The shine of your hair depends on the condition of the cuticle. Made up of transparent keratin, the cells of your hair’s cuticle should form a clear, flat surface that refracts light, making your hair look shiny. But in order for these fish-scale-like plates to lie flat, the cuticle has to be healthy and contracted. This means that the imbrications – the natural shingles of the cuticle – need to be closed. When they are closed, your hair is protected from much physical and chemical damage and light catches it beautifully.
Many things can disrupt the cuticle and lead to the opening of the imbrications: very alkaline shampoos, for instance, which make the hair shaft swell. The swelling pushes out the scaly cells, making them stand away from the shaft. Very strong alkaline substances such as perm solutions and bleaching agents can even dissolve some of the cuticle, leaving holes and tears in it, which makes your hair look permanently dull.
Damage to the cuticle can come from physical causes too. For instance, too much heat on the hair from careless blow drying, teasing, or back-combing, and overexposure to the sun. To have shiny hair, you have to be particularly careful not to damage it from the outside. There are some things, however, that help restore a smooth cuticle to hair: mildly acidic substances, for instance, such as vinegar and lemon rinse or one of the proprietary conditioning treatments, all of which shrink the hair shaft and encourage the imbrications to close and the cells to lie flat. For most women they are far better than conditioners you can buy since they don’t build up on the hair surface or weaken the hair over a long period of time. Simple rinses will also strengthen the keratin. The natural oils secreted from the follicle which coat the outside shaft also help the hair look shiny. Provided, that is, that you wash your hair often enough. Oil left on hair for too long tends to accumulate dust and dirt on the shaft which quickly destroys shine.
How much flexibility and bounce your hair has is also something that can be determined by how you look after it from the outside. It depends on the water content of each shaft. Healthy hair has enough water in it to keep the keratin in the hair shaft supple and firm, so that your hair will stretch without breaking, keep a style well, and feel silky. If the hair’s water content becomes depleted from exposure to too much heat or the sun or a very alkaline shampoo, then it will become brittle, break easily, and refuse to hold a style. Another dehydrator is chlorine in swimming pools. Conditioners containing silicone can help coat the outside of each hair shaft to keep it from drying excessively. But the best insurance of all is simply keeping your hair away from too much heat and from chemical desiccators.
the craft of hair care
To be beautiful your hair has to be kept clean, well cut, brushed, and protected from external damage. It also needs the benefit of regular massage to ensure that circulation to the follicles in the scalp is good.
There are two types of shampoos: those containing soap and those that are artificial detergents. Most, these days, are detergent-based. The reason for this is that while soap is good for cleansing away old hair spray, dull oil, and epidermal debris, it tends to leave scum, particularly in hard water. Also, modern detergent shampoos do more than just clean. They contain other chemical ingredients, which impart cosmetic properties such as shine and manageability to hair. If your hair is short and you live in a soft-water area, you can probably get away with using soap, provided you use a conditioner afterwards. These days they come in many forms: pastes, clear liquids, cloudy lotions, and gels, and also with special ingredients such as herbs, protein, balsam, eggs, and lemon. But whatever their form, most shampoos are put together from the same basic chemicals. First there is the detergent itself to do the cleansing. Then there is a sequestering agent, which is a chemical that traps the minerals in hard water (such as lime) so that the shampoo lathers well and rinses away easily. Most shampoos also contain foam builders to increase their lathering abilities, plus either clarifying or opacifying agents, which do nothing for your hair but render the product either clear, cloudy or creamy depending on what manufacturers think will best appeal to the market. And, of course, all shampoos contain preservatives to keep their ingredients from spoiling.
Conditioners are added to most shampoos nowadays. They vary from one formula to the next, but they include ingredients to eliminate static electricity from the hair when it dries, to coat the hair shaft with protein and thereby enlarge it making your hair look thicker, and to render the hair shafts slippery so that your hair doesn’t tangle when you comb it out. Shampoos become more and more sophisticated every few years in their formulations – a sophistication that is certainly to the benefit of your hair, provided you can find the right one for you. And provided you change the shampoo you use every few weeks. Apart from certain guidelines that depend on your hair type, finding the right one is mostly a matter of trial and error.
the question of PH
There is one more additive – not exactly an additive, rather a group of them – which is important; chemicals are added to shampoos to make them pH-balanced. Your hair, like your skin, has an acid mantle, with a pH from 4.5 to 5.5, made out of the natural oils from the follicle. This acid mantle plays an important protective role keeping the imbrications of the cuticle from opening and the hair from becoming hard to manage, dull-looking, and vulnerable to damage. A shampoo that is pH-balanced, that is which is slightly acidic so that its pH is about the same as your hair’s, helps to maintain the hair’s strength and health. If it does not say “pH-balanced” on the label, you can check it with litmus paper.
Alkaline shampoos disturb and disrupt the acid mantle, causing the tiny scales of the cuticle to open and the hair shaft to swell. Using a pH-balanced shampoo is particularly important if your hair is fragile, permed or colored. If your hair is strong and in good condition, then it does not really matter what kind of shampoo you use on it, provided you put a cream rinse or a homemade vinegar-and-water or lemon-and-water rinse on it afterwards. Since conditioners and rinses such as these are acidic, they will close up the imbrications opened by the shampoo, shrink the hair shaft back to its normal size and leave it looking shiny.
what kind of shampoo for you?
Lemon: These shampoos are especially good for oily hair, because they help remove the oil without leaving the hair lackluster and lank.
Balsam: This is a good ingredient to choose if your hair is very fine or lacks body. Balsam is a resinous substance from the bark of certain trees. In a shampoo it coats the hair shafts, lending them thickness and strength.
Chamomile: This is an excellent ingredient for blonde or light brown hair, since this flower has mild bleaching properties. If you use a chamomile shampoo regularly it helps keep light hair bright and shiny.
Herbs: “Herbs” added to a shampoo doesn’t mean a great deal, for many herb formulas (unlike chamomile) have no real action on the hair and are created only to appeal to women’s back-to-nature feelings. Some, however, such as white nettle, can be useful for dandruff.
Protein: Protein shampoos come in two types; both can be useful for hair. The first type contains a simple protein made from eggs, milk, soya, gelatin, beef, or an exotic vegetable called tong bean, which helps to coat the outer layers of the hair making the hair look thicker. Most protein shampoos are of this type. The second type does far more. Called substantive protein, the protein it contains is hydrolyzed and of the correct molecular weight and size to be absorbed into the cuticle, strengthening it at the same time as aligning its scales and thickening the shaft. This kind of protein shampoo is particularly good for use on treated, damaged, or fine hair. It is not so valuable on strong and healthy hair, for hydrolyzed polypeptide proteins are absorbed more rapidly by damaged hair than by a relatively compact keratin structure which does not really need them.
When buying a shampoo don’t worry if it does not give much lather since this is more a measure of the sequestering agent it contains than of its cleaning ability. It should have a good conditioning action to leave your hair soft and gleaming, and your hair should be easy to comb out afterwards. It should also rinse out easily.
How often you shampoo depends on you and on the type of hair you have. If it is dry, not more than a couple of times a week is best. If it is normal or oily you can shampoo every day if you like, provided you use a pH-balanced shampoo. However often you do, you need only lather once, unless your hair is really grimy. More than once strips away too much of the hair’s natural oils from the cuticle.
getting hair into condition
All cream rinses, conditioners, and treatments are on the acidic side of the pH scale. They are intended to close up the imbrications of the cuticle after shampooing and to shrink it back to normal size. In addition, a cream rinse should contain ingredients such as quaternary aluminum salts to separate the individual hairs and make them easy to comb out and to protect against static electricity. Finally, they coat hairs with an ingredient such as protein or balsam, which is supposed to give more body and protect the cuticle from moisture loss.
Some conditioners contain a large quantity of oil. They are fine for dry hair but will make normal and oily hair into a lank mop that needs to be washed again the next day or so. If you ever have this trouble with a conditioner or cream rinse then try one of the oil-free ones. They do a better job in adding body and protecting hair without causing lankness. Protein packs or concentrated treatments left on the hair for from five to twenty minutes (the hair will take up all of a substance it is going to in twenty minutes, so there is never any reason to leave it any longer) are excellent as an occasional treatment for hair of all types (say once a month or every six weeks) and exceptionally good for colored, permed, or damaged hair used once a week. They will strengthen and protect the hair and leave it soft and shiny.
But beware of over-conditioning. It is one of the worst and most commonly unrecognized causes of dull, limp hair. It also shortens the life of any perm significantly. Many women dissatisfied with the state of their hair keep using more and more conditioners in an attempt to make things better. Instead these products penetrate deep into the cortex undermining the strength of the hair shaft and causing hairs to split and fracture. If this is happening to you, use a gentle shampoo with no conditioners and rinse with lemon juice and water instead for a few shampoos.
style and setting
Because the keratin that makes up hair is a protein, like all proteins it can be treated with heat to change its shape. This makes it possible to curl, uncurl, shape, and mold your hair into a particular style by blow-drying it, by setting it wet and allowing it to dry, or by using heated rollers, straighteners or curling tongs on dry hair. The protein of hair consists of molecules arranged in organized patterns held together by two kinds of chemical bonds: hydrogen and sulfur. The hydrogen bonds are the weaker of the two. When you set your hair on rollers, or blow it dry while easing it into a particular shape, you break, then re-form, these hydrogen bonds to create a temporary new structure. But it is a tenuous one for water, heat, lots of brushing and time can break the hydrogen bonds again so that your hair returns to its former structure and you lose the new shape.
Sulfur bonds are strong. They can be broken only by strong alkaline solutions such as those of perms, straightening or coloring products. Sulfur bonds are broken and then re-formed when you have your hair permed, and the new structure formed through these changes lasts far longer.
The problem with breaking either hydrogen or sulfur bonds and then re-forming them is that most of the things used to style a head of hair, such as heat and alkaline solutions, are potentially damaging to it. They have to be used with care.
Blow drying is an excellent way to style straight or curly hair, provided you have patience and strong arms. If you have dry or brittle hair don’t blow dry it every day. Hot air can cause progressive, cumulative damage to the cuticle and, finally, to the cortex and medulla, too. If your hair is delicate, choose a dryer that is not too high in watts (1,000 is enough), as a high wattage may do the job faster but your hair will suffer if you are not extremely careful to keep the dryer far enough from the hair or to use the lowest setting. If your hair is heated above 150 degrees Fahrenheit (66 C), you can do irreversible damage to it, making it brittle, dry, and scorched. There are some protein-based lotions that you can spray on your hair to help protect it from the intense heat – these are specifically designed for blow dryers, and most of them are very good. But you still need to be careful.
Do your hair in two stages: First use the dryer on its own to get the hair almost dry all over, then begin styling with the dryer in one hand and your curved or round brush (made specially for blow drying) in the other. Keep the dryer six inches from your hair – which should be raised off the head at a 90 degree angle – and constantly moving. Section your hair into the sides, the back, the side back, and the top front, clipping each section and then letting it down as you need it. Begin on the underneath of one side and then work around the whole head, drying the hair section by section. Do the back first, the front always last, brushing and drying the hair against the direction in which it grows. This creates volume. Do the underneath layers first. When they are dry, bring down another layer from above to work on, constantly twirling the brush in the hair to get the curve and the shape you are after. Last of all, do the front or the fringe, brushing it back and then curving it over the forehead and finally brushing it into place. The art of blow-drying your hair yourself is something that takes time and a great deal of practice to learn, and it is important before you begin styling that your hair is almost dry or you will exhaust yourself in the process.
Setting your hair can be done wet on rollers or dry on heated rollers or the hair can be curled dry using curling tongs or a heated brush. A wet set will last you longest, provided you dry it thoroughly under a dryer or in the air. Heated rollers, if you have dry or brittle hair, are something you should not use every day for they tend to damage the ends of the hair. This can he avoided somewhat by wrapping each roller with a piece of tissue paper or toilet paper before putting it into your hair.
Never use heated rollers on wet hair – they won’t work. And never use a curling iron on wet hair or you may damage it badly. Always section your hair carefully when you are putting rollers in – the more rollers you use and the less hair on each the better and longer-lasting will be the style you get. A useful technique is to blow-dry the hair and then put in a couple of heated rollers at the front to give it extra swing and shape. However you style your hair, always let it cool before brushing out, or you will ruin the new structure of it.
brushing and combing
Brushing is good for hair, provided you have a good brush and you do not overdo it. It stimulates circulation of the scalp, removes loose scales from the skin on the head, and distributes your hair’s natural oils well, which means it helps protect the cuticles and creates shine. The brush you choose should have evenly spaced bristles with rounded ends. The best brushes for your hair are still made from animal bristles.
Nylon bristles have blunt ends, which can cause splits and cracks to the hair. Some brushes have bristles set in rubber. They are particularly good, for they give a massage to the scalp while you brush. About thirty to fifty strokes a day is good – more than that is too much, and with less you are not really doing anything. When you brush, you need to bend at the waist and brush your hair from underneath as well as back from the crown. The more positions you can brush from (leaning to the side, with head hanging down, etc.) the better job you will do.
Lowering your head while you brush back the side does something else, too. It brings circulation to the scalp in the way that the yoga headstand does. If your hair is long, don’t pull the brush through the full length of it. Instead, brush to the shoulder and then, taking hold of the rest of the hair with your other hand, pull the brush down the rest of the way to the ends. You should always brush firmly, but never drag. And you should never brush wet hair, for the disruption of the hydrogen bonds that comes with wetting makes your hair a great deal more susceptible to breakage and damage than when it is dry. Some women fear that brushing is going to take out too much hair. This is unfounded. You will only lose the telogen hairs, which are ready to be lost anyway, and their loss will simply stimulate new growth.
When choosing a comb, pick one with the largest teeth you can find that are blunt at the ends so they don’t scratch the scalp. Hard rubber, nylon, or bone are the best. Always comb your hair gently, never yanking or pulling at a tangle.
massage can be wonderful
Anything that increases circulation to the scalp and activates the papillae and follicles tends to make for sturdier hair shafts and to improve hair growth. Besides daily brushing, the best thing you can do for the hair is to massage the scalp. Many people have a genetic tendency to restricted circulation in the scalp, which shows itself in slow hair growth and poor-quality hair. Each hair root is fed by the complex vascular network in the scalp that brings nutrients and oxygen through the blood and carries away carbon dioxide and other metabolic wastes. When circulation there is poor, the hair root suffers. Waste products build up in the tissues so that the hair cells grow only slowly and may even die, resulting in thinning hair. This can be avoided (and often corrected, too) by scalp massage.
People with a tendency to oily hair can also benefit from massage. A healthy scalp is loose, rich in vascularity, and thick. The scalp of someone who produces excessive oil is usually just the opposite of this: tight, with poor circulation, and thin. Daily massage can do a great deal to correct this. The idea that massaging your head will make an oily condition even worse because it stimulates the follicles to produce even more oil is just not true. It is far more likely to help normalize trigger-happy oil glands than to stimulate them to further production. Many a too oily head of hair is put right by massage.
here’s how to massage
Using your finger tips and the palm of your hand just below the thumb, push them firmly into your scalp at the sides and, keeping them in the same place, rotate them in small circles. You will be moving the scalp, not your fingers, it is important that fingers stay in the same place to stimulate circulation well and so that you never pull your hair. After you have worked in one position for about thirty seconds, remove both hands from your head and take up a new position, rotating fingertips again firmly for thirty seconds there and so on until you have done your whole scalp. The massage shouldn’t take more than three minutes, and it will leave you feeling fresher as well as doing something good for your hair.
An electric vibrator is also a good investment for hair: Use it both on your scalp and on your neck and shoulders.