HEALTHY HAIR SCIENCE
The defining properties of beautiful hair
Shine and strength
Shine is determined by the even appearance of the outermost part of the hair called the cuticle. Cuticles are like fish scales and as long they overlap smoothly, the hair appears smooth and preserves its shine beautifully.
Cuticles get damaged by physical insults like overcombing, sun exposure and hard water. They can also get damaged by heating procedures like repeated blow drying, straightening, curling irons etc.
Chemical damage can also affect cuticles during colouring and keratin or cysteine treatments.
Shine can be enhanced or restored by the use of coconut based hair oils enriched with almond.
Strength of the hair
The amazing thing about hair is that it is one of the strongest substances known to man. The strength of hair in its natural state is tremendous, it is almost as much as a copper wire of similar diameter. In the normal, healthy state it takes a lot to break a strand of hair. And yet, hair breakage is such a common problem. So, why this contradiction?
The reason can be everything from hard water to harsh shampoos to pulling on the hair with straighteners, which tend to create weak points on the shaft, breaking the hair. Also, hair loses moisture and protein daily, and hence dry hair is also more prone to breaking easily.
What contributes to hair breakage?
The main things that contribute to hair breakage and reduced strength are moisture and protein loss from the hair and the kind of force applied on the hair. Pulling hair strands, applying heat to them and the use of many chemical methods of colouring and rebonding also contribute to chemically weakening the cuticle and medulla. It’s a bit like a metal pipe getting weakened by repeated rain, both by physical force and by rusting.
Texture is the variation of the intensity of a surface, quantifying properties such as smoothness, coarseness and regularity. When it comes to hair, it denotes two things, the physical thickness of each strand and the touch of the hair. So in essence, texture refers both to the density of the hair and to the feel of the hair. Texture of the hair, therefore, is commonly described as fine, medium or coarse. Fine hair is hair which has the silkiest feel when you touch it, least amount of thickness and density, most easily manipulated by styling and grooming and most prone to all kinds of insult and damage.
Medium hair is soft to feel, of moderate thickness and density, can be amenable to taking on most grooming procedures and is reasonably protected against normal insults and damage.
Coarse hair is rough to feel, very thick and dense, is least amenable to grooming styles and requires intense damage to manipulate it.
Knowing the texture of your hair helps you look after it better. The finer the hair, the less you must weigh it down and yet, you may be tempted to pump it up by using various volumising products on it. The coarser your hair, the more dry and dull it will get and hence, using the right products to nourish it is vital. Hence, judicious use of products to let your hair do its best also lies in understanding the texture of your hair.
The third important property in determining the beauty and health of the hair is the property of elasticity.
Elasticity is the ability of your hair to stretch and then return to its original length without breaking. It is an indication of how strong the side bonds are in your hair. More than any other property, elasticity is what dictates your hair’s ability to hold its natural curl, as well as its ability to be stretched and groomed.
Hair with normal elasticity can be stretched when wet to 50 per cent of its original length and will easily retract without breaking. Hair with low elasticity is brittle, will not return to its original length when released, and usually snaps or breaks easily when stretched. Hair with low elasticity also will not hold a curl from a wet set or a perm. Repeated over processing and excessive heat styling (flat irons, etc.) are the biggest reasons for low elasticity.
Porosity is the measure of the hair’s ability to absorb and lose moisture. This is determined by the condition of the hair’s cuticle layer and is rated as low, normal, and high. In normal, healthy hair, the cuticle is compact and balances the passage of moisture, both in and out, keeping hair normal and healthy.
When the cuticle is dense it prevents moisture entry and hair is of low porosity. It is harder to colour and perm and needs to be softened first. Aloe Vera, cactus and coconut based hair oils really help such hair.
Hair with damaged and open cuticles has high porosity, readily absorbs and loses moisture, becoming damaged and dry. Acid-balanced conditioning treatments are used to contract the cuticle layer and lock in moisture on overly-porous hair.
Paradoxically, hair which has had too many chemical treatments tends to be the most porous and needs damage control and damage repair, with coconut based hair oils enriched with cactus.
Protein Loss:. The most common cause of protein loss externally is use of detergents like shampoos to cleanse the hair. Nutritional issues like low protein diets and zero grain diets also promote protein loss. This in turn increases porosity, weakening the hair shaft and making the hair highly susceptible to breakages. Hair also becomes discoloured, lifeless and lacking in shine if protein loss is excessive.
Chemical properties of hair
There are various chemical properties of hair. It suffices to understand that the quality of protein or keratin in our hair is inherited, but we weaken it by our lifestyles. Eating protein rich diets with nuts like almonds, walnut and fish for the protein and omega 3 as well as a diet rich in vitamins can help minimise the damage and weakening of hair. Sulfur is another important chemical in our hair and sulphur rich foods like cabbage, broccoli, eggs, garlic and pulses must also be an integral part of your diet.
Hair colour is unique to every individual. Hair colour is determined by a substance called melanin. The type of melanin a person’s hair has is genetic and inherited from the parents. The hair gets its colour from two types of melanin that create the variety of hair colours we see.
Eumelanin is brown/black in colour and is the most common type of melanin. This form of melanin gives colour to hair in shades from black to brown. Phaeomelanin is red in colour and gives the yellow, ginger and red shades of hair their colour. A combination of eumelanin and phaeomelanin determines hair colour in every individual. In addition to melanin, there are two other factors that contribute to hair colour. They are the thickness of the hair and the total number and size of pigment granules. Heredity determines how soon our pigment will fade to gray.
The number of pigment granules naturally begin to decrease as a person ages. This is part of the natural aging process in humans. It is to be noted however, that some serious illnesses or emotional conditions may also cause the hair to gray prematurely. There is some anecdotal evidence to show that using coconut oil with cocoglycerides may help preserve hair colour for longer.
When we look at attributes of healthy, beautiful hair, it is very important to remember that hair is the most manipulated part of our body. We style, groom, colour, cut, heat roll, straighten, curl and do all kinds of things to it. All these can affect, alter and change a lot of things about our hair and must be kept in mind while assessing the qualities and attributes of our own hair.