Heat on Hair: A Mechanical Engineering and User Needs Perspective

Event Date: October 12, 2017
Authors: J. Hahn, T. Reid, and A. Marconnet
Innovation in Textured Hair Care, Weehawken, NJ, 2017.
While manipulation of textured hair using heat appliances such as a flat iron is a common practice, little is known about how heat spreads through hair. In this talk, we will explore this much neglected topic in two parts. In the first half of our talk, we will discuss how alienated much of academic work is from the concerns of people with textured hair, and how those unmet needs are being tackled within offline and online communities. Such communities are effective in sharing available knowledge and some have personally developed regimens for judicious use of heat; however, they lack the scientific rigor necessary to produce results that are generalizable across various hair types and needs of individuals. In the second half of our talk, we will present the ongoing efforts to study the effects of heat on textured hair from the perspective of mechanical engineering. We specifically study thermal properties of hair by measuring thermal diffusivity, which indicates how effectively heat spreads through hair. These studies provide the foundational work for development of a model that describes heat transfer between a hair bundle and flat iron. The study culminates, by establishing a model which predicts the amount of heat damage under various usage scenarios of a flat iron.
These studies are a first step towards addressing the particular needs of textured hair in the context of heat usage. It aims at establishing robust mathematical correlations between various stakeholders in the interaction between heat and hair. We hope to support the decision making of flat iron users in their grooming practices by demystifying the complexities of the effects of heat on hair and empower them with  information as it relates to their much cherished hair.