`Bad Girl Science' deciphers the chemistry behind beauty

July 24, 1999|By Melody Holmes | Melody Holmes,SUN STAFF

It's inevitable: When young girls hit puberty, they also hit the makeup counter.

Experiments in lipstick and eyeshadow are as natural as their newfound obsession with the male of the species. What doesn't come naturally, however, is the knowledge that the nail polish and hair color they use as teen-agers can have long-lasting, sometimes unwanted effects. To remedy this problem, the Maryland Science Center gave teen-age girls some insight into what makes up makeup with its "Bad Girl Science" workshop.

The five-hour program last weekend covered everything from the chemical processes involved in hair coloring to how nail polish stays on the fingernail.

Although the scientific terms could be a bit overwhelming at times, the room of about 40 girls seemed interested in the information, looking to rectify some of their cosmetic mistakes.

One of the most popular presentations was by Kim Scarborough, a senior research associate for Procter & Gamble, who talked about chemical hair treatments.

Amid a sea of raised hands, Scarborough, 26, answered questions for what seemed like hours. The girls asked about the use of hydrogen peroxide in hair bleaching and the best shampoo to use, and one girl wanted to know the best way to keep her hair's blue color.

Fifteen-year-old Lauren Schaub of Baltimore said she uses Magic Markers to achieve her cobalt-blue hair color. "I've done this a lot," she said. "It's easier to get a good color with markers."

Scarborough said that it is important for girls to know the permanent damage that harsh chemicals can do to their hair. By explaining how the chemicals in permanents and hair color work, Scarborough hopes that a little chemistry will go a long way in influencing the teens' decisions about hair products.

"Chemistry opened up a whole new world for me," said Scarborough, a graduate of Morgan State University's chemical engineering program. She had been a hairstylist before college and recalled about her work, "I knew you don't leave in perms for more than a certain amount of time, but with chemistry, I then knew why."

To supplement Scarborough's presentation, Shawn Wheeler, 26, a Science Center employee and a hairstylist, stressed the importance of going to a professional to have hair treatments done.

"People don't know what it is that they do to their hair," Wheeler said, referring to perms and color treatments. Wheeler said that such chemical processes are time-sensitive and require constant monitoring that only a professional can give. She warned, however, that some stylists are "more interested in money instead of taking care of the clients' hair" and that clients should choose stylists carefully.

After getting their questions about hair care answered, the teens were moved on to a lesson in fingernail safety.

Prima Chambers, 19, an intern in Procter & Gamble's research and development department, gave the teens information on what their favorite nail polish colors are made of and how they work. Chambers told them that nail polish is relatively safe and is an easy way to make the overall appearance of the nails and hands more attractive. The only downside, according to Chambers, is that nail polish does not last very long and requires a great deal of maintenance. Chipping, peeling and fading are always risks.

Chambers warned about the false nailtips that many girls add to their nails. Chambers said that the nailtips are dangerous for two reasons: the electric nail files used by manicurists and the dangers of getting the nail tips wet.

Chambers said that the electric files are actually drills purchased from hardware stores. The files -- used to quickly remove layers of the nail to make glue and polish adhere more easily -- can cause permanent damage to the nail bed. Permanent damage, she said, means the nail will not grow back.

By the end of the session, the teens had learned things that made many of them swear off previously practiced beauty regimens.

"I'm probably not gonna bleach my hair anymore," said Rachel Erez, 14. As for the workshop, she said, "I kind of didn't want to do it at first, but then I heard about the activities. ... You learn a lot."

If nothing else, the best piece of advice the teen girls should have taken from the workshop was from Chambers. Regarding makeup, hair color and other cosmetics, she said, "Have fun with it, but with everything, use moderation."

Pub Date: 7/24/99

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