Virtue Labs

While researching regenerative medicine in a lab at Wake Forest University, bio-scientists from Keranetics discovered how to replicate a protein that would be game-changing for the hair-care industry.

“We had this waste stream of [protein] material that we weren’t really doing anything with. We literally had an intern come in and say, ‘there are all of these Keratin products in there, can I do something with this waste stream?’” said Dr. Luke Burnett, chief science officer of Virtue Labs, on how the lab discovered a way to formulate the Alpha Keratin 60ku extract.

The extract is the purest form of the Keratin protein, which makes up 90 percent of the hair, skin and nails. Virtue Labs’ Alpha Keratin 60ku protein is extracted from actual human hair, therefore when in contact with the hair cuticle, the body recognizes the protein as its own, which helps effectively repair the hair and replenish any Keratin lost through heat, color or environmental damage. This protein is in contrast to the fractionated Keratin that other brands use, which usually consists of animal byproduct that the body cannot recognize because it isn’t human.

“We are the only company collectively that can actually [replicate] human Keratin, which behaves very differently than the animal byproduct that everybody else uses,” said Melisse Shaban, founder and chief executive officer of the brand in a presentation to beauty editors in October. “[The protein] is all natural, so you’re putting in pure protein that’s coming from [real] hair.”

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In order to extract the protein, the lab utilizes what they call “virgin” hair. The hair is collected from women who’ve done little to no styling or coloring to their hair, making it a plentiful source for the pure Keratin protein. The extraction process starts with the clean hair and includes separation and purifying steps to isolate the protein and get rid of any impurities.

“What we have is fully functional protein that lines up with the damage and will bind through chemical processes that are just natural in biology,” Burnett said, discussing the repair process. “We use various extraction processes that carefully pull the proteins out, so we essentially build the hair shaft up and keep the proteins that we want.”

Virtue Labs contains five product lines, Recovery, Smooth, Full, Correct and Create, which include shampoo, conditioner, stylers and a serum with prices ranging from $36 to $66. The lines will be available starting Feb. 1 on virtuelabs.com and through select stylists.

Industry sources estimate that retail sales of up to $20 million could be generated during the brand’s first year on the market.