Scientist Develops Eco-Friendly and
Inexpensive Hair Gel From Soybean and Safflower Seeds
February 24, 2003
Thirty-five years ago, the future was in plastics, or
petroleum-based polymers. While this may still hold true for some products,
hair gel isn't one of them. Petrol-based styling agents are old news, according
to Sam Kuk, a chemical engineer with the Agricultural Research Service.
Kuk, based in the
Utilization Research Unit at ARS'
Regional Research Center in New Orleans, La., has been studying plant-based
compounds as a 21st-century alternative to the synthetic ingredients used in
many hair care products today.
Right now, most hair gel benefits from the holding power of
synthetic polymers. When the gel is applied, the main
ingredient--water--evaporates, leaving a thin film around the hair strands,
helping to keep them in place.
Kuk has found that one can get the same kind of hold with lipid
compounds derived from soapstock, an underused byproduct of oilseed processing.
Normally, these lipid compounds are hard to recover. They degenerate through
oxidation and are wasted. However, Kuk has found a way to reclaim the valuable
compounds and then treat them so that they maintain their useful
He has created hair gels from the soapstock of safflower and
soybean oilseeds and tested them in the lab. The gels work well on a variety of
hair types, from thick and kinky to fine and straight, and would be relatively
inexpensive to produce, since soapstock costs only a fraction of the price of
Kuk has used the same thin-film technology to create transparent
and translucent coatings for freshly harvested produce. In several experiments,
he has shown that the biodegradable films can extend the shelf life of produce
such as bell peppers and cucumbers by at least 30 percent when compared to
uncoated fruits. The films also wash off easily in the sink, unlike paraffin
wax coatings, which also cost more.
Kuk hopes to generate interest in this technology and perhaps
collaborate in his research with a hair care product manufacturer or fresh
ARS is the U.S. Department of
Agriculture's chief scientific research agency.