How does hair spray work? — KC, IL
While I don’t know exactly what chemicals are used in hairspray, the main constituents are almost certainly polymer molecules—otherwise known as plastics. In the container, these polymer molecules are dissolved in a volatile solvent such as an alcohol or water, and pressurized with a chemical such as propane or a hydrofluorocarbon. When you spray the mixture onto your hair, the solvent evaporates and leaves the polymer molecules clinging to the hairs. These molecules are very long chains of atoms that form a stiff web around each hair and stiffen it. In general, the characteristics of polymers change with temperature and chemical environment. The polymer used in hairspray should be in the “glassy” regime, meaning that its atoms and molecules are essentially immobile at room temperature. Once the solvent is gone, the web of polymer molecules on the hairs is stiff and keeps the hairs from changing shape. Before you panic at the idea of spraying plastic onto your hair, consider that starch is also a polymer, as is hair itself. So putting hairspray on your hair is no different from putting starch on clothes.