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Hair-care products: Specialization or hype?

Hair products now boast many of the same ingredients that skin creams do. But can they really keep your hair from aging? We’ll help you wade through the claims

By Eva Friede, Canwest News Service

We’ve come a long way since Dippity-do. Since that first styling gel hit the market more than 45 years ago–in acid green or bright pink–the hair-care arsenal has exploded to include muds, masks, serums, creams, elixirs, heat protectors, anti-frizz agents and more.

Shampoos, conditioners and styling products are increasingly specialized–dandruff is just the thin edge of the hair-woe wedge. How about a shampoo for aging, damaged, thinning or colour treated hair? And the list of frizz-busters is enough to make one’s head spin.

“There’s a lot of fluffery out there,” admits Maria Mavrostomos, in charge of product development and marketing for Centura Brands, which markets and distributes Dippity-do and La Coupe, among other personal care products. She adds that Health Canada does provide guidelines on just what can be claimed.

But fluffery does not begin to describe the hype, says Paula Begoun, the crusading cosmetics cop who has written guidebooks on skin and hair products. “I would call it blubber. It’s lard. It’s just not meaningful. ”

Neither can she provide a guide to ingredients: there are up to 30,000 from which chemists can choose for their formulations, she says.

So how do you navigate the drugstore and salon counters with their jungle of lotions and potions? Among the marketing trends of the moment are anti-aging, and benefit-specific products.

Anti-Aging Products

Hair loses density and shine as you–or it, if your hair is very long–ages, says Roch Lemay, director of education and events for Matrix and Logic, part of the L’Oreal beauty conglomerate.

Hair products now boast many of the same fancy ingredients that skin creams do: antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, ceramides and assorted nutrients.

Lemay lists some ingredients and their purported benefits: Omega-3 acids, to condition hair and add shine; lycopene, an antioxidant derived from tomatoes, for shine and to neutralize free radicals; and rice bran, a protein, for strengthening hair and giving it bounce.

“Hair care is a fast follower of skin care,”

Mavrostomos says.

For instance, Orgnx, from La Coupe, contains moringa protein derived from an African tree, she says. “It’s got a mythical quality,” she said, because it is used to purify water.

Moringa fortifies hair with its high antioxidant qualities, vitamins A and C, calcium and potassium, she notes: “That sounds like a lot of fluffery, but there is data.”

But what nourishes the skin is not necessarily good for the hair, says Michael Wright, senior research scientist in Chicago for Nexxus, a division of Alberto Culver.

When you moisturize your skin, you make sure there’s water in your skin. This is not what’s needed in hair, which can absorb only 30 per cent of its own dry weight. It’s more about depositing positively charged ingredients,

Wright says, because hair is negatively charged.

The hair shaft has cuticles that look like shingles on a roof, he points out. The more those shingles lie down flat, the shinier, softer and easier it is to comb.

The aging hair follicle changes shape, becoming irregular and making the hair feel rougher and harder to manage. Decreased sebum production will reduce shine and hair can thin out.

To Begoun, there is a significant difference between skin and hair: Skin is alive and hair is dead. “The research in skin care is vast and abundant and everyone in universities and clinical institutes is looking at skin issues. Hair care is relatively simple.”

When you put anti-oxidants or vitamins in a shampoo or conditioner, they go down the drain, Begoun says. “They’re irrelevant.”

In styling products, your blow dryer and flat iron will degrade the ingredients, she adds, even assuming that they have any benefit.

Benefit-Specific Products

In 2007, natural and organic personal care products accounted for $9.23 billion in sales in North America, 15 per cent of the market, according to statistics provided by L’Oreal. Natural and organic hair care and colour product sales grew 22 per cent that year to $1.5 billion.

Consumers are particularly concerned about the possible health and environmental impact of sulfates, the foaming agents in most shampoos, leading to lines like Matrix’s Colourcaretherapie. The sulphate-free line has buzz ingredients like acai berry from Brazil and argan oil, said to be used by Moroccan women for centuries. The line launches next month, with Ecocert certification.

Indeed, the industry is moving away from products that target a certain hair type toward ones with specific benefits instead, such as eco-friendliness, shine, volume and UV or colour protection.

Begoun says the bottom line is that you should not spend too much.

“There is no reason in the world to spend more than $10 on a hair-care product, and I’m talking in a huge, giant container. Anything more than that, and it’s just silly,” she said.

“What you can’t go cheap on is your hair stylist.”