Science just keeps making life easier: Aside from being able to record a TV program from your cellphone and have your car read your emails to you, according to recent claims from various companies, you may never have to experience a bad hair day again. Using the latest techology, hair-care experts are turning into lab geeks, coming up with new ways to shampoo, style and colour with innovative products that seem to be all about beauty and brains. And, despite all the complicated science and high-end tests—typically the stuff of luxe brands—there isn’t always a big price tag behind these new formulas.
Take Pantene’s new Pro-V collection. The 60-plus-yearold brand has made some major scientific breakthroughs to take its original line of budget-friendly shampoos, conditioners and styling products into the 21st century.
Back in 2004, Pantene researchers conducted a study using an atomic-force microscope (a highpowered tool used by NASA to study Mars) and, according to Dr. Jeni Thomas, senior scientist for Procter & Gamble Beauty, “a few lightbulbs went off.” The new technology revealed things about hair fibres that the scientists hadn’t known before. For example, fine hair has 50 percent less protein than thicker hair, which is why it tends to be much straighter, falls flat and has difficulty catching ingredients, explains Thomas. Thicker hair, with twice as many cells, can absorb more moisture, which explains “the frizzies.” Their discoveries led to the creation of a new collection— available on shelves June 1—designed for four major hair types: Fine, Medium-Thick, Curly and Colour. Within each category, products are tailored to specific purposes, such as Flat to Volume, Dry to Moisturized, Frizzies to Smooth and Curls to Straight.
For Thomas, the more customized approach represents the next generation of hair care. “In the ’80s and ’90s, products were designed according to hair type: dry, normal or oily,” she says. “In the late ’90s, it was more about the desired end look. This new change in formula design marries what works in both cases—what hair needs and where a woman wants it to go—but in a much more customized way.”
And it’s not just the big companies that are making waves in the hair-care category. Living Proof, a beauty brand based in Cambridge, Mass., was launched in 2005 to address the fact that most beauty products out there today contain the same basic ingredients and the same dated technologies. By teaming up with scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), they’re out to change all that.
Last year, the company introduced two new ideas: No Frizz, a line of shampoos, conditioners and styling products based on PolyfluoroEster (an anti-frizz discovery to replace silicone that repels moisture and coats hair to keep it smooth), and Full Thickening Cream, which uses Poly Beta Amino Ester-1 (a new material that creates fullness without making hair stiff or sticky). And its new Hold Flexible Hairspray also uses PolyfluoroEster to keep hair in place without making it feel like a plastic helmet.
“Companies often create a need instead of addressing problems that already exist,” explains Rob Robillard, president and CEO of Living Proof. “Our products are focused on big problems that haven’t been solved before.”
To someone like John Steinberg, a well-known Toronto-based hairstylist with more than 50 years of experience, it isn’t surprising that MIT scientists are currently working on hair products. “You need a bachelor of science just to read the labels these days,” he says. But, for him, it also raises a question: “Here’s a company with brains, but do they know more than scientists at professional hair-care companies who have been doing this for 50 years?”
What Steinberg is referring to are tried-and-true companies like L’Oréal Professionnel. As it just so happens, L’Oréal also has a new idea. In fact, it has just reinvented something it invented in the first place: hair colour. In 1909, L’Oréal founder Eugene Schueller developed the first commercial hair dye. This year, the company unveiled L’Oréal Professionnel Innovation No Ammonia (INOA), its first ammonia-free, fragrancefree permanent hair colour for salons, in Canada.
Conventional hair colour uses ammonia to open up the hair cuticle so that colourants can be deposited on the hair. It’s a process that makes hair more fragile— “plus it smells,” says Colin Ford, national education and events director for L’Oréal Professionnel. Instead, INOA uses an odourless ingredient called monoethanolamine (MEA). Rather than blasting open the cuticle, when MEA is used in combination with an oil gel, “the colour is pushed into the hair,” explains Ford. “It’s healthier, the colour lasts longer and the hair is shinier because the cuticle is more closed.” Aside from noticing that INOA is gentler on your hair, making it shinier, softer and less prone to fading, Ford thinks that you’ll be pleasantly surprised to find that it’s gentler on the scalp while offering 100 percent grey coverage.
But Bob Salem believes his new idea is revolutionary too. The former L’Oréal executive, who also spent time at Aveda, has founded his own brand, HerCut, the first line to address hairstyle instead of hair type. Called “styling catalysts,” the products are designed for specific haircuts, including The Bob, The Pixie, The Shag, The Blunt Cut and Long Layers. To support the shape of each style, HerCut uses polymer technology and macro-molecules to make your hair move the way your stylist intended. (For example, The Bob is formulated to encourage the hair to fall down and forward, while Long Layers is designed to create volume, bounce and fluid movement.)
The idea for HerCut came to Salem when he realized that women tend to love their haircuts, not their hair. This summer, HerCut will unveil lines for wavy and curly hair. “It will always be about the creation of new categories,” says Salem. “We’re not in the market of improving what already exists.”
In the end, regardless of technology or ingredients, the true test is if you try a product and it works on your hair, says Steinberg. That said, as the seasoned stylist admits, “Yesterday’s hair-care products come nowhere near where we are now; they just keep getting better and better.” Does this mean that we’ll be seeing an end to women having to fuss over their hair? “I hope not,” exclaims Steinberg. “Where would hairdressers be then?”