We visited GHD to find out about the science and tech behind hair care

They take hair seriously

At Gadgette, we get excited about developments in beauty technology. Bringing technological innovation into the world of beauty can lead to some exciting products that make our lives and the process of achieving the look we want much easier, whether it’s electric brush cleaners or makeup customising pens.

Even in the beauty products we’re familiar with and are used to using every day, technological innovation can completely change how they work for us. When it comes to hair straighteners, they’ve looked largely the same for years but with each new product’s release a great deal of science and technology has gone into its development; it turns out there’s a science to achieving great looking hair. We visited the GHD Research and Development lab in Cambridge and sat down with the company’s CTO Dr Tim Moore to get an idea of just how much science, technology, and engineering goes into their styling products. Turns out it’s quite a lot.

The Research and Development lab itself is located in an area of Cambridge known as the Silicon Fen. there are a wide range of companies operating in the area but those closest to GHD are mostly involved in the field of biotechnology. Working in such an area allows GHD to recruit a wide range of highly skilled employees and they have people from a wide variety of subject backgrounds with very specific skills including mechanical engineering, software engineering, electrical engineering, and physics.

The Science

When it comes to deciding which technological innovations are most needed for their products, GHD look at the science behind hair first to see what’s useful and what’s possible. We see shelves in shops stacked high with a seemingly endless array of products that promise to protect our hair against heat damage but a lot of this protection against damage starts with the actual styler that we use.

On our visit we were told that no matter what kind of hair you have, the optimal styling temperature is 185 degrees Celsius. When styled at this temperature hair is able to enter the glass transition phase – the point at which it’s malleable enough to be styled – without actually causing permanent damage. It’s because of this that GHD don’t offer a wide variety of temperature settings on their straighteners; any less heat and the styling process would be ineffective and moving above this heat could cause permanent damage.

We asked Tim what the highest temperature we could subject our hair to before causing serious damage would be and he told us 210 degrees Celsius. Consistently styling hair above this temperature, he said, causes two kinds of lasting damage: it can strip the hair’s cuticles and melt the cortex making it dull, dry, brittle and sensitive to humidity, and it can even cause your hair’s colour to change over time. One particular stress test performed by GHD that’s been burned into our minds involved clamping a high-temperature straightener on a lock of hair to simulate colour change over a period of time. The lock of hair turned from a bright blonde to a dull amber and our love of high temperature hair styling took a serious hit. Thanks to their research into this, GHD have had the temperature of their straighteners at 185 degrees Celsius since 2001.

The stages of product development. Image: GHD

This is when it comes to using straighteners and curlers, we asked what the rule is when it comes to hairdryers where generally there are a few heat and power settings. Here things are a little more difficult with no one heat to stick to. This is largely because when it’s wet, hair is even less able to handle high temperatures but the advice we received was to initially towel dry before using the hairdryer at a lower heat initially and get the hair mostly dry before increasing heat and power.

Knowing that there’s an ideal temperature at which to style hair, one of GHD’s main aims is to use technology and engineering to maintain this temperature across the entire styling plate leading to the development of what they call Tri-Zone Technology. Where most straighteners will use one or two heat sensors in their heated plates, GHD use three which allows for a more even and consistent distribution of heat in the styler as all the heat coming into the plates is not being generated from one extremely warm point in the centre.

The Robots

One of the parts we were more excited to see was how GHD use robots to test their products because, well, robots. Before consumers get their hands on GHD products they’re subjected to some rigorous testing over a period of weeks and months. There are of course the standard tests that you’d expect of any product, such as a drop test which involves a robot dropping the device thousands of times to test how the product would respond to being dropped across its lifetime of use or a test where robotic pistons open and close the straighteners thousands of times to test the longevity of the hinges. There are also highly specific tests performed on hair samples to ensure the products don’t have an ill-desired effect. It’s a little strange and creepy at first to walk around rooms filled with hair samples but they’re used to test the effect GHD’s styling tools for extended periods have on hair’s ability to cope with different levels of humidity, hair colour, and hair strength.

Tri-Zone heat technology is one of GHD’s most recent big technological innovations and it can be found in their Platinum range of stylers. We asked how long a product’s development usually takes from the science through the engineering and technology creation to the testing and we were told that it all depends on how big the technological leap they’re taking is. For small changes and updates a product could take 10 months from start to finish but for larger innovations the development process can take anything up to 5 years. Maintaining the balance between smaller and larger innovations is how GHD are able to ensure new products enter the market at a consistent rate.

The Tech

We were interested to know if GHD were taking the rapid development of smarthome technology into consideration when developing their future products. It’s become fairly standard for products in our home to connect to our WiFi now, and it’s resulted in lots of useful innovations like being able to turn off electricals remotely, something, we pointed out, that would be particularly useful in the case of straighteners.

We were told that though GHD straighteners turn off on their own after half an hour (this is still enough time to do some serious damage, we think) we should “watch this space” when it comes to the inclusion of this kind of technology in GHD products. Tim Moore told us that they’re definitely thinking about ways to integrate apps and Wi-Fi into GHD products and that in the near future we could see companion apps being used alongside GHD straighteners that would help us diagnose the condition of our hair and give us tips on how to best attend to our hair’s individual needs.

If there’s one thing we’ve taken from this trip it’s that hair care is serious business and we identify with a robot that drops things repeatedly on an unexpected level.

Image: GHD