"Finding solutions to deal with hair and skin problems means more than simply working on the appearance of the men and women concerned - it means contributing to the enhancement of their quality of life" : such was the message sent out at the beginning of the symposium by Victoria Holloway, Director of the L'Oréal Institute for Ethnic Hair & Skin Research in Chicago.
The following is a close-up on some of the topics examined during the symposium.
Understanding hair shape in order to modify it more effectively
The genetic, biochemical and structural processes that shape the hair shaft are far from being completely understood. If we can identify them, we can hope to straighten African hair more easily without damaging the fibers or, conversely, put in a curl in straight hair using gentle methods.
In order to link the molecular structure of the hair shaft with its macroscopic shape, L'Oréal researchers have studied hair with different degrees of curl. They have highlighted the fact that two parameters are required to describe macroscopic curl patterns: ellipticity and twisting of the shaft's cross-section along the fiber axis. In hair of African origin, ellipticity (the ratio of the minor to the major axis of the hair section) is usually lower than for Caucasian hair, which is itself lower than in thick, straight Asian hair, and it presents frequent, high-amplitude twists.
Analysis of the same hair at molecular level shows that the proteins of alpha keratin (the protein that is predominant in the hair shaft, and from which it obtains its hardness) in the microfibrils are disposed in a regular pattern over the fiber diameter in straight hair, but are dispersed in curly hair, which is the cause of major variations in terms of organization and interactions between proteins.
On the basis of these observations, it can be imagined that products of appropriate type can modify in a targeted manner the patterns in fiber sub-structures, for example by relaxing local stresses in the curly hair shaft, leading to macroscopic straightening of the fiber.
Knowledge of fiber form is essential not only for the development of new products to care for or to shape the hair shaft, but also to solve the dermatological problem of Pseudofolliculitis of the Beard. This condition, which affects 45% to 83% of African and Latin Americans, is characterized by inflammation of the hair follicle. It is the result of a mechanical conflict related to the growth of the hair shaft: the hair, cut too short by shaving, grows within the skin or, conversely, an excessively long hair curves around and grows down deep into the skin. At the present time, experimental treatments make successful use of molecules that change the shape of the hair and/or the angle at which it emerges from the skin on leaving the follicular canal.
Clinical advances in the treatment of skin and hair conditions
Skin and hair conditions such as acne, acne scars, hyperpigmentation, pseudofolliculitis and alopecia in women can be a source of serious clinical and cosmetic problems in non-white patients. The symposium provided an opportunity for dermatologists confronted on a daily basis with these pathologies to present and discuss new treatments. Specifically, the use of lasers is increasingly seen to be effective in treating acne, acne scars and keloids; and the combination of laser treatment to remove hairs and the application of creams containing anti-inflammatory agents, retinoids, hydroquinone and eflornithine (a molecule capable of modifying the shape of the hair shaft) appears to be one of the best therapies at the present time for the treatment of hirsutism and Pseudofolliculitis Barbae.
This third edition of the symposium on ethnic skin and hair shows once again that it is essential for researchers and dermatologists to share their respective research.