Virtue Labs' Melisse Shaban on beauty science, the spark of the industry and inclusivity in hair care
Bad hair day? Thinning hair? Dry, split ends? Frizzfest? No more. Let us introduce you to Virtue Labs, the first haircare brand to utilise real human keratin that smoothes, defrizzes and repairs your hair. Far from a fluke, the basis behind the beauty is purely scientific: Made for women, by a woman.
Welcome to the era of your best hair yet—we talked to Melisse Shaban, the founder and CEO of cult beauty brand Virtue Labs, to glean some hair care wisdom. Ahead, she explains what makes Virtue's formula so effective:
It’s refreshing to see a beauty brand so heavily rooted in the science of beauty. Your trademark ingredient is human keratin—can you detail its necessity in hair care?
“Really, Virtue’s whole reason for being is this breakthrough technology which was never intended for use in hair care at all. Alpha Keratin 60ku® is a patented form of a human keratin protein that was developed in the study of regenerative medicine to help severely wounded military soldiers.
“Contrary to other 'keratins' you might have heard of, which are highly processed animal by-product (like sheep wool or feathers), this is a unique protein that is derived from human hair, and carefully extracted to remain whole and fully functional.
“Because it is essentially hair, it ‘sees’ the cracks of damage, and goes where it’s needed to repave and heal the damage to give you your healthiest, most beautiful hair possible. It was seeing the amazing results this technology has on damaged hair that made me want to share it with the world.
“We did a lot of clinical studies with the ingredient, even before we started formulating the final products, and were blown away by what we saw. After five uses, Virtue products with Alpha Keratin 60ku deliver up to: 67 per cent reduction in frizz; 95 per cent split end reparation; 22 per cent increase in thickness; and 138 per cent increase in colour vibrancy.”
Could you elaborate on the science behind the keratin extraction process? How exactly is it extracted in its pure form?
“Well, I can’t tell you exactly how we do it because that would betray our trade secrets. But we start with clean, ethically-sourced hair that has never been coloured or chemically treated and use a patented extraction and purification process to create Alpha Keratin 60ku®, which is keratin in its purest, most potent form. This is a fully-functional protein that is virtually identical to the protein that makes up about 90 per cent of your hair. It is completely unique in hair care.”
How did you discover that there were novel uses for keratin in beauty specifically?
“It was a bit of a fluke, really. And it wasn’t me [who discovered it]. Dr Luke Burnett, the chief scientist behind the development of this technology, is a retired Colonel from the U.S. Army. After two tours in Iraq, he made it his mission back home to find ways to speed healing and improve quality of life for wounded soldiers, and it was all based on this newly patented form of a human keratin protein that he had pioneered the development of.
“An intern, a young woman PhD candidate working in his lab, had family members in the beauty industry, and she asked if she could perform some experiments on the side using left over material—she had heard of 'keratin' in hair care and wanted to test and see if this particular keratin protein could also have benefits for hair repair.
“A few experiments later, they liked what they saw, but hair care was not their mission or their expertise. That’s when I was called in to take a look, really as a favour for a friend. Seeing the extraordinary results that this technology has on damaged hair made me want to share it with the world. And about four years after that, Virtue was born.”
You’ve had an impressive, long-standing career in the beauty industry. What makes the industry special to you?
“This question makes me smile. Anyone who knows me knows I’m not a traditional ‘beauty girl’. I barely know how to apply lipstick. But I’m fascinated by the business of the beauty industry for how it relates to women and how women relate back to it.
“‘Why do they gravitate to certain products? How can beauty products make their lives better?’ That’s what I want to do with Virtue. I want to help women achieve their healthiest hair and, in turn, help make their everyday lives easier and better.”
Aside from the keratin, what other kinds of ingredients is Virtue Labs drawn to and what is their significance?
“All Virtue products start with our exclusive Alpha Keratin 60ku protein, and then we pair it with other partner ingredients to help solve a problem or achieve a goal. Although we are not an all-natural brand, we do like to use natural ingredients and essential oils where possible. I say where possible because it’s important that the products actually work and do what we say they do. But importantly, we avoid most of the ingredients that are considered ‘no-no's’ today.
“All Virtue products are free of parabens, sulfates, phthalates, synthetic colours and dyes, and are safe for colour-treated hair; and they are all gluten-free and cruelty-free as well.”
Virtue is one of the few hair care brands whose products cater to all hair types. Why is inclusivity important to you?
“Virtue is made up of a group of people who believe in inclusivity in every aspect of life. But when it comes to the products, with Virtue it all starts with the technology, and the technology doesn’t see hair type or ethnicity at all. It just sees damage, which can manifest in different ways.
“It’s the other ingredients that we partner with the Alpha Keratin 60ku protein that make certain products more suited to individual hair needs. For example, Recovery is our most universal in the Care category—pretty much anyone, no matter what hair type, will see benefits from using the Recovery line. Full is aimed towards finer hair types that want more volume; and Smooth is for thicker, more highly textured hair that may be more prone to experiencing frizz, or for someone looking to add more definition to their texture.
“So really, Virtue is for anyone who wants to experience their healthiest hair possible.”
What measures do you have to take in order to ensure that the brand stays cruelty-free?
"At the most basic level, we’re animal lovers. But really, there’s absolutely no reason in this day and age, to have cosmetic formulas that are not cruelty-free. We’re extremely proud of our Leaping Bunny certification, and we will never compromise that."
Virtue Labs is now available on Sephora Malaysia.
This interview has been edited for clarity. For more hair stories, click here.