research discovers the effects of the environment and hair care products on hair fiber
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Research discovers the effects of the environment and hair care products on hair fiber

Bharat Bhushan, Eminent Scholar and the Howard Winbigler Professor of mechanical engineering at Ohio State, has done some significant research into hair conditioners and high-tech products with specially developed equipment. Bharat Bhushan and his team specialize in Nanotribology - an advanced and newly developed field of research which involves the measurement of very small matter, such as the friction between moving parts in microelectronics.

Dr Bhushan, was invited to give a lecture to a group of Proctor & Gamble scientists, and together they concluded that friction is potentially a major issue with hair. Though the subject matter is quite different and perhaps strange for a mechanical engineer to study, fundamentally the research is very similar to Dr Bhushan’s more usual focus of tiny motors. With the encouragement of P&G, Dr Bhushan and his colleagues were drawn to the project and the study of friction in hair fibers.

When the hair is rubbed or combed, some electrostatic charge is produced in the hair, which is actually a direct result of the friction. Many hair grooming activities, such as brushing, dying, and styling cause friction on the hair fibers, and this may actually lead to wear and tear and damage to the hair fiber.

The team of Ohio State engineers examined hair under an atomic force microscope (AFM), which is a tool that lets them scratch the surface of hair fibers and probe inside the hair shaft with a very tiny needle.

The study revealed that hair conditioners do not always evenly cover the entire hair shaft, which may prove to be a major factor for product’s efficacy.

In response to this discovery, P&G have developed a new hair conditioning formula with additives to make the conditioner coat the hair evenly. So far, experiments done by the Ohio team with this conditioner showed the new formula had a superior hair coating effect. It was a great result and demonstration of the product’s efficacy.

However, the team did not stop there and continued with their experiments. They next studied healthy and damaged hairs under an electron microscope and an AFM.

It is widely known that damaged hair cuticles begin to peel away from the hair shaft, which creates unmanageable and lack-luster hair. So the next step for the researchers was to determine the factor that causes this damage. The day to day wear on the hair was simulated by rubbing hairs together and against polyurethane film to simulate skin.

The scientists noted that when damaged hair is exposed to humidity, they plump up, and the cuticles stick out even further, leading to even more friction and frizz – a fact confirmed by the AFM as the researchers dragged a tiny needle across the surface of the damaged hairs. This is where the importance of hair conditioner design comes into play.

By poking the hair fibers with the AFM needle, and measuring the force required to pull it away, the scientists determined that normal conditioner tends to stick to the cuticle edges and that can make the hair stickier on the Nanometer scale. Newer hair conditioning formulas should coat the hair fiber more evenly and reduce the amount of conditioner that sticks to the edges of the hair cuticle. This in turn should give a smoother appearance to the hair fiber and help reduce friction.

The scientists also probed inside hairs to measure the hardness of different layers of the shaft. Hair has a very complex structure, Bhushan said, and these first ultra-precise measurements of interior structure could one day lead to new products that treat hair from the inside. The researchers have expressed great confidence in the future of this research and its extension into other areas like lipstick, nail polish and other beauty products.

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