I was talking to someone who grew up on the Indian subcontinent and he asked me about something his mother and sister do. They make their own hair conditioner using yoghurt and egg. It’s quite an interesting idea. As a cosmetic chemist I can draw on raw materials from several hundred suppliers and use all sorts of equipment to develop and make highly effective hair treatments. But what if I had to work with only the materials that were to hand in the average country kitchen?
I have to say I don’t think I could do much better.
Eggs are particularly rich in protein. This is just what you want to protect and condition the hair shaft. Hair tends to have a very slight positive charge when it is in good condition. In combination with the smooth surface this enables the hair shafts to glide easily against each other. When hair gets damaged though it becomes strongly negatively charged. This means that the hair shafts repel one another. Flyaway hair is the extreme example of this, with the hair’s mutual electrostatic repulsion leading to it filling a lot of space so you look like Albert Einstein being given an electric shock.
The protein in the eggs is a very good cure for this. Proteins are long charged molecules that can neutralise the charge on the hair, and also give it a protective covering. People have long been aware of the benefits of egg proteins for personal care. I’ve already mentioned the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius giving the tip about how you can use egg as an anti-wrinkle agent. Its use on hair is probably just as ancient. What is for sure is that it is still used in modern cosmetics. The EU’s official name for the form of egg that works best is Hydrolyzed Egg Protein, and this is how it appears on ingredient lists.
Modern cosmetics use a water in oil emulsion to apply the egg protein. This is an effective delivery system that spreads easily over the hair shaft to give the even layer necessary for best results. Of course you can’t make anything as good in the kitchen, but the closest is probably yoghurt. This will certainly do the job even if it isn’t as elegant as the stuff you buy in a supermarket.
So on the whole I am quite impressed with the Indian kitchen chemists. It is easy to forget that we can get on okay without many of the things we take for granted like hair conditioner. Obviously I personally have a vested interest in people continuing to buy the fancy stuff. And I do think that properly formulated products optimised for their intended use are always going to work better than ad hoc home made solutions. But its good to know there is a choice.