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An Interview With The Co-Founder and CEO of K18, Suveen Sahib

After talking with AQUIS Founder Britta Cox about the struggle so many people face with their hair and haircare routines, K18 Biomimetic Hairscience co-founder Suveen Sahib had an aha moment! Leaving his work in the tech industry, he set out on a charged mission to understand the biology of hair. What resulted is K18, the patented molecular repair hair mask that repairs years of damage in just 4 minutes

Below you’ll find insights into the origin of K18, the many steps taken to bring the revolutionary patented peptide to salons globally, and how he believes the concept of  “less is more” is the key to shaking up the hair industry.

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What was the true start to K18?

From my first conversations with Britta, I became fascinated by the struggles most women (and men!) face when it comes to loving their hair. Everything takes too long, requires more damage, or asks people to use product in excess in order to love their hair. I realized what made something like the AQUIS hair towel so special was that no one had ever created a tool that was specifically made to work with the hair to dry it in a healthy way.  That was my aha! moment. 

I became hungry to learn everything there was to know about hair in its natural state, reading chemistry books, trying to understand, “what’s the chemistry of hair, what happens to it when it’s wet? What about when it’s chemically damaged?” In my research, I discovered a lot of what the haircare industry had been encouraging people to use  mostly masked or temporarily patched hair damage, thus perpetuating the viscous cycle of more is more. More product, more time, more waste, more hating our hair and complicating our routines. 

The haircare industry had, for too long, been relying on cosmetic chemistry to solve hair problems and the result was hundreds of products which cause hair to become even needier, causing more product use and so-on. It became my mission to figure out how to break that cycle.

How did it develop from this realization?

Searching for a solve, I started learning more about the bio-physics of hair and the crossover between hair, skin and pharma. I began to collaborate with skin care delivery scientists to explore protein engineering as a potential path. That ultimately lead me to connect with top European bio-engineering scientist Professor Artur Cavaco Paulo and his research team at the University of Minho Biological Engineering Center in Portugal. 

They had been doing ground-breaking research in protein engineering focused on lipids and lung regeneration in premature babies. The same lipid and protein structures also happen to have applications for our hair on a molecular level. After a decade of scanning and testing all amino acid sequences covering the entire genome that makes up human keratin, they discovered one unique sequence that we were able to apply to damaged hair. 

This breakthrough is our patented K18Peptide™ that renews hair for a like-new look and feel. This groundbreaking science set the foundation for our business, and we began to build the brand from there.

As the co-founder, how do you explain the complex science behind the product in your own way?

I always tell my team nature is the best designer. K18 was really born from an understanding of biology first, which is why it really works. The K18Peptide™ was developed by applying computational models with probabilistic structure/sequence analogy used in the biotech industry to model the molecular structure of human hair, instead of cosmetic chemistry created in a traditional formulation lab. 

This is where our term “Biomimetic Hairscience” comes from. Biomimetics is the practice of learning from and mimicking nature. Mimicking the natural structure of keratin building blocks (amino acid sequences) the K18 bioactive peptide is recognized as natural by the hair. And because it’s the perfect puzzle piece to reconnect these broken pieces or damage sites, it’s not washed away by water or shampoo like traditional bonding agents. 

How is K18 a product of biotechnology? Why is that crucial to its success?

Through our intensive research, we realized the whole conversation that’s been happening in haircare around bond repair (specifically disulfide bonds) isn’t really addressing the core problem damaged hair faces. The true indicator of hair strength and elasticity comes from the polypeptide chains and the keratin associated proteins in the inner layers of hair. When hair undergoes chemical processing, these polypeptide chains that run along the y axis (length) of our hair fibers break—which means hair’s core structure that gives us resiliency and strength is now broken. Bonds are also disturbed, but only at a surface level. When you rebond them, the impact is also only surface level, ignoring the breakage happening deeper in the inner cortex.  

K18 is the world’s first patented biotech treatment that renews chemically damaged hair from the inside out. 

Traveling into the inner-most layers of hair to reach those core polypeptide chains, our revolutionary K18Peptide™ is just the right size and molecular structure to fit in and reconnect broken chains and re-conform any disturbed disulfide bonds. This reconnection happens in just 4 minutes and delivers that like-new look and feel.

The key thing to understand is that hair looking good does not necessarily translate into healthy hair or hair feeling good, that comes from the core structure that can only be impacted on a molecular level. 

You talk a lot about the liberation of expression and routines, what does that mean to you?

I believe hair and expression are everything.  I’ve made it my mission to change the dialogue around haircare and encourage people to work with the biology of hair to deliver results that require less product, less time, and less frustration. Using biology as our ultimate teacher, our hair wins and so do we.

There’s also a freedom that comes from not having to compromise. I think we all want to say something with our hair or our style. Try out new colors, straighten it, perm it—all of these expressions also chemically compromise hair. And if normal, untreated hair wasn’t made to handle all the products you put on it, your bleached or chemically treated hair definitely wasn’t. Up until now, people have always had to make the choice: healthy hair or hair that looks the way they want it to. You’re always losing if you have to choose between expression or damage. 

What would you do if you didn’t have to worry about damage? This is the question that gets me the most excited. Because what would that mean for stylists and hair artists who suddenly wouldn’t have to create within confines in order to protect their client’s hair? What would that mean to someone who loves their bleached hair but after 20 years of damage doesn’t love the way it feels anymore? We want to create a world where you can change your hair as often as you change your clothes and not think twice about it. With K18, true renewal is possible on a molecular level and because of that, hair happiness is possible with so much less effort. 

Do you use K18?

I’ve used it since the beginning, but I have to tell you, once I bleached my hair, that’s when I was really blown away by the results. I wanted to try a radical hair transformation in the name of business—and also because my curiosity for results will always get the better of me. In one salon appointment, my stylist was able to take my coarse black hair to fully bleached and it never felt smoother or softer. My hair actually felt better after bleach with K18 than it did in its natural state. To me, that is the power of this technology and why I’m so passionate about this brand. It works and I want everyone to experience that amazing moment of loving their hair post-transformation the way I did.  

What do you see for the future of K18? What are your long-term goals?

Right now, our focus is centered on educating the world about why biotech has a place in haircare and elevating our greatest champions of transformation: professional stylists. Every day I am amazed at the support and excitement our community shares with each use of K18 on clients, at home, on the most extreme damage. 

People are loving their hair again after 30 years of chemical processing. That is meaningful and is why innovation will always be at the core of our mission and our “why.” I believe true innovation and a deeper understanding of our biology can deliver the gift of healthier, more effortless hair. Hair happiness is a vehicle to unlock confidence and we’re on a mission to liberate that expression for all hair types and all humans.

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