Monday, May 17, 2010

Chemistry of your hair: "Good condition"

The whole point of making our own hair care products is to keep our hair in good condition. This is a pretty subjective concept - my husband's definition of a good hair day is when his hair is bone straight while my definition includes his lovely spiral curls - but it's vital to how we perceive ourselves and our hair. We want our hair to feel soft, to move nicely, and to catch the light. We don't want to have split ends or stiffness. But we need a working definition that is less subjective. so let's take a look at how we can define hair that is in "good condition".

It's easy to comb in a wet or dry state. 
Combing forces are one of the mechanical forces that can trash your hair. Yeah, I know, my mom told me to brush my hair 100 times before bed, but this is one situation in which she was actually wrong (she also said acne and menstrual cramps would go away when I was an adult)! It will distribute the oils throughout your hair making it look nicer (or more oily, if you're a greasy girl), but the friction can break down the cuticle and lead to serious damage. When our cuticle is damaged, those little tile like cells can lift up and catch on other hairs, which leads to tangling.

If your hair is tangled, it doesn't necessarily mean it's in bad condition - situations like being in the wind too long or sleeping funny can lead to serious tangling - but it does mean you need to be more delicate when combing or brushing. Consider adding some cetrimonium chloride in your conditioner or leave in conditioner at 2% to help make it easier. (Reduce that friction!) Or consider using a softening type cationic like Incroquat CR.

As a thought, you can reduce the tangliness of your hair after sleeping by using a silk pillowcase (also good for reducing pressure on your skin) or by using a hair net or snood (that's such a good word), also during sleeping. And don't towel dry your hair - if you have long hair, wring it out to get rid of excess water; if you have short hair, turn your head upside down and shake it out!

When dry, it's free of fly-aways.
Fly-away hair is caused by too much static charge in your hair. When your hair strands don't move easily over each other - too much friction - the electrical charge builds up. (When they move easily over each other, the electrical charge doesn't build up. I know this seems obvious!) We can reduce the static charge by using a cationic quaternary compound (like Incroquat BTMS or cetrimonium bromide) in our conditioner, and adding something like Incroquat CR if you're really plagued by this problem. The quaternary compounds adsorb to the hair strands, which makes them more slippery and reduces the friction. Dimethicone is a great ingredient for reducing static charge - it makes our hair strands well lubricated and reduces friction greatly.

Some oils work well for reducing static charge - you don't want a low molecular weight oil that will penetrate your hair strand, so use something like olive, rice bran, or camellia seed oil that will form a layer instead of penetrating. Sal butter is looking very interesting for our hair as it contains the 18-MEA we find in the epicuticle of our hair. (Should you include sal butter in your products? Perhaps. The jury's still out as to whether or not the 18-MEA in sal butter does anything for your hair...but it can't hurt as oils can be a good thing for very dry hair!)

Your hair is lustrous and manageable. 
This is a really subjective one...what does lustrous mean? We all want that lovely shine we see on the commercials, but that isn't possible with curly or wavy hair because of light refraction (blame physics for that!). But we can have hair that is full of body, feels nice when you touch it, and does what you want it to do (It's bouncin' and behavin'!).

The flip side of good condition is damaged condition. What does this mean? Join me in about an hour to learn more!


Dorene said...

Hello! Thank you for your posts, they are really helpful

Anonymous said...

I think curly hair can have some shine to it, especially with hair that's been deliberately curled, or hair that has very large and very orderly curls. I think the biggest obstacle to getting naturally curly hair to shine is the uneven distribution of disulphide bonds, which as you mentioned causes uneven hydration and can also cause hair to form very disorderly patterns where the diffraction issue that you mentioned can come into play. That said, you're right about naturally curly hair tending to be way less shiny than naturally straight hair.