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Evaluation of Brazilian hair straightening — the progressive blow-dry

Carbocisteine used in place of formaldehyde is analyzed with techniques developed by KosmoScience

JANIS LITAVNIEKIS / GETTYIMAGESKosmoScience, a company located in the city of Valinhos in São Paulo State, was established 10 years ago as a spin-off of the Universidade Estadual Paulista (Unesp) of Araraquara to develop scientific methodologies to prove the effectiveness of cosmetic products before their introduction into the market. “When we started, there were no laboratories of this kind in Brazil, just in the major markets of Europe or the United States,” says Adriano Pinheiro, a chemist, the company’s executive director and one of its three partners. “We develop our own tools and methodologies to measure the physiochemical, biophysical and biological properties of hair and skin products.” The partnership with Unesp’s Interdisciplinary Laboratory of Electrochemistry and Ceramics, affiliated with the Multidisciplinary Center for the Development of Ceramic Materials (CMDMC), coordinated by Professor Elson Longo and funded by FAPESP, paved the way for the company to become a reference laboratory and acquire customers such as Natura, L’Oréal, Hipermarcas, Unilever, O Boticário, and Belcorp do Brasil, among other major companies. “We work with a number of scientific protocols and physicochemical methods to evaluate the efficacy of products that are now used by the domestic and international industries,” says Longo. “Prior to this, many of the protocols used were fake, so we relied on tests performed in our laboratory.”

One of the services provided by the company is the analysis of carbocisteine, an amino acid traditionally used in pharmaceutical applications. It entered the cosmetic market as a replacement for formaldehyde, which was banned due to its carcinogenic potential, and is now used in the Brazilian hair straightening process known as the progressive blow-dry. Before launching any cosmetic product, companies need to prove all the benefits listed on product labels so that they will be approved by the National Health Monitoring Agency (ANVISA). In the United States, Europe and Japan, companies also need to do studies to prove the advertised results, but no regulatory body must approve the products before their placement on the market. Studies proving efficacy act as a company’s defense in the event of a consumer lawsuit.

“We developed three methodologies to study the physiochemical interactions on hair after applying carbocisteine,” says Pinheiro. With the aid of a dynamometer, one method evaluated the mechanical properties of the capillary fiber after applying the product. The device measures the deformation caused by applying a mechanical force to an elastic system. Based on a reading of this measurement, structural changes that occur in the fiber due to application of the product are able to be identified.

Protective function
The other methodology employs Raman spectroscopy, a high-resolution photonic technique that identifies the chemical and structural information of organic and inorganic compounds. “With this method we can see what happens to the disulfide bonds of sulfur, responsible for the physical structure of the hair fiber.” When this bond is broken, the structure is fragile. The choice of sulfur bonds is due to the fact that in terms of importance, sulfur is to hair what iron is to construction. The third technique — field-emission scanning electron microscopy (SEM) — evaluates the morphological changes of hair cuticles. “Hair cuticles are the superficial layer of a single strand of hair, whose function is to protect the internal structure,” says Pinheiro. “When cuticles are degraded, hair is more difficult to comb, rougher and dull.” Methodologies created to evaluate carbocisteine are the result of work done by Pinheiro together with Viviane Albarici and Francini Picon, researchers who earned their doctorates at the Ceramic Materials Center and now work for KosmoScience.

kosmoscienceAnother area of study at KosmoScience is skin. One of the protocols developed by the company analyzes the in-vivo generation of collagens that produce firmer skin and act as an anti-aging factor. “Several molecules can stimulate the formation of collagen fiber, such as polysaccharides, ascorbic acid and retinoic acid,” says Pinheiro. In this case, researchers use a technique known as diffuse reflection spectroscopy, which uses fiber optics directed at the regions of the body to be evaluated. “By using this technique, it is possible to determine the emission lengths and excitation of collagen present in the skin,” says Pinheiro. It is possible to evaluate how much collagen is present in an individual’s skin prior to treatment and determine the amount while the product is being applied. Readings can be taken at 30, 45 and 60 days, for example.

The potential efficacy of cellulite treatments are checked by an infrared camera, also known as a thermal camera. It is an optoelectronic device that takes thermal images of the skin. Cellulite is characterized by an accumulation of fat and water in cells, which when they expand begin to compress the microvessels of blood, thus reducing microcirculation in the area. “The thermal imaging camera is able to detect if there has been an improvement in the blood supply in the area after application of an anti-cellulite product,” says Pinheiro. “A homogeneous temperature distribution signifies to us whether or not the treatment was effective.”

It has been 10 years since KosmoScience began its endeavor in this field, and it now competes with international laboratories that have since set up operations in Brazil. “Most American and European cosmetics companies have reversed the process, and they now test their products in Brazil,” says Pinheiro. Among the factors responsible for this change are the lower cost of testing, the scientific quality of the studies and the fact that Brazil is one of the world’s largest markets for cosmetics, behind only the United States and Japan “Our culturally blended mixed population is also a contributing factor,” he says. The various ethnicities, skin types and hair with all its nuances (smooth, wavy, curly) make an array of scientific research possible.