Scientists Want Your Hair To Have The Perfect Curls

Researchers are putting your 'do under the microscope, to learn more about how heat impacts hair health

A record-breaking Einstein gathering. None of them had a comb. — REUTERS
Aug 03, 2015 at 11:22 AM ET

Scientists aren’t exactly known for their flawless hairstyles. But one team of engineers at Purdue University is dedicating quite a bit of time to working out the science behind the perfect bob. Their findings are due to be presented this week at the American Society of Mechanical Engineering conference.

Specifically, the researchers are studying how heat from curling irons and flat irons affects different types of hair. “Heat treatment is a popular way to give versatility to hair, but it can be detrimental to hair health if misused,” Tahira Reid, a mechanical engineer at Purdue University, said in a prepared statement. “We need to learn what temperature and frequency of use will lead to permanent structural damage to curly hair.”

For the study, Reid and her team examined different hair types under an infrared microscope, and studied how heat travels from the flat iron through samples of straight, wavy, and curly hair. They found that heat takes much longer to dissipate out of straight hair than curly hair, and that heat moves differently across different hair samples. The preliminary results suggest flat irons and other heat-based hair treatments could ultimately be optimized for different hair types—providing a scientifically superior ‘do.

The paper is a refreshing take on cosmetology, an industry that (chemistry aside) has often suffered from a lack of top-level science. Currently, cosmetology literature defines hair types as either African, Caucasian or Asian. Meanwhile science (and good ol’ fashioned logic) would suggest that, “the whole world does not fit into these three categories,” as Reid said.

Reid envisions a future in which a customer will be able to walk into a hair salon, point to a hair type on a poster and leave with a new hairstyle that promotes healthier hair. “Imagine that someone has a diagram they can refer to that says, ‘This is my hair-curl pattern. I can use my flat iron at this temperature, this number of times per month and not have any damage’.”