Hair heat treatments - how do they work?

One really to satisfy my curiosities, rather than delving deep into trying to formulate my own.
I've been questioning how 'heat treatments' for hair work, exactly. They seem to vary significantly from manufacturer-to-manufacturer, although typically have some film-former/copolymers type of chemistry involved, some have hair fixatives, some have cetrimonium chloride (or similar) and the majority either have PEG hydrogenated oils or silicones. I get that silicones are typically heat-resistant, so is it all down to them? And 'them' being kept in situ by a film-former?

This may lead onto other questions, so apologies in advance!
Thanks also in advance for your time and knowledge.

Comments

  • PerryPerry Administrator, Professional Chemist
    I don't really think they do work which is why they vary so much between manufacturers. However, there are two strategies.  First, as you surmise you put a film on the surface of the hair fibers. Theoretically, the film insulates the hair from the heat thereby preventing damage. Some of the damage is the result of water from the interior of the fiber boiling off which creates bubbles in the cuticle which when combed lead to more damage. The film prevents the water from escaping thus inhibiting damage. Oils or silicone can both do this.

    The second strategy is to include conditioning agents. So, you don't really prevent damage but you cover it up such that consumers don't notice it.  This is really all that's required.

    In the scheme of things, heat damage is relatively minor compared to all the other damage that can be done to hair (combing, getting it wet, coloring, perming, relaxing, etc). But it seems intuitively important to consumers.

    So, marketers exploited this minor problem. Their R&D departments invented science based "solutions" for the problem, and a new product category was born.  Whether it works or not doesn't really matter. What's important is that consumers think it's a big problem and they need products to solve it.
  • Perry said:
    I don't really think they do work which is why they vary so much between manufacturers. However, there are two strategies.  First, as you surmise you put a film on the surface of the hair fibers. Theoretically, the film insulates the hair from the heat thereby preventing damage. Some of the damage is the result of water from the interior of the fiber boiling off which creates bubbles in the cuticle which when combed lead to more damage. The film prevents the water from escaping thus inhibiting damage. Oils or silicone can both do this.

    The second strategy is to include conditioning agents. So, you don't really prevent damage but you cover it up such that consumers don't notice it.  This is really all that's required.

    In the scheme of things, heat damage is relatively minor compared to all the other damage that can be done to hair (combing, getting it wet, coloring, perming, relaxing, etc). But it seems intuitively important to consumers.

    So, marketers exploited this minor problem. Their R&D departments invented science based "solutions" for the problem, and a new product category was born.  Whether it works or not doesn't really matter. What's important is that consumers think it's a big problem and they need products to solve it.
    Interesting stuff, thanks for the response. I think hydrogels/films have a lot of influence on it from what I've seen. I'd like to know whether it's purely the presence of hydrogels or silicones or the combination of both that gives rise to some (if any) heat-protection effect.
     
    I definitely agree, however. For years people have gone about perms and the suchlike without particular attention to heat, and recently (especially a couple of years ago from what I'm aware) it was all the rage that heat treatments were hitting the market. I think you've hit the nail on the head with that one.

    One last thing - wouldn't a company have to evidence their claims? If they're selling it as a heat protection treatment, or that is 'reduces damage caused by straightening/blow-drying', they'd have to have tested it somehow?
  • PerryPerry Administrator, Professional Chemist
    "One last thing - wouldn't a company have to evidence their claims? If they're selling it as a heat protection treatment, or that is 'reduces damage caused by straightening/blow-drying', they'd have to have tested it somehow?"

    Yes, they would have to provide evidence for their claims.  The testing that they do would depend on the specific claim that they are making.

    The term "heat protectant" is pretty vague so any treatment composed of pretty much anything (even just water) could be called a heat protectant. 

    The term "damage" is also pretty vague. If you wanted to prove "reducing damage", that's simply shown by the following test.

    1. Get tresses of hair wet, shampoo and rinse.  
    2. To one tress apply no treatment, to the other tress apply your heat protectant (which also happens to be a hair conditioner).
    3. Blow dry both tresses.
    4. Conduct a combing study measuring the amount of force required to comb hair.
    5. Heat protectant (really a conditioner) reduces combing force thus protecting hair from *damage.

    In this case you claim ease of combing is an indirect measurement of hair damage since damaged hair is harder to comb than undamaged hair.

  • Very good, many thanks @Perry for this detailed run-through. Given I've reasonably limited experience with marketing claims this is quite useful for me to see what could be construed as evidence.

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