Many of us do our best thinking in the shower, but Dr. Ena Hennegan gives new meaning to the concept of bath-time brainstorming.
It was a routine "bath-and-wash” night in the Hennegan household back in 2014, and the mother of three multiethnic daughters was attempting to tame her youngest daughter’s curly hair into submission. Frustrated by the lack of quality hair products for multiethnic women, the board-certified, practicing family physician suddenly realized she was done with subpar products.
“I looked around the bathtub and started counting bottles. I stopped counting at 70 bottles of shampoo and conditioner circling our tub,” she told TODAY Style. "It was at that time I kind of gave up trying new things and decided that someone needed to create something better."
Hennegan decided to create her own hair care line, Many Ethnicities, to fill what she saw as a major void in the hair care market.
“Nobody was making anything that didn't contain heavy inclusions of synthetics or harsher chemicals to care for curly, multicultural hair," she said. "It was as if they weren't trying, or didn't care. I felt shut out."
Hennegan called upon a few cosmetic chemist friends to help her create a formula that would truly address the hair needs of multitextured and curly hair.
“They said they'd try to help me create something with new technology," she said. "That was important to me, because I think so much of what's out in the market is the same-old formulations with a little magic pixie dust sprinkled on top. I wanted to create something that drew from plant-based materials and was authentically good.”
The hair struggle is real
The hair struggle has been a constant reality for the suburban Chicago physician and her three daughters. Over the years, Hennegan said she’s tried countless products made for multiethnic hair — both alone and together — and has struck out more often than not.
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“As a biracial girl with a white mom who had never had to deal with unruly, curly hair like mine, we had many a battle with unnecessary tears and anger," said Hennegan, whose father was black. "It was terribly frustrating. As I grew older and cared for my own hair, I still struggled. As the mom of three daughters who each have a different hair texture and hair type, the challenge and frustration had been amplified.”
Hennegan and her daughters certainly aren’t alone in their experience. Women with multiethnic hair face a set of unique hair challenges that can make the hair care process frustrating at times.
“Two of the most important factors that make ethnic hair unique are, a) the angle at which the follicle is embedded into the scalp, and b) the tightness of the spiral or coil of the hair shaft,” said dermatologist Fran Cook-Bolden, MD.
“Curly, tightly coiled and kinky hair is very fragile," she continued. "Because of these challenging and unique structural features, the natural scalp oils do not run down the shaft with the same ease as straight hair, leaving the hair dull, dry, fragile and vulnerable."
And that makes conditioning even more important. Celebrity hairstylist Takisha Sturdivant-Drew, whose clients include Kerry Washington, Gabrielle Union and Leona Lewis, has some advice for women with this hair type: “Condition the hair weekly or moisturize the hair every other day if needed. Also try using a leave-in conditioner,” she said. “Trim your hair every two months, and please don’t overdo it with heat."
Starting the brand
After her initial idea, Hennegan worked on creating the brand over the the next three years. She tested products on herself and then her daughters, who provided the perfect focus group.
"We did have a home advantage, because each of our girls and I have different curl types and hair textures," she said. "So it was like having a mini laboratory and test panel in our house!"
Hennegan then took the brand to two independent test panels before officially launching.
“It took a lot of time, and a lot of effort, research and development in the truest sense, but we came away with an incredible and simple (which was a big part of what I was trying to accomplish) series of products for kids and adults," Hennegan said. "And we named it ME — Many Ethnicities, finally something for people who felt that nobody made something just for them."
Finding the right set of ingredients to address the unique needs of multiethnic hair was key.
“Historically, many ethnic hair care products relied on natural butters or oils, which are great for coating and lubricating the hair fibers but they're not good at repairing hair's natural protective layer and would be too heavy for finer, straight hair types,” cosmetic chemist Kelly Dobos said. “Today, innovative new ingredients work across hair types by adhering only to the damaged locations on the hair shaft and mimicking the hair's natural protective layer.”
Many Ethnicities draws upon powerhouse ingredients including argan and avocado oils, shea butter and vitamin B5, plus newer ingredients such as hydrolyzed pea protein, which targets damaged parts of hair.
Many thanks for Many Ethnicities
Since launching the brand last June, Hennegan has seen an overwhelmingly positive response, and is thrilled to see so many repeat customers.
“The reception in the multicultural community has been honest and heartwarming," she said. "It makes all of the work we have put into the company worthwhile. We actually are making a difference. And now we have people from all over the world who have tried us reaching back out and purchasing more."
Of course, Hennegan has also received some pretty awesome (and at times funny) feedback from her daughters.
“The girls were troupers as we made our way through development!" she said. "They think it's funny that their mom's face is on the back of their shampoo and conditioner bottles. I'm just thrilled that I don't have to wrestle with anyone at bath time anymore."
This story was originally published Sept. 13, 2018.