How far did you have to travel to your last hair appointment? How much did it cost? Did you feel that the stylist or barber understood how to properly care for your hair?
Unfortunately, the answer to these questions is likely to depend on your hair type and, by extension, your ethnicity.
A 2017 study by Habia found that of the 35,704 beauty salons in the UK, only 302, or less than 1%, specifically cater to Afro hair. That’s despite more than 4% of the population belonging to a Black ethnic group.
Campaigns such as World Afro Day have sought to shine a light on the issue of hair discrimination, and the National Occupational Standards for hairdressing (NOS) was updated in 2021, requiring all hairdressers across the UK to learn how to style Afro and natural textured hair types.
However, according to a recent whitepaper by Carra Labs, this market still feels woefully underserved and underrepresented by the haircare industry.
We wanted to explore the issue in more depth. The below outlines the findings from a survey of 2,113 UK residents with an equal mixture of different hair types. It reveals a series of inconsistencies in the availability, accessibility and parity of salon services which disproportionately impacts those with Afro hair types: a Hair Texture Tax.
A guide to hair types
Developed by Andre Walker, the hair typing system segments the shape of people’s hair into four categories, with four sub-types per category. Each has its own distinguishable features.
Type 1: Straight
- 1a – very straight, fine texture
- 1b – straight with some bends
- 1c – straight with a thicker texture
Type 2: Wavy
- 2a – wavy and fine
- 2b – wavy with a more defined S-shape
- 2c – wavy with a well-defined S-shape
Type 3: Curly
- 3a – loose curls
- 3b – tight and springy curls
- 3c – an S or Z shape that springs back into shape when stretched
Type 4: Coily (or Afro)
- 4a – loose coils
- 4b – zig-zagging coils
- 4c – tight coils
Across the board, we found that survey respondents with type 4 hair expected to wait longer, pay more and travel further for a hair appointment than those with hair types 1, 2 and 3. They would even be willing to put up with poor customer service to ensure their haircare needs would be appropriately met.
Additionally, one-fifth of people with a coily hair texture report facing discrimination when getting their hair done. Just 4% of those with straight hair said the same.
Afro hair types travel further for appointments
Given that there are so few salons that specifically cater to people with Afro and natural textured hair, it’s perhaps unsurprising that individuals with this hair type are forced to travel further than others for an appointment.
This leads to clients with type 4 hair incurring higher travel costs, not to mention the extra time spent and ultimately a greater inconvenience for a comparable service.
In fact, our research found that on average, people with type 4 hair travel twice as far to get their hair done than people with type 1 hair. The travel distance required was also incremental to hair type, increasing by 13%, 22% and 41% between each category, respectively.
This suggests a clear advantage for straight, fine hair types associated with people of white ethnic backgrounds.
Afro hair types pay more for salon services
In addition to travelling further for a suitable stylist or barber, we found that a hair texture tax applies to the cost of services themselves.
Overall, people with type 4 hair will pay on average 43% more for hair services than those with type 1 hair.
An appointment including all four of the above services would cost £156.94 for someone with straight hair and £225.13 for someone with coily hair. Again, we found incremental uplifts between each category.
Breaking this down further, we can see that the cost difference varies depending on the type of service required:
- Treatments +66%
- Cutting +54%
- Colouring +32%
- Styling +27%
Afro hair types are more likely to be let down
We asked whether respondents had ever felt let down by the outcome of a hair appointment. Once again, we found disparities in the experiences of people with different hair textures.
Just 44% of people with a straight hair type said they had ever been let down by a hair service, compared to 58% of people with an Afro hair type.
The most cited reason for this disappointment was that the stylist or barber didn’t know how to manage their hair type (32%). In comparison, only 23% of people with straight hair said the same.
Perhaps most concerning was that, amongst those respondents, 78% said the salon had explicitly advertised that it specialised in their hair type.
For this reason, the statistic that 1% of UK hair salons cater towards Afro hair types could be much lower in reality.
Afro hair types have less trust in stylists
As you might expect, trust levels amongst people with a type 4 hair texture are lower than other hair types.
Almost a fifth of people with an Afro hair type don’t trust that a professional will do their hair well, compared to 13% of those with type 1 hair.
Discrimination leads to embarrassment and low self esteem
Finally, we asked those who had experienced hair type-related poor service at the hands of a hair stylist or barber how this made them feel.
Sadly, 45% of people with an Afro hair type acknowledged that they were left with long lasting disappointment, with 37% saying it had negatively affected their self-esteem.
As these startling survey findings highlight, more must be done to level the playing field when it comes to provision of equitable hair services to people with Afro and natural textured hair types. And, with recent statistics showing that the UK black hair industry is worth an estimated £88m, it’s not just a moral imperative but an untapped commercial opportunity.