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Hair Care Ingredient Makers Get Creative

Chemists meet demand for novel ingredients that repair, add shine, and protect color

by Marc S. Reisch
May 13, 2013 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 91, Issue 19

A photo of two Dow scientists examining hair treated for curl retention.
Credit: Dow Chemical
Dow scientists examine hair treated for curl retention.

Consumers demand a lot from hair care products beyond keeping hair clean. They want shampoos and conditioners that make hair shiny, manageable, and soft. They want to repair hair damaged and weakened in the dyeing process, and they want to protect newly colored hair from fading in the sun or with repeated washing. They also want a tonic, if they can get it, to make hair grow.

Chemists who formulate hair care products and those who develop new ingredients bring a veritable arsenal of raw materials to hair treatment. Some of them work for major consumer product brand owners such as L’Oréal and Henkel; others work for chemical companies that supply ingredients to the personal care industry.

Ingredients for hair care include the well established: silicones for shine, quaternary ammonium compounds for easier combing, proteins for thickening, and polyvinylpyrrolidone for shaping and styling. But the hair care sector is being enlivened by entirely new ingredients as well as proprietary packages that combine the old standbys in novel ways.

These days, shampoos and conditioners are meant to do more than cleanse and ease combing, says Ameann DeJohn, a product development consultant for small to medium-sized consumer product formulators. These products are being called on to strengthen the hair so it doesn’t break, repair frizzy hair, and give hair the radiant shine of youth.

“In many ways, hair care formulators are treating hair like skin, with antiaging ingredients,” DeJohn says. Just as skin care companies incorporate sunscreens in their products to protect the skin from the damaging effects of the sun’s ultraviolet rays, hair care firms are developing ingredients that protect hair from the bleaching and fading effects of the sun.

The major consumer brand owners often set the pace for ingredient invention. Paris-based L’Oréal, for instance, has developed a number of novel ingredients for hair. The firm describes Intra-Cyclane, introduced in 2010, as a molecule capable of penetrating to the core of hair fibers to create “a flexible and resistant molecular network that fills out and strengthens the fiber.” Intra-Cyclane can be found in the filler serum Fiberceutic by L’Oréal Professional.

Germany’s Henkel is also on the hunt for novel hair care ingredients. “Innovation in hair repair is a key element in Henkel’s hair care strategy,” Erik Schulze zur Wiesche, head of hair care basic development, tells C&EN. “A deep understanding of hair composition and the mechanisms of aging are the basis of new hair repair innovations.”

Among those innovations is a combination of nine amino acids with structural proteins known as keratins that Henkel developed and patented for its BC Bonacure Hairtherapy line. The active ingredients add “strength and elasticity for outstanding shine,” according to Henkel.

Companies seek out novel ingredients to gain a competitive advantage in the global hair care products business, which attracts more than $60 billion in annual consumer spending, according to industry consultants Kline & Co. About 21% of the $300 billion spent globally last year on personal care products was devoted to cleaning, conditioning, dyeing, and arranging human tresses. Only skin care gets a bigger share of consumers’ wallets.

Overall, the retail hair care market is growing by 4.5% per year, according to Nikola Matic, chemical and materials industry manager at Kline. Growth rates are faster, Matic says, in emerging markets—they are as high as 8.0% in China, Southeast Asia, and India. A growing middle class in these regions is demanding products that have long been available in Europe and the U.S., he notes.

Chemical companies, which supply the cosmetics industry with $14 billion to $18 billion per year of ingredients, should also see sales grow quickly in emerging markets, Matic says. Specialty ingredients for hair care products is a lucrative $2.5 billion subset of their business, he points out.

Out to garner a piece of the hair care ingredients market is Symrise, an established supplier of fragrances and sunscreens that is becoming increasingly interested in hair care. At the In-Cosmetics ingredient suppliers’ show in Paris last month, Symrise debuted SymHair Force 1631, an algae-derived compound intended to prevent hair loss and encourage hair growth.

Ingredient suppliers have long had an interest in hair growth, especially since minoxidil, a blood pressure medication, was found years ago to prevent hair loss and induce new hair growth. L’Oréal, for instance, developed stemoxydine, an ingredient that it claims revitalizes hair follicles that have become dormant while increasing the volume and density of hair. European consumers can find the ingredient in L’Oréal’s Neogenic by Vichy hair treatment.

Hair and skin care products dominate the consumer market.Source: Kline & Co.
A pie chart showing the market share of various portions of the personal care market. Skin and hair care dominate said market share.
Hair and skin care products dominate the consumer market.Source: Kline & Co.

Makers of similar active ingredients generally try to avoid claiming that those ingredients actually grow new hair. Companies that make the claim in the U.S. take the risk of running afoul of Food & Drug Administration regulations that prohibit cosmetic makers from making druglike claims for their products. Since 2002, FDA has sent warning letters to six cosmetics makers that claim their products grow hair or prevent male pattern baldness. Minoxidil is the only FDA-approved hair growth ingredient in the U.S.

Symrise’s target market for SymHair—at least in the U.S.—is formulators of minoxidil-free products that profess to prevent hair loss. The development of SymHair was a joint effort with the Italian microalgae producer Archimede Richerche, explains Véronique Maurin, global product director for Symrise. Opportunity knocked, Maurin says, when Cutech Biotechnology, an Italian skin and hair testing laboratory with which Symrise has a long relationship, paired Symrise with Archimede.

Of the thousands of microalgae species known, only a few are commercially available, Maurin explains. One of those screened by Symrise and Cutech seemed promising: Isochrysis, a species of microalgae that comes from Mataiva Atoll, in French Polynesia.

Easily cultivated in photobioreactors, the microalgae are currently used as a fish food because they are loaded with unsaturated fatty acids and micronutrients. Symrise found in laboratory tests that an extract from the algae prevented hair loss and improved volume. “We don’t know what the active component is that makes SymHair effective,” Maurin acknowledges.

Minoxidil aside, hair care companies can’t necessarily make hair grow, but they can bring an arsenal of ingredients to the task of protecting its color. Given the multitude of people who color their hair, products that protect color between dye treatments have become something of an industry obsession. Examples on store shelves include Avon’s Advance Techniques Color Protection shampoo, Nivea Color Protect conditioner, and Dove Hair Therapy Conditioner Color Repair.

Silicones tend to be the workhorse of hair conditioners and shampoos. They are widely used to make hair shiny and easy to comb, but more recently silicones have been developed that coat the hair, protecting it from breakage and helping to preserve color. “A major trend is the Swiss-Army-knife approach to hair care ingredients,” says David Cohon, personal care global marketing director for Momentive, a silicones supplier.

With silicones such as its Silsoft AX-emulsion formulation, Momentive can provide consumer product formulators with multiple benefit claims. Those claims, Cohon says, include color protection, hair repair, shine, and protection from damage caused by blow-dryers and curling irons.

Silicones are often seen as the chemistry to beat in the hair conditioning arena. Under attack a few years ago because of suspicion that they harm the environment, silicones have been seen more favorably since the Canadian government agency Environment Canada gave silicones used in hair care a clean bill of health in 2012.

In addition, silicones are often attacked because they are not considered natural ingredients, acknowledges Stewart Long, global market manager for Dow Corning, another major silicone supplier. “The reason silicone chemistry was invented was to get properties not already in nature,” he says. The trick is to use the right technology in the right place, he adds.

Very small amounts of silicones can often allow formulators to provide more desirable consumer products, Long says. For instance, formulating shampoos and conditioners with just 2% of Dow Corning’s CE-8411 nonionic silicone emulsion provides color protection benefits, enhances hair shine, and helps prevent hair breakage, Long says.

One challenger to silicones is the combination of a quaternary ammonium compound and an ultraviolet light absorber. Hair care product makers have recently launched a number of shampoos and sprays intended to protect dyed hair from color washout and ultraviolet light damage, notes Nirmal Koshti, innovation process head at India’s Galaxy Surfactants. Often the products incorporate this ingredient pairing.

But such water-soluble formulations tend to rinse off in the shower, leaving little to protect the hair, Koshti says. Galaxy’s new GalHueShield Hair Color Seal combines in a single molecule “the best” quaternary ammonium compound, behenyl trimethyl ammonium chloride, with “the best” UV absorber, octyl methoxy cinnamate, he claims. The molecule’s active cationic center gives it a high affinity for hair, leaving more of the active ingredient behind after rinsing to condition dyed hair and protect its color.

Other chemistry systems also compete in the color protection space. Some are based on acrylic technology, such as a new line of ingredients from Ashland, which bought International Specialty Products and its personal care ingredients business in 2011. “People are damaging their hair more and more with what they do to stay beautiful,” says Dianne Leipold, Ashland’s care specialties marketing director.

Ashland’s Conditioneze 22, an aqueous copolymer of dimethyl ammonium chloride and acrylic acid, for instance, can be incorporated into a hair coloring system as well as into shampoos and conditioners for damaged and treated hair, Leipold says. Using acrylics makes it possible to offer formulators a high-performance system “at price points amenable to mass markets,” she adds.

Another silicone challenger using acrylic chemistry is Dow Chemical’s EcoSmooth Silk. Its acrylic-based polymer helps disperse an anionic polyolefin that binds to the hair surface, offering protective benefits, Dow says. Greater use of heat to dry and style hair means a need for conditioning agents that protect hair from damage, says Lucréce Foufopoulos, a Dow general manager for Europe, Middle East, and Asia.

Dow touts EcoSmooth’s low toxicity to aquatic organisms. Other firms, meanwhile, are emphasizing hair treatment agents based on nature-derived ingredients.

Tri-K Industries, a U.S.-based cosmetic ingredients supplier owned by India’s Galaxy, used a protein from grain, in this case quinoa, to design a conditioner to help dyed hair retain its color after repeated washing. “Consumers are looking for conditioners that help with color retention in addition to strengthening and repairing hair weakened in the dyeing process,” says Elzbieta Kasprzyk, innovation and application director at Tri-K.

On the basis of the amino acid profile of Quinoa Pro Ex, the Tri-K protein, company scientists theorized that it could be especially color protective, Kasprzyk says. Pro Ex forms a “protective scaffold” around hair to lock in and protect the color, she says. It brings other benefits as well, she adds, such as making hair easier to comb and giving it a youthful sheen.

Symrise also has a plant-derived hair care ingredient, Dragoderm 118726, intended to make hair softer and shinier. A hydrophobic solution of wheat proteins, the product coats the hair shaft and helps keep colored hair from fading, Symrise says.

A new ingredient from BASF, called Plantaquat NC, calls on plant-derived lecithin to give conditioning properties. Ulrich Issberner, head of hair care marketing for BASF, says the lecithin-based ingredient “gives performance that couldn’t be achieved with an all-natural conditioner before.” Blending in an anionic surfactant forms an emulsion allowing the lecithin to more effectively deposit on the hair, reducing hair breakage and adding volume to thin hair, Issberner says.

Given the large number of consumers who color their hair, Matic, the Kline consultant, predicts that conditioning polymers will be the fastest-growing specialty ingredient category. And with consumers obsessed with colorful, glowing, shiny hair, chemical companies should have a ready market for ingredients of all types for years to come.


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