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Beauty

Charlotte Mensah On Black Creatives Being Pigeonholed And The One Face Oil She Never Goes Without

The renowned hairstylist on representation, staying hydrated and her secret skin concoction

By Rhea Cartwright

26 April 2021
C

harlotte Mensah is the chief hair-ess of Black hair. The award-winning hair artist, founder of her eponymous haircare line and author of best-selling book Good Hair has an energy like no other, which she radiates from her Notting Hill salon.

From growing up in Accra to her grandmother’s bathing rituals, she tells The Stack about her penchant for a smokey eye, and why Black creatives need more support.

Charlotte Mensah pictured in the early 90s at the beginning of her career.
Image by Charlotte Mensah

I think of my grandmother when I recall my first experience of beauty products.

I used to spend a lot of time with her and I remember Grandma would have long baths, where she would spend hours pampering herself with scented Avon products, which were a big deal in Ghana back in the 1970s. She never wore makeup but would look after her skin by ensuring it was always hydrated and moisturised.

I was inspired by glamorous women like Donna Summer and Diana Ross.

I met both of them at the first Black salon I ever worked at called Splinters. But my true beauty icons are my Grandma, mother and my aunties.

I spent my primary years in Accra where everybody was Black and it was just about being a person.

It was only when I arrived in the UK at the age of 11, that I experienced racism mainly from the kids at school, namely those from a West Indian background. It was different back then, many felt I didn't belong. They would laugh at my short hair, my accent and in one case, my bantu knots which they felt were very African – to which they had many negative perceptions.

Growing up in Ghana, I was surrounded by the beauty I wanted to exude.

I felt represented but in a different way to now. In my teens in the UK, it was a different kind of representation but Black people have always created their own lane, so I always had people and beauty that inspired me. Within pop culture, it’s getting more common to see Black people of all shapes and sizes in the media but we’ve still barely scratched the surface.

A young Charlotte Mensah, pictured here in Accra, Ghana.
Image by Charlotte Mensah

I want to see less pigeonholing of Black creatives within the beauty industry.

It's never seen as an issue for white makeup artists and hairdressers to deal with curly and Afro textures, but there very much feels like a glass ceiling when it's the other way round. The more autonomy black creatives are given in the beauty industry, the more you will see the industry change as a whole.

Afro haircare needs to be integrated into the national curriculum for young hairstylists.

We live in diverse societies across the UK and, for me, what diversity and inclusion truly represent is the options that are available to people. Let’s take a young Black woman living in Wales; irrespective of what the general demographics of the area is, a truly diverse society would cater for her haircare needs.

It doesn’t have to be another Black person, but it has to be someone who has specialist knowledge of Afro hair. The inclusion of Afro hair on the national curriculum that apprentices have to go through would create a breed of stylists skilled to deal with all kinds of hair, wherever you are in the country.

Chantecaille's Rose de Mai Face Oil is Charlotte Mensah's most loved product.

Smokey eyes have always been my signature look.

I'm low key when it comes to makeup but I love having fun with my eyes. My favourite makeup trick is to smudge the liner into the lower lashes to soften and 'smoke-ify and finish with a coat of mascara. It’s funny, though, I watch my daughter experiment with a wide array of colours, who knows maybe I’ll try that soon.

I discovered Chantecaille 20 years ago when I was pregnant with my daughter.

I'm a big fan of their Rose de Mai face oil. It really brightens my complexion. I mix it with Shea butter I source from Ghana, which I whip until it's soft and soufflé-like. It works brilliantly as a nourishing overnight treatment and by day, it gives my skin a lovely sheen.

Beautiful acts can make you a more beautiful person.

When trying to walk through the world with positivity, expressing love and kindness toward other people. I feel most beautiful when I find my own strength and confidence.

Beauty to me means confidence and feeling good about myself.

Investing in myself gives me more power to be beautiful – it comes from within. It's not a hairstyle, the wardrobe or the makeup. It's being confident in the person you are today, no matter your shape or size.

The Short Stack

For Charlotte Mensah, beauty is a simple art that starts from within.

By Rhea Cartwright

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