How Philip Kingsley Became Hair Guru to the Stars
Main image – Artempodrez/Stocksy
When I think of improving scalp and hair health, there is instantly one name that springs to mind. Philip Kingsley.
Since opening his London Trichological Clinic in the 1960s, Kingsley has been renowned amongst beauty editors, celebrities and royalty for being the authority in the scientific study of the hair and scalp. Otherwise known as trichology.
He was the first to take a holistic approach to hair and scalp health, which saw him study clients’ diet, general health, stress levels and genetics. And it’s because of this that the clinic has gone from strength to strength, along with the brand’s hair care product line (its colourful bottles will be a familiar sight to many on TikTok and Instagram).
Having once been a client at the clinic myself around 13 years ago, and finding my experience hugely fascinating (and helpful), I wanted to chat to Philip Kingsley’s daughter, Anabel, a consultant trichologist and the brand’s president.
She talked me through the *amazing* back story of the brand, how it is evolving to fit today’s demands whilst remaining in keeping with its heritage, and why the likes of Sir Laurence Oliver and Audrey Hepburn played a part in its growth.
It’s an incredible story of how one man went from sweeping hair off a salon floor to building an empire.
Where it all began
The story begins in London, where a young man named Philip Kingsley wanted to become a doctor. But there was a problem. “He couldn’t afford medical school,” says Anabel. “[So he] began his career sweeping hair from the floor of a Bethnal Green salon, run by his uncle.”
Not to be defeated, his high-flying career goals simply changed tack.
“Over the years of working in his uncle’s salon, he became fascinated with hair and scalp health – specifically hair loss and scalp conditions and the impact that hair can have on self-esteem,” she explains.
“Encouraged by his family, my father saved up to study at The Institute of Trichologists, graduating in 1953.”
And so, Philip Kingsley opened his London Trichological Clinic in 1968. And thanks to his then-revolutionary holistic approach, he became well respected.
We know the clinic and brand eventually became a roaring success, but it wasn’t exactly plain sailing from the off. This empire was a slow starter.
“He would maybe have 2 appointments a week and would book them back-to-back, often overlapping so he seemed busy,” confides Anabel.
But one day, actor Sir Harry Andrews came in for a consultation regarding hair loss. “My father was very honest with him,” Anabel says. “Sir Andrews was almost bald and not much could be done to regrow the hair he had lost.
“He was impressed by my father’s honesty and sent the whole national theatre to him – including Sir Laurence Oliver, whom my dad formulated SZ dandruff shampoo for.”
From that moment on, the clinic was booked for months.
“My father was often referred to as hair care’s best-kept secret. He became known as ‘the hair doctor’ and ‘hair guru’ and had a stellar client list of Hollywood actors, musicians, models, politicians and even royalty who came, and still do come, to our clinics (now also in New York),” Anabel continues.
And the rest, as they say, is history. “The brand name and the transformative effects that those clients saw really spread through word of mouth.”
So how did the product line come about?
“My father had a small range of products when he started giving consultations in the 1960s,” explains Anabel. “He would whip up bespoke batches on a small stove in his garage, and then eventually in his clinic laboratory.”
Hair guru and clever scientist on the side? Standard.
“He would tweak his formulas based on his client’s feedback, adding to the range as he came across different needs, hair types and scalp problems. He was the first person to categorise hair in terms of texture, rather than ‘normal’, ‘oily’ and ‘dry’, pointing out that any hair texture can be oily or dry, but needs different products to look its best.”
And, according to Anabel, “there is no ‘normal’ hair!”
Perhaps my favourite anecdote from Philip Kingsley’s career is the one about Elasticizer – the brand’s most successful product. “It was first formulated especially for Audrey Hepburn,” says Anabel, casually.
Yes, that ever so slightly, er, iconic actress. It was created “to stop her hair breaking after over-colouring and styling it on the set of Robin and Marian in 1975,” Anabel says.
I demanded more gossip. “Back then, it came as a concentrated paste in a pot that the client (including Audrey) would have to mix with water at home.” Audrey Hepburn – committed to good hair care since the 1970s.
“We launched Elasticizer, pre-mixed, within our retail range in 1983. Now, one is sold every minute and it wins multiple awards every year,” adds Anabel.
Fast forward to today and the brand has a full retail product range available at most premium and beauty retailers, “and a clinical product range akin to medial grade skincare that is available via prescription only at our Trichological Clinics.”
Evolving with the times
As a past client, I remember how traditional the Philip Kingsley London Trichological Clinic was. It’s a beautiful, historic townhouse in the centre of London boasting luxurious rooms with high ceilings and slightly old-fashioned décor. But this is part of its charm.
I loved how ‘old-school’ the place felt, from its squeaky floors and big, wooden doors, down to how beautifully I was spoken to by the receptionist and all who worked there. My male trichologist had impeccable manners and showed flawless chivalry (whatever happened to that?).
But this rather ‘old-school’ feel hasn’t stopped the brand from evolving with the times, particularly on social media. “We have had to employ a much more reactive strategy to content creation considering shorter lead times and team resource,” explains Anabel.
“This has meant growing our teams so that we can ensure we can be reactive without dropping the ball on other business priorities. Content quality is another thing we have had to adjust to.
“Consumers are favouring raw, lo-fi content vs. polished high-quality content, especially on TikTok – so navigating our way as a premium brand has taken some getting used to!”
This is a very different marketing style, I’m sure, to what Philip Kingsley would have anticipated when he opened his clinic in 1968. But the brand’s willingness to evolve shows that even the most traditional brands can meet today’s needs whilst staying true to their core values.
“It’s a demanding space to play in, but it’s fun – ultimately, we are trying to get better at giving our clients and customers content they want to see versus what we want to show them.
“We are, at our heart, an educational brand that wishes to empower with knowledge and solid advice, and social media really gives us a great platform to do this.”
Debunking the myths
I think we can take what we’ve learned so far that the Kingsleys really do know their stuff when it comes to hair and scalp health. So, let’s debunk a few myths. Starting with, will cutting my hair make it grow faster? Anabel says the answer is no.
“It just makes the ends look healthier, which can make a style appear thicker,” she says, adding that the most common myth is that shampooing can cause hair loss and/or harms the hair.
“I ask my clients to view shampooing as scalp cleansing, as that is the main aim when you wash,” she explains. “Your scalp is skin and is a living organ that sweats, products oils, sheds skin cells and is exposed to the same environmental pollution as the skin on your face.
“Regular cleansing of the scalp keeps it healthy, which supports healthy hair growth.”
Apparently, the only damage you can do to your hair when shampooing is if you’re rough with it. “You shouldn’t scrub your hair or pile it on top of your head – let your hair flow behind you and squeeze suds through your mid-lengths and ends.”
Anabel’s top 5 pointers for healthy hair growth
“If you aren’t eating well, at the very least your hair won’t grow to its best ability or be as strong as it could be. Everyone should make an effort to eat a healthy, balanced, and varied diet – but in certain instances, nutrition is even more important.
For example, some individuals have a harder time absorbing nutrients, or you may follow a specific diet which means you have to be extra mindful to ensure you’re taking in sufficient vitamins, minerals and proteins.
Stress levels, the heaviness of your menstrual flow and activity levels should also be taken into account.”
2. Scalp health
“Your scalp is your hair’s support system and the bedrock of your hair follicles. For those with a generally happy scalp, cleanse regularly and use a balancing serum at night to help prevent problems from occurring.
“If you have a scalp condition, like dandruff or seborrhoeic dermatitis, take extra steps with a daily targeted antimicrobial shampoo and toner and a weekly scalp mask. I love our Flaky/Itchy Scalp range.”
3. Hair condition
“You’ll have to focus on hair condition more closely if you colour, chemically process or regularly heat style your hair. Breakage can impact the volume of your mid-lengths and ends, while dryness and damage can make hair lacklustre, tangly and unmanageable.
“At a minimum use a weekly conditioning mask, as well as heat protection when you style.”
4. General health
“Stay on top of your health with yearly physicals. General health has a huge impact on hair growth.”
“While you can’t change your genetic makeup, you can be mindful of how it can impact your strands. If you notice your hair is becoming finer, and your scalp more visible, you may have a predisposition to hair loss – and should seek help.
This type of hair loss (called androgenetic alopecia or female pattern hair loss) is progressive so it’s best to treat it early on. Knowing your family history of hair loss can also be useful.”
View this post on Instagram
What I love about the Philip Kingsley empire is not only the incredible back story of Mr Kingsley’s perseverance and true talent. But also, that the support he and the team have to offer is for all ages, without discrimination. “My clients’ ages range from 14 to 85,” says Anabel.
After reading about the brand’s legacy, I think we can probably agree on one thing. That if we were to ever experience hair loss or any scalp health issues, the Philip Kingsley London Trichological Clinic would be top of our list of safe places to visit. And Anabel says that everyone is welcome.
“It’s really important to realise that [these] issues are not confined to older men and women. Hair loss in younger women is so common. You are definitely not alone and there is nothing to be embarrassed about.”
Meet Anabel Kingsley
Anabel Kingsley is a Consultant Trichologist, as well as Brand President of the Philip Kingsley Clinics and product ranges. Her passion for hair and scalp health was ignited from a young age by her father, Philip Kingsley.
Anabel is a qualified trichologist with a great interest in and knowledge of the hair and scalp. She has a particular focus on post-partum hair loss, nutrition and the psychology of hair loss. Anabel has written thousands of articles about hair and scalp health for international magazines, newspapers and websites, from Harper’s Bazaar to HuffPost.