We speak to Prudvi Kaka, Chief Scientific Officer of DECIEM, about The Ordinary’s new hair care products, how shampoos and conditioners actually work, misinformation about sulphates and what else is in store (and in-store) for the future.
Maybe you caught word of it online, scrolling through Instagram; or you spotted a hint of something in-store. Our favourite science-backed skincare brand, loved for its no frills-formulations and affordable price point, has been rolling out something special — hair care.
But you may have also spotted something extra interesting about one of the new items rolling out — the shampoo cleanser wholeheartedly embraces the usually-shunned ingredient sulphate.
That got our attention straight away. So to get to the nitty-gritty behind surfactants and emulsions, we spoke to Prudvi Kaka, the chief scientific officer at The Ordinary‘s umbrella parent company DECIEM, to learn more.
What to know about The Ordinary’s Hair Care
“Hair care has traditionally been marketed with quick-fix solutions that target a short-term appearance, with scalp care often being overlooked,” Prudvi Kaka says.
There’s been a shift in the industry to highlighting the importance of treating the scalp like any other area of skin — he calls it the “skinification” of the scalp. Previously an overlooked step in a hair care regimen, poor scalp skin often leads to a variety of concerns. Maintaining optimal scalp function is key, he tells us.
You can do this by protecting your skin’s barrier, as well as effective cleansing and moisturising. The Ordinary’s hair care products are formulated with minimal ingredients to help you do just that.
Using the new hair care products, a simple regimen could look like this:
- The Ordinary Sulphate 4% Cleanser for Hair & Body gently and effectively cleansing the hair and body, removing any dirt, grease and product residue.
- The Ordinary Behentrimonium Chloride 2% Conditioner, a simple product that does not impart a heavy after-feel on the hair.
- and the The Ordinary Natural Moisturizing Factors + HA, a first-of-its-kind, water-light formulation that improves scalp hydration and offers skin barrier protection without sticking to the hair and weighing down the roots.
“Our goal,” Kaka tells us, “is to encourage our audience to place an emphasis on scalp care through the same lens applied to their skincare.”
Read on to see what else he had to say.
Q+A with Prudvi Kaka, Chief Scientific Officer of DECIEM
How do shampoos and conditioners actually work?
Surfactants, or surface acting agents, are amphiphilic, which means that they are made up of a hydrophobic (water-hating) tail and a hydrophilic (water-loving) head. This unique chemical structure allows them to effectively cleanse.
Sulphates, a popular category of surfactants, are very effective cleansing agents that break down and remove dirt and other impurities, due to their ability to dissolve the barrier between dirt, oil, and water. Most of this dirt, including sebum, is water-insoluble and cannot be effectively removed by water alone.
The Ordinary Sulphate 4% Cleanser for Body and Hair was developed to cleanse the scalp and hair and remove unwanted sebum, environmental build-up, and residues of hair care products.
The hair is naturally negatively charged and when it gets in contact with the opposite charge of a conditioning agent such as behentrimonium chloride [the main ingredient in The Ordinary’s Behentrimonium Chloride 2% Conditioner], the attraction and subsequent neutralisation of the charges results with the deposit of the conditioner molecule on the hair shaft.
This adherence to the hair shaft ensures the conditioner remains on the hair even after rinsing with water, and the hydrophobic part of the conditioner molecule provides additional benefits.
Conditioning agents can help flatten the scales of the cuticle over the hair shaft, reducing the friction between the fibres and protecting them from frictional damage during combing and styling.
So what are critics of sulphate saying?
At DECIEM, we lead with science first and hold ourselves accountable to educate and help consumers make their own informed decisions when it comes to skin and hair care.
Anti-sulphate messaging can be attributed to the sharing of misinformation and maybe even misunderstandings regarding the safety and environmental impact of these incredibly effective ingredients. As a result, products are being marketed as “free from” ingredients that, when formulated correctly, should not be avoided.
Some common misconceptions relate to the irritation and stripping potential of sulphates. Sulphates are safe to be used in hair care applications, provided that: they are intentionally and properly formulated for their intended purpose, and the appropriate irritation testing is performed by the product manufacturers, which is what we do at DECIEM.
With the correct formulation techniques, cleansers containing sulphates, or any derivatives, can be created to produce a very effective product with mild, gentle cleansing.
How can the new products from The Ordinary soothe potential concerns?
The content of surfactants in other shampoos on the market is typically between 10 percent and 20 percent. Concentrations at this level increase the drying effect, which then needs to be counteracted by adding other ingredients, such as occlusives and silicone-based compounds, to the formula.
The Ordinary’s Sulphate 4% Cleanser for Body and Hair includes a low 4 percent concentration of Sodium Laureth Sulphate (SLES-2) for a minimalistic formula. It provides effective gentle cleansing for all hair types without the need for additional bulky ingredients which, over time, may compound residual buildup on hair and scalp.
Why is the cleanser for both body and hair?
The function of cleansing is similar for both the body and hair — it simply needs to be able to dissolve the barrier between dirt, oil, and water to remove buildup from both the skin, scalp, and hair.
Can you tell us a little more about the Natural Moisturizing Factors + HA for Scalp?
Typically haircare products have multiple ingredients that are washed off during the hair wash process.
The Ordinary Natural Moisturizing Factors + HA for Scalp is a milky serum that contains a combination of ingredients that mimic the function of natural moisturising factors [elements that keep the outer layer of the skin protected and well-hydrated] as well as hyaluronic acid and squalane, that are naturally produced within the skin.
These ingredients combined help provide skin hydration and scalp barrier function support.
We love the sound of the “Everything is Chemicals” campaign. Can you tell us more about the initiative and why DECIEM decided to hold the “clean beauty” movement accountable?
DECIEM has taken a science-first approach since its inception in 2013. Our “Everything is Chemicals” campaign was our way of vocalising publicly what we, as a team, have always known, including highlighting the unclear definition of “clean” beauty.
After fighting for transparency in beauty for so many years, the growing trend for “clean” beauty felt like a backwards step. We believe in sharing science-backed, repeatable, experimental evidence to formulate our products, and are not influenced by “free from” or “anti-” marketing campaigns.
We make a conscious effort to avoid cherry-picking information to further an agenda. Instead, we choose to trust the many scientists who are making a monumental effort to evaluate a complete body of evidence — pertaining to the safety of the products that you know and love.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Prudvi Kaka is the Chief Scientific Officer of DECIEM. He received a Bachelor of Pharmacy from The Tamil Nadu Dr. M.G.R. Medical University in India and holds an Advanced Diploma in Biotechnology from Centennial College in Toronto, Canada. He’s been with DECIEM since the company first started over seven years ago and now oversees all areas of a product’s life-cycle, including concept, research and development, manufacturing, and distribution.
You can shop the newest hair care products from The Ordinary and more at the brand’s online site and its physical Hong Kong stores. You can also browse products from the brand at Sephora Hong Kong online and in-store and at Harvery Nichols.