Do hair strenghtening products really make hair stronger?

Looks like my old company has gotten themselves in a little trouble with a recent ad about their Tresemme Naturals product line. I fondly remember working on this line and also know that the formulas are really good. In fact, I still use Tresemme even though I don’t get it for free any longer.

The problem that they had was when they made the claim that the product “makes hair 10X stronger after just one use”. This proved too much for the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) who is the regulatory body in the UK. According to the article, they received 3 complaints about the claim.

Making hair stronger

While I love the product, I always felt a little uncomfortable with these strengthening claims. No shampoo or conditioner system actually makes hair stronger. If you do a test where you take the hair and pull it apart with an instrument like the Diastron, then measure the amount of force required to break the hair, you’ll see no significant increase in strength.

But this isn’t how companies who claim hair strengthening support their claims.

What do hair strength claims really mean?

In response to the ASA complaints, Alberto-Culver said that stronger meant that it makes hair better resistant to breakage and splitting. This is proven by using a robotic comb (a flogger) and counting the number of hairs that are broken after a given number of combing strokes. There is no doubt that they actually were able to support this claim. Although, when I was working on Tresemme we were only able to prove 4 times stronger.

But this testing doesn’t really prove that hair is made stronger. Shampoos & conditioners will not make hair stronger. At least none that are on the market today. The ASA agreed that this could be a method for supporting the claim, but they rejected the advertisement because they thought it was a little too misleading.

Cosmetic chemists and claims

In your career, you’ll frequently be asked to come up with claims and tests that support those claims. The marketing people will continue to push the envelope and try to get you to support stronger and stronger claims. You have to continue to keep them honest and resist the temptation to please your marketing partners. Don’t be an obstacle as it will be bad for your career but don’t compromise your scientific integrity either.

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