Tested down to a hair

Strong, shiny, voluminous. Who wouldn't want hair like this? Yet blow-drying, straightening, sunbathing, and dry heating air can ruin a fine head of hair. State-of-the-art hair-care products are providing a solution. In Evonik Industries' hair laboratory, experts test the raw materials for shampoos and hair treatments. They also keep a close eye on current trends among consumers.

Uta Kortemeier pulls the wide-toothed comb through the blond locks. She gazes straight ahead and seems to feel even minimal resistance. Finally, the comb glides easily through the strands of hair. Carefully, she touches the lengths and the tips with her fingers. The head of the hair laboratory and her team use real hair to test whether the raw materials employed make hair easier to comb and create shine and volume, and whether the hair still looks good after sunbathing or styling with a hairdryer and straightener.

Brittle, lusterless, thin hair does not conform to the ideal of beauty. For people who appear in fashion magazines or advertising or who cut a figure in the "in" scene, healthy, well cared-for hair is a must. Blow-drying and straightening hair with a flattening iron to obtain the desired styles can really damage healthy hair, however. Still, with the right care, damage can be prevented, delayed or fixed. Assuming the right raw materials are used, of course!

Evonik manufactures a large number of raw materials — hair care additives, but also surfactants and thickening agents — for shampoos, conditioners and hair treatments. Surfactants clean the hair; thickeners ensure the right viscosity. The additives give the hair a smooth structure and protect it against heat and ultraviolet (UV) light.

A simple principle with a brilliant effect

But how do these care for the hair? The hair care additives consist of modified silicones or are based on renewable raw materials such as rapeseed or coconut oil. The latter are organic compounds with a positive charge. Hair, on the other hand, is negatively charged. Positives and negatives attract. This enables substances such as wax or oil to stick to the hair and make it smooth. The silicones also make the hair smooth by forming a film. They are principally used in shampoos as they mix better with the surfactants.

Uta Kortemeier fills a beaker with water and adds glycerin. On a small hotplate she heats the liquid to 65°C. She then adds two different kinds of white pellets, the hair care additive and fatty alcohol. The fatty alcohol ensures that the substance becomes creamy and helps to give the hair care additive its smoothing effect. Uta Kortemeier mixes everything with a stirrer. After cooling down, the hair conditioner is now ready to be tested in the laboratory.

Testing new versions all the time

Uta Kortemeier and her colleagues always create several versions of a test product. The basis remains the same, but with a different active ingredient. Only the versions that have successfully passed the test on the strand of hair get the chance to show the desired positive effect on customers' heads later on. But before this can happen, some more work needs to be done on the head of the doll—"Abigail," as the laboratory staff call her. Her magnificent hair is divided by a center parting. On each side, Kortemeier massages a different composition of the product into the hair. When applying the product, she can already feel whether the conditioner is easy to work into the hair. Whether it is too thin or too thick. Does it wash out easily? And how easy is it to comb the hair afterwards. Is the hair shiny or dull after blow-drying? "The sensory tests are important. When they apply the product, consumers immediately sense whether the conditioner meets these requirements or not," says Kortemeier, explaining why one's own instinct is so important. The silkiness of a conditioner when applied, the feeling that the hair is easy to comb and lies well, and the optical impression of shine and volume are important for consumers.

The active ingredients in the hair care product are developed by staff in the research department. They are constantly creating new substances that could provide the desired benefit. Trends such as hair dying and straightening make hair care increasingly necessary. This is why the hair specialists keep such a close eye on current trends. "Hair straightening has been in for some time now. For this reason, developing raw materials to protect hair against heat is a key issue for us," Uta Kortemeier explains. Another trend is color shampoos, which keep color in the hair for longer. "On the whole, consumer awareness is constantly growing," says Kortemeier. "All around the world, hair care products are being increasingly tailored to specific tasks."

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