Spelman Grad Develops Hair Care Line Specifically Designed to Treat Scalp Ailments

Dr. Shari Hicks-Graham spent 2015 through 2016 funding an out-of-state independent study for her hair care products. (Dr. Shari Hicks-Graham)

“Live so free, healthy, clear and happy.” This is the phrase that inspired the name LivSo, a new line of hair care products from board-certified dermatologist Dr. Shari Hicks-Graham that remedies scalp irritation.

Hicks-Graham began selling the product, which aims to help provide users with a healthy, free lifestyle unencumbered by the discomfort of dry, itchy scalp, in her office Jan. 31. Launched on LivSo.com on Feb. 22, the lineup of shampoo, conditioner and scalp moisturizer costs $18-$19 and also is sold on Amazon.com.

Why LivSo Came to be

Hicks-Graham, who works out of Downtown Dermatology in Columbus, Ohio,  said she has seen so many Black patients and those of other races who struggle with scalp conditions. She recognized that the traditional methods of treating scalp conditions like seborrheic dermatitis, which causes itchy, scaly patches of redness, remedied the condition but also led to hair breakage. This was especially the case for Black patients, whose hair was left feeling dry. Hicks-Graham knew she had to devise a new product to nourish kinky, coily strands and also soothe the scalp.

“For African-American patients that sometimes wash their hair once a week or even every two weeks, telling them, ‘Here’s this prescription shampoo, use it every day,’ that was gonna get a good laugh,” the skin care specialist said. “I realized pretty quickly that we were being trained in a way that wasn’t really culturally sensitive.”

Over the course of 10-12 years, the Spelman College graduate, who completed her residency in 2005, made a case for creating a product of her own. She committed to a goal of making an accessible line of products in the within the last five years.

The Research That Led to a Revolutionary New Product Line

The dermatologist dove into research by mostly scouring the ingredients list on shampoo and conditioner bottles sold at big-box retailers. She also reviewed professional-grade products used by hairstylists.

“I did my own charts and graphs and really compared what sorts of lathering agent they were using,” she said. “‘What do I like about it? What do I not like about it? What have people told me about these products?’ It was a lot of pencil and paper.”

Hicks-Graham took into account the ingredients in the prescription shampoos, deciding which elements she wanted to use in what would become LivSo and which she did not.

“I really wanted a hybrid between some of the wonderful things that I found were very effective in the prescription products and some of the cosmetically enriching agents that I would find in some of the over the counter products,” she said.

Hicks-Graham held a 12-week, 34-person clinical trial that wrapped in 2016, where 50 percent of participants were of African descent. Eighty-four percent had noticeable results after four weeks, with that number jumping to 97 percent by the end of the study. It was a lengthier process than the typical four-week trial, which saw Hicks-Graham funding an independent study with a board-certified dermatologist to oversee it. She told ABS in times of stress, she would lean on her spouse of 14 years, Christopher Graham.

The name of the LivSo line coincidentally mirrors from the names of Hicks-Graham’s children: daughter Olivia and son Solomon. (Dr. Shari Hicks-Graham)

“My husband has always been my greatest supporter and he’s kept me motivated and focused on what I thought was the final goal, which are the patients that I would see day in and day out” she said. “So, [I was] just really staying focused on that and it really kept me motivated and just fired up to come up with a better way.”

LivSo, a Unique Product Line

“I didn’t want to necessarily do another product that was going to promise long, bouncy, curly [hair],” Hicks-Graham said of her product goal. “What I also appreciate … is that every single person has thousands of different kinds of hair on their head that behave differently, especially when you’re talking about people of color who have more hair textures and types than you can imagine. I believe that healthy hair starts with [a] healthy scalp.”

Hicks-Graham said what sets this product line apart from others like it is the fact that it has been studied in a clinical trial. The shampoo has anti-fungal properties and the leave-in moisturizer is not a treatment for strands but applied directly to the scalp before drying and styling the hair — just as you would apply lotion to your body — to improve its condition. The moisturizing lotion can be applied as needed between washes to help alleviate any irritation.

The Columbus, Ohio, native said even though the product shines when it treats dry, itchy scalp, it also can be used by individuals who don’t suffer from the conditions. She noted some users enjoy the shampoo’s softening and detangling properties.

“The response has been overwhelmingly positive,” she said. “I’ve got moms who take moments at night after they put their kids and they feel like they’re treating themselves to something special when they use it and that makes me feel really good. A lot of times the dry scalp products out there just don’t feel that luxurious and this one does.”

Stepping Into the Entrepreneur World and Future Hopes

In the next few months, Hicks-Graham said LivSo is going to continue to raise brand awareness and education. She plans to target hairstylists who work with clients who typically get prescribed the hair-hardening scalp treatments. Samples will be sent out in mid-March in key cities, including Atlanta, New York, Chicago and Los Angeles.

Should LivSo go on to be the go-to product to solve scalp and hair issues, Hicks-Graham said it would be a dream come true, leading the company to introduce more innovative products to serve customers’ needs.

“It would mean the world to LivSo and to me to feel as if we contributed in a way that it reached those heights,” she said. “It would mean everything.”


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