“The hair is the richest ornament of women.” So said German priest and scholar Martin Luther a prescient 500 years ago. And certainly the quest for the enhancement of our hair, a crucial secondary sexual characteristic, is one on which women spend an inordinate amount of time, energy and money. Hair that’s lucent, springy and thick is not only youth-giving, it’s beauty’s holy grail.
Small wonder then that we’re trading up the ubiquitous and perfunctory high-street shampoo and conditioner in favour of luxury products that, like upmarket skincare, offer better-quality ingredients, cutting-edge technology and a promise to perform miracles on our hair. Yet as little as 25 years ago there was only really Kérastase, which was sold exclusively in hair salons. Now, according to Mintel, luxury hair brands constitute 25 per cent of all hair products launched in the UK and, according to the market research company NPD Group, “It has been the most dynamically growing prestige beauty segment since 2011.” Despite the whimsical economy, luxury haircare sales in the UK alone grew by a staggering 14.8 per cent to £17.6m in 2014.
NPD also reports that 12 per cent of luxury haircare sales now take place online. Feelunique.com, Britain’s biggest beauty retailer with more than 1m active customers, now stocks 100 luxury haircare brands. Haircare is more than 30 per cent of its business and increased by 37 per cent over the past two years.
But why this boom now? “Availability and efficiency,” says Joel Palix, CEO of Feelunique.com. “Salons usually stocked a fairly limited range and people wanted to know where to find these products.” Palix believes that products with high-end, more luxurious ingredients and increased efficacy induce greater customer loyalty. Louise Galvin, hair colourist to Samantha Cameron, Plum Sykes and many other of London’s high-profile women, has had her own successful Sacred Locks brand since 2004. She feels the boom in luxury haircare is long overdue: “Women are finally approaching haircare the way they approach skincare.” Or, put another way, “You wouldn’t wash your cashmere blanket with a harsh detergent, would you?”
Like Galvin, LA hairdresser-turned-luxe haircare evangelist Philip B is passionate about the ingredients that make up his products. Philip B is one of a clutch of brands that has seen soaring growth during the past seven years. He started making haircare in his California kitchen in 1988, founded his brand in 1991 and is now in 49 countries. His USP is superluxurious ingredients such as White Truffle and sumptuous fragrances such as Oud. Beauty Bible’s Jo Fairley dubbed him “the king of shiny hair”, so impressed was she by his products’ ability to meliorate and polish frazzled follicles: “The products are loaded with fatty acids to hydrate the hair. I don’t know any other company that will invest so much in the raw ingredients to make a bottle of shampoo. Even at £70 for 350ml, White Truffle has to be a loss leader.”
Ojon is another luxe haircare success story. Founder Denis Simioni discovered a nut oil (from the ojon tree) used for beautification by the Miskito tribe of Central America. Extracted using ancient, eco-friendly methods, he formulated a haircare range (from £12) using the oil and began selling on a small scale in Canada. In 2007 Ojon was bought by Estée Lauder.
Moroccanoil has also come to prominence in the past decade. Carmen Tal, who discovered the oil treatment in a salon when she was travelling in Israel, founded the company in 2007. Tal had a background in fashion and beauty, managing the Liz Claiborne flagship store and working at Montreal department store Ogilvy’s. Moroccanoil has since grown to be a worldwide success – now available in 60 countries. “We infuse antioxidant‑rich argan oil of the highest quality into all our products,” says Antonio Corral Calero, Moroccanoil global ambassador. “Our signature argan oil is extra rich in vitamin E, omega-6 and unsaturated fatty acids, and absorbs instantly and dramatically transforms hair.”
While oils have been a hot concept and cult product since the arrival of Moroccanoil, high-tech luxury haircare has also advanced rapidly. Kérastase is the market leader in cutting-edge science and has developed a plethora of products to treat a variety of specific issues such as ageing hair and environmental damage. Its latest development is Chronologiste, a hair ritual designed to endow hair with bounce, resilience and shine. The key ingredient is Abyssine, a molecule discovered in the depths of the Pacific Ocean that can survive under the most extreme conditions. New York-based Nexxus Salon Care is another high-tech brand that has seen big success in the US and has just arrived in the UK. Its USP is imbuing its products with high levels of protein. “Hair is 90 per cent protein,” says Kevin Mancuso, Nexxus’s global creative director. “But as it’s washed and styled, it loses this protein. We have designed our product systems to be caring during the washing phase, and our shampoos contain Protein Care Actives that rebuild broken bonds – reinforcing hair’s protein structure for stronger, resilient hair.”
Not surprisingly, numerous cult products characterise this sector, from Nexxus’s Encapsulate Sérum Caviar (£35 for 60ml) and Morrocanoil’s sought-after Treatment (from £13.45 for 25ml) to Kérastase’s Chronologiste Revitalising Exfoliating Care (£28.50 for 200ml), Aveda’s cleansing Shampure (£13 for 250ml) and Bumble and Bumble’s Surf Spray (£21.50). The latest to hit the shelves is Percy & Reed’s Perfectly Perfecting Wonder Balm (£18 for 75ml), a primer for hair that makes any product applied subsequently perform better. “This is the product that I have been looking for my whole career,” says Adam Reed, the brand co-founder. “However you style your hair, Wonder Balm makes your regular styling products work better, giving you more control and longer-lasting results.”
Philip Kingsley launched his upscale haircare line in 1996, and sells one unit of his cult Elasticizer product (£29 for 150ml) every two minutes. “Elasticizer was formulated for Audrey Hepburn in 1974 when she consulted me because her hair was badly ‘misbehaving’ while making a movie,” Kingsley tells me. The film’s hairdressers tried all types of conditioner on her, but her hair was lank and flat. “In a moment of inspiration, I concocted a pre-shampoo deep-conditioning moisturising hair mask – the first ever attempted. It worked and Audrey was thrilled,” he continues. “There is no ‘magic’ ingredient, but I was able to create a combination of oils, fatty acids and wax in an emulsified form, giving it unique properties.”
Another factor driving the boom in luxury haircare is increased consumer awareness of ingredients harmful to them or the environment. Wella Professionals Elements range (from £12.20) is sulphate-free and lacking in harsh detergents. The Pureology brand (from £14.85), formulated for coloured hair, is also sulphate-free and vegan. John Masters Organics (from £14.50) is certified organic by Ecocert and made with 70 to 100 per cent organic content. The products, including Deep Scalp Follicle Treatment & Volumizer for Thinning Hair (£23 for 125ml), contain no harsh sodium lauryl sulfate detergent, parabens or genetically modified organisms (GMOs), and all ingredients are harvested in an environmentally friendly manner.
Indeed, Palix says women are also choosing specialised and targeted luxury hair products to deal with specific problems. Aveda’s bestselling 97 per cent naturally derived Invati three-step system (from £89.50), specially formulated to deal with thinning hair, is a case in point. The key ingredient is turmeric, long used in Ayurvedic medicine; it energises and rehabilitates the scalp around the follicles. Swell’s 3 Step System (£79) is aimed at thinning, fine and limp hair that affects more than 40 per cent of women in the UK. Ingredients such as Peruvian maca, blue lupin and Swiss apple extract help stimulate growth, protect against colour fade and reduce hair shedding, while antiandrogens such as dong quai and wild yam help reduce androgen production in the scalp, one of the main causes of thinning hair.
With products like these, finally in 2015 we can say that hair is as technologically advanced, luxurious and eco-friendly as skincare. With products this lavish, washing your hair need never be a quotidian labour again.