Creating Lush’s Afro hair care range

Introducing Lush’s Afro hair products, created by Lush Afro hair consultant Sarah Sango and catering to everything from defining your coils, to servicing your scalp. Writer Milla Alexander chatted with Sarah about the range, her journey to the Hair Lab, and how society views Black hair.

Lush has been creating innovative hair products since its days as Cosmetics To Go. From shampoo bars to solid hair treatments, there’s not much the company hasn’t put its hand to. But when it comes to products for Black hair types there’s always been something missing. Working for Lush for several years, I was never able to fully commit to a complete hair routine; there just wasn’t enough targeted to my needs. 

Enter Sarah Sango. She has 19 years’ experience but came from modest beginnings. After starting out making teas and coffees at her first salon in Brixton, Sarah went on to train as a hairdresser and gained NVQ qualifications in Afro hair amid becoming a mother. Alongside her growing family, she built up a client base and grew her own brand. Before she knew it, she was travelling to Fashion Weeks and taking the lead on Afro hairstyling.

“So many of the Black models were shocked that someone was there to do something with their hair. They’re used to being told to fix it themselves or having somebody just spray it with a bit of Oil Sheen. Being there was fulfilling but it was also quite upsetting knowing that they weren’t given the same time as white models.”

Sarah is also my cousin. I remember growing up and me, her and her sister Renée (another cousin), getting our hair done in single braids on a Sunday, ready for the school week. These hairstyles took the entire day and Sarah would cry and battle her mum throughout the whole process. Yet she would be the one that would come home on Monday afternoon having taken them all out: “I used to see the white girls running around the playground with their hair blowing in the wind and I wanted mine to do that too,” she says. It’s safe to say that she’d be in big trouble and have to go to bed early that evening.

Many years later, I bumped into Sarah in Brixton to find out she was working as a hairdresser. I was delighted to hear this news as I’d neglected my hair for a long time and wanted a change. I went to her salon and we bonded while she gave me a treatment, trim, and blow-dried my hair straight. Now it was my turn to let my hair blow in the wind. When I think of it now, we grew up in a time when wearing our hair in its natural form was undesirable. Even in our late teens and early twenties, we’d choose to straighten it in an attempt to be seen as ‘prettier’ and more ‘professional’. 

Since that day, I’ve only gone to Sarah to have my hair done. She’s given me a fringe, a full head of blond highlights, a brilliant blue colour, and the big chop. Over the years we’ve spent hours bonding as she’s supported me through some of the boldest statements of my life. It’s throughout these years we’ve also seen each other decide to embrace how our hair grows from our head and celebrate it in its natural state.

Cut to 2018 and Sarah was contacted by someone at Lush who was looking for an experienced Afro hairdresser to join a new concept being created for the brand: The Lush HairLab. Sarah met with product inventor Daniel Campbell and it became clear quite quickly that it was going to be a great collaboration. She joined as the Lush’s Afro Hair Consultant and got straight down to business, taking her role extremely seriously: “I’m able to bring my experience, create product, and give over the knowledge I have about the culture behind Black hair: how we style it, how we care for it, and what it means to us.”

So, after exploring and testing the products Lush already had in its arsenal, Sarah was able to get into the lab with Daniel and tell him what was missing: “I just think that anywhere you go, there should be products available for Afro hair,” she says. “It's my goal and my responsibility to make sure that everybody is able to find products that are suitable for them, whatever their needs, when they come to Lush. I'm not a scientist and I’m not really familiar with formulas. But I know the essential elements and ingredients a product needs to look after Afro hair.”

Creating those products is exactly what she did. 

Seeing the benefits that pre-existing product Avocado co-wash already had for Afro hair, with vitamin-rich fresh avocado and moisturising cocoa butter, Sarah felt the perfect thing to do was to create a sulphate-free version: “The lovely rosemary, lavender and nettle infusions ensure that the hair and scalp are still thoroughly cleansed without removing the natural moisture Black hair thrives on”.

Glory - formally J’s Mom’s Okra - contains okra gel, coconut cream, and castor oil, all working to give the hair slip: “You have to be careful when handling Afro hair - it’s very delicate. Glory allows easy combability without the risk of damaging the hair”.

Power, previously called Hair Necessities, is great for those who’ve chemically treated their hair. With sweet potato bursting with biotin and shine-inducing almond oil whizzed in, you’ll be protected whether you routinely relax your hair or like to experiment with bleach and colour: “It’s full of protein to help rebuild the structure so if you’ve decided to chemically manipulate your hair, Power will bring that reparative element into your routine.”

Then come the styling products of the range. With the LOC Method being a staple regime for many people with Afro hair, Sarah was keen to create a trio of products that could be used separately, or in combination when someone might be using the popular technique. She explains, “The LOC method is a process used to apply moisture and ensure that the hair is absorbing it in the right way. LOC is an abbreviation for Liquid, Oil, and Cream. The liquid is applied first, which is a form of hydration that also opens the hair shaft to allow oil to be absorbed. Then you apply the oil, which supplies the moisture element. And on top of the oil, you would add the cream which finishes and defines your style.”

Super Milk can be used in the first step of the LOC Method. Almond, coconut and oat milks deliver hydration while extra virgin olive oil helps to strengthen. “Super Milk is the perfect primer. On its own, it’s a great detangler that protects the hair from heat, and it also preps the hair for any other products you might want to use.”

Renée Shea Souffle, which can be used in the second step, holds a special place in Sarah’s heart. The rich hair and scalp oil, which is named after Sarah’s sister who inspired the recipe, boasts beautiful Fair Trade shea butter and extra virgin coconut oil and castor oil. Whipped up with other conditioning ingredients, the souffle is light, versatile, and provides a moisture boost to any Afro hair type.

Renée found a recipe online and took some shea butter a friend of hers brought from Ghana, whipped it up with essential oils, and produced a hair balm she would share with friends and family. Sarah used it in her children’s hair and loved that it was inspired by the Black community.

“When I got to Lush, I instantly thought, ‘Lush needs something like that!’ I wanted to use the basis of the recipe my sister used because it’s not only beneficial for your hair, but it’s brilliant on the scalp. And so, we named it after her. I’ve got a son and two daughters all with very different hair textures and it works so well for all of us. I want other families to have a product like that.”

And finally, there’s Curl Power. Named by me, back in my days at Lush, Sarah created this product for all those people who want to keep their hair in its natural form. The deeply moisturising cocoa butter and highly humectant molasses give the hair all it needs for styling, while linseed gel adds lustre and shine.

“Black people are constantly told by society and media that their hair in its natural state doesn’t look good enough or isn’t professional enough. Curl Power is that final styling product for anyone who feels empowered to wear their hair as it is. No heat, no chemicals, just in its natural, beautiful form.”

You can find out more in the film 'Nestled' or shop the full afro hair care range on our website or app.

Words by Milla Alexander

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