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Brief Published: 8 Aug 2014

Beauty Developments: Hair-Colouring Flat Irons

Proposal for the new ion beam hair colouring device

Researchers at the University of New Mexico and Los Alamos National Laboratories in the US are looking into technology that would enable consumers to add multiple colours and patterns to their hair with a simple, flat-iron device.

The research paper, titled Nano-Patterning of Diffraction Gratings on Human Hair for Cosmetic Purposes, has been published in the Journal of Cosmetics, Dermatological Sciences and Applications. It proposes the use of ion beam technology in a hair-styling device to manipulate the hair follicles to reflect light and colour.

This ion beam technology could be used to pattern hair shafts by etching diffraction gratings onto individual hairs to reflect light in a specific way. These molecular-level etchings create patterns that reflect specific bandwidths of light, depending on how deep, wide, and far apart the lines are. Trialled on different hair strengths and colours, the technique proved most effective on brown hair, but also produced results on black and blonde hair.

Still in the early stages of development, head researchers Zayd Leseman and Bruce Lamartine are hoping to embed this technology into a handheld device similar to hair-straightening irons, allowing consumers to alter their hair colour efficiently and painlessly at home. These irons would feature switch paddles, which could allow the user to change their hair colour with ease, or even apply a specific pattern onto their hair in different colours.

Currently, the process would permanently change the colour and shade of the hair, but Leseman is keen to develop a conditioner with a polymer coating that would protect the hair and allow the new colour to eventually wash out.

Consumer product conglomerate Proctor & Gamble funded the project in 2011, but further investment is needed for product development.

This research runs counter to the current trend for natural, holistic beauty applications (see DIY Beauty and The New Eco Beauty), but signals another step towards future applications and products that rely on science and machine-based development. See Lumi Deco Nails, Wearables Nail Bar and Cosmetic-Controlled Electronics for more.