicine to turn to and heal their scars, so they turned to this all-purpose oil.

Jamaican black castor oil has many different benefits, but what are some of the most popular key uses?

Jamaican black castor oil has like a million of uses. For babies that have constipation, you can rub the oil on the baby’s tummy, and gently massage. The hand friction allows the oil to seep in and gently massage the intestines — making it like an external laxative. It works the same way for women recovering from childbirth. By rubbing the oil on their stomachs, it helps to cleanse the reproductive system and eliminate waste through bowel movements. There are also bush grannies, midwives, and doulas that use the oil to massage a woman’s cervix before a baby is born. It can assist in expanding the cervix and keep everyone from having to run to a hospital. Once a baby is born, and the umbilical cord is cut, JBCO can also be used to help heal the belly button.

When it comes to hair, it can be used to treat thinning edges caused by tight braids, tightly pulled-back hairstyles, wigs, and more. In addition to the hair on your scalp, the JBCO formula also helps to grow eyebrow and eyelash hair.

There are a host of other uses that range from treating menstrual cramps to healing breast cancer-related scars. It’s truly an all-purpose healing oil.

How have social media and online reviews affected your brand?

With all the attention and demand for JBCO, the Jamaican government has really begun regulating and ensuring that farmers get fairly compensated for the oil. That’s a prime example of how powerful social media is. Thankfully, I’m on the right side because if you’re on the wrong side, it can also be your downfall.

What challenges has your business faced?

The challenge for Tropic Isle Living is growth. You have to figure out a way to control growth and sometimes it’s not easy. It’s a delicate balance. Sometimes you will have to store some raw materials, and all of a sudden those raw materials aren’t there. There are other times where people won’t pay you on time, but these are regular business challenges.

Also, you will have some employees that do not understand your vision and sometimes may not be on the same page as you. After talking to these employees, you usually come to the conclusion that this is not a good pairing. Those are tough decisions, but they have to be made when you run a business.

What are some huge financial wins you’ve experienced within the last few years?

We’ve had a tremendous growth with our cocoa hair food products. There was a young lady that did a YouTube video about growing her baby’s hair back with JBCO Cocoa Hair Food. Now, we can’t make enough of that, and it is flying all out of here like there’s no tomorrow. As a whole, other products that Tropic Isle Living carries outside of JBCO, have finally begun to get their due recognition as well. Case in point: We just had a huge order for our Hair Therapy product, which was originally created for women with autoimmune diseases. We paired it with black seed oil, black walnut, and other stuff that helps to boost the immune system, as well as grow hair.

There have been quite a few new products adding Jamaican black castor oil as a star ingredient to their products. How does that make you feel?

Someone once said to me, “When they copy you, that is the best form of flattery.” With that, I just hope they are actually sourcing their oil from Jamaica so that the people of Jamaica can benefit from it. My thing is, if you’re saying you’re selling Jamaican black castor oil, make sure you’re selling pure Jamaican black castor oil — don’t put any fillers in there. Just like there is Colgate and Arm & Hammer, I understand that we all can eat when it comes to business. We all can have a piece of the pie, my only hope is that others being put out there are being authentic.

How important is to have more women of color owning their own companies within the beauty space?

It is absolutely so important. As an owner now, by myself, owning this company and understanding women of color, their struggles … we give the young babies that are growing up great role models to follow where they can proudly say, “Yes, we can. Yes, we can do this.”

I always say to my clients and to my employees, “I see myself in you and you can see yourself in me.” We are all here on planet Earth, this absolutely beautiful round spaceship in the galaxy as the human race. When you see a black woman at your side, that is one up for everyone. Black, white, brown, pink, or other. It moves humanity forward as a whole. I have a bias towards women because we are the givers of life. Like Mother Earth, we are tethered to it, if we choose to be. I think women have the most honest approach to business with a more humanistic or emotional look towards things.

Why has your brand been so positively disruptive within the beauty space?

We have always remained true to our core brand standards. I don’t make gels, I don’t make curl puddings, or anything like that. My products are the first line of defense when you use products to help to style your hair, and I’ve used these products, too, so I know they work. We approach beauty from a health and conditional point of view and I just stand in my truth. I do what I know is right as it pertains to honoring and celebrating the traditions of my ancestors. That’s what has helped Tropic Isle Living to really stand out from the rest.

How do you plan to continually expand Tropic Isle Living?

Our products recently landed on the shelves of Target this past May, and we are thrilled our new Strong Roots Red Pimento collection is there. Outside of that, we want to start taking a 360-degree approach to beauty — meaning that we will also be eventually caring for the mind, body, and spirit. I can’t share all the details just yet, but more is on the way.

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