By FAY BURNS
CUTICLE TALK – Long post so get comfy.
We have had a lot of conversations in the salon about breakage and hair thinning so I thought I would write a little bit about the structure of the hair.
There are many reason why hair seems to be dropping or breaking significantly.
*DISCLAIMER* Please be aware that medical conditions and medication can effect the hair also, we cannot advise you on that but we can arm you with information about your hair strands.
The hair is made up of 3 layers – the CUTICLE, the CORTEX and the MEDULA.
The CORTEX is protected by the cuticle layer, and the medula runs through the centre. The cuticle layer can be likened to a tiled roof, the layers overlap, protecting the cortex and medular layer. Just like a roof, exposure to extreme conditions can overtime damage the roof tiles. This visual reference can help you to understand how the way we treat our hair, can eventually effect its structural integrity.
The CUTICLE layers are tiles which when exposed to the elements will begin to degrade. The tiles in your hair strand are made of a protein called KERATIN, an organic matter which although very sturdy, can still deteriorate in the same way as your roof tiles.For the cuticle layer life can be rough when working to protect the cortex of the hair. Many everyday factors; heat, UV rays, water with a high pH level, sodium filled shampoos, long term application of peroxide hair colour can all damage the cuticle layer – and who hasn’t done most of those things?!?
The CORTEX within the CUTICLE layer contains the colour information in the form of DISULPHIDE bonds. This is the part of the hair which is changed when your hair is permanently (in some cases semi-permanently) coloured. Hydrogen peroxide is used in the colouring process to LIFT the CUTICLE layer (imagine the roof tiles) so the colour can penetrate the cortex and make the necessary changes to the hair. Picture a straw filled with sand – this is your CORTEX and the DISULPHIDE bonds. These DISULPHIDE bonds can also deteriorate over time if the hair is regularly colour treated (or permed – but we don’t have many of those these days) as everytime the DISULPHIDE bonds are treated with a chemical process – they are permanently changed.
The MEDULA – the MEDULA runs through the centre of the strand. The MEDULA is a like a thread which can contribute towards the thickness of your hair (amongst other factors). The medula has little relevance in hairdressing as it is not maintained or meddled with in the same way as the cuticles and cortex.
SO WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR MY HAIR!?!
Most hair breakage and split ends are caused by the cuticle layer deteriorating and/or damage to the cortex through every day elements and processing the hair.
You can test your own hairs POROSITY- take a hair strand, run your fingers up your hair towards the scalp, if your cuticle is damaged, your hair will feel raised and rough.
Once this damage has occured, I am sorry to say, you will NOT return your hair to how it once was BUT you CAN treat your strands like the gems they are until they grow out. Serums, hot oil treatments, and regularly rinsing of the hair with a product which helps the cuticles to maintain their natural pH level (acid cider vinegar is our favourite) can all be used to successfully halt further damage and to prevent the cuticle from raising further. You will quickly notice the difference. REGULAR trims will also stop the hair from looking dull and lifeless (but I would say that right?!)
If the hair has been processed with chemicals and appears to be breaking/snapping, an ELASTICITY test will determine if the cortex is damaged. This test checks the strength of the cortex. When the hair is wet, take a couple of strands of hair between your fingers. You should be able to lightly stretch the hair and watch it return to its original state – if it doesn’t – the cortex has poor elasticity and will be prone to breaking because the disulphide bonds are not connected in a healthy way.
IS MY HAIR BROKEN?!? (We all scream!)
Yes, to some extent it is but it is definitely TREATABLE!!! But as I said, the hair cannot be returned to its original state, not in a structural sense.
But DO NOT DESPAIR!!!
As with the cuticle layer, maintenance is KEY. Protein helps! Protein can act like temporary filler for the cuticles and in turn will protect the cortex if damaged.
Yes you can buy keratin based products on the market but we prefer to make natural hair food because then you can know what goes in! And you can add ALL the good stuff!! Avocados, bananas and chocolate are all protein rich and make amazing indulgent vitamin rich hair masks. Yum! Also for moisture coconut milk, oats, almond milk……the list is ENDLESS!!!
Thank you for reading, I hope it helps to clear up some myths around hair.
AND have you ever had a better excuse for spending the weekend covered in chocolate and coconut milk 🥥