Consumers have known for decades about the benefits of vitamins and actives for the skin. With the dramatic shift in personal care routines over the past two pandemic years, however, consumers are showing an increasing interest in the ingredients used in their haircare, along with those that can have benefit for their scalp as well.
The hair follicle is quite unique in that it acts like a tube of epidermal then dermal skin cells surrounding the growing hair shaft which enables epidermal penetration to be enhanced at the scalp level. This means that products applied to and left on the scalp can have advanced performance, especially when they are formulated with clinically proven active ingredients with small molecular weights and penetration enhancing formulation principles.
Watch this video for cosmetic formulation tips on how to get the best penetration of active ingredients.
First let’s bust some haircare formulation myths As with high performance skincare products, hair and scalp care products are subject to myth and snake oil claims too. Here are a few myth busters to help you sort fact from fiction when it comes to selecting hair and scalp-ceutical ingredients.
- Hydrolysed proteins are effective in leave on and wash-off products such as shampoos and conditioners. For substantivity proof and an explanation of how they work so well, please watch this video on proteins, peptides and collagen in cosmetics.
- Silicones are not bad for the hair. Watch this video on silicones in skincare and haircare to get a proper understanding of how the silicone myth started, and the truth of their benefits.
- While exotic oils and emollients are often highlighted in marketing campaigns as being the top performing ingredients in haircare formulas, they are not the top conditioning agents for the hair or scalp. High inputs of non-volatile oils and emollients make the hair heavy and greasy, but small amounts, especially in wash off products, can be beneficial. Only volatile oils and silicones get used in large quantities in leave on scalp or haircare products to prevent residual greasiness. Watch this video to see how silicone based hair oils are made, or this video to see how natural hair oils are made – the exotic oil content, you will be surprised to find, is actually really low!
What are the top ingredients for the hair and scalp?
- Hydrolysed proteins, keratins and larger molecular weight hydrolysed proteins are fantastic to condition and strengthen the hair cuticle you can see. The hair is mostly composed of keratin, a protein, so applying a hydrolysed protein is much like painting the hair with a biomimetic strengthening agent. Since hydrolysed proteins can vary so much by weight and composition, use the amounts recommended by suppliers for the best benefits – too little, and you won’t see the results you hope for; while too much will tend to weigh the hair down. Just the right amount for the specific trade material will give very noticeable results from first use.
- Quaternised polymers, such as polyquaternium materials and guar hydroxypropyltrimonium trichloride, adsorb to the normally negative hair shaft and provide a conditioning and detangling effect. They are often indispensable additions to any haircare product and again vary significantly by trade name – so check supplier information carefully to get the best input and results. Too much of these materials can make the hair feel very heavy, lank and lose lustre.
- Cationic emulsifiers are without a doubt the best ingredients to condition and detangle the hair, but can be irritating to the scalp. They are essential in wash-off conditioning products but are best limited in leave on conditioners and should be avoided in leave on scalp serums. Some of these emulsifiers, such as cetrimonium chloride and behentrimonium chloride, are also limited on input by cosmetic regulations, so remember to check your local country limits.
- A variety of botanical extracts are continually being discovered with exciting hair and scalp benefits. As the performance of plant extracts can vary so much, always look for clinical efficacy data when evaluating extracts, and make sure the data relates specifically to the cosmetic ingredient, by trade name, that you are investigating for use in your formula.
- Vitamins and minerals are great additions to your haircare and scalp care formulas, but always check for efficacy data to ensure you are using the right amount in either leave on or wash-off products to get the desired results. Some vitamins and minerals are great for nourishment, lustre and overall condition of the hair and scalp in either leave on or wash-off products, such as panthenol; while others are better suited in leave on applications for scalp exfoliation and general scalp health, such as retinol – but regulatory limits still apply in this case, as they do for the skin.
What can’t hair or scalp-ceutical products promise? It is important to remember that even when hair or scalp products are formulated for optimal performance, they are still governed by cosmetic regulations (unless registered as drug, medical or therapeutic goods). This means, even if there is a large body of evidence for use of an ingredient:
- Cosmetics must not claim dermal or physiological activity, which means products can’t claim to prevent hair loss. This is often why you see softer claims such as ‘limit hair fall’ or ‘increases the appearance of hair density and volume’ used for hairceutical products aimed at reducing hair loss by nourishing the scalp.
- Genetic hair loss cannot be prevented using cosmetic products. Combatting genetic hair loss is hard enough for a registered drug, and it is unfair to promise consumers that a cosmetic substance or product could reverse what genetics controls.
Scalp active ingredients such as Greyverse (Lucas Meyer), SpecPed PT20P (Spec-Chem Industry), Chromafend Biofunctional (Ashland) and Wisegrade (Lipo True) have clinical efficacy to show an increase in melanin production through regular use – for a consumer this means a visible improvement in hair colour and reduced appearance of grey hair. Actives such as Procapil and Apiscalp (Croda), Trichogen VEG LS 9922 (BASF), Capalgin (KimiKa LLC), AnaGain (Mibelle Biochemistry) and Baicapil (Provital) have clinical data to support reduction in hair loss and improvements in hair growth, but remember, these specific claims, regardless of the evidence, can’t be made when promoting the finished products to consumers.
As with all skincare, hair and scalp-ceutical products can provide benefits when formulated correctly, with the right ingredients for the desired results, and effective penetration where needed. When formulating these types of products, focus on where the activity needs to be – on the external dead cuticle, or within the epidermis of the scalp – and look for clinical efficacy to get the right input, use and results for your consumers.
Remember to hold the appropriate evidence and stick to compliant cosmetic claims to keep the regulators and your consumers happy. Happy formulating!
Tip: in-Cosmetics Discover can help you find active ingredients suitable for hair care applications, specifically to treat the scalp. For this, select the following filters (multiple filter search is possible):
FUNCTIONS: active ingredients
PERFORMANCE CLAIMS: scalp care
APPLICATION: hair care As a result, you get a short-list of active ingredients that target the scalp treatment. You can further narrow your search by adding the filters “recently launched” or “with documents”, or add other filters linked to the physico-chemical properties or certifications depending on your brief.
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