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  • Writer's pictureKaren Lee

Playa Beauty's founder, Shelby Wild's new haircare line California Naturals | Review and Comparison


Playa Beauty and California Naturals' haircare line of products—shampoo, conditioner, leave-in conditioner, and hair mask—displayed side-by-side on a marble top in front of a window.

RIP Playa Beauty


My favorite haircare line of all time was discontinued last year. It was devastating because not only did I LOVE the scent (even bought the candle), the conditioner was my absolute holy grail. And every hair product I tried after that impressed me as well.


Playa Beauty's shampoo and conditioner had waitlists of thousands when it first came out (and sold out). The shampoo was a thick, bouncy, jelly; it cleansed without stripping. And a little went a long way. And while the conditioner was thick like a buttery hair mask, it didn't didn't weigh down your hair.


The ultimate test of how good this conditioner was that it was able to keep my dog's tail from matting. I used it as a hair mask for her tail during her weekly bath. My dog has the finest, softest, wavy hair I've ever encountered. It damages and mats so easily and often, that it took me years to figure out her grooming routine. Her tail would have to be shaved down twice a year, and no matter how much daily brushing, it would get matted solid every few months.


Unfortunately the brand was sold to the wrong owners.


A lot of people claimed that that they felt like the formulation of the product while under ownership of Morphe's parent company, Forma Brands, was inferior to before. I have found the same. The shampoo wasn't as thick and bouncy, and the conditioner was less viscous and less hydrating.


I stocked up on my faves at 50% off when Playa went on sale before exiting Sephora. I could finally, sort of, afford the shampoo and conditioner I only used weekly to prolong the life of the product.


And then there was the whole "Morphe is not doing well because they put all their eggs into a tunnel-visioned strategy and now they're bankrupt" thing. Playa went on clearance. People started seeing it pop-up at off-price retailers, and that's when I started to panic - that's the sign a product or brand is in hospice care.


I find a lot of the scents used in haircare products to be unbearable. I started using luxury hair products because instead of cheap fragrances, they were formulated with more complex scents like perfume (base, middle, top notes). Too many are fragranced like a dessert, flowers, or the category I call, "what corporate thinks women will like".


The only products I didn't love from Playa were the ones from when they briefly expanded into body care. The scent was like of an incense I would call "grandma's clothes trunk". Not necessarily bad, but just not my fave.


I am so, so happy that Shelby Wild was able to create a new haircare line. A lot of the times, founders have to sign non-competes.


The California Naturals scent:


I was wondering why the scent reminded me of hot west coast dude, but also of a hot-but-toxic finance bro. Dreamwood is a synthentic sandalwood (sandalwood is rare because of over harvesting).


What? Synthetic??? Isn't synthetic bad?


Some of the biggest cult fragrances have been anti-fragrances featuring a single note of synthetic ambergris. Ambergris is like a rare floating tonsil stone coughed up from an endangered whale. I mean, so many scents used by perfumiers were/are obscure, smelly animal parts. Hi, Musk! AKA deer anal gland juice!


If you're in the perfume scene, you're probably familiar with Ambrox, a synthetic ambergris. And people LOVE Juliet Has a Gun's Not a Perfume, which is basically a singular note of synthetic ambergris, and Glossier's You.


Sandalwood is one of the key notes in the insanely popular Le Labo Santal 33, so that's probably why this immediately smelled familiar and "expensive" to me.


Even though I love expensive fragrances, often times the perfume companies' hair/body products contain what are "cheap" ingredients. Ones like sodium lauryl sulfates (SLS), or propylene glycol, yes are safe for most people, for many people it's highly irritating. These ingredients cause my skin to start flaking or have an eczema flare up. Aesop, Le Labo, Byredo, Jo Malone, Dyptique, you name it, they have beautiful smelling shampoos, and soaps that use the ingredients of something that belongs in the drug store.


So in conclusion. California Naturals nailed the scent.


Luxury formulation for less??


I feel like "dupes" and calling stuff "luxury" is so overdone. Yes, I think The Ordinary and the ilk are great for making efficacious ingredients affordable and accessible, but for me, I am willing to pay a premium for an elegant formula.


The Shampoo and Conditioner are immediately reminscent of the OG Playa shampoo and conditioner - not the Morphe era ones. In general, none of these products are typical Target/drug-store products. They are a true luxury formulation I would expect to only find in high-end products. Partly because of the wonderful fragrance, but mostly because you don't need as much product to get results. I find cheaper formulations always feel more "watered down".


I love that every one of the California Naturals' products is sulfate and silicone-free. Sodium lauryl sulfate / sodium laureth sulfate is fine for most people, but causes my eczema to flare up. It's a cheap ingredient that causes a bigger lather, which is used for the optics of cleaning more than necessary for cleaning. Silicones in beauty products add a "slip" to the product that can make a product feel more "luxe" - it's a short-cut to a more elegant formula. In haircare, I find that it weighs down my hair by the second or third day, almost as if it's collecting extra dirt. The other downside to silicones is that they are suspected to be an environmental toxin or bioaccumulative.


Shampoo:

- Same unique and amazing texture as the Playa shampoo

- A little goes a long way

- Amazing lather

- Non-stripping (it's great as a daily driver, but if you need a deep cleanse, you don't need to use more product)


Conditioner:

- Same thick, creamy conditioner as the OG Playa conditioner

- Doesn't weigh hair down


Leave-In Conditioner:

- Gel texture that turns into a creamy texture - a little bit sticky, and a little too heavy. I use it on hair wash days, because it is pretty good at taming fly aways and smoothing hair

- This is the least luxurious feeling of the products


Hair Mask:

- Real thick buttery texture. Unfortunately, I didn't notice a huge difference between using this and the regular conditioner.

- The Playa hair mask was a jelly texture that "activated" when you massaged it through your hair. It wasn't a "holy grail" product for me, but I still liked it a lot.


I do a texture comparison of Playa versus California Naturals over on TikTok so you can see a side-by-side comparison of the products:





Conclusion


I'm stoked about California Naturals is building a mass brand, with the blueprint of a prestige-luxury brand. They have even tapped Tony Hawk as their Chief Culture Officer. How is Tony Hawk involved here? His daughter was a huge fan of Playa Beauty! And California Naturals is trying to tap into California based cultural influencers to establish a level of effortless "cool" through their online Zine and social content. No pretentious, picture-perfect models, just genuinely cool people.


I will continue to try California Naturals products. The products I hope they come out with soon are a dry shampoo and hair oil. Then, my Playa transition will officially be completed.


Most Playa Beauty products are sold out, even on the resale market, but occasionally you'll find a leave-in conditioner get listed on Glou Marketplace. Make sure you favorite it to get a notification as soon as new listings are added!

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