Beauty Brand History is a new regular series I’m beginning here on Afrobella! We all have the brands we’ve grown up using, the brands we’ve known our whole lives. Here are memories and the true stories behind the beauty brands we love.
Think back to the earliest days of using a brand of hair product. Think back to the products your mom used on herself, and the products she used on you when you were old enough to migrate from baby shampoos and that kind of thing. Think back to the products you’d be likely to find at a black hair salon in the eighties. If you’re like me, a giant tub of Queen Helene Cholesterol Cream will trigger those early hair memories.
By way of backstory – I got into a discussion on Twitter last night about Verdine White’s hair and how absolutely laid and glorious it always is. Obviously Afrobella is all about natural hair, but Verdine has clearly figured out some things about length retention and maintenance, and he intrigues me tremendously. Someday I want to interview him about his hair (and his stylist, Beverly Hills legend Elgin Charles who clearly has lessons to impart). Anyway, in discussing the hypothetical products that Verdine White may or may not use on his hair, who else came up but the Queen herself? Queen Helene. She has never let me down, all these many years.
When my hair was relaxed, I kept a jar of Queen Helene Cholesterol Cream as a general rule. I’d marinate my hair in it for hours, wrap my hair in saran wrap or use a shower cap with it, use it with my trusty Gold N’ Hot Conditioning Heat Cap (you know you had one too, or something similar)! When my skin was at its most acne prone, the CLASSIC Queen Helene Mint Julep Masque came to my rescue. I love that mask in the summertime, and I still use it on my T-Zone to mattify my situation. It’s one of my favorite face masks to this day and I know I’m not alone in the mint julep masque love! I’ve been a fan of Queen’s Cocoa Butter Creme and Jojoba Hot Oil Treatment too, both have gotten me by through dry skin, dry hair, and times of need. Now there are new natural hair marketed Queen Helene products, like the Royal Curl Curl Shaping Creme and the Princess Curl line for kids, but I still find myself sticking with the classics.
With a name like Queen Helene and a longstanding place of honor with women in the black diaspora around the world, you might think this was a historic African American brand. That isn’t the case – Queen Helene was founded in New York by Richard Estrin, who began his career as a beauty supply house salesman, got a degree in chemistry, and became a partner in Para Laboratories. The name Queen Helene was inspired by his baby daughter Helene, and the brand has been around since 1930. According to BeautyDose.com, “During the 1950’s, Mr. Estrin tested his products in beauty salons and initiated lectures and demonstrations by trained cosmetologists, all under the supervision of Ina Lee, a beauty consultant for Queen Helene.” This blog post on BrandlandUSA labels Queen Helene as oddball and says their brand “completely defies all current marketing logic.” This is true. Queen Helene remains popular by simply remaining. No big changes to packaging, no heavy advertising, no attempts at rebranding or changing ingredients. It’s the same as it ever was, a staple favorite passed on from generation to generation. It’s a product that you’ve used as is, or off label. I know I’ve added coconut oil and olive oil in an attempt to improve the power of my Queen Helene hair products, and my friend Sybil admitted that she uses Queen Helene Cholesterol on her feet, with plastic bags and socks to make her feet touchably soft the next day. GENIUS! I’m totally trying her idea.
My favorite Queen Helene products are, in order:
What are yours?
PS: In the course of doing research for this post, I came across this photo – LOL what?
PPS: Is there a beauty brand you’d like me to share the history of? Tell me which brands in the comments!