Dr Rolanda Wilkerson
As a young girl, I can remember going to my grandmother in tears and telling her my hair would not grow. I vividly remember that I couldn’t process it at the time, I know those tears were NOT just about hair. Today, I’m proud to say that my work focuses on minimizing those tears for others.
I am an organic chemist and a woman who has struggled with the coily hair that emerges from my own head. It was only when I finally learned to embrace my natural hair, could I begin my personal quest to use science to understand hair and work with teams to develop products to address the different challenges people of diverse ethnicities face.
What is hair?
For most of us, the ultimate goal -- healthy looking, strong hair so that we can express our uniqueness in the way that we want to. But why is our hair the way it is? Well…turns out hair is a matter of evolution.
Alright- brace yourself, this may get a little technical for some. Scientifically, hair is mostly comprised of protein that emerges from follicles. The hair shaft consists of 3 main layers, the cuticles, cortex and the medulla
Cuticle layers. At each point that the hair curves and bends there is a potential breaking point. There are on average 6-10 cuticle layers in naturally straight hair of other ethnicities, but for African Ancestry hair like mine, there can be as few as 2 cuticle layers within each of the curves or bends. The fewer number of cuticle layers, the more likely they are to experience breakage.
Waterproofing. We all have a natural, protective waterproofing layer on the outside of the hair fibre when it first emerges from our scalp. When we brush, style, chemically relax or colour our hair, the protective layer can be stripped away leaving damaged cuticles and more porous hair.
Tensile strength. The fragility of coily hair is measured through fatigue tests, which demonstrates how many cycles of stretching the hair could withstand. For Caucasian women, 35,000 cycles. For Black women with natural hair, 5,500 cycles and for Black women with relaxed hair, only 550 cycles.
So when women with coily hair tell me their hair won’t grow, to that I say, no it’s not you, it’s the chemistry of our hair.
This is why I am passionate about creating products rooted in science, I am part of a team of scientists who have worked to understand more about this unique fibre and created Gold Series By Pantene.
• We are technologists who have modelled the twist and bends of our hair to determine the critical places where we need protection and care the most.
• We are chemists who have identified active ingredients and products which can mimic the protective natural chemical network on hair.
• We are researchers who have experimented and identified ingredients that can penetrate the hair fibre to protect the lipids and proteins in the hair.
• We are a team that has personally experienced the challenges and know what’s missing in products so we can have healthy looking, strong hair.
By understanding what you need and the science of hair, we now have products that can be used for healthy looking hair no matter the style you choose. And as we have cracked the code for the coiliest of the curly hair, other women and men around the world have started embracing the products. And…the best part…our team of scientists are only getting started.