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Collegeville chemist uses science to create natural hair products for curly girls | Elizabeth Wellington

The five products in the Naturaz collection — a conditioning shampoo, styling moisturizer, dehydrating mist and tangler, curl defining gel, and curl defining cream — are infused with awesome-for-the-coils coconut oil and Aloe vera extracts.

Mumbi Dunjwa

If there is one thing Mumbi Dunjwa knows for sure, it's that curly hair loves moisture.

When properly hydrated, it is soft and manageable. It glistens and glows. And, most important, the curls — whether tightly coiled or loose and flowing — are smooth and perfectly defined. Frizz is a nonissue.

Dunjwa took this undeniable black hair-care fact and married it with a serious chemistry. The result: Naturaz, a curly girl product line available in 12 ShopRites and Fresh Grocers throughout the Philadelphia region.

"I'm passionate about helping women and children love their hair," said Dunjwa, 45, who lives in Collegeville. "It's about helping black women find the right products and the right tools so they never have to feel like they have to hide the beauty of their curl."

The five products in the Naturaz collection — a conditioning shampoo, styling moisturizer, rehydrating mist and detangler, curl-defining gel, and curl-defining cream — are infused with awesome-for-the-coils coconut oil and Aloe vera extracts. Dunjwa's products are also heavy on minerals: calcium, magnesium, selenium that not only nourish and strengthen black and white women's curly hair, but also stimulate hair growth. That's important because the one thing the curly girl knows well is breakage. Naturaz is decently priced, as in it's a little more pricey than Organic Roots Stimulator, but not as expensive as Carol's Daughter or Miss Jessie's. The styling gel and creams are $12.99. Shampoo is $14.99

Dunjwa's hair-care endeavors are noteworthy for two reasons.

First, Dunjwa is a black woman from Kenya. In the last 10 years, black women have been at the forefront of building companies that sell products that specifically nourish their natural — as in not straightened with heat or chemicals — hair. Still the brands most readily available in drugstores and big-box chains, including Carol's Daughter, which was acquired by L'Oreal in 2014, are majority-owned.

"Who better understands how our hair behaves better than we do?" Dunjwa said. "We understand its beauty. Its structure. It's up to us to know how to harness the curl."

But the real coup is that Dunjwa is a bona fide chemist. Dunjwa holds a bachelor's degree in chemistry and nuclear medicine technology from Worcester State University as well as a master's degree in information systems from Carnegie Mellon University. She spent more than a decade working as a consultant in research and development within the pharmaceuticals industry before she began looking for ways to combine her two loves: science and health.

She turned her expertise to hair. Dunjwa has never had a relaxer, although she has been to salons that she said had a hard time grooming her virgin mane. However, among friends and family, not only did she see an uncanny amount of breakage, split-ends, hair loss, and hair thinning, these same women battled low self-esteem. And this wasn't just an issue for American black women, it was epidemic throughout the world. For a myriad of social and cultural reasons, black women just didn't feel good about their naturally curly hair.

Dunjwa began mixing her own formulations — all of which she owns — and wrote a business plan back in the early 2000s. But at the dawn of the curly girl movement, it was hard to find investors. Then the recession hit. In 2010, she couldn't wait for cash anymore and decided to test her products in the community, soft-launching her brand. She pitched the brand to the local ShopRite and Fresh Grocer franchises, and by 2016, Naturaz was available in stores.

Business has been slow but steady; to date she's sold upward of 10,000 units in the grocery stores and online. This year, she says, she hopes to expand beyond the Philadelphia market. But that will take help from investors.

Ultimately, however, Dunjwa wants to do her part to make sure that black women love their strong, healthy, natural hair and not be inhibited by straight hairstyles. And, even more important, she hopes her 7-year-old daughter is never faced with the pressure to relax or not relax.

"I want young children to fully accept who they are and know the hair she was divinely given is perfectly suited to who she is," Dunjwa said.