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Prestige Hair Brands Mine Skin-Care Innovation

Boasting ingredient lists that sound like luxury skin regimens, brands are transforming the often-marginalized hair-care category.

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The multitasking philosophy of recent skin-care trends — most notably BB creams — is transforming the often-marginalized hair-care category, even in the traditionally uninterested prestige retail realm.

This story first appeared in the June 7, 2013 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Hair-care lines, boasting ingredient lists that sound like luxury skin regimens, are driving what was once viewed as a commodity with electrifying innovation.

“Clients are now treating their hair and their scalp much like they do with the rest of their skin-care routines. Cleansing, exfoliating, masks and specialized treatments are all part of our clients’ hair-care routines,” said Priya Venkatesh, vice president of merchandising, skin care, at Sephora. “Many of our brands have started to speak to the client targeting the benefit, like you have seen with skin-care brands for years. They are investing in clinical claims and building ingredient stories. We’ve seen skin-care concepts, like antiaging and scalp health, really start to resonate with our clients.”

Traditionally, hair care has thrived at mass and in the salon channel, but as Sephora shows, that’s changing.

“We see the needle moving,” said Karen Grant, vice president and global industry analyst at The NPD Group. She was referring to growth of specialty hair-care products in department and specialty stores. And she was backed up by a prominent specialty store retailer.

“Any new brand we launch is highly technical. Innovation in hair care sells,” said Marla Malcolm Beck, cofounder and chief executive officer of Bluemercury Inc.

While the hair-care niche in prestige is admittedly tiny, it has been growing with gusto. According to Grant, the specialty category of hair care — where the skin-care-inspired products live — grew by 18 percent in 2012. In particular, hair-care oils, like Moroccanoil, have been shooting ahead, gaining 40 percent in 2012, and 32 percent in the first three months of this year. The world of prestige hair care is small but sales grew from $60 million in department stores for 2007 to $97 million last year.

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So far, at least, the major players like Bumble and bumble are dominating the scene. “[The customer] wants a brand has a heritage and a validity of being in the space,” said Grant. “Brands have to have a unique differentiation and benefits.” Grant noted that there is a lot of stock put into building buzz, but there also is value in providing sampling and “letting people see what is so special about it.”

Wendy Liebmann, founder and ceo of WSL Strategic Retail, makes the point that “everybody is looking for the next nail care, the next nail category. Hair is one of those categories that has great relevance to all ages.”

“There’s an interest in the category at a relatively high level for men and women, especially older men and women.” Liebmann said, referring to the lucrative lure of the Baby Boomer market, which is fixated on the problems of hair loss, among other concerns. She further asserted that even in this cash-strapped recovery, price-obsessed consumers will pay for extra high-tech hair products, “[There’s a] willingness of people to spend again.” However she warned, “You can’t make it so complicated that people feel like you’re taking advantage of them. People have no time for anything. It’s that balance between innovation and convenience that makes people say, ‘It’s worth the price.’”

In a bid to convince consumers to pay prices well above — in some cases more than triple — those commonly found in the mass market, luxury hair-care brands are loudly touting skin-care-like ingredients with many collections promising to deliver antiaging benefits.

“There are 68 million Baby Boomers who want to look younger, and hair plays such an important role,” said Peter Coppola, who is launching his antiaging hair range, Keratin Concept Legacy, this month. “As you age you lose diameter, hair becomes thinner and unmanageable. We want women to see you can reverse the negative effects of hair aging just like with skin care.” Coppola’s line features keratin protein alongside ingredients like collagen and ceramides, said to plump hair and help control frizz. “Ceramides and collagen bond to the keratin to make it work better for younger-looking hair,” he said.

Several brands, such as Ojon, contend that skin-care ingredients can be just as powerful in restoring hair health.

“There have been many findings in recent years in hair care that have led to high-performance treatments that rival the significant results of high-end skin-care treatments,” said Karelle Messner, executive director of Ojon product development. “We partnered with RWTH Aachen University in Germany and proved scientifically that our signature ingredient, Ojon Oil, has a similar composition to lipids found in healthy, virgin hair and that Ojon Oil is clinically proven to repair hair damage from the inside out.”

A number of new introductions from brands — including collections from Dr. Dennis Gross, JF Haircare, Ouidad and Kérastase — are designed to specifically target the scalp, where many beauty experts profess healthy, younger-looking hair begins.

New York City-based dermatologist Dennis Gross said the decision to take the company’s forward-thinking skin-care ideas into hair care was a no-brainer. “So many of the ingredients found in our new Root Resilience Anti-Aging Haircare collection are also found in skin care for a simple reason — they work,” he said. “For example, collagen nourishes, hydrates and helps restore damaged hair. Copper peptides not only provide antiaging benefits on your face, but also in your hair. Biotin works to strengthen hair, helps clarify the scalp and prevents flaking. Resveratrol is a potent antioxidant which prevents free-radical damage. Ubiquinone helps to increase cell turnover, whether you’re using it on the skin on your face or on your scalp. You’re nourishing the hair follicle, as well as the hair.”

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The biggest opportunity is the scalp, said Gross, who introduced the scalp serum in May. A shampoo and conditioner will follow in July. “If you give antiaging to the scalp, you will see a tremendous benefit over and above how you’re treating the hair itself,” he said. “It’s a mistake to focus solely on the hair.”

Salon owner and celebrity stylist Julien Farel, who runs JF Haircare, also is focused on scalp care. “You cannot grow grass in sand,” he said. “As with a beautiful lawn, you must fertilize and water [the scalp] well.… By adding antioxidant and anti-inflammatory bioactives that can be carried into the dermis, the scalp remains hydrated, nourished and soothed, regaining its original vitality.”

The centerpiece of Farel’s product line, Restore, was first launched in 2011 after several years of collaborating with Dr. Guido Rovesti, an Italian scientist who’s worked with hyaluronic acid since the Sixties. “Hyaluronic acid intensely hydrates the scalp, dermis and hair, which is why it is included in the entire range of products,” said Farel. He also uses a slew of other active substances, all of which are designed to be carried deep into the dermis and skin cells: threalose, phytantriol, arginine, panthenol, resveratrol, bioflavonoids, vitamin C and vitamin E.

In September, Farel will add stem cells to Restore. “They have been clinically proven to stimulate fibroblasts, and fibroblasts are critical to synthesizing collagen in the skin,” said Farel. “For the follicle to thrive in its environment, it needs the support of the collagen surrounding it.”

Earlier this month, Ouidad introduced a skin-care-inspired line called Salon Series, which aims to treat scalp health, and in turn, hair health.

“Even though your care for your scalp and skin is very different, it is just as important to treat the scalp as it is to treat your skin,” said Hillary Solomon, president and ceo of Ouidad. “While hair is essentially a nonliving entity compromised principally of keratin protein fibers, the hair grows from a very vital portion of the skin called the follicle that resides below the scalp and is full of cellular activity and life.…If follicular health is improved or maintained, it can directly affect healthier hair.”

A more targeted approach to hair health requires more specialty products. For instance, Kérastase’s Initialiste Advanced Scalp and Hair Concentrate, introduced in March, applies the attributes of a facial serum to a hair treatment product.

“Our true inspiration comes from skin care and inventing a new gesture into hair care and a new beauty gesture for women,” said Julien Bouzitat, vice president of marketing for Kérastase and Shu Uemura Art of Hair. “We made a parallel in a woman’s imagination to how they use serum on their face. Initialiste is multibenefit, highly concentrated, applied with a pipette and can use your regular stylers on top of it.” Additionally, the brand’s recently launched collection of stylers, a first for the brand, called Couture Styling, also alludes to antiaging facial care textures and formulas. “The line is full of hyaluronic acid and collagen, which is directly inspired by skin care,” he said. “We wanted to provide hold without compromising the fiber.”

Despite the onslaught of new collections, retailers are clamoring for more.

Beck of Bluemercury, for instance, is on the hunt for more targeted, or “hyper-segmented,” hair-care products. Specifically, she’d like to see a range for color-treated hair organized by hair type.

But WSL’s Liebmann warned that the industry has to be prudent in expanding the ranges. “Is it realistic to expect people to use four products every day?” asked Liebmann. “That’s part of establishing a real value proposition — not about price — that says this will really make a difference.”

To that end, antiaging claims are certainly getting consumers’ attention.

Debbi Hartley-Triesch, Nordstrom’s national merchandise manager, treatment, said, “Looking at some of our top-selling hair-care product in Aveda, Alterna and Phyto, all of them have antiaging benefits. Women want to look younger, and treating your hair as an extension to your skin-care routine feels like a natural next step when searching for the fountain of youth.” She added, “Antiaging products are one of our hottest-trending categories in skin care. We see this starting to emerge within hair-care products as well.”

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