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Haircare is the final frontier for the celebrity beauty boom—but the one new brand that makes perfect sense is Jonathan Van Ness's line, JVN Hair. The Queer Eye star launched his namesake brand with Amyris, which is also home to beloved brands like Biossance and Costa Brazil. The line has four product families and 10 clean, hair-inclusive products, from shampoo and conditioners to treatments and stylers.
Here, we sit down with Van Ness to chat about his foray into formulating products, his biggest hair regrets, and his favorite products from the line.
Why was creating a clean, hair-inclusive line so important to you?
I always wanted to play with my hair and was fascinated with growing it out. But I always had to fight hard to experiment and play with beauty to follow my passion. One of my earliest memories is cutting fringe. And I used to get caught in the bathroom while adding Sun In and lemons to my cousin's hair for the 27,000th time. Then there's [the time] when I got the Topsy Tail tool stuck in my stepsister’s hair for six hours, because I was a little bit overzealous with how big of a section I should have taken.
I always loved playing with hair. But growing up as a boy, that just wasn't encouraged in my life. I knew I wanted to create a space in the beauty world where everyone felt welcome. No matter what your gender, your race, sexual orientation, you are welcome here and you're encouraged to celebrate your beauty.
Who did you create JVN Hair with in mind? For experts like yourself, those who are just dabbling in haircare, or both?
A priority of mine was to make it super user friendly and accessible to everyone, whether you were a seasoned pro or brand new. I also really wanted to be transparent and authentic about what products do and how we use them. Education on ingredients was a big part of my mission as well. That's one thing about this line: It has such clean ingredients, but it really, really works. I want this to empower people. You can blow dry your hair and style it heavily or leave it natural and it will still look amazing.
Is there a product family that you gravitate toward most?
I interact with all of them in different ways, but I probably use the Complete line the most because it's our styling line. I use it on both wet and dry hair. If I have fresh curly hair and then I'm going on camera later and want to do a half-up, half-down style, I'll probably use the Air Drying cream to slick back my sides and create texture before doing the hairstyle.
Also, if I re-wet my curls, I'll rinse with water, and then add in the Instant Recovery Serum. I use these all very often just because I style my hair around five days a week since I'm on camera. I am 34, and I definitely don't have as much hair as I did at 24. I really wish I did. So I love using our Embody Daily Volumizing Shampoo, but then I'll do our Undamage Strengthening Conditioner. One of my favorite combinations is our Nurture Hydrating Shampoo and our Embody Daily Volumizing Conditioner, because it makes my hair feels so moisturized and shiny.
I really think that if you listen to your hair, you'll know that it needs different things at different times based off things like climate, how often you're styling your hair, or if you change your color. Most of our hair doesn't need the same regimen, because we're not going through the same thing all the time. We really have anything your hair may need from the collection no matter what's going on in your life.
Did you learn anything new about your hair since starting the line?
I only learned how to truly style my natural curls—meaning they consistently turn out well—over the last two years. And I was a professional hairdresser for 13 years before I figured that out. I think that's to say I'm still a student, too; I'm still learning and exploring after having done it for, like, over a decade. That's why JVN Hair is really meant to feel so inclusive and efficacious. Two of my very favorite words.
What was the switch like to wearing your natural curls?
I've literally done a 180 reverse. I used to wear my hair blown out or manipulated with an iron about 95 percent of the time. The reason I didn't wear my hair curly on Queer Eye wasn't because I didn't like my hair curly, but because I only knew how to style my hair curly when air dried. I could only let it stay curly if I put product in it and let it air dry. The second that I tried to defuse it, it got frizzy on me and I couldn't figure out another way.
It's a funny story, because the showrunner of Queer Eye does not really care about changing your hair. If you shave your beard, she doesn't freak out about continuity. But when my hair would be naturally curly, she'd be like, "Honey, it's just not the same. It starts out cute, but then it changes." So I always wore it straight.
Then in quarantine, I figured out how to do my curly method. The secret was I wasn't using enough product. I didn't put enough product on my curls. Now what I do is set curls around my finger in certain spots to just give it a little bit more uniformity. And then, I'll defuse it. I can make my natural curls last, like, three to five days. It's, like, my new favorite thing. Or I do a half-up, half-down.
Another thing I do to refresh curls is I mix our Nurture Conditioner with water in a spray bottle. We're almost wrapped with our sixth season of Queer Eye, and I have consistently worn my hair curly. Before, I realized that hairline was really starting to break from, like, flat ironing, round brushing, and smoothing it out with tools. My hair was thinning. So I decided that I needed to learn how to get my hair curly with a diffuser. And not to brag, but it all grew back.
Was there a particular product you really wanted to get right?
I think everyone, Amyris, especially our chemist, Rania, can attest I am a stickler when it comes to product and really particular. But I think the family that was the most important to me was Embody. I really wanted to create a volumizing line that did not make the hair a tangled mess or make it feel dehydrated. I wanted a line that really made my hair feel plump and like I have thicker hair, but without drying.
Every volumizing shampoo I've used makes it impossible to get a brush through it afterward. It's a nightmare. I had so many clients that couldn't find a good volumizing line for curly hair, because every one I used made it look like instant frizz and I would then need to use product to control the frizz. It defeated the purpose of using a volumizing shampoo in the first place.
I also wanted to create a styling line that would give your hair ingredients that actually made it healthier. Especially our Pre-Wash Scalp Oil. It helps reset the pH and create optimal conditions for healthy hair. Our scalps get taken for granted. We put so many heavy gels and silicones on our roots, whether it's when braiding or adding extensions. We need to give a little bit of love to our scalps.
Since you were so meticulous about every ingredient, did you learn a lot about formulating a product?
I totally did. I think having been a young stylist at the School of Aveda back in 2005, I grew up with the understanding that ingredient stories are so important. In the clean beauty world, synthetic used to considered a bad word. Our hero ingredient in the line is hemi-squalane, which is a powerhouse antioxidant. It typically comes from shark liver but has a huge impact on oceans. Instead, our hemi-squalene comes from sugarcane that we have fermented, which is a molecular match for squalene, but ultimately is synthesized yet sustainable. That’s really important to our origin story, and I’ve been learning that as we go.
We also have a circular model with the sugarcane; we use it in our packaging, too, which makes it compostable. Committing to aluminum and glass, and not plastic, was super important to me, because glass and aluminum is infinitely recyclable. Our intention is to be completely 100 percent plastic free by 2025.
In the meantime, we're so excited to have this method. Finding a partner such as Amirys that made sustainability a priority as well was critical to me when creating JVN Hair. That's part of why it took me so many years to create my line. This has been such a labor of love, integrity, transparency, and authenticity. I'm honored that we have been able to create it, and I can't wait to share with people.
JVN Hair is available now at Sephora and JVNHair.com.
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