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The Promise of Prestige Hair Care

Prestige hair care has been a bright spot for online sales. No wonder more skin-care brands are entering the category.

Skin- and body-focused brands are looking upward, literally.

Brands such as Drunk Elephant, Sol de Janeiro and Dr. Barbara Sturm have all expanded from their native categories into prestige hair care, a category that is one of the fastest growing in beauty, up 13 percent in the first quarter of 2020, according to the NPD group. Hair was the only prestige category reporting growth, and online sales were up 41 percent, the highest of any category.

The sales signal a strengthening of the signification of the hair-care space, said Jennifer Lucchese, vice president of merchandising, hair care, at Sephora, which has been a key retailer for brands expanding into the category.

“A lot of the migration has focused on understanding that healthy hair starts at the scalp,” she said. “These brands have that built-in credibility with skin. Stylists have been experts in hair care for a long time, but we’re seeing that expanded.”

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Dr. Barbara Sturm launched The Scalp Serum, priced at $100, in early April online; it will go into broader distribution on May 5. The product looks to bring her anti-inflammatory approach to the scalp, using ingredients including hyaluronic acid and purslane. “The hair protects the scalp; it is often overlooked how much a healthy scalp supports the hair,” she said, citing studies that show the effects of oxidative stress on the scalp and hair lead to premature hair loss, noting that the credibility she has built-in skin care gives credence to her hair-care formulations.

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In addition to efficacy, Lucchese said brands must create an easily understandable expertise to successfully enter new categories. For example, Drunk Elephant founder, Tiffany Masterson grew up with celebrity hair stylist Chris McMillan, and partnered with him on formulating the products for the brand’s new range of hair care.

Masterson said her approach to developing hair care was similar to skin and body: start with self-education, then turn to experts to fill in the gaps. “Chris is working on all different types of hair every day. He knows hair. He also really knows products, so he can very quickly say, ‘Nope, this is not what I want to see in a shampoo or a conditioner,’” Masterson said.  “He knows what’s missing out there and what he wishes existed.”

The resulting line (with McMillan’s name on the bottles) — consisting of Cocomino Glossing Shampoo and Marula Cream Conditioner, Wild Marula Tangle Spray and T.L.C. Happi Scalp Scrub, priced $25 to $36, adheres to Drunk Elephant’s clean philosophy and builds on the brand’s key ingredients like marula oil and the AHA-blend in T.L.C. Sukari Babyfacial.

That connection lends credibility with like-minded consumers. “I wouldn’t say any of my consumers would say ‘she’s a hair expert,’ but I do know they would say, ‘we trust her to do this the right way and to deliver the highest quality products,'” Masterson said.

Another brand diving into hair is Sol de Janeiro. The impetus behind the expansion was demand from consumers, said Camila Pierotti, who were asking for more products with the brand’s signature Bum Bum Cream scent.

But that didn’t mean that scent alone would be enough to support a launch. The brand worked with hair stylists and labs to create a technological point of difference, which is the key focus of its marketing.  Brazilian Joia Strengthening + Smoothing Shampoo and Conditioner, $25 each, contain SOL Seal Technology, which doubled hair strength in testing, Pierotti said.

“We had to turn to hair-care experts — to hair stylists and labs that specialize in hair care. The lab we worked with has expertise in hair care; it’s not the lab that makes our other products,” he said.

Similarly to Sol’s body care, Lucchese said consumers have responded well to results. “In hair,  the most important this is you get some sort of transformational quality — you need that instant transformation as well as long-term benefit,” she said. “Women have such an emotional connection to their hair — just think about how good they feel when it’s done.”