Taming split ends

Ray Rigoletto’s breakthrough polymer helps solve a hairy problem [tweet this]

Ray Rigoletto looks for “voilà!” experiences in the labs of Ashland Specialty Ingredients – or sometimes while reading in bed at home. Your hair may be looking better for it.

Rigoletto, a senior manager in Bridgewater, N.J., discovered the benefits of using polyelectrolyte complexes to repair damaged hair. If hair is over-treated -- anything from too-frequent shampoos to heat treatment to serial coloring -- it may fray and form that bane of the mane: split ends. (In the 1970s, one prominent advertiser called it “the frizzies.”)

“Split ends make hair look dull,” says Rigoletto, who works in research and development for hair- and home-care products. “When you comb, the hair isn’t elastic anymore, it doesn’t perform cosmetically and it starts to crack and break.”

He recalls the time that one of Ashland’s multinational customers approached him for help formulating a product that could mend hair. “We said, ‘Well, we have something that would be of interest,’” he recalls.

Polymers to the rescue
That “something” originated from Ashland’s broad portfolio of polymers, large molecules made up of many repeated sub-units. When scientists bring together individual polymers, that combination sometimes creates a structure that is a new, distinct species with synergistic properties.

In this case, the polymers were based on polyelectrolytes that formed what’s known as a “polyelectrolyte complex.” The result was a modification of hair with  cosmetic benefits.

Hair by the numbers

“Before Ray introduced this to the industry, no one else knew what polyelectrolyte complexes were,” says Dr. Roger McMullen, principal scientist, Ashland Specialty Ingredients. “That was something from academia, and people in industry didn’t really have a good perception or understanding of what that was.

“Now you look around, and you can find commercial products with ingredients sold by Ashland that make up the polyelectrolyte complex. It was a project that was founded and pushed through the system by Ray.”

Rigoletto’s passion for science led him to the breakthrough.

“He is the type of person who goes home and reads journal articles on hair and hair structure at night,” says McMullen. “He comes in the next day and discusses what he dug up in the library or some old papers he had buried in his attic.”

What's leisure?
Guilty as charged, says Rigoletto, who acknowledges having no use for leisure time beyond watching scientific documentaries broadcast on the History Channel.

“My wife thinks I’m crazy,” he says. “Before we go to bed, she’s reading a romantic novel and I’m reading a book on complexity theory. But it’s something I enjoy.”

That’s just one way he hones the insights needed to deliver breakthrough technologies and applications to Ashland’s customers.

“Ray’s passion for his work is recognized by the customer base,” says Dr. David Hood, research and development manager, Innovation Management. “As a result, he and Ashland have become a solutions destination for the types of products people want to develop.

“He took his fundamental understanding of polyelectrolyte complexes and applied it to hair science,” adds Hood. “He was able to translate that to the customer, and help them not only understand how those concepts function, but how to implement them into their own processes. It brought new products into the marketplace and helped grow our customers’ business while growing our business.”

Of course, there were a lot of challenges and obstacles to overcome on the way to success in the lab.

Plenty of work, but big rewards
“It was not easy. There were formulation hurdles; there was claim substantiation. We had to fine-tune some of the techniques of microscopy to characterize the structure of the polyelectrolyte complex in the customer’s formulations,” Rigoletto recalls. “We helped them from A to Z and it was very rewarding to see their products go on the market.

“We talked in person to their scientists, looking under the microscope at their products. They saw from me and my colleagues a technical force that could help them out. It was one of my favorite projects,” he says.

The Ashland ingredient is based on a microgel composed of particles about one-fiftieth the size of a human hair. Used in several high-end shampoos, conditioners and styling products, they’re small enough to infiltrate the frayed pieces of hair, acting as an adhesive to mend the breaks and split ends.

The basic technology has applications elsewhere, too.

“Researchers in many industries have looked at this,” Rigoletto says. “The sky is the limit; the number of combinations you can do with polymers is endless. If you look at academic literature over the past 30 years, polyelectrolyte complex technology has been very fruitful in the biomedical and pharmaceutical areas.”

That has Rigoletto thinking about even more uses, including home-care products.

Cooking up something for the kitchen
“We’re trying to find a home for the technology in surface enhancement, for example. There is a market for rejuvenating and enhancing kitchen and bathroom surfaces,” he points out. “Let’s say your kitchen counter is dull. You could put on a polymer film and create a shiny surface.”

While Rigoletto is passionate and tenacious, he’s also a team player, says McMullen.

“A lot of people are knowledgeable, but to have both knowledge and the ability to work with other people on teams is one of the biggest challenges in the industry,” McMullen says. “Ray brings those two together and that makes him a very valuable component of our team.”

Hood concurs.

“I like having Ray on our team because he listens very carefully to what people are looking for. He communicates that well, both internally and externally, so everyone's on the same page.”

It’s a passion and a pleasure for Rigoletto.

“Our greatest strength here is working as a team,” he says. “Many of the problems we get are complex and we can’t solve them on our own, so we form interdisciplinary teams.

“You put things together and then test them and sometimes you get a 'voila!' experience. Every once in a while we get a golden nugget of a result and that makes us happy.

Meet Ray Rigoletto

A love of animals led Ray Rigoletto from uber-metropolitan Bronx, N.Y., to the plains of southeast Texas and back.

“My ambition when I was in high school and college was to become a veterinarian,” he recalls. “At the time, Texas A&M was one of maybe a dozen schools that had a vet program.

“I tried hard, but my grade point (average) was not competitive enough to get into the program.  However, being an undergraduate at A&M was a rewarding experience, learning science and maturity skills, not to mention going to all of the college football games,” he adds.

Dogs and cats lost; your hair won. Rigoletto came back to the New York City area after college, landing his first job in the personal care industry at Revlon's research center. He then moved to Amerchol, working mainly on rinse-off hair conditioning systems. He joined Ashland in 1998.

His interest in science developed early.

“I remember Mom taking me on the subway to the Hayden Planetarium or the Museum of Natural History. I give my mother credit for taking me on those field trips with my cousins all the time,” he says. “I think my love of science started even before I was in school.”

He and his wife, Kerry, a retired teacher, live in Deanville, N.J., with their “really spoiled” purebred Maltese, Lily. He has a step-daughter, Kristan, who works in advertising, and a son, Alan, who is a musician.

Rigoletto's family

Kristan, Alan and Kerry

Rigoletto is a prolific reader of World War II history (his late father was a decorated combat veteran), Herman Melville and technical books.

He has his own book in the works, if he can find the time to pull together all of the notes he has kept over the years about his philosophy of science.

“I think when people go into research, sometimes there’s anxiety that they’re trying to discover something unknown,” he says. “I’d like to relieve their anxiety and give them more confidence by giving them a philosophy – how to approach experiments and get the fruits of their labor in the results.”

Rigoletto and Lily

Ray and Lily, his two and a half year old "child"


  • Bachelor of Science in biology, Texas A&M

Patents and publications (sample)

  • “A Survey of Test Methodology Used in Evaluating the Damage, Protection and Repair of Hair,” with T. Gillece, Part 11.4, Harry’s Cosmeticology, 9th edition, Chemical Publishing Co., 2015.
  • “Advances in Hair Styling,” with A. Mahadeshwar, L. Foltis and D. Streuli, Practical Modern Hair Science, Allured Publishers, 2012.
  • “Transgressing Multiple Linear Constraints – A Formulator’s View of Out of the Box,” Cosmetiscope, January 2012.
  • “The Effect of Various Cosmetic Pretreatments on Protecting Hair from Thermal Damage by Hot Flat Ironing,” with Y. Zhou, R. Koelmel, G. Zhang, T. Gillece, L. Foltis, D. Moore, X. Qu and C. Sun, Journal of Cosmetic Science, March-April 2011.
  • Mending hair damage with polyelectrolyte complexes, with Y. Zhou, U.S. Patent No. 7,837,983, Nov. 23, 2010.


  • Coauthor, Des Goddard Award for best paper on polymer technology, Annual Scientific Seminar of the New York Society of Cosmetic Chemists, 2009.


  • Fellow, Society of Cosmetic Chemists