Before its acquisition, Carol's Daughter signaled a transition with a 2011 ad featuring singer Solange and multiracial models Cassie and Selita Ebanks. "What we're doing now is moving into a polyethnic space," investor Steve Stoute told Women's Wear Daily when the campaign was launched.
For some, the ad marked a step away from a movement for black women. "It seems like Carol's Daughter did what many companies tend to do, feature only lighter-skinned women of color, because they're considered more palatable to mainstream society," wrote blog Brown Sugar Beauti.
Founder Lisa Price says she knew Carol's Daughter had the potential to reach a larger demographic than its original largely black and female customer base when she realized the products work for a wide range of hair and skin types.
"We will continue addressing diverse beauty needs and featuring African American women, and all types of women in our advertising, as our Carol's Daughter family has grown to include real women from around the world," Price said in an email.
SheaMoisture faced similar backlash for an ad in April. The ad, part of a campaign with dozens of short videos, featured several white women talking about the hair-related struggles they've faced, like having red hair.
Critics said it minimized the lifetime of discrimination black women face over their hair, affecting their employment prospects, media representations and self-esteem, among other factors.
The blowback was swift and fierce.
"The reason people felt upset is because you feel so close to this brand that you've seen grow and you've helped build and you've spread the word about," said Patrice Grell Yursik, creator of black beauty website Afrobella. "To see them making decisions that make you feel excluded and that they're intentionally trying to move on from you as a consumer is hurtful."
Dennis said the ad did not go through Sundial's typical process. "We understand that we as a brand have transcended a brand and we are part of our cultural identity and there's a responsibility that comes with that."
When asked if they are shifting to a multicultural audience, some brands point to hair type instead of race. "From the beginning, my sister and I were staying focused on texture," Branch said. "It's not uncommon for a Jewish woman to have the same afro-texture as a woman with African descent."
"I'm black," Davis said. "I made (Kinky-Curly) for my hair type and as time went on, other ethnicities and other demographics have started to use the product which is fine."
Some customers are denouncing the shifts by brands such as SheaMoisture and Carol's Daughter _ companies that helped kick-start the natural hair movement _ and pledging their support to small, independent black-owned companies.
"A lot of these brands ... say they're listening and in the same breath they try to defend what they do," said Erin McLaughlin, a 20-year-old from Philadelphia who went natural two years ago.
There's a reason those with natural hair are concerned, Yursik said. After all, the movement emerged because big beauty companies were ignoring their wants and needs. Who's to say that won't happen again?
"I want to see our black brands grow in a way that doesn't result in alienating us as a consumer base," she said.
"It's something we've seen before."