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Mielle rosemary oil TikTok drama
TikTok/@danielleathena and TikTok/@alixearle

What is all the controversy around Mielle rosemary oil?

Habi Diallo unpacks the Tiktok drama around the product, and the reasons why Black women are so frustrated by it going viral

Every week or so a new product goes viral on TikTok and immediately sells out. But earlier this month when American Afro-hair company Mielle’s Rosemary Mint Scalp & Hair Strengthening Oil started trending among white influencers it sparked a wave of backlash. In order to truly comprehend the reasoning behind the drama, it is important to understand what the sudden popularity of Black hair products among white women with straight hair has previously meant for Black women with textured hair.

Founded in 2014 by Monique Rodriguez, Mielle quickly established itself as a favourite among Black women due to its dedication to creating natural products specifically catered for textured hair – specifically their rosemary oil. At the end of last year, however, 22-year-old TikToker Alix Earle brought the product to a wider audience. In a ‘Top 2022 Amazon Purchases’ video the Miami-based influencer shared the rosemary mint oil with her 3.7 million followers, stating she has “only been using [it] for little over a month” and had “already seen tremendous hair growth”. Following the endorsement, the product quickly sold out in stores and online and sellers began ramping up the price.

This in turn sparked backlash and frustration from women of colour with textured hair who did not see the necessity for someone with straight hair to advertise a product not made for her. Under the post, individuals shared their frustrations with comments such as “Leave Mielle alone” and “you don’t need this product”. One user wrote, “The natural hair product section is so small, y’all have hundreds of brands catered to your hair and we have about 10 that actually work”. While to most individuals with textured hair, the reason behind this frustration was fairly obvious, almost all of these comments were met with responses from other users telling them not to be ‘chronically online’ or to ‘stop trying to gatekeep hair products’. But is it such a bad thing to gatekeep something you know to be so fragile?

This is not the first time Black hair products have become suddenly popular with white people. In the true nature of the beauty industry, products come and go. But for those with textured hair, more often than not, the product does not go, it simply changes and becomes no longer suited for their hair type. In the past, brands such as Shea Moisture and Cantu, which have been staples for textured hair, have been accused of changing their formulas once they gained more demand from people with a more straight hair type. 

“Black women have legitimate reasons to side-eye white folks ‘discovering’ Mielle hair oil. When brands BW single-handedly kept afloat start chasing white money, they raise prices, change formulas, and erase BW from their image. Remember this disrespectful shit from Shea Moisture?” tweeted Professor Uju Anya, a linguistics professor at Carnegie Mellon University. “Don’t shame Black women for thinking Mielle hair oil’s future is Shea Moisture’s past.” In 2017, after being sold to Unilever, Shea Moisture put out a campaign video that featured several white women and not one person with tightly coiled hair and then changed their formulas.

When looking at shelf space in your average drugstore, the aisle with products catered to textured hair is already vastly smaller. With a selection so small, the absence of even one product can be felt, especially when products which were once trustworthy begin to disregard the needs of the communities they originally advertised themselves for. Yet it does not just end at the vastly smaller collection of products to choose from. Just a few years ago it hit the news that shops in the US were locking up only Black hair products, something which had been general knowledge to people of colour for far too long. As always the topic got a few minutes of light, a few American stores said they would unlock the Black hair products and were casually brushed over. Many stores to this day continue to keep their Black hair products locked up, while rows of other beauty products in the same store remain unlocked.

Accessibility to hair products made for Black women is not only a logistical issue but a political one too. Due to this, there is a rightful level of protection around the few brands that individuals feel cater for their needs, such as Mielle. With this in mind, it makes sense that now, given history, the prominence of the few products among a new demographic now triggers concern and frustration among individuals of colour.

After Earle’s video went viral many of her followers took to the app to show them incorrectly using the product, with one stating ‘Alix Earle brought this oil, so I did’ while mixing the Mielle oil in a spray bottle with mostly water. Another posted a video using the oil more as a mask, leaving it in for 30 minutes before rinsing out. Both methods are incorrect. On the Mielle website, the ‘how to use’ section states for scalp treatment customers are to “section hair into four parts exposing scalp. Apply a small amount of oil to the scalp, massage oil in with fingers and comb through to ends of hair. Leave in and style as desired”. 

While almost all of the reviews for the Mielle oil were positive, some of Earle’s followers posted videos complaining about the product weighing down their hair. Rosemary oil is a dense oil that works differently depending on your hair porosity, which is why it is more prominent among products for more coarse, Afro hair types. It feels unfair to have individuals negatively criticise a product that was not made for them. Parasocial relationships and short-form ‘relatable’ content from influencers has managed to sell the idea that influencers have our best interest at heart. Earle’s video was a sponsored post with an affiliate link and while it is not confirmed whether she received the item as PR or brought it herself, it does not change the impact, both positive and negative, her video caused. 

After the initial backlash, Rodriguez responded to the concerns regarding formula changes stating, “there have been a few comments posted on this topic but I can personally guarantee you that we are not making any ingredient changes. I also wanted to come here first to assure you directly that we have no plans to change the formula for the Rosemary Mint Oil or any of our products”. However, since then it was announced that the American conglomerate company P&G has acquired Mielle. We reached out to Mielle to know whether there was a link between the product going viral and the P&G deal but are yet to hear back. 

In the announcement video, Rodriguez once again assured followers that no formulas will be changed despite the company losing its status as independent and Black-owned. While many are concerned by what the deal means for their favourite products, many are equally celebrating Monique Rodriguez’s success and hoping this time a label created with women of colour at the centre stays that way.

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