Laura Lee's Guide to Going CG
Understanding Dew Points
Live Curly, Live Free
THE CURL WHISPERER
'Best' Product Routines
Color and Highlights for Curly Hair
Protein: Friend or Foe?
Tampa Area Naturally You
CUT IT OUT
Salons against domestic violence
LOOK GOOD...FEEL BETTER
For women in cancer
Curly Hair Basics
Over 65% of the world's population has
curly hair, yet many girls with curls straighten and damage their hair
with blow-dryers and flat irons rather than wear their natural curls.
Why? Because they are sick and tired of struggling with dry,
unmanageable frizz day after day, tired of bad haircuts from stylists
who don't know how to properly handle curly hair, and tired of spending
large sums on money on products that promise silky, perfect curls, but
only let them down time and time again. No more dealing with their
"problem hair," they vow, so they resort to straightening it―only to end
up damaging it further. It's a vicious, never-ending cycle.
Curly hair in and of itself really
isn't the problem, however. The vast majority of curly hair problems are
due to improper haircuts, bad styling products and ineffective styling
techniques. As impossible as it may sound, when you have the right cut,
use the right type of products, utilize the proper styling techniques,
and understand the basics of curly hair, your curls will seem to
magically change from frumpy, out-of-control frizz to shiny, healthy,
frizz-free curls almost immediately.
Let's start putting this together to
understand how it all works by first focusing on a few hair basics:
What is Hair?
Hair is actually a nonliving fiber made
from a protein called keratin. Keratin, in turn, is made up of long
chains of amino acids created from what are known as the COHNS elements:
carbon, oxygen, hydrogen, nitrogen and sulfur. These chains are linked
together end to end like beads and are also cross-linked together by
what are known as side bonds. These bonds are responsible for the
strength and elasticity of the hair strand of which they are a part.
Each hair strand is made up of three
parts: the cuticle, the cortex and the medulla. The medulla is the
innermost layer of the hair; however, not everyone has one and it is
most commonly found only in thick, coarse hair. Since the medulla is
considered unimportant when it comes to hair services, we'll only be
paying attention to the cuticle and the cortex.
The cuticle is the outer layer of hair.
It is not one solid layer, but instead is made of individual scales that
lay against one another just like roof tiles. The cuticle of a healthy
hair strand will lie flat and protect the inside of the hair shaft
against damage, as well as keep moisture in your hair where it belongs.
Learning how to keep the cuticle of your hair shut is one of the most
important things you can do to keep your hair healthy, moisturized and
The cortex is the middle layer of the
hair shaft (for many, it is also the innermost layer of hair for those
who don't have a medulla). The cortex itself is responsible for
approximately 90 percent of your hair's total weight; additionally, the
natural color of your hair is determined within the cortex by a pigment
known as melanin. The permanent chemical changes that take place in your
hair due to permanent haircolor, texturizing, perming, straightening or
relaxing take place within the cortex.
The pH Scale – What It Is and Why It Is Critical
to Curly Hair Care
The pH scale is what we use to
determine the acidity or alkalinity of a substance. The scale ranges in
value from 0 to 14, with 0 being the most acidic and 14 being the most
Pure water carries a pH of 7 or
“neutral,” so anything below 7 on the scale is considered acidic and
anything above 7 is considered alkaline. So why is that critical for
curly hair? Remember when I said learning to shut your cuticle is one of
the most important things you can do to keep moisture inside your hair
shaft and help to keep the frizz at bay? Acidic solutions are what shut
the cuticle and keep the hair from damage, while alkaline solutions open
the cuticle to let anything invade the cortex. That's why choosing
the right products and learning how to use them properly makes
all the difference in the health and appearance of your curls.
Here's an example. Your hair ranges
between 4.5 and 5.5 on the pH scale. Technically, that means even the
act of putting pure water on your hair is damaging all by itself because
water is naturally more alkaline than hair. That's why you hear so much
talk about “acid-balanced” shampoos and conditioners, or why rinsing
with apple cider vinegar (pH value 3) or lemon juice (pH value 2) can be
so effective. Acid-balanced
solutions, when used while cleansing your hair, bring your hair back
into balance and shut that cuticle back down!
While the difference between 5 and 7
might not seem like a big deal at first glance, it is important to note
the pH scale is what is called a “logarithmic” scale: each change in
number means a tenfold change in pH. So, according to the scale, lemon
juice at a pH of 2 is actually 10 times more acidic than vinegar at a pH
of 3. And that means water is actually 100 times more alkaline than
hair. Looked at in that way, it all of a sudden becomes a very big deal
indeed. Understanding how pH works and how you can manipulate it to your
advantage will help you in keeping your curls healthy and frizz-free.
What is Hair Texture?
Simply put, your hair texture is
determined by the diameter of the hair strand itself. Fine hair has the
smallest diameter, coarse hair has the largest, and medium texture is
somewhere in between. Your hair texture plays one of the most important
roles in how you should care for your curls, not only through daily
maintenance, but also when considering any chemical services such as
haircolor or texturizing.
Let's take a closer look at the
different types of hair texture:
Fine hair can appear very limp or
flyaway and does not hold a style well. It frequently seems dry, when in
fact it is quite often over-moisturized. It is very easy to over-process
and is quickly damaged by chemical services if great care is not taken.
Products with a lot of humectants and emollients should be avoided in
favor of those with protein, which acts as a strengthener and gives fine
hair the strength and structure that Mother Nature did not.
Medium hair is what is considered
“normal” hair, meaning it has a mid-range texture. It does not require
any special considerations for chemical services and usually processes
normally. Undamaged hair with a medium texture can generally support
products with a wide range of ingredients, although it is usually
advisable for those with a medium texture to avoid protein in
penetrating products, i.e., conditioners, deep treatments, etc.
Coarse hair is much thicker and
stronger than fine or medium hair, but typically does not bend and
cannot hold a style well. It is also often dry and brittle, due to an
overabundance of protein. Coarse hair is much harder to process and is
often very resistant to chemical services. Products with a lot of
protein should be avoided in favor of those with humectants and
emollients, as protein adds strength to an already abundantly strong
hair strand and can cause a dry, hard, "broom straw" effect.
your texture: hold a single strand up to the light.
Does the hair
strand look delicate, a bit insubstantial, somewhat translucent, and
seem almost as if it's "barely there"? If any of these characteristics
fit, the hair texture is most likely fine.
Does the hair
strand look thick, wiry, and sturdy? Does it seem substantial and
strong, with a very definitive presence and a distinctive lack of
suppleness? If so, the hair texture is most likely coarse.
Does the hair
strand seem somewhat solid, but not overly thick? Does it have some
substance to it, but is still fairly supple? If so, the hair texture is
most likely medium.
remember it is quite possible to have hair of varying textures all over
your head―texture isn't always a "one size fits all" kind of hair
There is one exception to the rule and
that's for hair that's been lightened or bleached. When you put bleach
on your hair, you blow holes in the cortex that look just like potholes.
It doesn't matter how “healthy” your hair feels after your lightening
service―that only means you've been what we call properly
Every time you get lightened, you need
to have a protein reconstruction treatment to fill in those holes, no
matter what your hair texture. If you have coarse hair, however, one
good reconstruction immediately after the service will probably do the
trick, considering you naturally manufacture an overabundance of protein
within your hair shaft anyway. Those with fine hair should consider a
series of treatments to keep their hair healthy.
What is Hair Porosity?
Porosity refers to the ability of your
hair to absorb moisture and is determined by the state the cuticle of
your hair is in. Porosity is a critically important factor in
determining curly hair care since moisture
is what shapes and defines our curls. If you don't know your hair's
porosity, you won't be able to make the best product and maintenance
routine choices to maximize the amount of moisture your curls retain.
The existing "curl classification systems" never seem to mention
porosity in their categorization process. Odd, considering lack of
moisture is one of the biggest causes of frizz, the demon of Curly
There are three different
classifications of porosity:
Low porosity is when the cuticle of the
hair shaft is too compact and does not permit moisture to enter or leave
the hair shaft. Hair with low porosity is much more difficult to
process, is resistant to chemical services, and has a tendency to repel
product rather than absorb it.
With normal porosity, the cuticle is
compact and inhibits moisture from leaving or entering the hair shaft;
however, it allows for normal processing when a chemical service is
performed and will readily absorb and retain product properly formulated
for this hair type.
Hair with high porosity, also known as
“overly porous” hair, has an open cuticle that both absorbs and releases
moisture easily. Overly porous hair processes very quickly and can be
easily damaged if extreme care is not taken when a chemical service is
performed. Although overly porous hair absorbs product quickly, it is
often dry as the open cuticle does not allow for product retention
within the hair shaft.
To determine your own hair's porosity,
grasp a hair strand firmly between your fingers. Slide the thumb and
index finger of your other hand from end to scalp (opposite direction as
for texture test). If your fingers "catch" going up the strand, or feel
like they are ruffling up the hair strand, your hair is overly porous.
If it is smooth, you have normal porosity. If your fingers move very
fast up the hair strand and it feels exceptionally slick, you have low
Why Hair Texture and Porosity
are the Keys to Understanding Your Curls
This is where the so-called "curl
classification systems" can be problematic. If Type 2 is supposed to
mean fine, wavy hair, what happens if you have wavy hair with a coarse
texture and high porosity? Or you have tight corkscrew curls often
wrongly categorized as coarse, but your hair is baby-fine (as are many
with curly hair) with really low porosity?
If you have wavy hair and follow the
routines and use the products normally suggested for this curl type, but
your hair is actually coarse and overly porous, you are going to end up
with hair like straw–plus, you won't be addressing the problem of your
high porosity, which blows product out of the hair shaft anyway.
If your corkscrew curls are fine and
you load them up with the humectants and emollients often recommended
for this hair type, your hair will end up a limp, stringy mess, assuming
you can get the product into your hair in the first place. It just
doesn't work that way.
Now that you understand basic hair
principles, let's move on.