Straight and Sleek: Afro-Brazilian Hair Care Market 2012


MEATH, Ireland—Sleek and straight or manageably curly, that's how the ladies in Brazil like their hair. In fact, according to Diagonal Reports, the Brazilian hair care market is one of the top ranked in the world in value terms, increasing at a faster rate than the United States and Europe. It has recorded explosive growth rates over the last few years as living standards increase and millions of poor Brazilians (Class D) became part of the consuming classes.

It is a unique market—in terms of the beauty industry—as this Latin American country has the largest black population outside of Africa. There are almost 100 million people of African ancestry in Brazil. Rising incomes ensure ever-increasing numbers of Afro Brazilians have more money to spend. This particular consumer segment is outperforming and has become the focus of major attention.

A fundamental driver of the hair care market is the importance that all Brazilians place on their appearance. Appearance consciousness is especially acute in the country's megacities such as São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. A São Paolo beauty industry expert noted, “As a beauty business, we benefit from the social importance of appearance. Here people care a lot about their beauty."

Hair care, however, takes the lion's share of beauty spending. Rising incomes have driven spectacular growth rates in businesses—such as hair salons—that cater to Afro Brazilian women. Finally, the increased affluence and numeric importance of these Afro consumers has been noticed by the industry. It is now worthwhile for hair care formulators to develop products for this segment due to its higher spending power. A hair care distributor in Rio de Janeiro reports, “The hair industry (both products and services) now targets this new consumer segment that it previously ignored."

Curly hair is the dominant hair type in the country and curl controlis the crucial consumer concern. The key driver of the hair care market in Brazil is the need for many millions of people to make their naturally curly hair manageable and stylish on a daily basis. The nature of their particular hair type—characterized by tight curls and high volume—makes it very hard to manage. Practical considerations determine requirements—hair that can be combed without tangling. An expert explained, "Clients want low-maintenance hair so they can get ready to leave (for work) very quickly in the morning."

This is the largest hair straightening market in the world because the majority of Brazilians want straight hair, according to all industry experts interviewed by Diagonal Reports. Hair straightening is the top hair care requirement for more than 100 million Brazilians because straight hair brings many advantages. It is versatile as well as being easier to manage. Styles can be easily changed plus it is also in fashion. Women can vary hairstyles according to their work or leisure activities yet still follow fashion trends. The preference for straight hair is firmly entrenched and is forecast to continue. As one industry expert explained to Diagonal Reports, “This will take a revolution to change."

Given the ethnic mix (African and Southern European among others) of the country, there are many, many different types of curly hair found in Brazil. An extensive and nuanced vocabulary has emerged to describe the different degrees of curliness—soft, tight, loose, kinky, etc.

Various straightening methods have been developed for these distinct types of hair and curls. Typically, hair care experts differentiate between two chemical straightening solutions—relaxing and straightening– largely because they are used by different consumers segments. Some consumers want a partial curl, while others require the complete removal of the curl, leaving the hair totally straight.

Attitudes toward these different straightening solutions––and the consumers who use them––can be very subjective, and class based. The stigma, which was attached to straighteners for historical and economic reasons, remains. Hair care experts explain straighteners have traditionally been used on Afro hair, giving it a distinctive look that is frowned upon in Brazil. Relaxers are associated with higher social classes while Afro hair and straighteners are linked to people (typically Class C) with the least purchasing power.

Despite the widespread demand for straightening, this is most definitely not a one-size-fits-all market. The great diversity of skin colors and hair types found in Brazil means that companies must develop several different lines to appeal to the many ethnic and consumer segments.

But for companies and brands that get it right, the potential rewards for the winners are very high indeed both in Brazil and globally. These hair straightening products are well placed to benefit from growth in the emerging markets of the southern hemisphere—especially Sub-Saharan Africa, and also in expanding multi-cultural markets of the United States and U.K. The Brazilian hair care market, which is significant in its own right, is but a microcosm of the global market in terms of hair type, ethnicity, purchasing power, consumer preferences and demand.

This new research identifies opportunities in the Afro Brazilian hair care market. It focuses on consumer behavior of this enormous consumer segment of almost 100 million people. All findings are based on face-to-face interviews with Afro-Brazilian hair care experts in Sao Paolo and Rio de Janeiro in 2012. These experts are representative of hundreds of thousands of Afro-Brazilian hair care consumers.