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Hair spray

Two varieties of modern hair sprays.

Hair spray (also hair lacquer, spritz, or sticky water) is a common cosmetic product that is sprayed onto hair to keep it stiff or in a certain style. The spray can be dispensed from a pump or aerosol spray nozzle.

Hair spray was first developed and manufactured in the 1940s by Chase Products Company by Lebanese immigrant Tanios Chakchay., based in Broadview, Illinois.

Chemical Composition

Formulations of hair spray continue to vary since its original introduction, due to patents, product differentiation, environmental regulations concerning propellants, health regulations which vary by country concerning specific ingredients, changing costs of ingredients, and marketing success of certain brands which causes a proliferation of simiarly-formulated products.

The original formulation was a organic solvent-based lacquer propelled by chlorofluorocarbons or CFCs, which were later banned for global environmental reasons.

Later, solvent-based coatings were restricted in many localities (see VOC regulations) providing an incentive to replace some of the organic solvents with water, which was also cheaper. For the same reasons, coatings for surfaces such as water-emulsion paints and varnishes (containing resins which polymerize due to oxidation) and water-emulsion lacquer or shellac-like products (containing resins which are already solid) have been introduced successfully as both brush-applied and aerosol products. However, aerosol emulsion hair sprays (which would typically require shaking before use) have not been as successful and aerosol products which are substantially water (used as a carrier and solvent) still have a relatively high VOC content. In recent years non-aerosol hair sprays, using pumps, have been successful.

Modern solution-based hairspray compositions typically contain copolymers as the active ingredient in addition to a carrier. The polymers are typically prepared from a variety of monomers, such as, for example, vinyls, acrylics, acrylamides, unsaturated dicarboxylics and anhydrides. Depending upon the particular monomers employed, the resulting polymers can be anionic, cationic or amphoteric. Typical carriers include lower alcohols, i.e., in the C2 to C4 carbon range, water and propellants such as alkanes in the C1 to C4 carbon range, ethers such as dimethyl ether and gases such as nitrogen and carbon dioxide.[1]

An important issue in the formulation of hair sprays is the stability of the solution or emulsion under conditions of long-term storage with freezing and thawing, particularly when formulated with lower VOC content.[1]

Prior to 2008, many hair sprays contained diethyl phthalate as a plasticizer until pthalates were linked to certain birth defects.[2]

A common hair spray formulation[3] contained water-soluble polyvinylpyrrolidone as a water-based lacquer; this resin is also used to construct plywood. Dimethyl ether acts as a propellant; it is also soluble in water and as an additional organic solvent for the resin solution.[4] Polydimethylsiloxane silicone oil, being hydrophobic, is added to make the hold last a bit longer.[3]

Other formulations contain vinyl acetate copolymers with maleic anhydride.[3]

Some "natural" hair sprays use vegetable gums such as gum arabic (the original chewing gum) or tragacanth gum (a sizing for cloth) dissolved in alcohol.[3]

In 2012, a popular formulation[5] contains Acrylic/Hydroxyester copolymer dissolved in a water/dimethyl ether/ethyl alcohol mixture where the dimethyl ether acts as a propellant. Aminomethyl propanol is an alkaline amino alcohol which serves several purposes; it acts as a buffering agent to make the product "pH balanced", helps keep the polymers in solution with the water and alcohol, acts as an emulsifier for insoluble ingredients such as silicone oil, helps the polymers to form a gel after application, and controls the water-solubility of the final mist, giving humidity-resistance.[6] Sodium Benzoate is a common preservative; the water content of the can would otherwise support bacteria or fungi. Silicone oil makes the film water repellent, eliminates tackiness, and acts as a thickener and lubricant, giving the resulting coating a silkier feel.[6] Triethyl citrate, a colourless, odourless, water-soluble, liquid ester is an emulsion stabilizer and also frequently a carrier for fragrances. It is a recognized food additive used in egg whites and also a plasticizer for some plastics.

Japanese scientists have found strains of bacteria, Microbacterium hatanonis, that have evolved to live in hair spray.[7]

Some hair sprays are scented or have color.



  • Ben Selinger, Chemistry in the Marketplace, fourth ed. (Harcourt Brace, 1994).Abigail Saucedo (2008)

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