For a quarter of a century, I willfully deceived myself into believing that hair care was simple. I’d used the same Pantene 2-in-1 for a decade, didn’t own a blow dryer, and until two months ago thought Drybar — a fancy salon that does “blowouts” — was a place that sold Dippin’ Dots-like ice cream. I also didn’t know what a blowout was anyway.

Then I succumbed to vanity and, inspired by the rising number of women going platinum, dyed my pixie cut blond. I’m Asian, with hair so dark the stylist asked me if I dyed it blacker for effect. The bleaching itself was an ordeal, but nothing compared to the nightmare that awaited: being forced to finally navigate the world of hair care and trying to figure out what was marketing spin and what was real.

I quickly became a hair truther. I was skeptical of shampoo even as I shelled out for the “color-protecting” kind. I asked my friend Allison — whose flowing golden locks represent what heights of hair glory can be achieved — for deep conditioning recommendations, though I had no idea how it worked.

Finding solid answers to hair questions is hard. Since beauty products are such an everyday part of our lives, it’s easy to forget that they are a form of technology backed by studies. Our first instinct when trying to understand a medical breakthrough might be to read the research, but our first instinct when switching shampoos is to ask a friend with really nice hair what works for her. And the beauty industry spends millions to market products with clever wording that imply big promises.

Most beauty research is done by cosmetic chemists — the scientists that formulate and develop products — and a lot of it is published in academic journals like the Journal of Cosmetic ScienceThese journals are usually paywalled and access to the articles (which are dense and full of jargon) is expensive. No wonder it’s easier to watch commercials and ask around.

So, after watching my bank account dwindle from expensive treatments, I brought my questions to cosmetic chemists who actually understand the science behind the claims. One thing’s for certain: sorry Allison, but deep conditioning is a lie.


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