Cutting edge softness
Whether it’s a soft fluffy towel to wrap up in, or the sensation of smooth, supple skin and sleek hair, our products soften everyday life in all sorts of ways. So it’s no surprise our understanding of softness runs much more than skin-deep.
Shedding light on the surface
First, we are continually working to better understand what softness actually looks like on a microscopic level. Our scientists have been working in collaboration with the University of Oxford, using the UK ISIS – the world’s leading pulsed neutron and muon source – to gain fresh insights into how the surfactant molecules are arranged at the interfaces, for example, where lotion meets skin or at the surface that you might touch to feel the softness.
By reflecting neutron beams from model interfaces, we can study the molecular structure when different ingredients and formulations act at the interfaces. Then we conduct further studies that measure the friction coefficient between surfaces. By correlating the two, we can determine what molecular structures – and therefore which ingredients and formulations – are more closely associated with something feeling smooth and soft.
Pushing the senses
We’re also exploring the emotional dimension of touch and softness. How does your skin feel different to the touch after you’ve put on lotion? We can identify the chemistry that triggers certain receptors under the surface of the skin. These signals of pleasure are transmitted to the brain and, using MRI techniques, we can see the brain centres light up.
Softness in a bottle
The next step is to deliver that sensation of softness. For our conditioning shampoos, we developed a special technology that uses a polymer as a deposition aid to deposit the conditioner active on the hair fibre.
Building on this expertise, our scientists in the US have developed a 2in1 laundry detergent that both cleans and softens, so you don’t have to add a separate rinse conditioner. The new formulation exploits the 2in1 shampoo knowledge to deposit a film of the conditioning actives on fabrics, lubricating the fibres and easing the friction between fibres, as well as between skin and fabrics. The film is resistant to detergent action, which means the conditioning can happen while you wash.
Bringing benefits across our products
All 2in1 laundry detergent in the US is our first product to benefit from this technology and has proved a great success. “Soft but crisp”, “fluffy” and “like a blanket for a baby” are some of the comments we’ve had back – bringing new meaning to softness.
And, whether it’s for your hair, your skin, or your laundry, we have lots more ideas about how we can apply our expert soft touch, so watch this space!