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Scientists claim breakthrough for improved hair care

By Simon Pitman , 18-Aug-2008
Last updated the 18-Aug-2008 at 19:12 GMT

US scientists claim to have lifted the lid on a key reason for the so called ‘bad hair day’ – a finding that could lead to improvements in hair care product development.

The study findings, which were recently presented at the American Chemical Society national meeting, highlighted how detailed microscopic analysis of hair fibers shows exactly how hair fibers interact with one another – a factor that affects the smoothness and ultimately the appearance of the hair.

Key to this finding, the researchers claim, is that it may be harbored to help improve the development of shampoos, conditioners and other targeted products that are designed to repair damaged hair.

Hair care is the second biggest personal care product category and is currently valued at $60 billion annually.

Hair care means niche

However, growth in the hair care market has been limited in recent years, reflecting the maturity of the category.

Where product developers have been able to tap into growth, however, is the creation of niche products that address specific hair care needs, especially damaged hair.

"Given all the new hair treatments out there, there's a growing need to make hair feel more natural, especially for women," says study co-author Eva Max, a doctoral student in chemistry at the University of Bayreuth in Germany.

Hair care backed by science

The study also clues into the trend for hair care products that are backed by science, something that many consumers find reassuring.

"For the first time, we present an experimental setup that allows measuring the subtle forces, both physical and chemical, that arise when single hairs slide past each other or are pressed against each other," Max said.

"The findings will help provide clearer strategies for optimizing hair care products."

The method the researchers developed to analyze the hair fibers relies on a cantilever tip of an atomic force microscope and measuring the fibers interact as they touch one another.

The research found that when these fibers slide past one another it can cause more friction and lead to a roughness that is often associated with out of condition or unhealthy looking hair.

Targeting the problem

This sort of problem is often addressed with softeners or polymers that provide a neutral charge to correct the repulsion that causes the hair fibers to rub against one another.

But, as the authors of the report point out, finding the correct formula to solve this problem can often prove to be extremely difficult, because of external forces such as humidity, hair quality and the level of moisture in the hair fibers.

The authors claim that the new method of analysis they have developed could help to factor in all of these considerations, leading to the development of more targeted and effective hair care products.

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