We women can get a little bit obsessive about our hair at times. Let’s face it, we all want beautiful hair and we all want perfect hair days. And, we’d like to spend as little time as possible achieving great results.
In order to understand how to have healthy hair and achieve the results we want, we have to get a little technical to understand a bit more about the hair’s composition. Simply put, the inside of the hair is called the cortex and the outside is called the cuticle. A good analogy is an electrical cord. The inside has fine wires all twisted together protected by an outer layer made up of plastic insulation.
The outer layer of plastic insulation in an electrical cord protects the inner layer of fine wires, just as the cuticle of the hair protects the cortex. The cuticle is made up of several layers of cells and they all overlap one another, very similar to shingles on a roof. Human hair typically has 7 to 12 layers of overlapping cuticle cells and these cells are orientated away from the scalp. Because of this, when you brush or comb your hair, you are doing so in the direction of the cells.
The strength of human hair is mostly due to the cortex. If you scrape too many of the outer cuticle cells from your hair you will end up exposing the cortex and damage your hair. It’s very important to not only condition your hair but brush or comb it properly. If you don’t brush it properly you cause friction that results in the loss of the protective cuticle cells. Improper brushing also causes uneven wear, which results in rough cuticle cells. All of this means damaged hair and split ends.
What we want is to have the cuticle cells of our hair lie flat on the shaft. Flat cuticle cells make our hair shiny and rough cuticles cells make it dull. Since our hair is newer at the root, you may notice that the roots are shinier than the ends. This is because the roots have not yet been damaged by improper hair care.
Chemical processing, such as perms, hair color, and relaxing, can also damage the cuticle. Chemical processing will cause the cuticle to lift up, making it rough and therefore, less shiny. It also makes the hair more susceptible to damage due to improper brushing. Covalent bonds in the cortex, the bonds that hold the cells in the hair together, can be destroyed by chemical processing as well, making the hair weaker.
Hydrogen bonds are also found in the the hair. They are weak bonds, but they are numerous. These bonds can be broken easily when the hair is wet but when it dries, they are easily reformed. This why when your hair is set when it is wet, it retains the curl when it dries. It’s also the reason that when you blow your hair straight it stays straight. At least that’s true until you go outside on a humid day. So, it’s important to use care when brushing or combing your hair when it’s wet so you don’t damage the hydrogen bonds.
Ionic bonds, also called salt bonds, are another type of bond found in the hair. They are stronger than hydrogen bonds yet weaker than covalent bonds. The ionic bonds can be weakened when the hair is made too acidic or too alkaline. The ideal pH for hair is around 5.5 to 6.5 and if you’ve had an alkaline chemical process done to your hair, you should be using an acidic conditioner to bring the hair back into balance and good shape.
Here are a few tips for healthy hair:
- Make sure to use a good conditioner or rinse. Conditioners and rinses lubricate your hair and make it easier to comb. The easier your hair is to comb, the less mechanical damage you do to it. The less mechanical damage, the less damage done to the cuticle.
- When you comb your hair, use a wide-tooth comb and start from the ends first and work your way up. Tangled hair means one hair is rubbing against another and this can cause damage, so you don’t want to pull through the tangles. You also don’t want to stretch your hair either. Start from the bottom and gently work your way to the top and as you do you can change to finer tooth combs and then a brush.
- If you are using an alkaline shampoo to wash your hair, the ionic and hydrogen bonds are weakened so it’s very important to be careful when your hair is wet. Also make sure that you use a good acidic conditioner to strengthen your hair and minimize mechanical damage.
- Gently wring your hair before getting out of the shower. When you towel dry it, blot and squeeze gently. Do not rub your hair dry with a towel as this causes damage along with frizzy hair.
- Do a hot oil hair treatment once a week or as often as needed. Coconut oil is actually very good for the hair and has been found to reduce protein loss remarkably in all types of hair. Simply heat the coconut oil and apply it liberally to dry hair. Wrap your hair and put a plastic shower cap over it and leave it for at least 20 minutes. Then wash and condition your hair as normal making sure you wash out all of the oil.
- Over-washing and drying your hair can cause damage too. Whenever you can, give your hair a break from washing and allow it to restore some of its natural oils.