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Jamaican-American markets castor oil products

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It’s the tropical way to live.

The skin and hair care brand Tropic Isle Living, is a staple in many homes across the United States. The Jamaican black castor oil-based line was created by its Jamaican-American co-founder Lois Hines — who launched it with her late husband Michael. When she immigrated to the states, Hines says she desperately longed for a personal use product that catered to her grooming needs but also reminded her of home. That is where the idea was born to bring her native country’s beloved version of castor oil — a potent and pungent processed oil used for hair, skin, and minor ailments — to the U.S.

“When you migrate to the United States you’re always looking for things to relate to back home, and I was looking for a fusion of my culture when I came here to use,” said Hines.

One of those home products was Jamaican black castor oil, nicknamed by its acronym JBCO — a multi-use beauty product. Hines says she was constantly importing the oil and realized its was not a cost-effective solution. Soon after, the idea for Tropic Isle Living arose. Hines says she wanted other Jamaicans and Caribbean Americans to also access a product that they used in their native land.

“The Tropic Isle Living was created to sell a natural and traditional product and to bridge the Caribbean and the United States, and show what can Jamaica and the Caribbean can offer in terms of beauty and a holistic approach to living,” she said.

But when she started the brand in 1992, she was met with criticism about selling castor oil. Critics often told her that the oil was too smelly, and she would not be able to form a lucrative business with it.

However, Hines stuck to her guns and partnered with Jamaican farmers to provide her with castor seeds. Then, when the natural hair movement began attracting a large following, interest in natural products increased, including those based with Jamaican black castor oil.

“When I started it was strictly castor, but nobody wanted to buy that thing and people would say it stinks — it was a humbling experience,” she said. “But it’s become so much the rave in the beauty space, and I’m thankful to have started this and to finally see the fruits of my labor.”

Tropic Isle Living now carries over 31 products, including the recently created Strong Roots collection. As part of the criticism and hesitance due to its odor, Hines says castor oil products infused with essential oils were created strictly for buyers who want to tolerate the smell.

“When we started, the only negative feedback we got was from people who said they can’t stand the smell, and it forced us to really mask the scent but still have valuable effect on ones hair and skin when paired with carrier oil,” said Hines.

As a result, there are now castor oil products mixed with lavender, coconut, sage, and rosemary oils, and aloe vera. She also says that while those ingredients not only disguise the smell of castor oil, they also add a multitude of benefits for users that relieve stress, aging, and hair loss.

Hines says the growth of her brand will continue to expand to adapt to the way the world changes our bodies.

“I really do believe global warming change on us and our bodies, and as our bodies change our needs change and I will create products as circumstances change,” she said.

Reach reporter Alexandra Simon at (718) 260–8310 or e-mail her at asimon@cnglocal.com. Follow her on Twitter @AS1mon.
Updated 6:54 pm, July 20, 2018
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