Hair care claims are getting bolder. Putting aside hair regrowth claims, hair care claims have begun to mirror skin care claims, transitioning from cosmetic to structure-function. Claims such as protects against future damage, hair repair, thickening, strengthening and moisturization have become the norm, but can they be substantiated? Cosmetic companies will need to support these claims, in light of increased claims scrutiny, especially in the EU, with strong scientific substantiation.
One of the most common claims in hair care is moisturization. Hair becomes drier with age—partly because of physiological changes but also hair coloring, sun exposure and styling—and dry hair looks damaged and frizzy. Hair moisturization presents a simple challenge. Unlike skin, hair is dead. Many products appear to provide moisturization because they coat the surface, thus, reducing the appearance of frizziness, but the benefits are temporary. True hair moisturization can only be accomplished by a product made with ingredients that are able to penetrate the cortex.
Typically, hair moisturization is attributed to key ingredients in a formula. Some products tout traditional skincare ingredients like botanical oils and extracts for moisturization, but these ingredients do not behave the same on hair as they do on skin. More often than not, the first two ingredients in these products are cyclopentasiloxane or dimethicone and the so-called beneficial oils make up a very small percentage of the formula.
Silicones and polymers are generally not absorbed but instead coat the hair, begging the question as to whether or not the beneficial oils and extracts can be absorbed once the hair is coated. Without scientific data to show that the hair care product can provide moisturization by showing penetration of the cortex, the claim may be considered to lack truthfulness and evidential support.
According to EU No. 655/2013, “ingredient claims referring to the properties of a specific ingredient shall not imply that the finished product has the same properties when it does not.” Those companies that simply rely on the explicit or implied efficacy of the key ingredients will need to ensure that their products are tested to show that they provide true moisturizing benefits.
Hair Repair Claims
Often attributed to specific ingredients, hair repair, like skin repair, is also a difficult claim to support. Many products simply “glue” split ends back together temporarily or improve the appearance of hair. Some products go so far as to claim that their products repair environmental damage or damage from hair color and other chemical treatments. Again, this is a very difficult claim to substantiate because chemical treatments penetrate the cortex of the hair.
Some products are water-based and the water and other smaller molecules will penetrate the cortex, but manufacturers must be able to show that the damage has been repaired. Without being able to scientifically prove repair, this claim could be considered to be false and misleading.
Future Damage and Sun Protection Claims
In skin care, protecting against future damage can really only be made when talking about sun protection. By using a broad-spectrum sunscreen, skin can be protected from harmful UVA/UVB rays, which can cause fine lines and wrinkles. While UVA/UVB exposure is not exclusively the cause of fine lines and wrinkles, protecting against sun damage can help minimize the visible signs of photo-aging.
Damage in hair care is caused by a number of factors: hair color, chemical treatments, hair products, chlorine, brushing and sun exposure. Some hair care products contain sunscreens and claim that they protect the hair from sun damage. To date, there is no validated test method to determine the efficacy of sun protection for hair.
Further complicating this matter is how to design a test method that takes into account all of the potential insults and the individual responses based on hair type. A test can be designed to study the effect of a product on damaged hair but there is no way to predict how the product will perform against all combinations of environmental and chemical insults.
Hair Strengthening Claims
Tensile strength can be measured via instrumentation but what does this mean to the consumer? What is more relevant to the consumer is a complementary claim—resistance to breakage which can also be studied via instrumentation. The UK’s Advertising Standards Authority has stated that resistance to breakage is not the same as hair strength. Damaged hair breaks off, creating fly aways and dry, frizzy, unhealthy looking hair.
Hair products that are capable of strengthening the hair need to penetrate or build up the cortex to make it less susceptible to daily insults; similar to improving the skin barrier. Often times, this results in a hair thickening claim instead. As the hairs are coated, it provides a thickening effect that exists as long as the product is used. Once use is stopped, the coating will wash out and hair will return to its previous state.
Healthy Looking Hair Versus Healthier Hair Claims
Symptoms of damaged hair are specific to each hair type. Repairing the damage eliminates things like frizz, split ends, dryness, breakage and lack of body. Botanical oils, polymers and silicones temporarily improve the visual appearance but they do not repair the damage as discussed previously. Hair may look temporarily healthier but is not necessarily healthier hair. It is a small distinction but the required substantiation to prove these two claims are worlds apart. Hair that is truly healthier must be proven with scientific support showing that the cortex has been improved.
A survey of hair care products confirmed that a large percentage of claims are supported by the inclusion of botanical oils, extracts, antioxidants, sunscreens and other key ingredients. While there may be data on the ingredients, it does not appear that the same testing has been done consistently on final products. The proliferation of bolder hair claims could be the result of increased competition in performance hair care, lack of oversight and a lack of knowledge among consumers.
Objective hair care testing needs to be conducted to support any claims beyond appearance. As with skin care, new instrumentation and other objective test methods will need to be developed to fully support hair care that truly affects the structure of the hair. In the end, hair care companies will no longer be able to make bold unsubstantiated or ingredient-based claims.