From the time we are very young we learn to wash our hair when we get in the shower, rinse, and then slather in conditioner to help detangle and loosen snarls. And then repeat, shower after shower, for a lifetime. That is, until our hair can’t take it anymore or we start seeing unhealthy results without understanding why they are happening. Frizzy, dried out, tangled hair lacking in natural moisture, dull and lifeless. How did our hair get here?
The standard haircare routine that most of us learn as children, is not taking care of our grown-up hair. When we’re young, our hair is healthy, strong, and we have a seemingly endless supply of it growing inches per year, more than we can be bothered with. And certainly, more gorgeous than our carefree, young selves even notice. Ask pretty much any grown woman and she will tell you she has looked with envy at many a young person’s hair.
We would give a lot to have the hair of our childhood again. While we can’t turn back time, we do have the knowledge of understanding the biology of our hair and how it is affected by time, age and outside stressors. This knowledge gives us the power to preserve hair's health and integrity now.
CUTICLES WIDE OPEN
The hair cuticle itself consists of overlapping scales (keratinocytes), that do an effective job of resisting chemicals. These keratinocytes are much like shingles on a roof. Imagine if the shingles of your roof lifted in a wet storm, rain is able to penetrate into the rafters and if the shingles aren’t replaced, water will cause serious damage not only to the roof but to the structure of your home.
The cuticle cells (or “shingles”) of healthy hair, contain a lipid layer that includes a protective lipid called 18-MEA. The 18-MEA is responsible for the hydrophobicity (water-repellant properties) of the hair and also helps to keep the cuticle layer smooth and closed. When this layer is intact, hair is naturally conditioned, and there is a decrease in surface friction which serves to reduce tangling and helps hair to be smooth and shiny once dry. When this lipid layer is depleted through water, chemical, or heat damage, hair strands are more susceptible to tangles, frizz, and breakage.
In-shower conditioners fill in the damaged sites where the 18-MEA has been depleted, leaving hair feeling temporarily smooth and silky, but actually trapping water inside of the hair without being able to repair the damage that has been done. More harm is done than good.
The 18-MEA lipid layer is insoluble in water but is highly susceptible to damage when subjected to products and processes that use a higher pH. This can be shampoos and haircare products with a high pH in addition to highly alkaline chemical treatments such as perms, relaxers, bleaching and hair color processing. Heat styling can also damage the 18-MEA layer. All of these things can lead to a decrease in the lipid content of the cell surface, changing it from the state of hydrophobicity to a more hydrophilic, negatively charged surface. Add to that, exposure to repeated rough washing, unprotected drying, friction, and sunlight and the 18-MEA lipid layer can be critically damaged leaving you with porous hair. And porous hair absorbs water.
WHAT CONDITION IS YOUR CONDITIONER IN?
When you shower and shampoo, water causes the cuticle to swell and raise, allowing that water to penetrate into the cortex. Typical conditioners used at this stage, trap water in the hair, contributing to further water damage. In addition, they artificially coat the hair, filling in the gaps of the upraised cuticles without actually protecting or strengthening.
THE RIGHT WAY TO HYDRATE
Rethink tradition, it’s never too late to start a new one. And it’s never too late to take the best care of your hair.
Photo credits in order of appearance:
1. Cover image by @b.p.r.y via Twenty20
2. @b.p.r.y via Twenty20
3. @angie.mahlke via Twenty20
4. @tonefotografia via Twenty20
5. AQUIS team
6. Meg Stone @meg.b.stone
Comments will be approved before showing up.