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Scientific partnership: Emphasising ethics in hair care

By Natasha Spencer

- Last updated on GMT

Scientific partnership: Emphasising ethics in hair care
Along with high-quality, consumers demand hair extensions that prioritise transparency relating to the origin and condition of hair.

Following Cosmetics Design Europe’s recent guest article exploring the role that science is playing in maximising quality through UK microscope producer ioLight’s ‘next generation’ hair extension technology​, we explore the importance of ascertaining the origin of hair and whether chemical processing has taken place, lowering the quality and longevity of the hair. 

Common questions relating to hair extensions include where the hair is sourced from, why certain sourced hair used in extensions lasts longer than others, what the difference between virgin and pre-coloured hair is, and how natural and chemically-processed hair differ.

Supply and demand

Niche Hair Lab, a London-based boutique hair extension brand, utilises Slavic hair. However a key problem in the hair extension sector, particularly with Slavic hair, is that the demand is so much higher than the supply”,​ explained Timea Szoke and Ame Seji, Co-founders, Niche Hair Lab.

As such, much of the hair advertised derives from China and India as suppliers in both Russia and Ukraine are importing hair from these countries,”​ the co-founders emphasised.

Origin transparency

The origin of the hair is important and differs considerably depending on where it has been sourced from. There are several differences between Caucasian and Asian hair, that can indicate its true origin.

“Caucasian hair is typically finer for instance, whereas Asian hair tends to be thicker in diameter and often darker,”​ Szoke and Seji noted.

The problem lies in the lack of transparency as “a large number of suppliers in Ukraine and Russia are importing hair from non-European countries such as India and China, and marketing it as ‘Slavic’ hair”.

Chemical processing

Utilising science and ioLight’s portable, digital and scientific microscope allows hair extension providers to determine whether the hair has undergone any processing, which is “often applied to non-European hair, to appeal to extension buyers in Europe”​.

When you dye or process hair in any way, the chemicals used lift the cuticle layer so the hair dye can enter the inner part of the hair shaft. The cuticles are then closed back, causing irreversible changes to the hair.

Mass production usually results in mixed-directional hair and the cuticles sit incorrectly, causing the hair to tangle instantly. In order to ‘solve' this problem, manufacturers use acid baths to strip the cuticle layer completely.

Producers then apply silicone to make the hair appear shiny and healthy. However, this silicone coating comes off after a few washes leaving a matted mess behind.

Bleaching shortens the lifespan but the hair is usable for a month. This silicone coated hair is the lowest grade and has to be removed if the hair becomes matted to avoid the risk of losing a considerable amount of the customer’s own hair.

As East Asian hair is thicker in diameter, using this acid bath mass production technique thins the hair and enables sellers to falsely market it is as European hair.  

Accuracy and assurance

Sharing their views on how up-close analysis has changed their day-to-day lives, Szoke and Seji highlighted: “The insights that ioLight provides has had a significant impact on the personal shopping habits and consumer decisions we make, choosing value over cost, and sustainability and transparency over unknowns.”

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