We’ve all got the things we love to change about our hair. Blonder, Darker, Straighter, Curlier, ...how about one of my favorites, blonde, then back to dark, then nah, I wanna be blonde again! Flat ironing, curling, teasing, ratting, blow drying, air drying, high heat, Keratin treatments, shine treatments… the list is endless.
The great thing about hair is it tells our story how we want it told, and if it isn’t quite right in natural form, we can change it! Hallelujah for that. That alone allowed me to build a great career in hair. This is also where the vast majority of damage comes from. Basically what damage is is, the reduction or oxidation of hair. Like rust on a car, or fire burning up wood is oxidation. Oxidation alters the material it happens on. Sometimes the process is slow on hair, other times it is faster, although I’ve not witnessed a head actually catching on fire from oxidation.
How hair gets damaged
I think it is more important to know how hair gets damaged than it is to know what damage actually is, unless you are a hair professional, then both are equally important. For the consumer though, knowing what to do to avoid damage, and what to avoid entirely is more important in the scope of daily hair care and styling.
The big bad boys are Heat, Chemicals and mechanical force (rough handling) on hair fiber.
What chemicals do is swell up the hair strand on the inside, making the strand prone to water uptake and even more swelling. Even virgin hair swells, but processed hair swells up to 100% more than unprocessed hair. This swelling of the strand makes the cuticle scales on the strand stand away loosing the protective tightness. Some say ‘open up’, but it doesn’t work like that. There are no hinges on the cuticle so those scales can’t open up like a door would. It is more like post it notes on a balloon that you then blow up farther, creating gaps and spaces between them. When the cuticle scales are up like that, they are vulnerable to breaking, splitting or being removed from the strand.
You see, hair is naturally water resistant, it repels water because of a lipid (oil) layer. Water should bead up on hair strands like it does on a freshly waxed car. Chemical treatments remove this water repelling nature by dissolving the lipid layer that works like glue on the cuticle scales, which then allows for the swelling inside the hair strand. Once the waterproofing is gone, it doesn’t come back. You can add things to the outside of the hair cosmetically, but your hair never gets its natural barrier back. Once it is gone it is a matter of managing damage and being more gentle with your hair to slow the ongoing degradation that will occur.
Heat is another thing that is not a friend of hair. Appliances like blow dryers, flat irons and curling irons have gotten hotter and hotter over the years. We love to have the latest, strongest, fastest thing, and crank it up on high. Everything is about speed and ease. Well, hair doesn’t need 450 degrees, it hates it in fact, and when you use your tool on high, you are singeing your hair. You want to treat your hair like it is a prized delicate fabric that you don’t want to ruin, because it is precious and you don’t want to ruin it!
Heat protectant is all the rage right now, and with good reason. Tools are hotter than ever before. People are busier than ever before and are using every advantage to shorten time frames on tasks. High heat and fast styling are happening in bathrooms all over the place. So heat protection is a must. Some are great, some are great traps.
What heat protection does is slows the transfer of heat from your tool onto and into your hair strand. SLOWS it, it doesn’t stop it, it doesn’t cancel it out, it slows it. And if allowed to fail, all that slowed heat is immediately transferred into your hair strand. I recently saw a great analogy for this on a blog. I am embarrassed to say that I didn’t take good enough notes to give proper credit to the person who came up with it, so disclaimer, I got this from someone else! It is just too good not to share though.
Imagine heat protectant for your hair as if it is an oven mitt for your hand. Some oven mitts are thick and clunky, others are silicone and thin, and then there is the OVGLOVE. Remember that infomercial? What the heck was that one made out of, asbestos?
You want your hair heat protectant to be thin and not clunky, that is why silicone has been so popular.
Photo via Livestrong
When you reach in and grab that 450 degree casserole with bare hands, what happens? Yeah, let’s not do that. Now put that mitt on and grab ahold. Safety! Your hand is protected. But for how long? You hustle to get that dish to the hot pad right? You can feel the heat coming through before you get it to the counter. What happens if you keep holding onto it? The heat comes right through and burns you anyway, right? How about when you put the mitt down, it stays warm for a bit doesn’t it? Maybe you get out a different mitt to use if you have more than one dish to get out of the oven?
The same thing is happening with your hair. Your protectant got hot, it is holding heat, you need to let it cool down, instead you keep plough onward, just apply more heat immediately in a second or third or fourth pass. Give the heat a chance to dissipate a bit, let your hair cool between passes. If you don’t you are still giving yourself heat damage.
Forceful and rough handling of your hair is another way to create and increase damage to it. Harsh brushing and pulling out of tangles stretches, weakens, and breaks your hair. Too much friction while you wash it and towel dry it damages and causes frizz. Overworked hair is as frazzled as you are when the boss is creating a bunch of friction for you at your job. You want your boss to be more considerate and caring, well, your hair is begging for the same from you! Ensure better hair health and protect already damaged strands with more gentle handling of your hair. Better practices are quite simple, and do not take much extra time. You know what does increase the time it takes to work with your hair? Damage. Damage dramatically increases dry time and styling time on hair.