I was recently lucky enough to fly to Singapore with Procter & Gamble (who make Olay, Pantene and SK-II among other brands) to visit their new state-of-the-art Innovation Centre and learn about Olay skincare and Pantene hair care.
I LOVE Singapore! I was actually born there and haven’t been back since I was two. I was amazed by how lush and beautiful all the vegetation is, and how tidy everything was, and how delicious the Char Kway Teow is... But I digress. The labs, which are in the middle of Singapore’s biotech hub, opened in March and cost a whopping $200 million to build. There are staff from all walks of beauty science from biophysicists to formulation, packaging design and chemistry experts. Here are five interesting things I learnt:
1. There are hair-combing robots…
…in the P&G “Performance Test Lab” that comb hair samples hundreds of times after the product is applied to see what difference is made. The hair samples, which hang on clips around the labs with little notes written next to each, are sourced from all over the world so they can see effects on different cultures. Inside the lab, the scientists are able to control the temperature and humidity (read – frizz-factor) and even how pure the water is when they wash the hair samples. Which brings me to…
2. There’s a lot of crap in our pipes that affects our hair
I’ve heard hair stylists harp on about this over the years. Hair maestro Eugene Souleiman once told me you should wash your hair with bottled water. In different countries water quality changes and hairdressers sometimes say it’s “hard” water - which means it has a high mineral content. Copper is a big problem in the pipes. “Copper is an impurity in our water that produces oxidative damage by attacking the keratin bonds in the hair, which means it’s basically cut into short pieces,” says scientist Hong Zhu. “If the surface or cuticle layer of your hair is already damaged, for example from physical combing, then the inside of the keratin is easily lost and hair becomes very empty, very weak. We call this process the keratin porosis,” she says, going on to show me an experiment where the new Pantene Ultimate 10 shampoo actually neutralises the copper and other impurities in the water when you wash, allowing your hair to protect itself from keratin porosis - they call this the Keratin Damage Blocker Technology.
3. Silicones are still getting a bad rap.
Over the years, Pantene has copped flack by some in the industry for containing silicones, which coat the hair shaft and give it a smooth, glossy appearance. This is a great cosmetic solution and adds instant shine and softness but some people believe it builds up on the hair and needs to be cleansed deeply to remove it. P&G have addressed this problem and the products have been reformulated to contain less silicones, except the Ice Shine shampoo which is completely free from silicones. “There has been the perception that Pantene does leave hair feeling a bit heavy, so which we balanced the formula to give it more lightweight, and that’s one of the things that we wanted to show,” says P&G scientist David Khoo.
4. Fragrance in your shampoo gets formulated just like a designer perfume
Who knew that they put so much effort into what your shampoo smells like? Here in the fragrance lab Japanese perfumer Junji Hamano stands at his “fragrance organ” just like a nose at a top perfume house. Junji has has a mental catalogue of around 700 notes and creates fragrances much like a composer would compose music, adding top notes, middle notes and base notes. They create fragrances based on the preferences of customers in different regions. According to Junji, Australians like complexity and sophistication in their fragrance. The new Pantene shampoo is based on a rose, jasmine and pear.
5. Although hair is ‘dead’ ingredients can still penetrate and make a difference
Hair grows an average of 1cm a month and once it exits the follicle our body doesn't continue to repair or renew it – which is why it could be seen as ‘dead’. This is also why we have to take such good care of it. The scientists at P&G are able to see when ingredients penetrate the hair shaft by using imaging science (dye can be attached to the ingredient that they’re interested in then after washing the hair with the ingredient that has been dyed, scientists can take a sample of hair examine it to see if they can detect the presence of the dye inside the hair). This is why it’s so important to choose products that address your hair concern because P&G do all their testing based on various types of damage and concern, so they’re really able to address the root (sorry!) of the problem. We also lose about 25 - 100 hairs each day – so the better care we take with our hair, the more likely we are to keep the hairs on our head longer.