Straightening My Hair With Science!

So you might not have noticed, but last week was a solid sheet of rain. Curiously enough, it was also one of my best hair weeks ever. Seriously. And for that, I thank you, MIT.

Among the more unexpected startups to come out of MIT is Living Proof — possibly the most brilliant hair care line around. As we recount here, it was founded a few years back by a dream team of venture capitalists from Polaris Ventures, stylists, and scientists (including the indefatigable Bob Langer and Dan Anderson, demigods of drug delivery biotech and cancer fighting) tasked with fighting frizz and flyaways. The company came out first with No Frizz, Hold and Full; their latest product launched just last week — it’s called Straight and it, well, straightens. Or, more specifically, it prevents your morning hairbrush-and-dryer effort from unraveling within an hour of your shower.

How it works boils down to this: take a look at one of those strands on your head. A really, really close look. There’s the medulla on the inside, and the cuticle on the outside; in between the two is the cortex. That’s the most hair-ish part of the structure, containing the fibrous keratin proteins largely responsible for how your hair appears. When you wash your hair, you relax the hydrogen bonds within those proteins. Then, when you dry it straight with a hairdryer and brush, you reset those relaxed bonds into a different shape. Easy peasy, sure, but with a bit of hydrogen-happy H2O (rain, humidity) things could go awry.

Traditional straightening products try to counter the humidity factor by blocking water out and/or fixing — essentially gluing — strands straight. But the molecules they rely on are generally large polymers that, at the microscopic level, glop on and leave an uneven, permeable layer that not only allows water to sneak in and bust up your hydrogen bonds, but that can also build up on strands and attract dirt and oil. That lack of uniform, flawless shielding between keratin and water is really the heart of why your blow dry never lasts.

Not so, I’m told, with Straight. Straight relies on the same now-famous ester molecule — PolyfluoroEster — that the company used in its first product, No Frizz. Only now, it’s been aerosolized, which means it goes on wet hair, dry hair, and even two-day-old hair. It’s very, very light and very, very small (one one-hundred-thousandth to one one-ten-thousandth the size of your typical straightening heavyweight). It’s also monomeric, hydrophobic and lipophobic, meaning that it’s a very simple non-chain molecule that repels both water and fat. All of these properties combine, says Ron McLaughlin, Living Proof’s VP of product development, to create something that sprays onto your neatly blown-dry hydrogen bonds as a superfine, impermeable shell that’s pretty much impossible to overdo.

McLaughlin’s a little vague on the specific details of the molecule, which is fair. After all, business is business and hair is a multibillion dollar industry. But let me end with this: it’s been a very long time since I’ve been impressed with a hair product. Until now.

P.S. the straight-haired model on the website? Thanks to the endless takes and retakes of the photoshoot, she’s got nearly an entire can of the stuff on her head, and it still looks good! They’re serious about the no-buildup feature.

The Living Proof line is available at a Sephora near you.