Hair is huge – maybe not in terms of volume this season, but certainly when it comes to business. So much so, hairdresser Andrew Barton, former winner of British Hairdresser of the Year recently remarked how big the business has become: “Hairdressing employs 1% of the entire British workforce and has a turnover of one billion pounds.” Add to that hair products and the global hair care market is worth $60.82 billion (source: L’Oréal).
So important is this area of beauty, that L’Oréal, the parent company of hair-care brands such as Garnier, Redken, Kerastase and Matrix, has just opened a first-of-its-kind Global Hair Research Centre in Clichy (a Paris suburb) that is exclusively dedicated to the art of hair color, straightening, styling, perms and smoothness. Put it this way – it’s about more than just shampoo.
Yet they still look at shampoo. As I was shown around, Patricia Pineau, the Director of Research Communications for L’Oréal told me: “We are interested in shampoos, how easy it is to apply, how it foams, how much foam is formed because there is such a thing as too much foam.” I watched women of different hair types and ethnicities having both sides of their head shampooed for results gathering. “Our goal is the objective evaluation of the performance,” Pineau said.
As we moved on to the area of new home and salon color, I learned that the research process for a new color will take around five years. Hair color companies take this process very seriously. “You have to do very strong tests to patent the mix, which can take up to two years,” said Pineau.
The machines that are developed for the process of testing hair dye rather steal the show – there is a robot designed to wash hair and dry it so that L’Oréal can confidently make such claims as saying hair color will last for 10 weeks. In addition, a machine will test how much sunlight impacts the color of hair.
“Our methodology is all connected to real life conditions,” explained Pineau. Machines also flick the hair to imitate life and can disentangle it.
One lady in China has proved to be a huge resource for L’Oréal. “In a newspaper article, we found this lady who had been growing her hair for fourteen years. She only washed her hair once a month – this process took half a day – and best of all she protected her hair by wearing a scarf,” said Pineau. “It was 4.2 meters long, which has given us an opportunity to understand the aging process of hair whist it is still growing.”
And for men, most have hair retention high on their wish list so that’s a key area for concern. “In order to prevent hair loss we are working with a new molecule and also investigating stem cell rejuvenation,” said Pineau.
With an investment of 100 million Euros ($132 million) and 500 employees dedicated to hair research under one 25,000m2 roof, one thing is for sure: looking at hair will never be quite the same again.