Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Long, Luxurious Hair : The Enemy

Before I begin discussing "The Enemy", I'd like to give a brief and blunt recap of Part I. Simply put, a person's hair will grow only to the length that their individual growth cycle allows. There is no product or technique that will extend your unique hair growth cycle. That being said, healthy hair should be the ultimate goal. The result of improperly cared for hair is breakage. Naturally breakage abbreviates the potential length of your hair. There are several culprits which negatively affect the hair growth cycle. Included are heat, chemicals and styling products. Here's why:

The most key fact in understanding "The Enemy" is knowing that by the time the hair emerges from the scalp, it is no longer alive. Consider a fresh flower arrangement. Once the flowers are cut, they are no longer receiving a continual supply of the nutrients needed to survive. As the recipient of the flowers, we do all we can to keep the flowers in bloom for as long as possible. We clip the stems at just the right angle, put them in water, add plant food, prune the leaves, etc. Similarly, our hair needs just as much TLC.

Heat styling can be both beneficial and counter-productive. The benefits will be discussed in Part III. When heat is applied to the hair, it breaks the hydrogen bonds (water molecules) found on the cuticle layer. The cuticle layer is then opened and the hair is able to be reshaped and maintains this new shape upon cooling. When water, in liquid or steam form, is introduced, the hydrogen bonds reform and the hair returns to its natural state. Excessive use of heat causes severe damage to the cuticle layer which will eventually lose its ability to "bounce back", thus breakage results.

The majority of American women have chemically altered their hair at some point. This includes permanent waves (perms/jerry curls), relaxers and permanent color treatments. Each involves the use of strong acids or bases which just aren't pretty for anything dead or alive. I'm sure I don't need to prove that, each of those treatments will cause chemical burns on the scalp if left on too long. Damage to the cuticle layer from these processes is inevitable. In the case of permanent color treatments, the product is meant to literally strip the cuticle layer until the desired color is acheived. Sounds painful!

Styling products are not such harsh villains, but they can cause significant damage nonetheless. Typically, mousse, styling/sculpting gel, holding spray, etc contain alcohol which can be very drying to the hair. Paired with the heat from a blow dryer, curling or flat iron, the hair shaft suffers a great deal of damage apparent by split ends and breakage.

Look for Part III where I will discuss how to fight the enemy yet still enjoy the styling we love.


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