About three minutes into my interview with Taraji P. Henson, I felt like I had known her my entire life. She’s truly that warm and enthusiastic.
While perhaps best known for her roles in films and television shows such as Hidden Figures and Empire, many probably aren’t aware that life almost took the award-winning actress down a totally different path: cosmetology school. ("If I hadn’t gotten declined or had I gone one year earlier to apply for cosmetology school, I probably wouldn’t be an actress," she told us in 2020.)
That lifelong love of hair—combined with spotting white spaces in her own product arsenal—is what inspired Taraji to launch her own line, TPH by Taraji, in 2020. Like many Black people, she was used to whipping up her own haircare concoctions, with necessity being the mother of invention.
“You know, the world is just now embracing our natural hair," she tells me. "For a long time, we didn’t have products to take care of our natural hair. As Black people do, we create the things [we need], because we’re used to not having. We’re used to not having and being deprived, so we’re creative—it’s in us.”
And as anyone who follows her on Instagram knows, she’s been using the extended time at home to dive even further into all things hair, whipping up wigs and cuts in her seriously enviable home salon.
I talked to Taraji about TPH, her fitness and skincare routines, and how she manages to keep the positive energy behind that megawatt smile.
Can you tell us a little bit about what inspired you to venture into the hair care space?
I've always been a hair chameleon, I’ve always loved hair; I almost enrolled in cosmetology school. And it’s something that’s always been in me—I’ve always been really good with my hair, and very particular with my hair and my scalp. When I first got into the industry, I was wearing weaves and I couldn’t find anything to take care of my scalp, so I created it. It was literally for me.
Then I went on vacation with a friend, and she had her daughter with her and they had protective styles in. They were like, “Oh my God, my scalp is itching,” so I was like, “Why don’t you use what I use?” I put it together and they used it, and they were like, “Oh my God, my scalp!” and I was like, “I know right?!” Then I realized I had this secret that I needed to share … I just felt like there was a lane for me.
Your latest launch is the Intense Moisture + Care line—can you talk a little bit about the products and why they were selected?
I’m a borderline 4C; me and my hairstylist Tym [Wallace] argue [about this] all the time, it’s our biggest argument! But I am borderline, so I still have the issues that 4C hair has, like dryness; my hair gets dry as hell. I have incredible shrinkage, my shrinkage is ridiculous and my hair is very, very dense. So I’m telling you, that’s why I say I’m 4C! But whatever.
I needed more products that were hydrating; things that won’t shrink the hair, especially for a twist-and-set. I was having issues with the creams and the things that I was using. Even within my own haircare line, I was MacGyvering my products to get a twist cream. It was something that I needed in the line for myself, because I didn’t want to keep using all the stuff that wasn’t supposed to be used for a twist-and-set because then when I needed to use it for [what it was intended for] I couldn’t!
The Twist & Set formulation is dense, not wet or runny, so it’s not gonna shrink your hair. With Mask-On, we needed a deep conditioner; I didn’t have one. That was one of the first things [consumers would say], “You don’t have a deep conditioner?!” and it was like “You know what, it’s coming, it’s coming!”
We have the Glow-Up, which is a heavier oil, but we needed a dry oil. And what I love about Keep Shining is that they won’t stop you at TSA and take your product, it fits in your purse. I know when I’m wearing my wash-and-go, I constantly need moisture, so this is something that you can put in your purse, and before you go to that meeting or on that date, you squirt a little bit in your palm and fluff your curls and go.
And then [there’s] the curl cream. Curl 4 Days is great because it’s another heavy cream, which is great for 4Cs if you have a lot of shrinkage. Your hair when it’s wet is already shrunken … the cream kind of helps relax the curl a little bit. I’m excited! And I’m excited about the new color [of the packaging] because I’m all about color.
We all saw you looking amazing in Megan Thee Stallion’s “Body” video. When you posted about the video on Instagram, you gave your trainer a shoutout. What are your favorite or go-to workouts?
I hate working out! I mean, I love it, but I hate it. I hate getting prepared to go work out, but once I’m in it, I love it. This has nothing to do with my trainer, but my assistant bought me this boxing machine, the Nexerys. I go out there and I plug in my little program and I get to punching. To me, that’s my favorite right now—it’s taken over everything. And of course, I love squats! I love anything that deals with the gluteus maximus; they’re hard, but the outcome is amazing. You gotta love the pain!
How have you been keeping yourself sane during the pandemic?
Playing in my salon! Because it allows me to create. I can’t create on stage or on sets, you know, the usual way, do I have to come out here. I’ve taught myself how to make wigs and do nails, and I color hair. I just come out here and I play; it’s like my dollhouse.
You have been showcasing a variety of cool, DIY hair looks on Insta lately. Any hair lessons you’ve learned since the beginning of quarantine?
One thing I’ve been doing that I had never done before is bleaching my own hair, but I’m really good at it! And my hair is so healthy. I don’t do it often, but when the roots get too long and the color starts to go away, you gotta hit that a little bit. My stylist, Tym, every time he comes in he braces himself. He’s like, “What else has she done to her hair?”
Your skin always looks fantastic! Do you mind divulging some of your skincare secrets?
Let me tell you something, I am so low maintenance. I use Biore to clean my face; if I have makeup on, I use Yes To wipes to take the makeup off, then I wash with Biore. Then, I use my SkinCeuticals vitamin C serum, and then I use my Paul Scerri Ph Balancing Cream. The vitamin C serum is new! I just started using that.
But for years, I mean over 20 years–since I’ve been in the game, in the industry, since y’all knew me from Baby Boy or wherever y’all met me–I’ve been using Paul Scerri Ph Balancing Cream.
You’re known for your positive, upbeat energy; have you always been this way? Any tips on keeping positive vibes?
I’ve literally always been this way. I’ve been called the perfect party favor, I’ve been called the life of the party. I mean look: life is what you make it. If you just sit around and say “life is hard, things are crappy,” that’s what it’s gonna be, because that’s a narrative you’re playing over and over. So, the power is in you—you have the power to shift and change a negative into a positive. Does it work all the time? No. I’m human, I have my dark days. I have a whole show about it called Peace of Mind with Taraji. I have to do things when I get low to come out of it. Because if I don’t have energy for myself, I won’t have energy for anybody else. I’m the type of person who will disappear and get quiet. And it’s okay to do that, and I do it often—because it keeps me sane.
I’ve been called the perfect party favor, I’ve been called the life of the party.
Can you tell us about any other TPH products that might be on the horizon? Any hints for more 2021 drops? They won’t let me! But I’ll tell you this–I have a five-year plan that is killer. Oh, TPH is here to stay baby, we are here to stay. We ain’t going nowhere no time soon.