I promise you, your hair problems are not permanent!
Everyone has a passion for their hair. We all know that it is one of the first things people notice about us. It is always comical when someone learns that I am a hair stylist, they usually react in a manner that tries to conceal their hair, or justify why it looks like it does. (You never have to worry about me sending Hair Dresser Shade at you.) Some people love their hair, some hate it, some wish it did the opposite of what it does for them. Others feel at a complete loss as to what to do with it.
Many people feel that their hair is a mystical creature that is beyond understanding, or is susceptible to the magical spells of wizardry. Not entirely sure that is really how they feel, but some of the questions I get really make me believe that statement.
Let's talk about your hair, what it is made of, and how you can keep it looking the way you want it to. After all, only you can decide if your hair is on point. Hair is intensely personal, and you have every right to have it tell your story the way you want it told. Are you ready for some fun, educational hair info?
Anatomy of Hair
The good news is, hair is a relatively simple structure, but it really holds so much impact over our lives. It has 2 main structures, the follicle, and the hair strand. The follicle is where the living, active cells of hair are. It is the tube, or the pore that your hair grows from. The follicle is below the surface of your scalp. The strand is the non living, non vascular part of hair, the part that sticks out of the skin, and gives us our treasured tresses.
A hair strand has up to 3 layers, the cuticle, the cortex, and the medulla (not all hair has a medulla). Hair grows from and is anchored to the skin by, a follicle. At the base of the follicle is the hair bulb. Cells in the bulb divide and create the hair strand and it pushes up through the open end of the follicle. Capillaries in the papilla at the base of the follicle provide the needed blood to nourish the hair bulb and allow for cell division and hair growth.
The material that makes up hair, skin and nails is called Keratin, or keratinized protein. Protein is a long string type molecule that is made up of linked amino acid molecules. To date there have been 54 genes discovered that function to create keratin. Keratins are separated into groups based on the types of amino acids contained, and make up either the cuticle or the cortex.
Keratin has Protective qualities, and is extremely insoluble in water and organic solvents, meaning it is quite durable, but not indestructible, as you know if you’ve ever had your hair over processed and damaged. High levels of sulfur and cystine, create bridges that increase structure and strength. That is the odor you smell when hair is burnt or damaged. It is these cross linked disulfide bonds that lend to the insolubility of keratin. The harder the keratin, the more of these bonds it has. Nails have more than hair strands, hooves or horns, have more than nails.
Your hair grows in a cycle that includes 3 main phases called anagen, catagen, & telogen. Some researchers break the cycles down further, but lets stick with the main 3, ok? The cycle can last from 2-7 (some say 8) years. The first phase is the Anagen phase. This is the part of the cycle that the hair strand is actively growing and adding length. This phase is also the longest phase of the cycle. Healthy hair will be in growth for the majority of the cycle. Catagen is the next phase of the cycle. It is also the briefest. Just a couple of weeks long. This is the transitional phase where the follicle changes, the bulb detaches from the papilla, anchoring decreases, and the strand stops active growth. Lastly we have Telogen. This
is the phase where the follicle rests, and then the hair strand falls out. Telogen can last as long as 100 or so days. During this time, the strand has detached from the follicle, and will be released or pushed out by the new hair that is growing in when the follicle enters Anagen again. In healthy individuals and scalps, 85%-90% of follicles are in Anagen, 1% are in Catalan, and 10%-15% are in Telogen at any given time.
Depending on who you ask, you will get a range of numbers, but people have, on average, 100,000 follicles in the scalp. When we take into account the ratio, 85,000-90,000 hairs should be actively growing, and 10,000-15,0000 should be resting. Healthy scalps lose a wide range of hair strands daily, anywhere from 40-130 hairs are released and fall out everyday and is considered normal.
There are times when a larger number of hairs my be coming out. This is typically a temporary situation and can be caused by numerous things: sudden hormone changes, sudden periods of stress as in physical trauma like car wrecks, surgery, or high temperature (fever) or illness. Diet and sudden weight loss can trigger sudden hair loss. Medications, iron and other deficiencies, vaccines, chronic illness, and long term stress can contribute to hair loss, too. This type of loss may be called telogen effluvium. What is happening is more hair has entered telogen and disrupted the normal cycle and ratio. Since hair grows randomly over the scalp, telogen effluvium results in diffused thinning and doesn’t result in baldness.
There could be anagen effluvium happening in some cases. If the loss is sudden, severe, and total baldness is happening, this could be Anagen Effluvium. Anagen effluvium is a disruption of the active phase of the growth cycle. Ttoxins, poisons, chemicals, cancer drugs, are common triggers for this. If you are seeing a sudden change or increase in hair fall, you can tell the difference between Telogen or Anagen Effluvium by the appearance of the hairs root end. If the root, (scalp end) looks frayed or feathery, the strand is still in growth, or anagen, at the time of release. If the end looks finished or hardened off, it was in telogen at the time of release.
The multiple ways we cause damage to our wonderful locks.
We do things to our hair every day to get it looking and keep it looking the way we want it to look. We use heat to change the shape. We brush, comb, braid, tie, pin, twist, our hair to create looks that tell our story. We change the color, and texture with chemicals, add extensions that clamp or bind to the strands on our heads. We apply pastes, waxes, sprays, gels, mousses, taffy’s, shine products, matte products, all designed to temporarily change the appearance of our strands. Do you know what all these things have in common? Every single one of them can and often do cause damage to the hair strand. Damage makes your hair harder to deal with and style. It is harder to create the look you want and make that look last. The result is often more heat, more product, more torture on your strands in a downward spiral.
The remedy is treating your hair better, using less heat, using less chemicals, and using better practices and products. It starts with understanding what works and what doesn’t.
Has anyone ever told you the best practices to shampoo and condition and protect your hair?
Has anyone ever shared how you can use far less heat and still get the desired result you are after?
Do you know the things that cause the most damage and how you can do those things differently or mitigate the potential damage?
How shampoo works.
We all know that we have to clean our hair, and there are a dizzying number of choices and a variety of methods to do it, but what does shampoo actually do?
Shampoo is basically a detergent designed to remove dirt, oil, styling products, the environment, from your hair and scalp. I'm sure you agree that unless you are rolling around in the mud and muck, or competing in one of those mud runs that are so popular, your hair doesn’t really get dirty. It gets oily because of the sebum, the natural oil your body makes to protect your skin and hair, making it water tight. Sebum can make hair look greasy, or dull. Dust, pollen, & other environmental elements can cling to the sebum adding to the dirty or dull look. Since sebum is oil, and its function is to keep water out of the hair, water is not going to have any effect on it. That is why shampoo contains detergents. Without detergent, you aren't really affecting a change to the oil covering your hair.
Detergents are surfactants that make water wetter by breaking surface tension, or decreasing the ability of water to stick to itself. There are a variety of types available and they do different things depending on type and composition. Detergents have two ends to the molecule, one that loves oils, and one that loves water. The oil loving end attracts and grabs ahold of oil, then the water loving end goes after water during the rinsing, and that is how the suds, and grime get rinsed off and down the drain. There are many many kinds of surfactants, some are aggressive and will irritate protein, skin and hair, making it swell up. Have you ever washed your face with soap and felt that tight feeling? That is what protein irritation feels like. You don’t feel it on your hair, because hair isn’t living, and doesn’t have nerves in it, but it is susceptible to swelling and damage just the same. Swelling equates to damage over time and repetition.
Since detergents are designed to attract, bind, and remove oils, those things need to be replaced or the hair will feel stiff or dry. More than that, your body makes oil because it is necessary to protection. The absence of oils leave the cuticle open and prone to damage. It will be clean, but it can be limp, or dull, or frizzy, hard to comb or detangle, and vulnerable to damage while you are working with it. This is why conditioning agents are included in most shampoos. These ingredients replace what was removed by the surfactants. Shampoo is also going to have buffers in it to keep the ph at or below neutral. Ph above neutral will damage keratin fibers in hair, compromising it or making it weak. There will be other ingredients that boost sudsing, or add pretty smells or appearance, and make it thicker too.
All in all, shampoo is designed to remove what you, your body, and the world put on your hair. Removing the ‘dirt’ is also going to remove the protection, so ingredients are included to offer the protection back to your strands, keeping them looking great and adding manageability to your tresses. That is essentially what shampoo is designed to do.
Proper shampoo practice makes all the difference. I always educate my clients to lather 2 times. This isn’t a ploy to make you use your product up faster. What 2 lathers do is give your strands a thorough and effective cleansing that is gentle. The first lather breaks up product, and residues, then the 2nd lather migrates them away and down the drain. Doing 2 lathers can even make your product last longer, believe it or not. You see, in order to get a good lather going on dirty hair you will many times need to use a much larger portion of product, because hair that is dirty or oily is not going to lather up well. When you lather 2 times, alway use a small amount, perhaps 1/4th or 1/3rd of your normal portion. Like I mentioned, Dirty hair doesn’t lather well, and it always takes more product to get the suds happening on a single lather wash regimen. Knowing that lather isn’t what does the cleaning means that you know the shampoo is working even without those bubbles, and it is breaking that product and gunk up for you. Then on the 2nd lather you will use perhaps 1/4th or 1/3rd of the single potion amount and get much greater sudsing from the smaller amount. You’ll also get that better cleaning action to boot, so win win, right? It does take some time for the cleansers to do their job. I think it is important to lather for at least a minute each time you apply shampoo. You want to focus on scrubbing your scalp, and squishing or sliding shampoo over the lengths. Don't vigorously rub your hair strands with shampoo, unless you like doing a lot of detangling with a comb. Rubbing makes you cuticle like velcro and your hairs will not glide past each other.
Even after careful, gentle shampooing, your hair can feel rough and tangle easily. This is from the loss of the natural oils your body works so hard to produce for your hairs protection. Even though shampoos, have conditioning agents in them, it is important to use a conditioner after shampooing. This will calm and soothe that rough feel on the strands.
How conditioners work
What conditioner does is smooths out the outer layer, the cuticle, of your hair strands. The cuticle is a layered scale-like coating on the exterior of your strand that offers protection to the interior structure called the cortex. You cuticle can be several layers deep. The scales are made of keratin, and need care to remain healthy. All the things you do to your strands are not helping in the health department. Heat from dryers and irons, chemical processing to change the color or shape, brushing, combing, styling, the environment, daily wear and tear, wind from the motor cycle, boat or convertible ride, all contribute to damage to your hair and its cuticle. Conditioners help restore the appearance of health and vitality. They don’t actually make hair healthier or repair damage, but they can help protect your strands from further damage by reducing friction and stress because the conditioner makes your hair more slippery. Your strands will slide past each other much more easily.
You see, over time and with wear and tear, the scales of the cuticle begin to fray and catch on each other. I like to use an analogy of ‘velcro’. Your hair doesn’t actually turn into velcro, but the visual is apt. This fraying changes the ability of your strand to reflect light and how shiny your hair looks, making it dull in appearance. The fraying also affects how well the strands can lay together, which causes frizzy looks, and even breakage.
What conditioner does is applies substances to the outside of your hair strand, and uses chemical and ionic attraction to change the shape of the cuticle, fill in gaps, and tighten the cuticle scales back down against one another.
Healthy undamaged hair doesn’t have an ionic charge. Once damage occurs hair gains a charge. Damaged hair becomes negative in charge. Conditioners contain ingredients that are positive in charge, think magnets, and create a smoothing envelope on the strand. The conditioner is also acidic in PH. Not like battery acid which would be damaging, but slightly acidic. Acidity closes things down, so conditioner is acid enough that the cuticle scales close down and contract more tightly together. This, along with the physical conditioning agents, is how the hair feels smooth again. The ionic forces are strong enough that the conditioning agents cling to the hair and remain there even after rinsing the conditioner out. They remain until you use a shampoo again and wash them away. If you aren't washing, or washing infrequently at best, this is how build up happens on your hair strand. It takes a cleansing surfactant to remove the ionic ingredients, waxes, resins, etc in conditioners. And yes, the ones you use have ingredients that are substantive to the hair and not removed by simply rinsing. Yes, even that one!
Just like in shampoos, there are different types of ingredients in conditioner. Some do the work, some moisturize, some add appearance factors, and some just make it look and smell great.
What all this means is, all conditioners are designed to coat the hair strand, leaving it feeling smooth and give it reduced friction between the strands with reduce damage potential. The ingredients make the strand feel softer and more supple, and along with the acidity of the product this helps your hair appear more shiny so it can reflect more light and look brilliantly healthy.
What conditioners do not do is repair damage, or add anything other than temporary changes to the outside of the hair strand. The coating conditioners leave behind create a strong protective layer for your hair strand that remains until the next time you wash your hair.
One thing to remember is that hair is already dead tissue. That being said, all that can be done for it is to cosmetically make it look better and deteriorate at a slower pace. We can give it the appearance of being more healthy, but we can not make it more healthy. The more you do to your hair, the bigger concern deterioration and damage is. This is why I have always looked for gentler, safer, more effective ways to change and care for the hair. Integrity of the strand is of utmost importance. Once damage happens, there is no going back. There just isn’t a way to resurrect the hair strand.
It takes some time for your conditioner to work on your hair. Conditioners contain surfactants, but these are not the same kinds you would find in shampoos. Shampoo surfactants are detergents, surfactants in conditioners make water wetter, true, but they do not have the cleansing ability like shampoo surfactants do. The surfactants in conditioner are designed to allow for the conditioning agents in conditioner to get onto and cling to the surface of your hair, with that ionic attraction we talked about earlier. This is why contact time is so essential when using conditioners. It can take 3 to 5 minutes for the helpful ingredients in conditioner to get to and onto the strands. So if you are applying, running your fingers through your strands quickly, then rinsing the conditioner off, you might as well just squirt it down the drain. It is going to do about as much good as quickly applying and immediately rinsing it out. To make your conditioner even more effective, use a wide tooth comb or a wet brush to work it through your strands while applying the conditioner. Using a tool will just about double the amount of hair strands getting conditioner on them.
Have you seen all the different ads talking about nourishing, repairing, or improving hair vitality that are everywhere right now? Do they seem misleading to you? Do you think to yourself, “Hair is dead, how do your repair dead?” It is true, hair is dead. Hair can not be repaired once damaged. It can be rehydrated, or temporarily strengthened. It can even be made to look more vital or healthy. That is what treatments are designed to do.
How treatments work
Hair Treatments are products that contain essential elements that are lost when hair is damaged. Some have protein, some have long lasting emollients and humectants. Some add shine or elasticity back to your hair. Others reduce the appearance of split ends or micro damage on the strands by filling or drawing (gluing) the damage together.
Proteins are known to add strength and structure to damaged hair strands to a certain extent. Amino acids have shown the ability to plug holes or gaps in the cuticle layers of hair strands, but it in not known if those things are replacing what is lost, or just filling the hole left there. At any rate, they can be put in and they also wash back out. That is why treatments need to be reapplied at intervals. Lipids or some oils are able to hydrate hair with longer lasting essential moisturizers, too. Split end menders cover or close the ends creating a repair effect on the strand and reducing or eliminating the appearance of split ends. That these treatments can be very effective is an absolute certainty. Continued use is needed to maintain the repair effect of treatments. Proteins and amino acids are washed off or out of the strand. Moisture is lost through the gaps in the cuticle, think pouring water through a screen door,… kind of. While the treatments are used, they will make the hair look better, temporarily. I do know of a few treatments that offer a repair effect that is permanent with continued use, and do not diminish over time with continued use. That is the glory of continued research and development. New things come out all the time because of it.
While it is true the you can not permanently heal your strands, you can definitely use treatments to make them look and feel better. When you choose the right treatment types at the right intervals, you can create repair effects that last and can be considered permanent.
There is no way to not have damage happen to your hair. Washing, drying, styling, the environment, pollution, the sun, wind, cold and hot temperatures, even water, all work negatively on the the strands. What you can do is keep it looking great by treating it better, and using products that offer protection to your strands.
Water is the elixir of life. The old saying is April showers bring on May flowers. It does make a body or plants healthy and vibrant. The same can not be said of water and your hair strands. Healthy, undamaged hair is waterproof. Think of a newly waxed car. When water hits it, the water just beads up and runs off the strand. It doesn't soak into the strand. When you step into the shower, and you wet your hair, you are not really getting your hair wet, just the space around your strands.
How water affects hair
The water ultimately should be on the outside and not soaked up into the hair strands interior. Hair that is processed or damaged is changed physically and often feels dry. We think of moisture and adding moisture when hair is dry, but moisture doesn’t mean a tall drink of water. Damaged or processed hair becomes porous, and acts like a sponge. What this means is it can soak up water and then lose moisture quickly. Alternately swelling and shrinking in size. Leaving hair dry, rough, stiff, even brittle. Think of what happens when you drop a sponge into a puddle of water, it soaks that stuff up and holds onto it, and also swells up right? That is where the bad really happens. Hair is made up of hard keratinized scales on the exterior. This is the cuticle. These scales are not designed to swell or change shape. When they do, damage occurs and the protection those cuticle scales offer diminishes, making the strand weak and vulnerable to more damage and breaking.
The composition of water can makes things worse. The majority of water in the US is hard and has a Ph above neutral, or alkaline. Alkaline is the side of the scale that hair processing works in to change the hair strand. Mix alkalinity with water and porous hair, and the resulting swelling magnifies, intensifying the damage potential to your hair. Once hair swells, and the cuticle raises up, it never returns to the original shape. What you’re left with is hair that is more prone to frizz, breaking, looking dull, and being difficult to control or style. That velcro analogy fits here again.
You can definitely reduce the amount of water that your hair takes up. Protect your hair from water absorption with a shampoo primer or pre shampoo oil treatment. This step doesn’t add much time to your morning routine, or evening, if you wash at night. Applying something like appropriate oils to your strands before shampooing can help hydrate dry damaged locks while at the same time put a water repelling shield on your strands keeping the water on the outside where it can do the most good and work with the surfactants in the shampoo. The surfactants are designed to remove oils and gunk, so during shampooing, your strands will be cleansed of the oils you apply leaving your strands clean, happy, looking great, and reducing the damage potential of water swelling.
Everyone has their favorite products that keeps their hair looking how they want it, and in place. I'm talking about styling products here. Your mousse, gel, spray, paste, etc. These are the little helpers that make your style perform for you.
What products actually do for hair.
Your hair products are designed to preserve the integrity of your hair, keep it looking great longer, or to restore the appearance of shine, vibrancy, and manageability after it has been damaged. Some products are going to do this better than others. Some products can actually degrade the quality of your hair strands. The trick is to find the balance that is great for your hair, and your desired goals for your hair.
You may use shine products to add that gleam back to the strands. Products with hold like gel or hair spray are effective for keeping you hair in place. Some stylers will offer memory instead of hold. I call hold the crunch factor, and memory the ability of your hair to go back to the shape you created with your iron after running your fingers through it during the day.
Most styling products, I'll go so far as to say all, have ingredients that require a shampoo to remove them completely. There are the well known ones like silicones, and resins, but there are more than the usual suspects. Natural waxes, or long chain fatty alcohols are often in styling products. These are typically not completely dissolved in water, so a cleansing surfactant is necessary for the job. Even natural ingredients can be very substantive to the hair strand, and will not come completely off without cleansers. This is a big reason I don't subscribe to the No Poo or cleanser free / shampoo free movement that is prevalent now. I'm not knocking it, it just isn't for me. It seems kind of like doing the laundry and only putting fabric softener in the washer. You can't get clean clothes that way, but that is an entirely different post. .
I hope you got some great value out of this post, and learned a bit about your hair and how your products are designed to work for you.