A white social media influencer’s promotion of a popular Black hair product on TikTok has sparked a heated debate across social media about white women co-opting Black beauty products and trends.
In a Dec. 1 video that has since been deleted but was reshared on Twitter, TikToker Danielle Athena walked viewers through her hair care routine. Titled “Episode 12 | Hair oiling day is the best day,” Athena center-parts her hair, applies oil with a dropper, and then massages her scalp.
“One dropperful of the Mielle Rosemary Hair Growth Oil,” a voiceover says in the clip.
She’s not the only white content creator to tout the scalp and hair strengthening oil on TikTok as a hidden gem. Taylor Rose, a hair specialist, featured the oil on her page as a pre-wash treatment in January 2022. Kelly Anne Stone, a content creator focusing on lifestyle and skincare, did the same in early November. Both TikTokers received thousands of likes on their videos.
All of the attention has sparked intense debate online, with some Black consumers expressing concerns the brand could decide to neglect its core customer base for the sake of white customers. Others countered that the positive publicity is good for Black-owned businesses.
@AprettyPR, who uploaded the Athena’s clip to Twitter, wrote, “White women steal from black women and just be doing shit. and of course she turned those comments off.”
“The problem is they always come… get the products they know and can see black women primar[ily] using and[,] soon as they do[,] it’s not accessible to us anymore due to price raises or it all being taken,” another Twitter user responded to the thread.
@AprettyPR’s tweet received more than 7 million views by Wednesday afternoon.
In response to the backlash, Mielle Organics owner Monique Rodriguez addressed customers’ fears on the company’s Twitter account Tuesday, saying, “We have no plans to change the formula for Rosemary Mint Oil or any of our products. There have been a few recent comments posted on this topic, but I can personally guarantee you that we are not making any ingredient changes.”
“Please know that we would always inform you in full transparency if any adjustments are made to the products you love and trust,” the company vowed.
Athena did not respond to The Daily Beast’s request for comment in time for publishing.
Black critics of white beauty influencers took issue with more than just white people using Black hair products. They argued that when products made for Black people are used by white consumers—whether or not they work—they can become less available to Black people, who are already policed over their hair.
And while white TikTokers have been praising the Mielle Rosemary Mint Scalp Oil, other white influencers have criticized Black products when they don’t work for their hair textures.
Black feminist writer Mikki Kendall, the author of Hood Feminism, retweeted @aprettyPR’s comment and said, “What’s funny in an awful way is that white women are buying Black hair products and leaving terrible reviews on them because they don’t work for their hair.”
Speaking to The Daily Beast, Kendall said some white women “are upset that these products don’t work for [them], but [they] also don't want us to be able to wear our hair the way it is naturally without complaints.”
Kendall said some “entitled” white customers simply can’t understand that not everything is made for them.
Other Black social media users chimed in that it’s already difficult to find products for ethnic hair, voicing concerns about product scarcity and price gouging. Others were worried about white customers leaving those negative reviews, fearing Black hair care brands could reformulate products to appease white consumers’ needs—which brands like Shea Moisture and Carol’s Daughter have been accused of doing.
“1 white woman on tiktok put the other white women on game with the mielle rosemary drops and now I see black ppl saying they're sold out in target,” a Twitter user wrote. “We have to gate keep n start convincing them to keep relaxer in their hair overnight again.”
“Seeing white women on tik tok getting Mielle products that specifically says ‘for black hair’ makes me sick because now it’s going to sell out and double in price,” a Twitter user alleged.
“They get whole [a]isles and sections and we get one shelf and lock boxes. It’s really starting to piss me off,” another user responded.
In an interview with The Daily Beast, Black feminist scholar Feminista Jones said the phenomenon of white beauty influencers co-opting Black trends is nothing new.
“This is something that's been happening for some time,” she said. “You know, Black women use something, popularize it. White women get hold of it, and all of a sudden act like it’s a new thing, which is cultural appropriation.”
“It’s the way that white women act like they've discovered something brand new,” she added, “or that they have unearthed something that nobody else has, like, ‘Why doesn't anybody know that?’ That’s the part that gets to me.”
Jones pointed to the history of Black women being oppressed over their afro hair textures and the lack of products made specifically for them. Due to the natural hair movement within the Black community over the last decade, she said it has opened doors for Black women to explore healthier and more viable hair products.
“[Black women] worked really hard to get [their products] picked up by these chains, in a lot of ways that these other white companies never really had to. So when you watch the trajectory of a Black-owned brand that went from mixing things up in their kitchen to getting a deal with Target or something like that, you know, there’s something special about it.”
On the other hand, some Black social media users are in favor of Mielle’s growth with a wider audience, arguing that it’s good for business.
“Y’all look clinically insane trying to stop Mielle (A BLACK Owned company) from increasing their revenue ..... like seriously,” tweeted social media influencer @mylifeiskara.
“Getting your knickers in a twist because white women are using a black-owned rosemary hair oil makes no sense,” posted a Twitter user. “Black naturals have embraced Ayuverdic hair practices for how long now? If South Asians now ask for their Amla powder back what will you say [tsk tsk].”
Delving deeper in the concept of cultural appropriation, Jones claimed some white women use ethnic products and engage in Black culture to seem less white and show that they’re socially progressive. But their intent is counter-productive.
“The problem is that they go in places where these products are already limited, and they’re buying them up. And that’s what the girlies are complaining about,” she said.
As of Wednesday afternoon, the Mielle Rosemary Growth Hair Oil was sold out on Ulta’s website, but available on Target and Amazon. Pricing for the product also appeared consistent across retailers at an average of $10.
However, consumers continued to battle in recent web reviews.
“I have been using this product and i shouldn’t have,” Mary Katelynn wrote in a review, in which she left the hair oil one star on Target. “As it was in the ethnic section of hair products[,] that should have been my first warning, but i really wanted to try it. IT BURNT MY SCALP AND MY HAIR HAS BEEN [OILY] FOR THREE DAYS NOW!!! never again will i use products not meant for my hair and i encourage the rest of you to do the same!!”
“I heard about this product on TikTok and had to buy a couple of bottles,” wrote Sarah W on Target’s website. “It works great and I’ve recommended this to all my sisters! It’s hard to find, but we were able to travel to a few different stores to stock up on this product.”
“STOP WITH THE IGNORANCE!!!! This product is not ONLY for black women!! works perfect for anyone with CURLY HAIR!” Brooklynn W. left a Target review.
Another reviewer compared white people using Black hair products to Black women wearing blond wigs.
Mielle Organics hair care, created in 2014 by Rodriguez, specializes in “healthy ingredients” for a variety of hair types, according to the company’s website. However, all the models on the website are Black, and special hair care methods are provided for people with coily hair and to prevent shrinkage—common traits with textured hair. The website also lists protective styles that Black women utilize to prevent over-stressing and weakening their tresses.
Neither Rodriguez nor Mielle Organics immediately responded to The Daily Beast’s requests for comment.