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How do volumizing hair care products work?

TP asks…What makes our hair have the potential to be voluminous and what is the science behind volumizing hair care products?

The Beauty Brains respond:

There are four key factors that determine the volume of your hair.

Why does hair have volume?

1. The number of hairs per square inch of scalp
More hairs equals greater volume.

2. The thickness of each hair
The greater the diameter of each hair fiber, the more overall volume your hair will have.

3. The flexibility of the hair fibers (known as the bending modulus)
This is essentially a measurement of the stiffness of each hair fiber. Fibers that are stiffer will stand up more on their own contributing to greater volume. Fibers with a low bending modulus will tend to be floppy and limp.

4. The interaction between hair fibers
Friction between hair fibers can increase volume because the hair fibers will rub against each other more and sort of lock into the position. This is why the old trick of back combing or teasing your hair works so well to add volume. It lifts the cuticles and creates a rough surface so the hairs snag against each other to create a more voluminous network of fibers.

What is the science behind those formulas that ensure voluminous hair?

Unfortunately haircare products can do nothing to address the first factor. (Unless of course you’re using a drug like Minoxidil which can help grow more hair.)

Some products claim to “plump up” or even double the thickness of hair fibers but this is just marketing hype. The only ingredient we’ve seen capable of increasing hair diameter even slightly is a high amount of Pro-vitamin B5. Of course you can always use a damaging chemical treatment like hair color to swell the fiber but such processes also cause damage. This is why most women feel they get a volume boost from their dye job.

Haircare products can improve hair stiffness. Polymers can provide a temporary coating that give the hair more rigidity. This is how volumizing styling products like mousses work.

Dry shampoos do a good job of increasing interaction between hair fibers because they deposit powder. The tiny particles of starch and talc rub against each other increasing friction and therefore improving volume. Some styling products do this as well.

Does shampoo even matter since you condition after?

Volumizing shampoos help in two ways: They should remove residue form stylers and conditioners that can rob your hair of volume. They can also deposit small amounts of stiffening polmyers that help give the hair more body. They are more effective if you don’t over-condition your hair after shampooing.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Pam October 11, 2014, 11:36 pm

    Thanks for the interesting science stuff. I never before thought about the 4 key factors affecting hair volume.

    I would like to ask the Beauty Brains question, but I can’t find a link to the forum. I’ll keep checking to see when you get the link back.

    • Randy Schueller October 13, 2014, 7:59 am

      Hi Pam. Our Forum is offline right now due to technical issues. You can post your question here and I’ll see if we can help.

      • Nadine October 13, 2014, 10:56 am

        I really like the STERIS soaps at the hospital because they leave my hands soft, smooth, and not stripped of moisture. What’s in the formula that gives that lovely skinfeel that doesn’t leave my hands desperately grasping for lotion? I would love to find equivalents available to individual consumers that I can use at home. (I would love to buy STERIS for myself, but I think they’re only sold to healthcare businesses.) I would like to find dupes for CV Lotion Soap, Kindest Kare Skin Cleanser, and Soft N Sure Skin Cleanser, either in medicated or non-medicated versions.

        • Randy Schueller October 13, 2014, 3:26 pm

          Hi Nadine. I looked online but I was unable to find an ingredient list for any of the products you asked about. If you happen to know where I can find an ingredient list I can help you look for a dupe.

          • Nadine October 13, 2014, 6:29 pm

            Thank you for looking! I’ll check the soap dispensers at the hospital and let you know the ingredients list.

  • Carol Quezada October 13, 2014, 5:52 pm

    If it’s an OTC drug, you can check the Daily Med website for the LOI. You need to know the name of the product you are looking for. Here is a link to the Steris product CV Medicated Lotion Soap (or Healthcare Personnel Handwash).


  • Pam October 13, 2014, 6:16 pm

    Hi, I have a question for the Beauty Brains. I trust the information on your site so much that I often base a buying decision on it. This is about a body powder I am considering buying, based on some glowing reviews.

    It’s called Clean Moisture Absorbing Body Veil, part of the Clean fragrance line.

    The ingredients, copied from Amazon.com: Aluminum Starch Octenylsuccinate, Zea Mays (Corn) Starch, Silica, Gossypium Herbaceum (Cotton), Gossypium Herbaceum (Cotton) Seed Extract, Gossypium Herbaceum (Cotton) Seed Oil, Parfum (Fragrance), Acrylates/C12-22 Alkyl Methacrylate Copolymer, Sodium Starch Octenylsuccinate, Lonicera Japonica (Honeysuckle) Flower Extract, Lonicera Caprifolium (Honeysuckle) Flower Extract, Candelilla Cera/Euphorbia Cerifera (Candelilla) Wax/Cire de candelilla, Hydrolyzed Corn Starch Octenylsuccinate, Hydrolyzed Corn Starch, Sapindus Mukurossi Fruit Extract, Dimethicone, Butylene Glycol, Water/Aqua/Eau, Linalool, Limonene, Citral, Citronellol, Geraniol, Hexyl Cinnamal.

    A description, from the Sephora website: “Cotton Vantage: A smart technology based on cotton seeds, extracts, and proteins that self-adjusts to help wick away moisture.”

    I think that there are powders on the market containing the first two ingredients, aluminum starch and corn starch, that are much cheaper than Clean.

    Clean seems to be saying that their “Cotton Vantage” ingredients add additional absorption, and if that’s so, it might be better than other powders like Gold Bond.

    So my questions are, what’s “Cotton Vantage,” and does it make the powder more absorbent than others that don’t have it?

    Also, the name “Cotton Vantage” feels wrong to me, like an incorrect use of the word the word “vantage.”

    • Randy Schueller October 14, 2014, 8:26 am

      Hi Pam. I took at look at this product and I don’t see anything that indicates that it would work better than other, cheaper, powders. The Cotton Vantage”is their trade name for the mixture of cotton powder, extract and oil. Cotton powder fibers can absorb a lot of water (about 25x their weight) but there’s such a small amount of powder that get applied to your body (spread out over a large surface area) that it’s hard to imagine that the product would really have much of a drying effect. If you check out the reviews on Sephora you’ll notice that most people rave about the scent of the product but few comment on its drying properties. I’m not saying it’s a bad product, I just don’t see any evidence that it’s worth $28 for 4 ounces.

  • Pam October 13, 2014, 6:18 pm

    Correction: it’s called CLEAN Original Moisture-Absorbent Body Veil.

  • amy October 20, 2014, 4:08 pm

    there is a new product out there that claims to penetrate and plump up the hair from the inside out using Filloxane — brand name: L’oreal Volume Filler shampoo and conditioner. a similar version has been on the market in the UK for several months (under the name Elvive Fibrology), and it got glowing reviews — of course that might just be the placebo effect. Now that this stuff has hit the US market, I’m super curious to find out what the Beauty Brains will make of Filloxane.

  • Lizzy October 30, 2014, 6:37 pm

    Thank you so much for explaining! I love how you explain the science behind things in a way that everyone can understand! I would also be curious what the Beauty Brains have to say about the new Loreal product Amy mentioned.

    And I would have another hair related question: With the weather getting colder it will soon be time to wear caps again. And all of us know how strange our hair can look after we take off a cap. So I always wondered if a different material would make any difference. Do wool / cotton / synthetic fibres interact with our hair in a different way? Which is best for our hair? I would be very interested in the science behind this! Beauty Brains please help 🙂

  • Ita August 21, 2016, 11:27 am

    Thanks!! You guys are awesome, I love your website!!

    • Randy Schueller August 21, 2016, 12:30 pm

      Thanks, Ita. You’re not so bad yourself.