Taraji P. Henson has a miraculous ability to make every hairstyle look good. From silk-pressed bobs to teased-out coils and waist-length ponytails, there’s hardly a Henson style we don’t immediately double-tap. But before becoming an Oscar-nominated star with a long résumé of hit shows and films, she was an up-and-coming actress who had no say over which hairstylist worked her magazine shoots.
“I was brand-new and didn’t have the power to request someone on set, but I knew for a fact I needed someone familiar with Black hair,” she says,” Henson tells me as we get cozy in the back corner of her enormous “Hair Dare University” pop-up event in New York City. “This stylist put liquid root booster on my hair. He didn’t have any tools I could use to fix it myself, so I had to go through my shoot with helmet head.”
That scenario is all too familiar for many Black women and Black actresses in Hollywood — and after decades in the business, it’s still familiar to Henson, who says she’s had repeat incidents even since receiving an Oscar nomination (as Best Supporting Actress for her role in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Her story, along with so many others, paints a broader picture of a glaring lack of knowledge of diversity in the hair department. But for Henson, the perennial quest for the perfect products to care for her hair between jobs led her to where she is today: launching her hair-care brand, TPH by Taraji, available now at Target in stores and online.
“Not all of my supporters look like me, but that’s the beauty of hair — it’s unique to everyone.”Taraji P. Henson
Her celebrity has given her the ideal platform to launch the brand-new line, but Henson’s interest in hair care long predates her fame. “Growing up in D.C., I went to the salon every week as far back as I could remember, and I always felt connected to my stylist because she had healing hands,” she says. “She took care of my hair.” That relationship fostered a personal interest in her own routine. “I went into Hollywood with a great understanding of caring for my hair,” Henson explains. “But when I got there, I heard horror stories from my peers about the damage you could endure if you used your natural hair for production.”
So Henson opted to wear protective styles like wigs and weaves to preserve her natural hair, a decision that wasn’t without its own trial and error. “The first time I ever got a weave was for Hustle & Flow [in 2005],” she says. “I had wet-and-wavy hair, but I didn’t know that you were still supposed to dry it after it got wet.” She learned that the hard way when the sew-in weave was removed — and the braids underneath had a foul mildew smell from not being dried completely.
What sounds like a beauty horror story had a silver lining in the long run, because that faux pas sparked Henson’s interest in scalp care. “I tried the age-old hack of dousing your braids in Sea Breeze astringent, but that only masked the smell, it didn’t remove it,” she says. “So I started making my concoctions with oils and natural ingredients to treat my scalp, and I couldn’t believe something like this didn’t exist at the time.” True to Henson’s scalp-first philosophy, TPH’s core products are scalp-specific treatments, including a wash, conditioner, serum, and scrub.
Also part of the collection is a wide variety of styling products, from leave-in conditioner for curls to heat-protectant sprays for straight hair. “It was important for me to have all these products available because I know better than anyone that different styles and textures have different needs,” Henson says. “Not all of my supporters look like me, but that’s the beauty of hair — it’s unique to everyone.”
Ten years and a few teachable hair moments later, Henson is happy that she and people like her are a few products closer to healthy hair. It’s been a long ride, but it’s only the tip of the iceberg for the actress-turned-beauty entrepreneur. “This is only the beginning,” she says. “I am so happy that people have access to helpful products and conversations that keep them informed because, as an actress, I can only give you your best shot if I feel confident — and everyone has a right to feel that way.”
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