rob robillard living proof

Rob Robillard is Living Proof's president.

When one walks into the offices of Living Proof, it becomes clear pretty quickly that this beauty company is different from many others.

Out of the 25 people who work at its Cambridge, Mass. headquarters, 18 are scientists with PhDs in chemistry. Unlike traditional consumer package goods companies — where marketing departments may dominate — only three Living Proof employees work in marketing.

"The bulk of our company is based on coming up with new technologies rather than focusing on making claims off existing technologies," says Kate Alessi, vice president of digital marketing. "At Living Proof, we said let's come up with really good technologies and let the results speak for themselves. We want to have results that can be seen across the room."

It is a strategy that has helped propel the company to nearly instantaneous success since it launched in February on QVC and in Sephora with its No Frizz Curl Defining and Straight Making hair products. The products contain the PolyfluoroEster molecule, developed by the team of scientists after one year of research — the first new anti-frizz technology in over 30 years. Living Proof was the No. 1 brand launch at Sephora in 1999, Alessi says.

"It sold five times what Sephora expected for the brand," she says.

living proof

Living Proof products.

This summer, Living Proof expanded the No Frizz line with a shampoo, conditioner and leave-in conditioner. The sulfate-free shampoo and hydrating conditioner also deliver the PolyfluoroEster molecule. Alessi says the company tried endless formulas before developing a sulfate-free shampoo that lathers.

New No Frizz products will be introduced in early 2010, Alessi says.

Living Proof came out of a conversation five years ago between Jon Flint, co-founder of Polaris Venture Partners, and stylists Mitch DeRosa and Ward Stegerhoek. Flint came up with the idea of creating a beauty brand combining advanced medical and materials technology with aesthetics.

Flint and Polaris partner, Amir Nashat, Ph.D., studied the market for hair and skin products and confirmed that there had been few true technology innovations in beauty. MIT professor Dr. Bob Langer and his colleague Dr. Dan Anderson came aboard when Polaris funded the company, and they set about hiring their team of scientists. Dr. Rox Anderson, Director of Wellman Center for Photomedicine at Mass General, and Peter Hutt, former FDA General Counsel, joined the team. There were no beauty industry veterans.

"They looked at different polymers and formulas that could solve hair and skin problems," Alessi says.

After one year of research, the team of scientists discovered the PolyfluoroEster molecule. PolyfluoroEster is a smaller molecule than the traditional materials used for frizz control. Due to its chemical nature, the formulation adheres tightly to the hair, which allows for long-lasting moisture resistance and rebalancing of the hair fiber's interaction with the atmosphere, even after extreme humidity.

Using PolyFluoroEster as the core, the Living Proof scientists created the first No Frizz test products with promising results, getting them into the hands of "test clients" — everyday people who struggle with frizzy hair days.

"Most other frizz products use silicone," Alessi says. "PolyfluoroEster is completely hydrophobic and seals the entire cuticle."

A Eureka moment came on a hot day when a client came to the company's offices with her own hair test. She'd used No Frizz on one side and a silicone product on the other. The No Frizz side was frizz-free and smooth, while the other side had become puffy and frizzy.

With excitement building over the products, key beauty industry executives were recruited, including former Kiehl's president Rob Robillard.

The new product got a boost when Allure magazine awarded No Frizz the prestigious 2008 Beauty Breakthrough Award from the editors of Allure.

The No Frizz line was developed based on findings that there were six distinct hair types based on hair texture and desired style. The six items in the No Frizz styling line each were developed specifically for one of those six hair types. The shampoo, conditioner and leave-in conditioner are designed for all hair types.

"You really should have a different formula based on whether you want your hair curly or straight, and based on your hair texture," Alessi says.

In addition to its work on the No Frizz line, Living Proof scientists are busy at work developing other products for the hair and skin, including creating anti-wrinkle products, anti-cellulite products and non-damaging, long-lasting hair color formulas.

Later this month, Living Proof will unveil a new line of products on QVC for fine, limp hair, using a new technology and molecule that addresses this hair type.

"Living proof will continue to address other challenges in beauty and hair," Alessi promises.

Hair Facts from Living Proof:

Hair Composition

There are more than 12 different structures that make up each hair fiber. These structures make hair an integrated system that can act both independently or in concert with each other. But hair can most easily be thought of as having just two structures: the cuticle (outside) and the cortex (inside). A hair fiber is built much like a tree, with a layered outside and a fibrous inside. The cuticle is hair's protection from the environment. It is made of very strong proteins and looks like shingles on a roof. The cortex is overwhelmingly responsible for hair’s stiffness and body.

There are about 100,000 hairs on the average person's head. Because hair grows at an average rate of 1 cm per month, if it were possible to lay all the hair on your head end to end, it would grow a total of 100 feet per day.

Hair Chemistry 101

Hair essentially consists of four general types of chemicals: proteins, melanin, water and trace elements.

Melanin is the part of the hair responsible for its color. It is made up of very small colored particles whose shape and number determine what color your hair is. Bleaching the hair is the process of breaking down and dissolving these melanin particles.

Lifespan of Hair

The lifespan of hair is genetically determined and typically runs from two to seven years. In addition, typically, 90% of scalp hair is growing (known as the anagen phase) and 10% are resting (known as the telogen phase). Waist-length hair takes about seven years to grow, whereas shoulder length hair takes only about three years. Thus, only certain people with long anagen times can expect to grow their hair down to the waist. As you age, the growing phase shortens. For example, someone with a five-year growth phase can grow hair to a length of approximately 2 feet before it enters the resting phase. If their growth period drops to three years as they age, their hair will then grow only to shoulder length before it falls out or is brushed out. It is normal to lose about 100 hairs per day from the scalp.

Hair Morphology

If you cut a hair, and then look at its cross section, the shape you would see defines the orientation of the hair. For example, very curly hair has a flat oval profile, while very straight hair is round. Interestingly, these characteristics are genetically determined and related to nationality or racial origin. People from Asian decent have very round shaped hair. People of African descent have very flat shaped hair and people of Caucasian descent tend to have oval shaped hair.

Hair and Humidity

Humidity plays a far larger role in the appearance and behavior of hair than any other environmental factor. In fact, hair can absorb up to 40% of its weight from a humid environment. Its diameter swells nearly 25% when wet, yet its length hardly changes in water. This swelling causes the hair cuticles to expand and lift, creating frizz. Finally, high humidity makes hair more likely to tangle, and much harder to comb. Hair is 3 times limper at high humidity, losing virtually all its stiffness when wet.

At a relative humidity of 30%, hair has a moisture content of ~6%. If the relative humidity increases to 70%, the moisture content in hair raises to nearly 14%. That’s a difference of 130% ! In addition, when hair is damaged, and its porosity increased, its moisture content can approach 50%.

Check out other Spotlight stories here.