Here’s a problem I do not lose any sleep over, Frizzy Hair! So why am I talking about it? Humidity of course. Somebody tweeted something like “Is this the most amazing product for frizzy hair in high humidity……”  I actually thought it was a joke! Some sort of pretend science marketing ploy. Curiosity got to me and I looked up the “product”, which was not an actual product, but an ingredient with a name abbreviated to OFPMA.……..

Finding out about OFPMA

A quick Google search led me to the origin of the application of OFPMA to prevent frizzy hair. Various cosmetic sites and blogs popped up from my Googling with, to my mind, quite amusing descriptions of how they thought OFPMA works. Let’s just say, they were not that scientific. The overall thrust of these descriptions is that moisture in the air attaches to strands of hair and distorts them. OFPMA prevents moisture attaching and so controls your hair by keeping the stands straight in high humidity. Adding OFPMA to a hair treatment product was patented by Robert S. Langer and he co-founded a cosmetics company called Living Proof.

Living Proof have a tagline “where beauty meets brilliant science” and they are not exaggerating. Professor Langer is one of America’s top scientists. He has a phenomenal list of scientific awards, published papers and patents. You can read what limited information Living Proof say about OFPMA on their website: about the science and in more detail here. I agree with the Beauty by the Geeks blog when they say that it is not easy to find published research on how effective OFPMA is in preventing the “frizz”.

So what is OFPMA and why should we think that it could possibly work in preventing frizzy hair? Its name, where the abbreviation comes from, is Octafluoropentyl Methacrylate. The key part is “Octa” meaning eight and “fluoro” being the atom, fluorine. We have a molecule that has eight fluorine atoms. Unless you have some chemistry knowledge, there is not much point in me showing you the structure of this molecule. Suffice to say that all eight of the fluorine atoms are arranged close to each other on a short chain of carbon atoms. The other part in OFPMA, the “Methacrylate”, helps the molecule attach to your hair.

OFPMA, Fluorine and Moisture

So when you have applied OFPMA, you can imagine it being like millions of tiny pins sticking out along each strand of hair. Each of these pins has the eight fluorine atoms sticking out into the air. Along come water molecules in the air, which is what we call moisture, and in high humidity, millions of these water molecules are attracted to your hair. What the water molecules find instead of the hair’s protein chains to stick to, are the fluorine atoms of the OFPMA. Each fluorine atom then acts to repel the water molecules and so stops moisture from getting to the strand of hair. Result is no curling of hair and no frizz.

Why fluorine atoms act to repel water molecules is almost impossible for me to describe. In fact very few people in the world would understand how this works as it comes to a “quantum” effect. Having said that, we are all pretty familiar with this effect. Fluorine atoms are repelling things all around us. Another very important molecule containing fluorine is polytetrafluorethylene, abbreviated to PTFE. One of my favourite popular science writers is Brian Clegg who writes a very interesting short piece on the accidental discovery of PTFE to it becoming one of the world’s most widely used materials. Brian talks about PTFE used for space suits in the early Apollo missions. He also describes in this piece its first commercial use for cooking utensils, as a coating to prevent food sticking and one we know by its trade name “Teflon”.

Moisture in a Quantum World

I’ll finish for now with my simplistic understanding of why fluorine atoms are able to repel water molecules. Take a magnet which you probably know has a North and South pole. Take another magnet and push it towards the first magnet. Usually one of two things happens. The two magnets attract and stick together if North meets South, or they push apart if the poles are the same. Something like this happens when a water molecule approaches a fluorine atom and a magnetic-like force of repulsion keeps them apart. Nature’s quantum effect is that the “magnetic poles” of the fluorine and water do not exist until the two come together!

I leave you with the strangeness of frizz and the even stranger world of moisture.

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Useful background and various topics on moisture and humidity are discussed in my eBook “A Wet Look At Climate Change”.

Welcome to my world of moisture