In the cosmetics and hair care industry, a continual stream of new products are introduced into the market. Most seem to be variations of whatever happens to be the current popular theme. On occasion though, new products emerge onto the scene bearing remarkable claims that demand closer examination.
One such recent case is the Nexxus Pro-Mend system, which the manufacturers assert can nourish hair and actually heal split ends. Who wouldn't be intrigued by promises that the product could repair up to 92% of split ends in the first use? It seemed a sufficiently brazen claim to warrant some scientific detective work to determine if the claims are credible, and if so, what the chemical basis is for the reported miracle cure for split ends.
Too Good to Be True?
The initial response many may have when hearing such a claim is that it is preposterous. We have all been taught that hair is a "dead" protein, and that topical treatments such as hair products are incapable of providing anything other than cosmetic, superficial, and temporary benefit. However, our understanding of and facility with protein and polymer chemistry has been continually advancing in unexpected and oftentimes brilliant ways. For this reason, I am willing to temporarily set aside my skepticism and entertain the notion that maybe someone has finally found a way to repair split ends without a pair of scissors.
There is a general procedure one can follow to gain fundamental insight into the technology behind a new product. The first step to understanding is to examine the ingredient list and look for anything new or unusual combinations of materials. Next, it is helpful to review the company's marketing material and instructions for use of the product. Finally, one can gain a tremendous amount of valuable information by scouring the relevant technical literature and patents (even those of competitors or for products used for completely different applications).
Analysis of the Ingredients
Nexxus Pro-Mend Leave-In Treatment Cr̀eme Ingredients
Water, Phenyltrimethicone, Dimethicone, Stearamidopropyl Dimethylamine, Polyquaternium 37, Polyquaternium 28, Cetyl Alcohol, Glycerin, Cyclopentasiloxane, Aspartic Acid, Propylene Glycol, Dicaprylate/Dicaprate, Fragrance (Parfum), PPG 1 Trideceth 6, Glyceryl Stearate, PVM/MA Copolymer, Dimethiconol, DMDM Hydantoin, Disodium EDTA, Sodium Hydroxide, Hexylcinnamal, Butylphenyl Methylpropional, Limonene, Coumarin, Linalool, Alpha Isomethyl Ionone, Cocos Nucifera Oil (Coconut), Keratin Amino Acid,Jasminum Officinale Flower Extract (Jasmine)
I was slightly taken aback by the ingredients for the products in the Pro-Mend line, which were not exactly what I expected to see in a novel intense conditioning formula. The major components listed are silicones and polyquaternium conditioning agents. The use of cationic polymers (polyquaterniums) is not surprising, as they are selectively attracted to damaged areas of hair (which bear a negative charge). For this reason, they can be particularly useful in smoothing damaged cuticles and managing split ends. However, this is not a novel application of these materials. At first glance, nothing else jumped out as a likely character that would be able to repair split ends.
The first eight ingredients after water are found in many conditioning products, so no surprises there. After that are oils, emulsifiers, humectants, solvents, one fixative, and other common conditioning agents. But again, none of these ingredients are really known for doing anything terribly novel in terms of hair repair. Most are topical film-formers possessing varying ability to smooth, condition and protect the surface of the hair.
So, was that it? Was Pro-Mend merely another iteration in the long line of conditioning products available? Perhaps not. After further contemplation of the formula, I began to think there was more to these products than first meets the eye.
Several ingredients stood out in the list and nagged at my subconscious. Among these were Aspartic Acid, DMDM Hydantoin, Sodium Hydroxide, Hexylcinnamal, Butylphenyl Methylpropional, and Keratin Amino Acids. These ingredients are not uncommon and each has its own typical and often mundane purpose in a product. However, some of these are capable of performing double duty, and the presence of all of these ingredients together led me to have some suspicions as to how this product could possibly do the things they promised it could do. But, I needed more information.