Sunday, May 16, 2010

Chemistry of your hair: Virgin hair

I'm using my husband as an example for this post as he has lovely hair that goes all spirally at the ends. He washes with a shampoo bar and conditioner bar and leaves it to dry naturally. We did highlight it once - about 10 years ago - so we could put some purple in it, but that's grown out now and it is untouched by any chemical or mechanical processing. 

Virgin hair is hair that has not been chemically processed - no permanent waving, bleaching, dying or straightening - and it is considered the base state for our hair. It has a hydrophobic - water hating - surface of those lovely fatty acids covalently bonded to the epicuticle. It can have a pH of as low as 3.67 (acidic), depending upon hair type.

We want to make all our products for a pH of 5.5 to 6.2 as this is the ideal pH for all hair types (even virgin hair)! 

The negative charge of virgin hair increases from the root to the tip - meaning cationic or positively charged conditioners will adsorb more to the tip of your hair than the top. The longer your hair, the more damage it has likely sustained over the years through weather and friction damage. The tips are especially susceptible to combing and UV damage (which is one of the reasons the tips of your hair look lighter than the scalp). When you comb your hair, it sustains damage through friction. Over time we destroy the covalently bonded lipids on the cuticle, which gives you that feeling of dryness no matter how much you condition! The removal of these lipids can lead to split ends and the exposure of the cortex (which we know is a bad thing from the post the other day).

Virgin hair doesn't necessarily equal healthy hair. If you have a ton of UV or weather damage or if you use things like a sea salt sprays (or go into the ocean and don't wash your hair afterwards) you will see damage occurring from the friction between the strands. If you don't use proper conditioners that are cationically charged (like Incroquat BTMS) or use products that aren't pH balanced for hair (like CP soap, which is alkaline), you will increase the friction between the strands, which will lead to more damage.

If you have long hair, by definition your hair is damaged. Years of exposure to the sun, brushing, washing, and getting it caught in doors and laptop cases (yes, this happens to me all the time) will help damage the cuticle and the fatty layer on your hair.

Virgin hair doesn't need a lot of work to keep it in good condition. You need to wash it with an appropriate surfactant mix for your hair type and condition it with a good, decent conditioner. Trim the ends regularly, and don't brush it a lot.

Join me tomorrow for the definition of "good condition".


Tipharah said...

Using apple cider vinegar rinse has become very popular recently. The pH level of Apple Cider vinegar is high. Is it really good for hair given the pH differences?

CaribbeanBlue said...

Dear Swift Crafty Monkey,

I've a lot of long (about mid-back length), fine, tightly curled and unprocessed hair. The only mechanical device I've ever used is the hairdryer (low heat, with a diffuser), and I wash my hair every three to five days.

I struggle with it being chronically tangled (root to end), dry and weak (lack of resilience, bounce and shine), structureless (even straightened) or fuzzy / fragile curls (but without static), and a lot of breakage.

Almost all my life I've lived in a dry-climate area with very hard water---250ppm, or 14.62 grains/gallon. (In the USA, 300ppm is considered "extremely hard" water.) I've always addressed the dense, wet and persistent tangles without aid of detangler or conditioner, while also using high-surfactant shampoos. I'm concerned I've sustained friction damage and other damage types as a result, on top of damage from hard water.

I've also several autoimmune issues which can leave my skin unusually sensitive (and possibly contribute to hair troubles), and which raise concerns about ingredients known to cause problems when ingested or inhaled, such as gluten and some VOCs. Adverse reactions to commercial products were a primary reason I began researching DIY alternatives. I can't tell you how much of a (near literal) "life saver" your blog has been!

So far I've discovered all the things you've recommended and warned against for fine and unprocessed hair hold true for me: cationic polymers "are not my friend", nor silicones, butters, oils, and other heavy coating ingredients. I've also discovered that low surfactant levels are indeed much better, and that using proteins in every product is helpful. (However, I've too little experience with humectants or small molecule proteins to comment on how they affect my hair.)

My father recently made me a water-softener, which has cut down on hard water issues. We've also made your "Cream Rinse with Various Goodies" (first using baobab, then keratin, protein and aloe vera), Amaze XT Styling Gel (using rice protein, omitting cationic polymer), and Daily Use Shampoo (omitting cationic polymer and dimethicone, using sulfoacetate / sulfosuccinate blend as the anionic surfactant, a combination of hydrolyzed quinoa and keratin protein, and adding EDTA and crothix).

All the products based on your recipes turned out very well, but some of my hair problems persist. While my hair is cleaner, not straw-like when wet, less rough once dried, less coated and actually has some shine (only since using EDTA), it's still incredibly tangled, weak / mushy, lacks curl form or retention, bounce, and resilience / strength, and seems somehow dry. I've experimented with different quantities of cream rinse, styling gel, and shampoo while washing; using a silk pillowcase to reduce hair damage while sleeping; exchanged baobab protein for keratin in the cream rinse; and multiple "mechanical" changes (e.g. when and how I detangle; more thorough conditioner distribution, etc.), but without improvement. I've noticed the more my hair dries, the curls lose their tight form and become straggly, structureless and mushy, etc. which contributes or even causes tangles. Using more than a little Styling Gel (about four nickel-sized amounts total) causes a coated-crunchiness that also contributes to tangles and other issues, and doesn't improve curl form or retention.

Do you have any thoughts on what may be causing the ongoing problems, and any suggestions of things I should try? Also, I was wondering, with very hard water, should EDTA be added to the cream rinse as well as shampoo?

I can't thank you enough for all your recipes and information---it's an incredible amount of hard work, all very well-written and good-humoured. I hope you recover from your back injury soon and have a wonderful Christmas,