Is What’s Hair Today...Gone Tomorrow?

By Tom Branna, Editorial Director | April 3, 2013

The shampoo and conditioner segments have undergone dramatic change during the past 50 years. But some of the biggest changes in the category may be taking place right now.

Wet hair. Apply shampoo. Lather. Rinse. Repeat. It’s a personal grooming mantra, and one that we often take for granted. But how consumers care for their hair has changed dramatically during the past half century. Modern shampoo as it is known today was first introduced in the 1930s with Drene, the first shampoo with synthetic surfactants. When Happi (then Detergent Age) debuted in 1964, much of the focus in hair care was still on getting consumers everywhere to give surfactants a try. In the 50 years since Happi’s been around, the focus on gentle cleaning, natural ingredients and manageability has only been getting stronger.

Back in 1975, when the $355 million US shampoo segment was growing 11% a year, and iconic advertisements featuring the likes of Farrah Fawcett were urging consumers to shampoo their hair several times a week, Happi asked some of the experts of the day what they thought were the biggest changes that took place since the mid-1960s. Many, championed shampoos that gently cleansed without stripping the hair.

“Previously, shampoos cleansed and defatted the hair in the process,” Ann Walsh, executive VP, Germaine Monteil, told Happi nearly 40 years ago. “The trend is now toward the treatment concept; that is, cleansing the hair, but at the same time depositing conditioning materials that give hair good combability and bounce, achieving a healthy look and cleansing the hair and scalp. The use of proteins, cationic conditioners and more recently, cationic polymers could be cited as advancements.”
Three decades later, formulators are still balancing the need for clean and condition as well as a host of other attributes.

New Product Attributes

“Half a century ago, shampoo’s only function was cleaning and consumer and stylist expectations were very basic,” noted Maria Castan, scientific communications, P&G Beauty. “Today a shampoo and conditioner are not only cleaning and providing softness to the hair. They provide care, strength, shine, smoothness, etc. It’s a huge variety of benefits that are only possible thanks to the latest technology available today.“

Consumer habits have changed dramatically in 50 years, too.

“Shampooing was much less frequent in the 1960s as it is today as the majority of women would visit the salon on a weekly basis, usually for a wash and roller set,” explained David Rubin, VP-US hair, Unilever. “Eventually, brands started to advertise more of a daily cleansing ritual.Hair conditioners also saw an increase in usage from the 1960s to today.”

Yesterday and Today

Conditioners were just coming into their own in the 1960s, but they were more like cream rinses and did not have the conditioning benefits of today, according to Rubin. He noted that silicones are used in many Suave conditioners to work as well as salon brands, a positioning that the Suave Professionals line took in 2011.

Old and New: Here’s what Suave once looked like (left) and the latest rendition of the brand today.
“We use specialized polymers and silicones which were not available in the 1960s, to provide the ultimate conditioning/moisturizing benefit for different types of hair (straight, curly),” said Rubin. “As for ingredients, we have stopped using dialkyl quats in our conditioner bases, which are not as biodegradable as the monoalkyl quats that we are now using.”

According to Jeni Thomas, Ph.D., principal scientist, P&G Beauty & Grooming, silicones entered hair care during the 1970s and, since the 1990s, the number of patents linked to the use of silicones in cosmetics has increased 100-fold, expanding exponentially the options within this high-performing type of ingredient.

Here’s a look at Pantene ads from the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. All of them promise beautiful hair regardless of what the weather is doing.
“Polymer research has introduced many new ingredients to hair care over the last few decades, including naturally-derived conditioning polymers such as cassia in Pantene’s Nature Fusion, to polymers that work on the altered structure of color-treated hair (polyDADMAC in Pantene liquid crystals), and polymers that give shampoos more consistent cleaning performance across a range of water hardness (methocel),” noted Thomas.

The 1980s saw the invention of 2-in-1 shampoo and conditioner technology, enabling a new approach to conditioning and adding extra protection when hair is in its weakest state (wet), according to Thomas.

“Other ingredients, like lauryl/laureth sulfate, fatty alcohols and panthenol, have stood the test of time and continue to be used today for the important roles they play in shampoos and conditioners,” she concluded.

Today, some brands are billed as being surfactant-free, but even they contain cetyl and cetearyl alcohol as well as behentrimonium methosulfate and stearamidopropyl dimethylamine.


During the past 50 years, the number of brands and SKUs has exploded on mass market shelves, as consumers search for just the right formula to match their hair type.

“Hair care has evolved in the last 50 years where we now have specific products designed for specific hair needs,” explained Rubin.

For instance, Suave Professionals launched the Keratin Infusion line in 2012 to help women who are looking to control frizz. Earlier this year, Suave Professionals launched the new Moroccan Infusion line for women looking for brilliant shine. The Suave Professionals portfolio includes a plethora of products to meet the hair care needs of women including curly hair, fine hair and color-treated hair.

At the professional level, the goal is to “dare to inspire” hairdressers and all who encounter Sebastian, explained Alexis Dujan, manager, Prestige Beauty. “The word ‘dare’ challenges the Sebastian team to take risks to develop the most innovative and creative concepts for the professional salon industry. This vision has set the stage for all that we’ve done, continue to do and will do in the future.“

From household cleaning product formulators to color cosmetics manufacturers, everyone, it seems, is obsessed with saving water and rightfully so. Worldwide, agriculture accounts for 70% of all water consumption, compared to 20% for industry and 10% for domestic use. How much goes toward washing hair? No one’s saying, but demand for dry shampoos could change all that. According to a new study by Mintel, in 2008, dry shampoo introductions accounted for just 1% of global shampoo launch activity but by 2012 the segment captured 3% of category NPD and 2013 is on track to surpass 2012 levels.

Dry shampoo appeals to consumers who to use it between regular hair washing, as the dry option prevents the need to restyle the hair. Mintel notes that 16% of US adults report some usage of a dry shampoo in the last year. Across the UK, Spain, France, Germany and Italy, usage is relatively similar to that of the US, but peaks in the UK, where nearly a quarter (23%) of women are engaged in the segment.

When it comes to dry shampoo, the need for speed is evident. The time/speed claim has been present in 53% of dry shampoos launched since 2009, making it not only the most frequently used claim in the segment, but also one of the fastest growing, according to Mintel’s GNPD.

Products without water? Are these trends just midlife crises, or is the multibillion shampoo and conditioner category transforming before our very eyes?

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