Meet the Fellows: Jasmine Curtis (AVOCURL)

My name is Jasmine Curtis and I am 24 years old from Berkeley, California. I am currently a Program Associate with The OpEd Project and a recent graduate from Cornell University where I studied Public Health and Photography.  

AVOCURL is an avocado-infused line of essential hair-care products handmade with natural ingredients that I currently make out of my kitchen. ​My enterprise was created out of my dorm room and is rooted in the idea that what you put on your body should be safe enough to put in your body.

According to a study conducted in 2016, more than 75% of cosmetic products marketed towards Black women showed signs of toxicity. [Although “natural” hair products presumably have fewer toxic ingredients than traditional hair straighteners, many of these products still contain potentially harmful ingredients.] Often, hair products contain fragrances which have chemicals that are not disclosed on product labels. Even small daily exposures can lead to chemicals building up in women’s bodies, which add up over a lifetime of use.

Some of the health issues associated with the ingredients in the beauty products include hormone disruption, allergies, reproductive damage, and cancer. Although these facts are alarming, statistically they are not surprising. Federal standards for governing the safety of personal care products have not been updated since the 1930s. The European Union bans 1,328 chemicals from cosmetics that are known or suspected to cause cancer, genetic mutation, reproductive harm or birth defects, while the U.S. FDA has only banned or restricted 11 chemicals from cosmetics.

I was inspired to create AVOCURL because I am my customer. My business started in my dorm room because I struggled to find products that worked. My hair had heat and chemical damage and I didn’t know how to take care of it properly​. I was living in Ithaca, New York during undergrad, where the weather was extremely dry and on campus we only had hard water to bathe in. Over the course of a few months, the challenges I had with keeping my hair healthy were magnified in this new environment and none of the products I bought from the store worked. After combing through every YouTube channel and blog I could find on natural hair care, I became aware of not only the dangers of many cosmetic ingredients on the market but also the benefits of natural remedies. So eventually I decided to make my own.

As a Black woman myself, knowing that Black women have fewer options for healthier hair products is alarming. I am even more weary of the potential emotional damage and psychological harm caused by brands that profit from appealing to Black women’s insecurities. The language ​and images ​commonly used by some brands to market their product attributes, for example, a product that claims to “tame frizz” or an​ “anti-shrinkage” collection coupled with a preference for lighter-skinned models with 3b/3c curl patterns sends a powerful message regarding standards of beauty. Cosmetic consumers, especially Black women and girls, should not have to compromise their health by using hair products that contain harmful chemicals. Beauty is abundant on every inch of the curl pattern spectrum, and ultimately AVOCURL is a platform for celebrating, appreciating and sharing knowledge about naturally kinky and curly hair.