Salon Science Creates Colorful Coif

By Alyssa Edmunds

My mom is a cosmetologist. Growing up, I’d sometimes go with her to the salon where she worked. I asked her several times about how hair dye works, but it would always go over my head, like much of the complex content Chemical Processing produces. When I stumbled upon a recent Reactions video from the American Chemical Society, my curiosity was reignited. Now as an adult, I am able to comprehend the science behind it.

According to the video (see below), the hair shaft, which is covered in a layer of cuticle — or overlapping keratin cells — protects and waterproofs hair. So, when you use temporary spray hair color to show your team spirit or finish off your Halloween costume, all this does is coat the cuticle and that’s why the color fades rather quickly.

However, it requires much more chemistry to permanently dye hair. Prior to working as an intern for Chemical Processing, I had not realized the extent to which chemistry pervades everyday life. I always thought of my mom’s workplace as a beauty salon, but now I see it as a cosmetic chemistry lab. It’s led me to think about more than just the hair coloring aspect of her work and question the science behind even more services the salon offers, like perms and keratin treatments: things I hear my mom mention daily when she recounts her work day.

Had I known about the chemistry involved in hair sooner, I probably would’ve listened to my mom more. She warned me several times that highlighting my hair would weaken my hair fibers. She also warned me to wash my hair immediately after going swimming. Had I listened to her, maybe my hair wouldn’t have turned green one summer. To ensure you don't have any hair surprises, watch this short video.


melissa and alyssaAlyssa Edmunds — pictured here as a wee tot with her mom, Melissa — is Chemical Processing’s social media intern and a student at The Ohio State University. She is studying Actuarial Science. The older she gets the more she understands that her mom really does know what she’s talking about.