Information on hair loss shampoo formulations.

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Best shampoo
The best hair loss shampoos are the ones which effectively cleanse the hair without causing any damage to hair fiber. Most of the hair loss and hair damage has been seen to be associated with the use of substandard hair shampoos resulting in dry hair and loss of its natural shine.

The cleansing actions of hair shampoos is due to the surfactants. It is these cleansing agents which need to be formulated in a way that removes the sebum and oils but does not in any way affect the normal texture and function of the hair.

Sebum is an oily substance that is naturally produced by the hair follicle. The normal production of sebum in itself is not harmful, but when it gets combined with dust, pollutants, smoke, grease, sweat, and styling products it can have a very destructive influence in the healthy hair growth process. A build up of sebum can make the hair look dull and dirty.

Sebum also contains high levels of testosterone and dihydrotestosterone (DHT) which may re-enter the skin and affect the healthy hair growth. DHT has a negative effect on hair growth, slowing down the rate of hair production, reducing the quality of the hair fiber produced and eventually causing the hair follicles to miniaturize resulting in hair loss. Because of this, removing sebum regularly with shampoo helps to maintain healthy hair growth.

The cleansing agents of the best shampoos weaken the physicochemical adhesive force of sebum. Also they remove the sebum and dirt from the hair by the aqueous rinsing action and prevent the redeposition of the same on the hair fiber.

The surfactants or the cleansing agents of the shampoos are hydrophilic in nature (that means they like to mix with water) due to their polar head groups which are of four types:
  • Anionics
  • Cationics
  • Amphoterics
  • Nonionics
Mechanism of the surfactants in hair loss shampoos
Anionics are water-soluble and exhibit remarkable cleaning and foaming properties. But these surfactants have relatively poor cosmetic properties and they are quite harsh to the hair. When formulating these surfactants in shampoos they have to be enhanced by appropriate softening additives to make them acceptable to use.

Cationics impart ease of combing and softness to the hair fibers. The cosmetic characteristics of cationic surfactants help condition hair and so they are appropriate for damaged hair. But these cationic surfactants have poor cleansing and lathering properties. They are unable to remove the dirt from hair. Also, they are more compatible with nonionic surfactants as compared to anionic surfactants.

Amphoterics are easily combined with other surfactants in the formulation of mild shampoos. These surfactants help in effective cleaning without affecting the hair fiber. They enhance lathering qualities of the shampoos and add a valuable polymer contribution to the hair condition.

Nonionics are also compatible with every surfactant. They are generally considered the mildest and have good dispersing, emulsifying, and detergent properties. But due to their poor foaming capacity they are considered as secondary cleaning agents. They are highly tolerant to the skin of the scalp especially when they are combined with alkyl ether sulfates or amphoterics for the development of infant shampoos.

Natural shampoo
Other than these synthetic surfactants, the best hair loss shampoo formulations can also incorporate saponins, a natural surfactant extracted from various plant species like soap bark, soapwort, sarsaparilla, and ivy. These saponins make a very good lather but have low cleansing properties. To get appropriate detergency for washing hair, a high concentration of saponins is required, but a high concentration can be harsh to the hair fiber. So while formulating shampoo these natural surfactants are generally combined with synthetic ones to ensure good cleansing and satisfactory cosmetic qualities.

Composition of surfactants in various shampoos
Each surfactant has different properties, some of these properties are useful while some are best to be avoided. So the shampoos have to be well formulated so that the surfactants are not too harsh and well suited to scalp and hair.

Shampoos are formulated in accordance with the general habits of the people and their hair needs. For example, mild shampoos are best suited for frequently washed hair while special care shampoos are best for dyed or chemically treated hair.

Normal Shampoos

The most widely used shampoos are the ordinary ones that are generally based on anionic surfactants such as alkyl sulfates and alkyl ether sulfates. Other than anionic surfactants they contain other softening additives. These shampoos provide good lather and cleanse the hair well without being excessively harsh. These ordinary shampoos help in easy combing and make the hair appear glossy without fluffiness.

Shampoos for frizzy hair

Formulating shampoos for frizzy hair requires utmost care and demands a more elaborate process than for the other types. The cleaning potency is essential in addition to a conditioning effect. These shampoos ensure dispersal of dirt followed by microdeposition of suitable conditioning enhancers throughout the hair.

These shampoos for frizzy hair can be obtained by a combination of anionics (alkyl sulfates and alkyl ether sulfates) and amphoterics (betaines and imidazolinium derivatives). Cosmetic qualities are contributed, for the most part, by cationic polymers or silicones.

The best shampoos for frizzy hair are perhaps the ones which have been blended with conditioners - popularly known as 2-in-1 shampoos. Apart form cleansing, these shampoos also provide conditioning with complex/compound adjuncts. But still there is a limitation of these shampoos particularly when used for extremely frizzy hair. For proper enhancement of dry and frizzy hair, the additional use of separate conditioners is generally recommended.

Special shampoos
Baby shampoos
The mildest among the shampoos are the baby or infant shampoos. Baby shampoos are formulated in order to provide special care to tender skin and eyes of the infant. They are formulated with mild anionic, amphoteric, and nonionic surfactants which prevents the stinging feeling when they come in contact with the eyes. However, because they are mild shampoos, washing the hair may require more than one application to fully remove dirt and oils. Baby shampoos may not be effective for really dirty hair.

Shampoo-surfactants for chemically treated hair

Hair that has undergone chemical treatments like perming has to be cleansed with shampoos that are specifically balanced with a combination of surfactants. As hair after the application of chemicals becomes dry and is sometimes damaged due to the maximum use of chemicals, shampoos for chemically treated hair need to be mild in their cleansing action so as to avoid further damage.

So the shampoos for frizzy hair, especially after being treated with chemicals, should be anionic combined with an amphoteric or a cationic surfactant base. These shampoos produce the desired quality of foam texture and volume and remove the dryness. A polymer (cationic, amphoteric, mixed) specific to the hair type is added to impart the required conditioning to the hair.

The aim of good hair loss shampoos is not merely to cleanse but also to enhance the beauty of hair. So while selecting shampoo, a careful eye should be kept on the compatibility of the surfactant system,so choose a well–balanced shampoo which suits your particular hair requirement.

Claude Bouillon, “Shampoos”, 1996; Clinics in Dermatology, 14:113-121
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