Unlocking the mysteries of hair moisturization
Sometimes a simple question leads to big findings. That is what Amber Hubschmitt and Stella Betancourt experienced with their recent study of the science of Hair Moisturization. The consumer scientist and the mass spectrometry scientist wanted to find out what “moisture” means to customers. They solved the myth of hair moisturization and at the same time, gave an underserved consumer group a voice.
What’s the Hair Moisturization Study about?
Amber: Hair moisturization is a big claim that's being used in the hair care market and people seem to be clamoring for it. They want their hair to feel more moisturized. But what's interesting is that research has consistently found that hair that is technically more moisturized actually tends to feel worse. So our project started with a very basic question: What does moisture mean to consumers and how do we make sense of this?
What was your role in the project?
Amber: My job was to find out what consumers want. What sensations are they looking for? We need to understand this because we know, from a technical perspective, it's not just about adding moisture to hair. We have great technical scientists, great performance, a great performance testing lab in Tarrytown, NY, but we didn’t know what specifically to measure. We needed to hear from consumers: what does moisturization mean to them? As a consumer scientist, I developed and implemented a flash profiling study. The results gave us insight into all the different words that were associated with hair that feels good. For example, our subjects described hair they perceive as moisturized as smooth, as silky, as pliable. What’s even more important is that a project that started with just a simple question about moisturized hair made us realize much more – that consumers with wavy or curly or coily hair are the consumers really looking for moisturization. Ultimately, our research brought customers with textured hair into focus.
Stella: And that’s when I came to this project. I’m not only a mass spectrometry scientist, but I also have textured hair myself. For this project, I served as a scientist and a test person at the same time. I answered questions such as what do you do to your hair? Do you do this, or do you care about that? Professionally, I helped find the molecules that make hair feel “moisturized” for consumers.
And those are?
Stella: Lipids. From the beginning, there was a strong assumption that lipids might be key for healthy hair that feels good. To prove this, we developed a really cool technique to visualize lipids. We managed to transform a multi-imaging approach for flat surfaces so it could be used for cylindrical surfaces – hair. For the tests, we used bleached hair, virgin hair and de-lipidized hair. And we got a clear answer: Lipids were very prominent in hair that was considered most moisturized. It explained that lipids are indeed a source of that perception of moisturization, silkiness or shine that defined moisturization for consumers. And it followed the definition of moisturization from the consumer panel feedback very well.
What’s the outcome of your research project?
Amber: Our research changed the focus from moisturized hair to textured hair. Now, BASF is working hard to find solutions for consumers with textured hair. We have launched a bunch of different formulations and we're looking at different ingredient solutions to really speak to this group of consumers. So the project scope has increased over time.
Stella: It also brought textured hair into research. Previously, a lot of the performance testing was done on straight hair. Our product performance testing team had to come up with new techniques to do performance testing on textured hair tresses. They have developed new methodologies about how to evaluate textured hair and how to test our products on it – rather than doing all this performance on straight hair and then giving it to someone with curls, like me and we say, "Nope, this isn't going to work for me."
What do you like about working on this project?
Amber: I love how the collaboration developed – starting with a linguistic consumer study, translating the results into a new analytical approach and even expanding our business scope. Collaboration makes research richer and more interesting and it's always great to work with new scientists and see new perspectives.
Stella: All my life I've been told to straighten my hair so that it looks more conventional. But I love my curls. And this project made us talk about textured hair extensively. It gave people like me, who like their textured hair, a voice.
About BASF's solutions for textured hair
An estimated 65 percent of the U.S. population has curly, coily or wavy hair, with a growing percentage of textured-hair women embracing their natural hair, according to the 2018 TextureTrends Report from NaturallyCurly. BASF adapted straight-hair test methods, namely wet combing, to support claims substantiation specific to textured hair care product ingredients and developed five formulations for textured hair, including two masks, a conditioner, a gel styler and hair butter.