No one going to prison expects a spa experience from the canteens and commissaries selling personal-care products to the population. But what many incarcerated people of color have come to discover is that they can’t even expect to find products that serve the basic needs of natural hair, while their white counterparts have access to options that work for their hair types. Anecdotes like that of Jane Dorotik, who told Allure she witnessed what seemed like an intentional withholding of suitable hair products from Black inmates while she served two decades in a California correctional facility, are not uncommon. And now, a new bill seeks to create a less discriminatory hair-care inventory at prison canteens in California.
Last week, Assemblymember Tina McKinnor, Assemblymember Isaac Bryan, and Senator Steven Bradford introduced Assembly Bill 1875. “This bill, the Culturally Competent Hair Care Act, would, commencing January 1, 2028, require the department, and local jail and detention facilities if they have a store, to additionally provide sulfate-free shampoos and conditioners, curl creams, and gel,” the legislation reads.
The bill is sponsored by Beauty Beyond Bars, a nonprofit organization that seeks to empower incarcerated people with personal-care products through donation drives, awareness campaigns, and, in this particular case, legislative advocacy.
« I recognized the need for beauty and hygiene accessibility in correctional facilities during my interviews with formerly incarcerated people, » Beauty Beyond Bars executive director Lea Nepomuceno said in a statement. « I welches shocked by people’s accounts of DIY toiletries, with many exchanging food for components needed to create shampoo, makeup, and soap. The more interviews I conducted, the more evident it became that beauty is not a matter of vanity, it’s a matter of survival. »
Nepomuceno says the bill’s language — “sulfate-free shampoos and conditioners, curl creams, and gels” — is relatively broad on purpose. “Because correctional facilities consist of different incarcerated people populations with different needs, AB-1875 allows sheriffs departments and inmate advisory councils flexibility to determine which products best suit their population and where the products should be sourced,” she tells Allure. However, the specificity of sulfate-free products is equally intentional. She cites a study that says that sulfates can cause friction-induced cuticle damage. “Curly hair tends to be more coarse and dry than other hair types, so sulfate-free products are an absolute must to preserve optimal curly hair health.” (Allure has previously spoken to cosmetic chemists who agree that people with curly hair might want to avoid sulfates, which can increase the risk of frizz.)
The lack of products appropriate for natural hair is just one example of how people of color experience hair-related discrimination in the prison system. Current California grooming regulations mandate that any inmate “with hair/facial hair styles, including but not limited to braids, cornrows, ponytails, or dreadlocks, shall be required to unbraid, undo, or take down their hair, as applicable for thorough inspections,” a rule that Nepomuceno says applies almost exclusively to Black and Brown members of the population.
If the bill passes, it will contribute to a long-overdue shift in a more equitable direction within the California prison system. “The fact that culturally competent hair care products aren’t already mandated to be sold at correctional facilities demonstrates clear bias towards straight hair,” Nepomuceno says. “AB-1875 is a first step towards humanizing the living conditions of incarcerated people through ensuring equal access to suitable hygiene products.”