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The conference room of the Procter & Gamble office in Rokko Island, Kobe, Japan has a breathtaking view of Sannomiya, the mainland part of the province.

Apartment buildings glisten in the sun from across the sea, seen from a room where Malaysian journalists and Procter & Gamble scientists had gathered to discuss the mechanics of hair and Pantene's latest variant, Pantene Hair Fall Control.

Fourteen of the building's 30 earthquake-proof floors are dedicated towards research and development of all things to do with hair and skin wellness. Welcome to the Kobe Technical Centre, one of 18 Procter & Gamble research centres located around the world, each focusing on a different product segment.

"The centre has been around for 12 years now and has been carrying out research on skincare, cosmetics and haircare particularly focusing on conditioners," said Procter & Gamble Asia's haircare research and development director James Kaw.

"Pantene Hair Fall Control shampoo was designed in Cincinnati ( the Procter & Gamble headquarters) while the conditioner was formulated here in Kobe," said Kaw, who added that no one laboratory works in isolation. "It's all one big technical centre but with very long hallways."

If you're wondering why Japan is the centre for research in this region, it is "because Japanese women are yardstick measures for the rest of Asia. They are extremely discerning. If a product gets their approval, chances are it will work for other countries in the region too," said Procter & Gamble principal scientist and scientific communications manager Colin D'Silva.

"Most women in Japan use conditioner every day whereas other Asians generally use less of it," said Kaw. This could be due to lack of time or the notion that shampoo alone is adequate as far as haircare routine is concerned. For some, it's a matter of being economical.

"Shampooing cleans the scalp while conditioning covers the hair surface (the cuticles) with lubricating agents. So you don't just get clean hair, but soft and manageable hair as well and that makes all the difference between using a conditioner and not," said senior scientist Chetan Yagnik who, like D'Silva, hails from India. (With Kaw being Filipino and Ali Kassamali, section head of haircare research and development, Tanzanian, the Kobe office is practically a melting pot of cultures!)

Yagnik, who has been with the 170-year-old company for the past 15 years, said: "It's the hair cuticle condition that determines the overall look of a person's hair."

Under a microscope, hair cuticle looks like layers on a bamboo shoot. They should all be in a downward direction, making for smoother and shinier hair. When hair is rough-handled, the cuticles are uplifted and the inner layer of the hair is exposed. This causes split ends. "The weak spots on this area are susceptible to breakage," said Yagnik.

He showed a chart of hair's health improvement potential when treated with various hair conditioners.

"In comparison with other brands, Pantene Hair Fall Control rates the highest," said Yagnik, beaming like a proud father.

During the laboratory tour, Yagnik showed the Malaysian visitors several experiments to prove how well the conditioner works.

In one experiment, combs were placed on two tassels of hair, one of which was treated with Pantene Hair Fall Control conditioner and the other without.

With one spray of water, no prizes for guessing which of these combs slid right through with no difficulty at all.

"Besides the benefit that you see here, Pantene shampoo is also perfectly safe for everyday use. It is anti-residual and it performs regardless of water temperature," said Yagnik.

"And when you apply the conditioner, there's no need to comb through because it is designed to spread out evenly. Combing wet hair increases risk of breakage."

For experimental purposes, there was a room full of different types of hair and a salon to test out Procter & Gamble's formulas.

There are hidden cameras in this salon to check on the uninitiated tester's reactions. Stainless steel machines and equipment with blinking buttons were aplenty but it all boils down to one thing - the product's performance.

Kassamali could not have put it any better when he said: "Technology is not sold to consumers, benefit is."

Some facts about hair:

    * The circumference of Asian hair is thickest compared with hair of Africans and Caucasians
    * Healthy hair is stronger than steel. (Try pulling a strand lengthwise. And you'll be surprised!)
    * Hair can absorb water and take in 40 per cent of its own weight
    * Hair is very elastic. When wet, it elongates. When dry, it springs back to its original length
    * Vigorously brushing or backcombing the hair will create a lot friction and can damage the cuticles
    * Bleaching creates holes on your hair shafts not unlike Swiss cheese. Colouring fills those holes with colour pigments
    * Hair becomes thinner with age

By Sharifah Sakinah Aljunid


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