Hair care and design is art, but it's also chemistry. Getting your best hair means understanding the underlying chemistry of frizz, damage, color and shine.
LSU alum Rolanda Wilkerson is a hair chemistry expert. Rolanda works with dermatologists, clinicians and beauty scientists at P&G to research and report on the latest and emerging skin and hair science and technology.
We asked Rolanda to give us a lesson in hair chemistry and care, just in time for the Louisiana summer heat and humidity!
LSU College of Science: How did you first become interested in science and chemistry?
Rolanda: My interest for science blossomed when I was in the 4th grade and I began participating in science fair projects. My mom is a science teacher and my dad is a retired operator and OSHA manager at a chemical company. Seeing them involved in their careers also piqued my interest. My parents nurtured my interest in science, helping to get me involved in science programs during the summer breaks while I was in grade school.
When I went to high school, chemistry was a class that I really enjoyed. It challenged me. Anyone who is close to me knows I love a challenge! I decided to make my challenge my major in college.
LSU College of Science: How did you become a "beauty scientist"? What attracted you to this field?
Rolanda: I have always had a passion for all things beauty. From playing with my dolls' hair when I was little, to “playing”/styling my own hair when I was old enough, to make-up and hair, I’ve always been beauty-involved. I got a chance to see how my love of beauty and science could merge when I was recruited by P&G to attend a summer program. There I became exposed to the possibilities of being a scientist in beauty care. As fate would have it, I was hired into an area that gave me an opportunity to merge my passion for beauty and science.
LSU College of Science: Can you tell us more about your scientific work / research while at LSU, and now?
Rolanda: My scientific work at LSU involved the elucidation of dye formation in Resorcinarene [a chemical compound] solutions. My group developed large macrocyclic compounds. When dissolving the resorcinarene in a solution and adding varied sugars, the resorcinarene solution would change color, serving as an indicator that specific sugars were present. I elucidated the method of dye formation, showing how resorcinarenes can serve as sugar indicators (for glucose, sucrose, fructose, etc.), with potential use in biological applications.
My work throughout my career at P&G has involved formulating hair care products, assessing actives in the hair follicle, and designing and executing pre-clinical studies. I have also been responsible for scientific communications across many of our beauty brands. In this capacity, I have represented our brands as a scientific expert, communicating the science behind our beauty products on TV, print, and in digital media.
LSU College of Science: Can you tell us more about dandruff, how it reflects the health of our scalps and how scientifically formulated hair products can help?
Rolanda: Having dandruff isn't associated with a lack of hair hygiene. Fifty percent of the world’s population experiences dandruff.
A key cause of dandruff has been reported to be a fungus called Malassezia globosa. We all have this fungus on our scalp. The fungus feeds off of our scalp’s natural oil secretions (Sebum) and continues to populate on the scalp. The fungus releases a by-product that is essentially a scalp irritant. Some people respond to the presence of the fungus while others do not. This is called individual susceptibility.
For those susceptible, the scalp skin reacts by producing more skin cells at a faster rate. This results in clumping of skin cells on the scalp surface. Those individuals who are pre-disposed to responding to the presence of this scalp irritant will experience flaking on the scalp, otherwise known as dandruff.
While dandruff cannot be cured, it can be treated. It can be treated effectively with an anti-dandruff shampoo with effective scalp actives like ZPT, which has fungistatic properties. The ingredient ZPT has been optimized in the scalp care brand that I work on, H&S, for effective deposition on the scalp, reaching places where the fungus hides more efficiently. Washing frequently with an anti-dandruff scalp care product is the best way to address dandruff issues.
Some women have a preference for sulfate-free products. P&G Hair Care R&D has tested sulfate-containing shampoos and sulfate-free shampoos. The research has shown that not all sulfate-free products are created equal, and sulfate-containing products can provide hair benefits. When measuring protein loss and hair breakage, hair treated with many of the sulfate-free products resulted in more breakage and protein loss than the sulfate-containing products. It’s important to note that ingredients like sulfates, when formulated in the right concentration and right mix with other ingredients, can provide benefits including moisturization, detangling, smoothing, etc.
A regular scalp care regimen can benefit us all. It has been proven that from an unhealthy scalp can emerge unhealthy hair. For those who experience dryness, itch, flaking and excess oil, treating your scalp with a scalp care product that contains an anti-dandruff active is a proven, effective solution.
LSU College of Science: What can we do to prevent hair color fading?
Rolanda: The simple act of washing hair can diminish color in color-treated hair over time and even at the first wash. Research has found that metals found in the wash water can interfere with color preservation and cause oxidation in the hair shaft, resulting in color fade. Research has shown that shampoos and conditioners with ingredients such as histamine and Ethylenediamine-N, N'-disuccinic acid (EDDS) work as antioxidants in the hair, preserving hair color. The products tested with antioxidants also contain sulfates.
LSU College of Science: How did the College of Science propel you into your current career path?
Rolanda: The LSU College of Science helped to accelerate, nurture and advance my career path. It also exposed me to various aspects of chemistry that strengthened my understanding of fundamental research. This has helped me tremendously as I work not only for a beauty care company but also a consumer products company that utilizes all aspects of chemistry/science to develop products that touch the lives of people all over the world.
LSU College of Science: What is your secret to success, or what advice would you give to current students at LSU interested in a career in your field?
Rolanda: Know your field and be an expert. Be able to communicate science in a concise way so that all others, even those that are not technical, can understand. Networking and connecting with others is also very important.