No matter what kind, colour, length or style our hair is one of the most important ways in which we express ourselves.
Hair is also the part of our bodies that we spend the most time on in the morning and often, it’s because it just won’t stay, we want it to look just like Nelly Furtado’s or maybe because the weather is causing it to have a mind of its own and we’ll do anything to try to fight it.
Believe it or not, often the reason why hair can be so frustrating to style is because of the way we treat it.
Did you know? Our hair is actually dead protein! Yes, the above fact is true, but not exactly like the protein that we eat when we have chicken nuggets or a hamburger. The protein I’m referring to is keratin. Keratin is made up of amino acids (the building unit of proteins), which are linked together in repeating units to form really long chains called polymers. It’s these polymers that make up the bulk of our hair.
But by now, you’re probably thinking, “if my hair’s dead, why do I need to take care of it so much?” Ahhh, but that’s all the more reason why we should be careful with our hair and put less stress on it!
One of the ways we can help reduce stress on our hair is to maintain our hair and scalp’s natural moisture balance. Here’s the low down on how the styling methods you asked about can affect it.
When we place any instrument of high heat near our scalp, some damage results to the fragile moisture balance to not only our scalp, but the hair itself. Most straighteners reach temperatures of over a 100 degrees Celsius! That’s hot enough to boil water, so think of what that does to your hair!
When the hair is heated, the cuticle (the protective covering of the hair) becomes weakened. This weakening effect is what allows it to be styled. But the heat can also permanently harm the cuticle, leaving your hair damaged in the process. Symptoms of damaged hair include split ends and a dry texture. Not good.
TIP: Shampoo AND condition your hair. While the shampoo rids your hair of the chemicals it is exposed to on a daily basis, conditioner is what helps to replace any lost moisture. So are chemical straighteners any better? While not using heat, chemically straighteners involve the use of harsh cuticle-damaging substances which in the straightening process, come into close contact with our scalp. As the scalp contains a vast amount of capillaries (really small blood vessels) that deliver nutrients needed to feed our hair, it is possible that the chemicals may also enter our blood stream.
TIP: Nutrition is important! Eating a healthy and diverse diet full of vitamins, minerals and sufficient protein will help ensure your hair is fed all it needs to grow…so eat your vegetables and meat!
Hairspray won’t entirely harm the hair, but excessive use, or not shampooing to cleanse the hair at the end of the day, can cause further damage the cuticle. If you are going to use hairspray, avoid ones that contain alcohol which will dry your hair. While you’re checking the label, also make sure the product doesn’t contain ozone-depleting substances such as CFC’s. Products that are CFC-free will be marked with an “ozone friendly” label.
So do your hair a favour and try to reduce the amount you use straighteners, both chemical and electric, and if you need to use hairspray or other products, make sure you shampoo! Here’s to more good hair days!
Bad things you can do to damage and stress out your hair:
Wash your hair too much: Your scalp and hair need a certain amount of sebum, or grease, to prevent flaking and drying out your hair making it weak. The time in between washes to have healthy locks is different for everyone, but in general try to wash every other day.
Use a brush to detangle wet hair: Detangle with a wide-tooth comb on dry hair. This method helps maintain the hair’s cuticle which protects the hair and prevents split-ends. Think of the cuticle as being like the case for your camera, it protects your camera from being damaged or broken. Brush too much. Although brushing does help distribute the good oils from your scalp throughout the hair, it can make it too greasy (which doesn’t look so good) and injure the hair, damaging that precious cuticle yet again.
Not get regular haircuts: our hair is healthier (and gives us those good hair days) when all the split ends and damaged hair is cut off.
Apply too much product: Too much “stuff” added to our fragile hair will not only weigh it down, but also leave our hair more susceptible to damaging the cuticle on the hair and our scalp.
Tight hairstyles: Braids are a good example. They pull the hair roots and can lead to hair loss and thinning. Yikes!
Sleeping with a ponytail: At night let your hair down, it’ll allow the hair to breathe and maintain relaxed follicles. Further, there is a system of capillaries and even veins that feed into the hair follicle, which is what nourishes the follicle to grow hair. If the hair follicle is aggravated, the capillaries are in turn aggravated and can even give you a headache! Using rubber bands on the hair. These are not gentle on our delicate hair; instead, use cloth covered elastics.
Sunshine and chlorinated pools: Just like we protect our skin from UVA and UVB rays by applying sunscreen, the same drying-out damage can be done to our hair if we expose it to sunlight too much. Chlorination from pools can also dry out our hair and scalp so wash and condition to maintain the cuticle and sebum’s strength.
Wikipedia on Hair
Proctor and Gamble on Haircare:
Want to see what your hair looks like magnified? Click to see microscope images of what your hair really looks like!
Cosmopolitan gives the perfect hair tips
Science Net Links: Better understand the chemistry of your locks!
Hair Styles – The Top 10 Hair Myths
Grey, John. [Online Resource]. P & G Hair Care Research Centre
Keller, Amy. 2004. Bring your hair back to life! Good Housekeeping, June 2004, Vol. 238 Issue 6, p170-173.
Meadows, Michelle. 2001. Are Hair Chemicals Safe For You? Consumers' Research Magazine, March 2001, Vol. 84 Issue 3, p19-21.
Santos, Nogueira; Ana, Carolina; Joekes, Ines. 2004. Hair color changes and protein damage caused by ultraviolet radiation. Journal of Photochemistry & Photobiology. May 2004, Vol. 74 Issue 2/3, p109-117.
Vermeulen, S.; van Rensburg, A. Jansen; van der Merwe, B.; Shalvoy, R.; Willford, S. 2005. The application of polymethylene waxes as conditioning agent in hair relaxers. International Journal of Cosmetic Science, April 2005, Vol. 27 Issue 2, p140-140.
Thanks to Sarah Rogers for her help and expertise in this area. Sarah is an environmental scientist who enjoys writing in her spare time to enthuse others about the fascinating world of science.