For years, hair care products have been focused on addressing damage by providing solutions to repair, prevent and maintain hair health. With increased awareness, consumers now recognize that healthy scalp is also a fundamental foundation for healthy hair. Holistic care means to restore the hair at its core while maintaining a healthy scalp. With personalization and self-care at the forefront, consumers are looking for solutions that are inspired from skin care with an emphasis on natural and clean ingredients. In this article, we will discuss factors that affect scalp and hair health and provide an overview of the innovative technologies including specialized product treatments that help restore hair and scalp equilibrium.
Stressors that impact hair and scalp equilibrium
Hair and scalp are affected by several factors such as UV exposure, pollution, humidity, mechanical, chemical, physical stressors, and occlusion such as hats and head protectors (like wigs, protective styles etc.) . Sebum on the scalp diffuses along the hair shaft and can attract product build-up and dust from air which can affect the scalp’s overall health. Additionally, the bacterial and yeast proliferation on the scalp is commonly associated with enhanced desquamation, itching, scratching and redness . Some hair products may leave deposits on the scalp, while others can strip hair’s natural oils to the point that it begins to over-produce sebum .
Oxidative stress, i.e., free radicals from sources like UV and pollution, can weaken scalp skin health and cause aging . Sensitive scalp syndrome has been reported to arise from increasing levels of air pollution. Symptoms of sensitive scalp include itching, prickling in the scalp, dandruff, oily scalp, and pain in the hair roots. Pollutants also can migrate into the dermis and through the hair follicle (HF), leading to oxidative stress and hair fall . Hormonal changes, medical conditions, heredity, and aging are cited as common causes of hair fall, but there has been a lot of searches for hair loss associated after COVID-19 (+250%) and how to stop hair fall post COVID increased by a whopping 1,250% .
The skin surface and follicular openings are recognized sites of rich microbial colonization and intense immune citation, with crosstalk across the skin barrier . A disrupted microbiome may cause infections and inflammation to the scalp . This disruption may aggravate scalp disorders that can lead to acne, eczema, alopecia, scalp psoriasis, seborrheic dermatitis/dandruff, etc. The aforementioned diseases of the skin and the hair follicles [HFs] are all due to the dysfunction of dysbiosis – the imbalance of the skin microbiome . Scalp conditions also impact the quality of hair causing the resultant cuticular cells to be less flexible than normal, which may impair both anchorage and subsequent fiber surface integrity due to an oxidative stress environment . Hair fibers become more brittle and chip off. This results in a rougher cuticle that is also less functionally effective .
Cleansing of hair and scalp is also vital. How often you should cleanse your hair is determined based on your overall scalp health and can be attributed to hair texture. Some cleansers can be harsh and overly stripping, removing all natural oils, which disturbs the bacterial environment and can lead to irritation, redness, and flaking , while others may have a high oil load that can have a detrimental effect on oily scalp.
As scalp and hair go hand-in-hand, there is also tremendous focus on the damage hair sustains from the environment, washing, bleaching, coloring, and the use of different styling regiments. Hair damage affects all types of cross-linking bonds, including disulfide bonds, and can negatively affect the overall structure and ordering of hair lipids and CMC lipids . Bleaching and coloring leads to dry, brittle-feeling hair and fiber breakage. Repeated washing results in lifted cuticles, while heat damage from drying, straightening, or curling leads to a loss of moisture, frizzy hair, and split ends .
Market drivers and trends
Over the past five years, scalp-focused searches have increased by 270% which is tied to the fact that one in two people suffer from a scalp issue . Reportlinker projects the global hair and scalp care market will reach $121.4 billion by 2027 and will grow at an estimated 6.5% CAGR over the next five years . Based on the latest data, Spate recommends that brands offer hair and scalp solutions that support skin barrier repair, moisturization and conditioning of damaged locks . There has also been a rise in complex hair and scalp routines among millennials . Need for different scalp products has increased globally, which aligns with consumers’ desire for benefits that address their individual scalp and hair needs. Consumers are also demanding transparency from brands and want to learn more about the ingredients used in their products and their mechanism of action. They also place a growing emphasis on the use of natural, organic, and clean alternative ingredients.
Advances in technology targeting hair and scalp concerns.
There have been many advancements in technology that provide holistic solutions to help protect, prevent, and restore hair and scalp equilibrium.
An ingredient that leverages a novel encapsulation technology*, ensures targeted delivery and controlled release of actives onto the scalp and hair to deliver instant sebum reduction . This ingredient allows consumers to leave more time between washes, leading to water conservation . A naturally occurring amino acid (INCI: Glycerin (and) Water (and) Sarcosine) effectively aids in the reduction of an oily scalp. It helps to reduce flakes on the scalp and assists in rebalancing the microbiome. Additionally, this ingredient also helps fight against stress, pollution, and product build-up . Another ingredient, based on lamellar body-inspired delivery system (INCI: Aqua, Lecithin, Niacinamide, Lysolecithin, Phenethyl Alcohol, Caprylhydroxamic Acid, Tocopheryl Acetate, Caprylyl Glycol, Phytic Acid), has been designed to target hair follicles where it delivers actives to regulate sebum and the microbiome .
Antioxidants are very well known and can be added to any kind of hair product due to their water-based molecular structure. They help to prevent the formation of oxidative stress and provide a wide range of benefits to both hair and scalp. A blend of three natural and powerful antioxidants, an extract of a medicinal plant forms a non-occlusive shield against urban pollution and protects hair and scalp against environmental stress . A fermented extract of organically grown yerba mate leaves (INCI: water (aqua) (and) glycerin (and) Ilex paraguariensis leaf extract) is designed to help protect hair from oxidative stress-induced damage and help maintain healthy hair roots for optimal growth after only one shampoo treatment . Brands like Keep It Anchored (P&G owned) are developing formulas that are powered by a combination of antioxidant salts that relieve oxidative stress, a zinc compound to improve scalp condition and B vitamins known for skin barrier health .
* INCI: Aqua (and) Cetyl Palmitate (and) Cucurbita pepo seed extract (and) Disodium EDTA (and) Ethylhexylglycerin (and) Helianthus annuus seed oil (and) Lauryl Glucoside (and) Melaleuca alternifolia leaf oil (and) Phenoxyethanol (and) Rosmarinus officinalis leaf extract (and) Sorbitan Stearate (and) Tocopheryl Acetate
With zinc pyrithiones (ZPT’s) ban in Europe in cosmetic applications, formulators are now scouting for new active ingredients. A biomarine ingredient derived via biotechnology (INCI: Water (aqua) (and) Pseudoalteromonas Ferment Extract (and) Sodium Salicylate) has been shown to reduce sebum, itchiness, and flakes on the scalp, while also preventing their recurrence in both rinse-off and leave-on applications . An algae oil (INCI: Triolein), containing more than 90% of the beneficial omega-9 helps hydrate, rejuvenate, and repair the scalp. It also nourishes hair follicles and protects against hair fiber lipid degradation upon UV exposure . In addition, another ingredient positioned as an emollient with antimicrobial properties (INCI: decylene glycol), helps protect the skin from scalp to toe. Among other functions, this ingredient supports dandruff control concepts. It also provides a China-compliant alternative to the antidandruff active zinc pyrithione .
Broccoli and pumpkin seed seem like unexpected choices for formulators developing anti-hair loss products. Sulforaphane, which is an isothiocyanate isolated from broccoli, increased the expression of an enzyme in the liver that accelerated DHT degradation and consequently inhibited hair loss, as shown in an animal model . Clinical efficacy of pumpkin seed oil (PSO) versus 5% minoxidil foam in subjects with female pattern hair loss (FPHL)after three months of treatment showed the pumpkin oil significantly decreased hair shaft diversity and the number of vellus hairs with results comparable to the minoxidil foam . Another ingredient, a protein and peptide combination (INCI: Keratin (and) Hydrolyzed Keratin (and) Oxidized Keratin (and) Water) stimulates skin cells to proliferate by up to 160% faster than a placebo while simultaneously stimulating human keratinocyte migration and the expression of collagens IV and VII, thus improving the anchoring of follicles. The ingredient’s anti-inflammatory agent reduced the PGE2 response in cells undergoing inflammatory stress by up to 70%, reducing scalp inflammation, itching and premature hair follicle death .
Balancing the Biome:
Inhibition of the growth of harmful bacteria can lead to a better balance in oil secretion; this can be achieved using a unique probiotic fermentation technology rich in amino acids, polysaccharides, protein, and other biologically active substances . A natural prebiotic (INCI: Inulin) can also help rebalance the skin’s microbiota and offer skin hydration that outperforms hyaluronic acid. The prebiotic is based on inulin extracted from chicory root and agave and works by selectively supporting protective organisms to help restore the microbiota layer . Since 2020, We have witnessed a burgeoning of scalp products with Cannabidiol (CBD) boasting microbiome benefits  and recently we also have seen use of Cannabigerol (CBG) that helps to rebalance the scalp microbiome and promotes hair growth. Lastly, an ingredient (INCI: Lactobacillus Ferment Lysate) that utilizes the properties of prebiotic oligosaccharides as an approach to postbiotic bacteriocin procurement can deliver scalp moisturization and redness reduction .
Protecting hair, beyond the scalp,
Hair, after it rises from the scalp surface, also goes through damage from consumers’ grooming practices and external stimuli. Cleansing, conditioning, and strengthening solutions have been extensively discussed in the past. Currently, the use of bond builders is trending and growing in hair care. They are promoted as being able to penetrate into the hair to improve or restore the internal structure, giving rise to an improvement in mechanical properties . According to this definition, bond builders include a broad range of actives, including organic acids, proteins, and lipids . Brands are employing patented peptide technologies and amino acid complexes in multiple product formats that can help prevent and protect hair from the inside-out against all forms of damage.
What’s new and what’s next.
Ingestible hair care products, such as Nutrafol are gaining popularity for promoting hair and scalp health which has helped fuel further ingredient innovation. The introduction of Keranat in food supplements for hair (soft gels, capsules, beauty drinks/shots and cosmetics is said to offer a natural, vegan solution to effectively fight against hair loss while restoring beauty and brightness . The design of neurocosmetic ingredients that modulate neuronal response to improve scalp care and hair quality could be a promising approach for the development of new hair and scalp care routines .
Finally, brands like L’Oréal are fostering partnerships with health tech companies to better understand the biological, clinical, and environmental factors that contribute to skin and hair health over time. This comprehensive understanding contributes to the development of a more precise and inclusive skincare approach that cater to the diverse needs of individuals worldwide .
The beauty and personal care industry has made great advancements in understanding the role of microbiome that impacts scalp and hair health. New research and findings help steer brands and ingredient suppliers to develop natural, organic, and sustainable solutions that will be a key focus area for future innovation. Furthermore, ingredients inspired by skin care, traditional ingredients, and biotech will continue to drive the growth of the hair and scalp care category. It is imperative that brands continue their efforts in developing inclusive and personalized solutions to address consumers specific scalp and hair care needs. Finally, educating consumers on choosing the right products and regime that address their specific needs is crucial, in addition to providing guidance on how to use the products effectively to achieve the desired benefit.
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