When Taraji P. Henson starts talking about TPH, her new Target-exclusive haircare line, her voice changes. Suddenly the words are coming faster, she’s speaking louder and at a higher pitch, and you start to worry that she’s going to run out of breath. “I’m sorry, I could talk about this shit all day long,” she says at one point during our recent conversation, and I rush to tell her there’s nothing to be sorry about—her passion is palpable, her enthusiasm infectious. Eventually, the secret comes out: Henson almost went to cosmetology school instead of pursuing an acting career, so now that she has the chance to share her wealth of haircare knowledge with the world, it’s almost as if she’s making up for lost time. The thing that differentiates TPH from other haircare lines, she says? A scalp-first approach that ensures you have a healthy foundation for luscious locks. Read on to learn more about Henson’s journey to developing TPH, the self-care ritual she swears by, and the moisturizer she can’t live without.
Can you tell me about the process of creating TPH?
"I needed a solution to keeping my hair and my scalp clean and healthy while I was in installs, and I was finding that there were no products out there that catered to that, so I had to create it myself. And I literally just did it for me—this is me in my kitchen, you know what I’m saying? But then social media came along, and people started seeing my hair and how healthy it was, and they kept asking questions. And then I went on vacation with some friends with protective styles and they were complaining about itchy scalp. I said, 'Ooh, boy, do I have something for you.' And they tried it and they were like, “Oh my god, this is amazing! There’s nothing like this out there.” I was like, Bingo, I have to do this."
I can tell that this is something you’re really passionate about.
"Yeah, I really am. I wanted to make sure that it was a line that everyone could afford, so I didn’t wanna make a salon-style line. Most of my audience shops at Target—I shop at Target! And the foundation of this line is for everyone, but I have a men’s hair and beard line coming, and a children’s line, and a medicated scalp care line."
What was it like going from working on this stuff at home for yourself to turning it into a commercial product and working with a lab?
"So, I’d put my little homemade concoctions together at home, right? Then I sent it to the lab and they reverse engineered it and saw the products that I used so they could take what I had and build on top of that and make it better. So they would formulate it in the lab, and they would send it to me, and then I would go, 'Hmm, no, it’s not this.' I had my friends be guinea pigs, I gave them samples, we had a hair day at my house. Like, I would never sell something that I’m not using myself. I’m just not that kind of celebrity. This is something I’m very passionate about, and I’ll let you in on a little secret: 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."
So this is sort of your second passion.
"Definitely. When I was in college, I did $20 wet sets because I had a hooded dryer, so I would do wet sets, I would do nails, fill-ins, acrylics, I was totally into cosmetology. But what steered me away was that I was a year late for cosmetology school, and I think that was God intervening. Funny how life works."
What sets TPJ apart from other haircare lines?
"I deal with the scalp first. You have to maintain your scalp if you expect healthy hair to grow. Everyone is saying it’s a natural haircare line, and it’s really not—it’s a haircare line that has something for everyone. I haven’t even branched off into the puddings and creams for the curly-haired girls yet, you know? So this was just something for everyone. I have a vast audience, and I didn’t wanna leave anybody out."
So it’s basically doing the job of both skincare and haircare because of the scalp-care aspect.
"Absolutely. It’s like, how do you expect to reap the harvest with bad soil? And your face is directly connected to your scalp, so if you’re having breakouts, maybe check out your scalp—really give your scalp a spa day. You know how you go to the spa and you take care of yourself and your body and you soak in Epsom salt and then you put on your oils and your creams and your butters and you lather your skin? You need to do the same thing to your scalp. People pay so much attention to making their hair pretty that they forget all about the scalp."
How has this whole process impacted your approach to skincare?
"Because I stay on top of my scalp, I really don’t have breakouts, I don’t have acne. So I keep my scalp clean, and I wash my wigs and weaves, and whatever hair is touching my face is clean, and on top of that my scalp is clean. For my face regimen, I use Biore to wash my makeup off and I use Paul Scerri moisturizer. I’ve been using Paul Scerri moisturizer for over 20 years. That’s my regimen."
"That’s it. And the Peter Thomas Roth gel masks, I do love using those every morning—I know I’m not supposed to use them every morning, but I love the way they make my under-eye feel. And I do love a good vitamin C serum for the face. But that’s all I do."
What about your beauty routine? Do you wear a lot of makeup daily? What are your favorite products?
"I love Fenty anything. Let me say that again: Fenty anything. Um, Carmex. I don’t really wear makeup every day. I wear makeup when I have to work, and when I go out I’ll pop on a lash. I love Ardell lashes, the wispies, those are my favorite. Kelly Rowland has an amazing natural lash line—I use hers occasionally, but I save them for special occasions. Usually when I pop a lash on with some lip gloss, I’m good.
What are other things you do to take care of yourself besides scalp care and skin care?
"I have my meditation altar, and when I feel off I just sit and I meditate and align my chakras, and that puts me back in the right space. I also take time to myself. I have days where I do nothing, and I could be watching TV on the sofa with my dog and my fiancé or just taking a walk or whatever. Working out is good—whenever I feel down and just bleh, I have to force myself to work out, and then those happy endorphins get flowing and I feel so much better. And, you know, with this world and the way it’s going, it’s getting harder and harder to stay happy."
Yeah, it’s a really tough time to be a human being.
"Yes, I noticed that, and I’m the life of the party! I feel like I’m becoming more sensitive to shit in the world, and I take it on, and that will kill you. That is called stress and anxiety, and I’m finding myself having to manage it a lot. I’m constantly trying to reinvent things and keep lighting that spark every day, because this world is trying to put all of our sparks out. So I have to really focus on myself and my mental health every day, every moment of the day."