Hair

10 secrets of the hair industry

January 25th 2017 / Anna Hunter

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The Horizon Hair Care Secrets documentary that aired early this week revealed some shockers on the subject of hair dying, heat styling and going grey. Here’s what stuck with us…

The BBC science-based investigative documentary series Horizon is tapping into some seriously zeitgeisty topics of late, given last week’s examination of the Clean Eating phenomenon, and this week’s subject of scrutiny was also of huge general interest: hair. From battling to keep it to revealing the tricks and tech of the £60 billion global hair industry, the show affirmed just how much importance we attach to our hair, and the lengths, so to speak, that we’ll go to guarantee a good hair day. From whether cheap shampoo works to exploring just how hair looks SO good in haircare adverts, here’s what we learned…

1. It’s big business

We knew this already of course, but this fact really hits home when you consider that we spend four times more on researching our hair than we do on diseases such as malaria. Of the £60 million spent globally, £1.5 billion represents the hair loss treatment market, possibly because...

2. Hair plays a big part in first impressions

According to psychologist Dr Graham Hole, the external elements of your face are the most important when we first recognise others, and we make our judgements within milliseconds. Tellingly, in a ‘hair swap’ between mothers and daughters using wigs, the ages of the daughters within the group were all overestimated, while mothers’ ages were underestimated, one by a whopping seven years.

3. Cheap shampoo works, but there’s a catch…

The concept of hair ‘self-washing’ after a given amount of time was effectively rubbished- hair just can’t handle the buildup of sebum, dead skin cells and pollutants. Trichologist Anabel Kingsley told us that most hair types, with the practical exception of afro and very coarse hair, should be washed everyday to maintain optimum hair health and conditions, especially in polluted urban environments. The Horizon team found that while £1, £6 and £40+ shampoos all carried dirt away effectively with washing water to leave hair clean, the cheapest shampoo made one tester’s hair surface static, so that it then picked up dust and grime from the atmosphere at a quicker rate post-wash. The lack of conditioning ingredients was the culprit in this case, which brings us to…

4. Look for ‘-ium’ on the bottle

As with all things we apply and consume, ingredients matter. In the case of conditioners, we should be looking for quaternium, polyquaternium, or pretty much anything ending with ‘-ium’, high up on the ingredients list. Quaternium and the like are positively charged, while clean hair is negatively charged, so conditioners are designed to ‘stay’ on the hair to counteract this. Good conditioners can dramatically reduce hair damage, reducing the force required to comb through lengths. Speaking of ingredients, as with our daily grub, ‘free-from’ doesn’t equate to ‘good’. Some perceived ‘nasties’ can be replaced with other allergens, so you should be focusing on what is in your hair products, as well as what isn’t.

5. You can thank the car industry for your added volume

L’Oréal have cracked a ‘golden’ volumising molecule that penetrates the hair shaft and creates a 3D ‘network’ inside the hair shaft to boost volume. The Filoxane molecule was ten years in the making and inspired by technology utilised in the car industry to repair cracked windscreens, but Horizon made the situation more than a little squirmy when presenter Dr Helen Czerski took a L’Oréal scientist to task on the fact that critical analysis of the R&D only presented positive findings, with no disadvantages regarding hair damaged published. Some tumbleweed drifted across the screen as he fudged an answer…

6. Hair damage is inevitable, but there’s a ‘safe’ heat for your straighteners

A trip to the ghd research lab revealed that even towel drying can be damaging to hair (scientists advise a very technical ‘squidge’ not ‘shake’ method), but lowering the heat setting of your thermal styling devices could make all the difference between relatively healthy hair and ‘melted’ hair. The thermal styling market is worth £11 billion globally, but switching our styling temperature to around 180ºC-185ºC will avoid damage to the building blocks of hair, the disulphide bonds, breaking the reversible hydrogen bonds within hair instead. Temperatures of around 220ºC permanently altered the texture of hair tresses in testing and blonde hair even changed colour at 225ºC, and not in a good way. FYI if your hair smells even ever so slightly ‘eggy’ during styling, you’re breaking those disulphide bonds. Alarmingly there’s actually no legal restrictions on the temperature limits of styling plates. You’ve been warned…

7. The most desired hair quality is shine

Shine=health=beauty is the general equation in how we perceive hair. The darker the dair the greater the shine, and dyeing hair can make it less shiny, as bleach and the like damage the hair surface, making it rough and not as reflective. As we lose colour from our hair with age it also becomes less shiny, bringing us neatly to the next learning…

8. There’s a grey gene

Melanin loss is the the culprit for most of us going grey, and twin studies reveal that hair can go grey for a multitude of reasons, both genetic and epigenetic (influenced by external factors and environment). Smoking is thought to speed up the rate at which you can go grey, but the recently discovered melanin regulating ‘grey gene’ IRF4 is now a specific target for researchers, increasing the possibility that in the future we may be able to repair colour deficit from the outside in. Also, good news for afro and Southeast Asian hair- on average your greying is delayed for ten years.

9. Hair adverts aren’t what they seem

I mean, it’s obvious really, but those shimmering locks often come courtesy of extensions, multiple photographic lighting tools and a ‘helper’ dressed in a green morph suit wielding a hair tousling ‘stick’ who is then removed in post-production. Daily life it ain’t.

10. Losing your hair, and trying to restore it, is an ordeal on every level

Losing your hair can feel like losing your identity, for both men and women. Hair transplant operations can have a transformative impact, but the procedure isn’t something to be taken lightly, costing roughly £6000-£8000, taking hours to complete, and as the graphic filming of an op in the show portrayed, looking likely painful once the local anesthetic has worn off. Results aren’t instant, with new hair follicles taking between six to eight months to grow long enough to make a cosmetic difference, but they can be life-changing.

Did you watch Horizon: Hair Care Secrets? If so, let us know your thoughts below in the comments

Follow Anna on Instagram @annyhunter and Twitter @AnnaMaryHunter


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