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When Pureology began adding ultra-tiny particles to some of its hair products, the products worked better.

"I didn't know it was nanotechnology," says Pureology founder and CEO Jim Markham. "I just knew it worked. We began using nanotechnology strictly from a performance point of view."By using particles that were 15 to 20 nanometers in size -- about 1/57,000th the size of a human hair — it improved the products' ability to strengthen and moisturize the hair, to preserve color and provide thermal protection, Markham says. Pureology now uses nanotechnology in all of its shampoos, conditioners, moisturizers and reconstructors. The company recently launched NanoWorks, its super luxury category of products -- all using nanotechnology.Markham says nanotechnology works especially well for curly hair, which tends to be dry. The nano-ingredients fill the hair with strength and moisture and resist humidity more effectively, he says.

"Nanotechnology is very much the future," Markham says. Nanotechnology is a group of emerging technologies in which the structure of matter is controlled at the nanometer scale -- the scale of small numbers of atoms -- to produce materials and devices that have useful and unique properties. It is used in industries as diverse as computers, medicine and beauty. There is a growing awareness that smaller can be better and more effective, whether it be an Apple iPod Nano or Pureology's NanoGlaze Styling Creme.

At the recent NanoBusiness Alliance conference in New York, Undersecretary of Commerce Phil Bond said that "nanotechnology has reached a tipping point." This is no longer just hype and hot air, he said. And it is taking the beauty industry by storm. Cosmetics giant L'Oreal has been on the leading edge when it comes to nanotechnology. The company ranked No. 6 last year among nanotechnology patent holders in the U.S., ranking ahead of such R&D giants as General Electric, Motorola and Eastman Kodak."At L'Oreal factories, high-pressure machinery fires droplets of material at the speed of sound to pulverize them into nano-size bits," according to a Dec. 12, 2005 article in Business Week.

L'Oreal introduced its first product using nanotechnology in 1998. Since then, it has been used in higher-end brands such as Lancomeas well as less expensive, drugstore lines such as L’ Oreal Plenitude. And more are on the way.

Other companies, including Procter & Gamble, Estee Lauder and Christian Dior, also are incorporating nano-particles in their products. The reasons for the explosive growth of this technology is because the products are more easily absorbed into the skin and the hair. Italian hair-care company Alfaparf, which sells Milano Hair Power Nano Tech Solutions Exfoliant Gel scrub, says nanospheres function at the cellular level to deliver vitamins and stimulate cells.

Although companies first began dabbling in nanotechnology in the 1980s, use of the technique really picked up in the late 1990s.Pittsburgh-based Philip Pelusi is among the hair-care companies that have embraced nanotechnology.

"From the beginning, Philip's focus was how to get protein and moisture into the hair shaft," says Nikki Blahusch, product education director for Philip Pelusi. "

It was nanotechnology, without the fancy word. He was always working with the size of the molecule, making sure (the molecules) were enhanced by science so they were small enough to penetrate the hair shaft. It can be applied to any product.

"For its Philip Pelusi's Increase and Decrease, two products introduced in September, nanotechnology was used "from top to bottom," Blahusch says. Pelusi also has gone back and tweaked other products within his P2 line, applying nanotechnology.

Blahusch says nanotechnology is important to Pelusi because it allows the molecules to be manipulated in important ways. More molecules can fit into a formula."There are more ingredients per square inch in a bottle," she says. "When the product gets on your hair shaft, it's saturated with these tiny molecules down to its deepest level.

"The products also are able to better penetrate and repair the hair shaft, she says. "Everything we do -- from using heat appliances to wearing your hair in a ponytail -- damages the hair," she says. "It causes broken spots on the cuticle, like potholes. If those potholes are not resurfaced and filled in, the hair will not look, feel and perform like virgin hair.

"And nanotechnology also allows ingredients to be combined in new ways. Philip Pelusi has combined a lightweight silicone and an amino acid protein molecule to create a "supermolecule," Blahusch says. "That's one reason why our Fade de Phy product will decrease hair fading up to 80 percent between visits," she says.

Nanotechnology is being used in a many unique ways.For example, Farouk Systems recently introduced new CHI Hair Irons and Hair Dryers that incorporate nano-silver coatings on the exposed surfaces to disinfect and sterilize the tools to prevent the contamination of mold and bacteria between clients.

The silver nanoparticles -- typically 5 to 50 nanometers in diameter -- are being used in a variety of ways, including on ultraviolet dental lights inside the mouth to sterilize dental equipment, as a coating on chopping boards and to sterilize masks for use in hospitals.

Nanotechnology does have disadvantages. For one, it is very expensive. In addition, the tools necessary to do the research may not be readily available and may have to be built from scratch, adding further expense.

And some question the safety. Two years ago, a UK report commissioned by the British government and carried out by the Royal Society and the Royal Academy of Engineering, extolled the virtues of nanotechnology while simultaneously warning about the dangers. Falling short of recommending a total ban on the production of nanoparticles, the report stressed that substances manufactured in nano form can have totally different chemical properties compared to their natural-sized counterparts. It has not been an issue with any beauty products on the market.

Blahusch concedes that nanotechnology is no "magic bullet." But she believes it has taken hair-care to a new level. "Technology is advancing in every area," Blahusch says. "Why should hair-care be any different?

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