Scientists use invasive plant waste to develop eco-friendly hair conditioner

Consumer interest in more environmentally friendly products is growing and, consequently, the industry is investing in more sustainable production and methods.

Focusing on this trend, a team of scientists from the Department of Chemical Engineering (DEQ) of the Faculty of Science and Technology of the University of Coimbra (FCTUC) is developing a hair conditioner from agroforestry residues and invasive species.

The Lignin for Hair project «aims to prepare new cationic lignin derivatives to be used as conditioners in hair care products and thus constitute a better alternative to traditional agents. The lignin will be obtained by extracting lignocellulosic materials through more environmentally efficient and sustainable procedures», explains Luís Alves, a researcher at the Research Center for Chemical Process Engineering and Forest Products (CIEPQPF) at DEQ, adding that «lignin, the second most abundant polymer in lignocellulosic materials such as wood, serves as the “glue” for all constituents of these materials.»

Although it is still in its initial phase, the project already presents some positive advances. «We already have results related to the fractionation process using solvents of sustainable origin, based on the concept of the circular economy since one of them is obtained from wood», reveals the DEQ team.

However, to arrive at the final product, it will be necessary to «extract and characterize the lignin from agroforestry residues or from invasive species by exploiting solvents with components of natural origin. In the second phase, the extracted lignin will be chemically modified in order to interact with the capillary fibers and promote the conditioning effect. In this modification, sustainable methodologies will also be prioritized. The third phase will be dedicated to evaluating the effectiveness of the product», describes the FCTUC team.

The researchers believe that this product «could have a high impact on the hair care industry, since it will allow the substitution of compounds produced from non-renewable raw materials, such as oil, and others obtained from raw materials necessary for human and animal nutrition, such as palm oil», they conclude.

Lignin for hair, a project that will last for 18 months, is financed by the Foundation for Science and Technology and has the participation of researchers from DEQ and the University of Algarve.

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