Afro Sheen became a household name in African-American households thanks to the Afro’s popularity in the 70’s, and the company sponsored the nationally syndicated television programme Soul Train. The Afro Sheen hair care commercials aired during commercial breaks, and not only advertised their range of shampoos and sprays, but also promoted natural beauty and black pride. Critics later argued Johnson Products also made Ultra Sheen relaxers which contradicted their sentiment regarding true beauty. Even today, the natural hair purists insist Afro-looking hair made more manageable with chemical straightens isn’t natural, and indeed the Afro Sheen Blow Out Kit consisted of relaxer creme back in the day.

Nevertheless I like the ‘Afro Hair Pledge’ ad showing a group of young black people in African prints reciting a pledge led by a cute Afro-topped guy. After years of flaunting slick pompadours – and risking scalp burns with lye – Afros gave us the freedom to be ourselves, the way nature intended. Our Caucasian neighbours wore their own hair their way, and now our time had come. Yet every black brother and sister knows going natural is high-maintenance, which is where Afro Sheen came to the rescue.

Although most of the product line claimed to have conditioning qualities, Afro Sheen didn’t include an after-shampoo conditioner which I find odd. Conditioner is essential if you wear a natural. My sources also reveal the sprays were a tad too oily, (Remember the Soul Glo grease on the sofa in Coming to America?) but these were made long before ‘lite’ creams were invented. These setbacks didn’t deter Afro Sheen’s popularity, and the range continued to sell.

The Afro went out of fashion in the 80’s, making way for the Jherri curl, around the same time my favourite Afro Sheen commercial aired – the tap dance ad featuring three white-clothed chorus line dancers including Sammy Davis Jr.’s wife Altovise. No Afros appeared in this commercial; instead the products were aimed at other hairstyles including cornrows and relaxers. Afro Sheen never regained its popularity after Ultra Sheen took centre stage, and ceased circulation.

The Afro has continued to make a comeback since its demise, and while it never quite hits the mainstream, the style will forever remain a fashionable trend. Afro weaves were the rage in the late 90’s and early 00’s, Zimbabwean nurse Makosi Musambasi famous wore an Afro wig in the Big Brother house in 2005, and we’ll never forget how the Wayan Brothers lampooned Macy Gray at the 2000 MTV Music Video Awards. The Afro made a statement, and Afro Sheen helped us along the way.


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