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Working Up a Lather

By: Luis Vazquez
Posted: October 26, 2006, from the October 2006 issue of GCI Magazine.

Driven by increasing awareness and concern by consumers about the source and properties of the ingredients in their personal care products, the conversion to more natural formulations in personal care is gathering momentum. The natural hair care category is undergoing a shift as technology and formulations improve, enhancing performance and functionality while maintaining the natural integrity and positioning of the products.

Traditionally, many consumers shopping in natural product stores have been disappointed with natural hair care products, and often have continued to buy hair care products in mainstream outlets due to the noticeable differences in texture, lather and functionality that non-naturals provided. Some of the features expected from a shampoo—a rich creamy lather, for example—are created with synthetic or harsh chemicals that natural formulators do not use. In addition, the natural hair care category has consisted primarily of shampoos and conditioners differentiated by scent and aromatherapy benefits rather than function or hair care solutions. Marketers of natural hair care products are increasingly developing and introducing products that are benefit driven rather than aromatherapy based to attract new consumers and bring shoppers back into the natural hair care category. Based on current consumption data, this strategy seems to be working. The natural hair care category is the second fastest-growing HBA naturals category, up 19.4% on an annual basis.

Defining and Differentiating Naturals

Natural formulations often are defined by what they do not include: parabens, sodium lauryl/laureth sulfates, and petroleum-based and animal-derived ingredients. Excluding these ingredients often extends the development time because new ingredients have to be sourced, evaluated and tested for effectiveness.

Increasingly, natural marketers also are seeking to differentiate themselves with unique plant-based ingredients not available in mainstream products. Research to support the topical benefits of these ingredients is being conducted by both ingredient suppliers and marketers to support the effectiveness and help persuade consumers that natural products can effectively address their hair care needs. In addition, suppliers are discovering new botanicals and indigenous ingredients more rapidly due to global sourcing. Just a few years ago, most marketers and consumers were not aware of the moisturizing benefits of babassu oil from Brazil or the antioxidant benefits of rooibis red tea from South Africa. These new ingredients supported by research data and a better understanding of natural formulation techniques have enhanced natural hair care to more effectively meet consumer demand and expectations.

Lather and Foam

Formulating hair care products presents numerous challenges due to the characteristics and needs of every individual’s hair. Human hair varies enormously depending on race, gender, age and genetics—which, in turn, affect the diameter, color and texture of the hair. In addition to cleansing and conditioning, consumers demand hair care products that solve specific hair problems or complement a particular style. To achieve these goals, all the characteristics of hair must be taken into account during the development phase.