Having had natural hair for more than ten years, I can confirm: Finding hair products that work for your hair type(s) is a struggle. So when you find something that does work for you, the idea that it might be reformulated–or that you might not be able to access it all–is a legitimate fear.
These anxieties are at the core of the recent social media explosion of Mielle Organics’ Rosemary Mint Scalp & Hair Strengthening Oil. With a bevy of (white, often straight-haired) influencers singing its praises, Black TikTok and Twitter users have raised concerns about what this could mean for the product and the brand.
To dig into this complicated knot, I contacted three experts to untangle this viral moment: dermatology physician assistant Kendra Joseph, PA-C, professor Kristin Rowe, Ph.D., and celebrity hairstylist Marty Harper. Read on for everything you need to know.
Meet the Expert
- Kendra Joseph, PA-C, is a certified physician assistant with Schweiger Dermatology in New York City.
- Kristin Rowe, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of American Studies at California State University, Fullerton. Her areas of focus include hair and beauty culture, race and popular culture, and social media/new media.
- Marty Harper is a celebrity hairstylist whose clients include Naomi Osaka and Halsey. He’s an ambassador for NatureLab Tokyo.
What Is Mielle Organics’ Rosemary Mint Scalp & Hair Strengthening Oil?
Mielle Organics was launched in 2014 by Monique Rodriguez, who was inspired to enter the beauty industry "after her healthy hair care regimen for tailbone-length hair became somewhat of a craze among her social media followers," per the company's website. You'll be hard-pressed to find a natural-haired person unfamiliar with Mielle Organics. I've used many products from the brand's Pomegranate & Honey line, specifically formulated for Type 4 hair.
The Rosemary Mint Scalp & Hair Strengthening Oil is a jack-of-all-trades designed to stimulate hair follicles and treat split ends. There are a few recommended ways to use it: As a scalp treatment, for split-end care, or daily. Of these three, the brand only advises washing the product out if it's being used as a split-end treatment (more on this later). Otherwise, it should generally be massaged in and left on.
While it isn't marketed explicitly toward coily hair, the brand's claims for the oil speak directly to Black consumers. The description suggests using the oil on protective styles like braids and weaves and highlights its ability to improve length retention.
Why Is it Trending?
All roads lead back to TikTok. The recent search surge for the hair oil can likely be traced back to the platform’s It Girl of the moment, Alix Earle, who cited the product among her top Amazon finds in 2022. “I’ve only been using this for a little over a month, and I’ve already seen tremendous hair growth,” Earle said in a video.
However, she’s not the first white woman to rack up views raving about the product. Tiktok user kellyannestone posted a tutorial on how she uses the Mielle oil in November 2022. Since these videos were posted, TikTok has been flooded with creators sharing their routines and weighing in on the usage of others. To date, #miellerosemaryoil has 1.3 million views, and #rosemaryoil has 420.5 million views.
Does it Really Work?
According to Joseph, some research supports the idea that rosemary oil can assist in hair growth. She notes that the ingredient is “thought to be a natural vasodilator that promotes blood circulation, and it may also help block DHT (a form of testosterone linked to hair loss and thinning).” Improved blood flow is speculated to stimulate hair growth, with widened vessels allowing more oxygen, blood, and nutrients to get to the follicles. “Rosemary invigorates the hair cuticle, which may create fullness,” says Harper, who also recommends a few drops of the ingredient to his clients with dry, flaky, or inflamed scalps. “Combined with the right oils, it can permeate the scalp and hair cuticle to soothe and moisturize.”
Joseph adds that a small study in 2015 found rosemary oil to have similar hair growth effects as minoxidil 2% (AKA Rogaine). “In this study, rosemary oil was also shown to be less itchy than topical minoxidil,” she says. And while Joseph adds that another study found rosemary leaf extract to improve hair growth in mice, she suggests both studies be taken with a grain of salt. “There are limitations that decrease their applicability, such as small sample size, mice instead of humans, and only tested in some forms of hair loss,” Joseph says. So, for now, let’s consider the answer a solid “probably.”
Why Are Some People Upset?
As summarized by TikTok commenter trynafindtorriah on the aforementioned kellyannestone video: “We can’t have nothing, bruh.” This comment gets to the heart of the matter: For many Black people, particularly with coily hair, products made for and by us are often quickly transformed into something for the masses—which takes a toll on our spirit and hair.
According to Rowe, the contemporary natural hair movement can be traced back to the early 2000s, when various Black-owned brands began popping up on shelves around the country. Suddenly “we have more options; we can walk down the aisles of Target and see all of these products and brands, made for Black women, particularly those with kinky hair,” she says.
However, as these brands garner more popularity within the Black community, they also catch the attention of non-Black consumers with and without textured hair and capitalize on the opportunity for financial reasons (they are businesses, after all). “Certain brands want to market themselves to a curly-haired audience, which includes all kinds of people and races,” says Rowe. “If you’re going to choose to appeal to markets across various races, you can’t just have Black women in your ads, and you can’t exclusively use language that’s coded as talking about Black hair.”
And while that isn’t an inherently bad thing, many Black consumers feel the widened scope leads to changes in the formulations, taking the products from coily-catering to a wavy-curly mean. The fact that Mielle Organics recently announced its acquisition by Procter & Gamble didn’t exactly assuage these fears, either, with many taking to social media in anticipation of what felt like an inevitable shift in the brand’s mission.
I’m Not Black. Is It Okay for Me to Use the Mielle Organics Rosemary Oil?
Ultimately only you can decide what you will add to your cart. That said, if you want a little assistance in making this decision, consider two groups of factors: the ethics and the benefits.
In terms of the benefits, if you have fine, straight hair, the Mielle Organics Rosemary Oil is probably just not the most effective way to harness the potential powers of the star ingredient. If the product weighs down your hair so much that you want to wash it out pronto, you're probably not getting maximum benefit. "In general, a product washed off immediately will have less effect than a product left on," says Joseph. Harper echoes this take. "Usually, the application of oil on the scalp or hair needs more than seconds to work effectively," he explains. "Finding a balance is essential: You want the ingredients to permeate, but you don't want them to remove natural oils, as hair oils can also pick up or remove oils and preexisting properties."
So if you're in that Type 1 zone, you're likely better off pursuing your rosemary elsewhere. "Because this is an oil-based treatment, I wouldn't recommend using it on fine hair or excessively applying," Harper says. "For all hair types, I'd recommend applying one to two times a week." Joseph adds: "If you have fine, straight hair, you may want to consider a lightweight serum or a shampoo instead of an oil, which will avoid weighing the hair down."
As for the ethics, that's murkier. On the one hand, there is an argument to be made that purchasing the Mielle Organics Rosemary Oil supports a Black-founded business. "One can argue that more people are buying this product," says Rowe. "If you're looking at it purely from a Black entrepreneurship, capitalist perspective, then sure, that's a good thing."
On the other, there's a question of access: As the popularity of the product or the brand increases, "the people that really need it, are they going to get that same access to it? Is the price going to go up?" Rowe asks. She cites a prominent Black-founded brand that most coily-haired consumers believe changed its formulas when it reached a wider audience. "It's an overtly political question, but it's also a very material, pragmatic question of 'If you expand your audience, is this product still going to work for me?" And even if folks with various textures can benefit from rosemary oil or wearing a silk bonnet, those benefits are different. "Everybody can benefit, sure, but do you need it as much as a Black woman with kinky hair who needs it to provide moisture? I don't know," says Rowe.
Even with an increased number of brands dedicated to Black hair, those needs are often unmet. "When you walk down the aisles of these stores, the vast majority of the products won't work for women with kinky hair—the vast majority will actively dry or damage [the hair]," says Rowe. "And they won't see themselves in the marketing, the packaging, or the language. White women don't grapple with those same disparities in the beauty marketplace."
The Final Takeaway
There's no easy answer, and as my conversation with Rowe winded down, one of her comments hit the crux of the complicated question of who can and cannot use products marketed to Black people. "Use the products, enjoy them—as long as they are still meeting the needs of that core demographic, and those folks still have access to them," she says. And while many factors beyond our control determine product efficacy and access, understanding the nuance and influence we have as shoppers is an integral piece of the puzzle.
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