By Audrey Sivasothy, author of Hair Care Rehab
Do you find random hairs in your comb, on your shirt, on your sinks and on your bathroom floors? Are you finding hair everywhere but securely upon your head? What is going on? You may have a problem with hair breakage. For black hair in particular, hair breakage is typically a result of an imbalance of important forces within the hair strand: moisture and protein levels.
Hair needs water to maintain its elasticity, or ability to stretch. Since water is the ultimate moisturizer, water-based products are best for really getting the greatest moisture benefit.
Moisturizers are simply products that are water-based and nourish your hair deep within the strand. Products with moisturizing properties tend to be your conditioners and other specific moisturizer sprays or creams. Moisturizers may also contain large amounts of protein, but these protein based moisturizers do not have the moisturizing benefit that moisture-based moisturizers have. Check labels to gauge protein content. Good moisturizers will not contain cheap, filler ingredients like petrolatum, mineral oil, or lanolin. Avoid products that claim moisturizing benefits and contain these ingredients. There is nothing moisturizing about them! Petrolatum and mineral oil are sealants that seal out the precious moisture our hair needs.
Sealing in your Moisturizers:
Our hair naturally contains moisture, but because our hair is also naturally porous, keeping the moisture inside is a difficult task. Providing additional sources of outside moisture, or external moisture supplementation, is a must for black hair care. Water molecules and moisture from these supplemental moisturizing products easily pass into the hair shaft, but they pass out just as easily. The moisture you apply needs to held in by something. Oil.
A light coating of oil after your daily moisturizer will help seal the moisture inside. Oils are made of large molecules. These molecules are too large to absorbed by the hair strand. Applying oils to the hair and scalp will coat them and trap the moisture that is inside on the inside and the moisture that is outside on the outside. The key is to use the oil to “lock in the moisture.” If you use oils without a moisturizer or before one, the oil will seal the moisture out of the hair strand and lead to a coated feel and eventual dryness. This technique of moisturizing and sealing has really been helpful to me and is a resonating hallmark of my regimen. Fighting hair breakage and achieving moisturizing success is all in the order in which you apply your products.
REMEMBER! Oils DO NOT Moisturize
Perhaps a words like “nourish” would be better than moisturize. Oil alone will not and cannot moisturize within the hair shaft. An oil (grease) can only coat the outside of the strand, and give it shine- the illusion of moisture. Oil molecules are hydrophobic which means they repel and do not readily mix with water. Remember, if you apply an oil product to your hair before you have added a moisturizing product, you have created a seal on your hair strand that water and moisture cannot penetrate.
Protein is what gives the hair its strength and structure. Hair is about 70% keratin protein by nature. There are a wide variety of proteins that serve different functions and roles in hair care. Some enhance elasticity, while others reduce it. These proteins bind to the hair cuticle and help temporarily rebuild any weakened areas. Protein-based products reinforce the hair shaft, and help it remain strong enough to fight breakage.
Some proteins are stronger than others, but daily or even weekly use of even the milder protein treatments may result in an imbalance between the protein and moisture levels within the hair strands in some people. This is where product percent composition really plays an important role. For example, every product that contains keratin protein is not going to feel the same way across the board, and every product that contains glycerin or water is not going to feel the same either! The protein in question could make up 30% of the product or 0.3%! Who knows! You have to play around with different products to know how strong they are on your particular hair. Your hair protein tolerance will vary from product to product, not necessarily protein to protein.
Protein is found most prevalently in products like instant conditioners (bargain brands like Suave and V05), leave-in conditioners, protein reconstructor conditioner treatments, and even some moisturizers.
Women with relaxed or color treated hair need more protein than others. If you are relaxed or color treated, those processes have compromised the protein structure of your hair. Relaxing and coloring breaks protein bonds, and depending on the type and strength of the relaxer, and level of bond breakage you incur, you will need more or less protein than someone else. There are also some people whose hair is more protein deficient by nature (genetics, low protein dietary intake), so they require more regular protein than others to keep the balance intact. At the end of the day, you must experiment and get to know your own head of hair.
You Can’t Have one Without the other!
The unique relationship that exists between the protein and moisture balances within the hair strand is not simply a case of balancing opposing forces one over the other to prevent hair breakage. These two components work together synergistically to produce a healthy head of hair, and neither can work well without the other. Keeping the hair balanced between these two entities is very important. Protein loss from chemical treatments is almost always followed by a moisture loss of some degree. Hair that is properly proteinated absorbs moisture more efficiently because water molecules bind easily to a sound protein structure within the hair. Achieving the proper balance involves using the right combinations of protein and moisture based products for your hair type. Consider the following scenarios:
Scenario 1: Kim’s hair is breaking like crazy and feels like a brillo pad. It is just plain crunchy and dry! Every time she touches it, pieces seem to just pop right off. Snap, crackle, pop. Combing is impossible without tons of little hairs covering her sink and back. Her hair feels hard and rough even when wet. She’s given it protein treatments because the product says it is supposed to stop breakage in its tracks and rebuild the hair. But so far, nothing is working and her problem is getting worse.
Scenario 2: Trina’s hair is breaking like crazy as well. Her hair feels dry, looks dull, and is very weak. Her hair is too weak to withstand simple combing. It feels extra stretchy when wet and almost follows the comb as she pulls through to detangle. Her hair is just limp and has no life. She’s deep conditioned and done hot oil treatments on her hair once a week. Since her breakage began, she has stepped up the conditioning but her problem has gotten worse.
Same Problem- Different Solutions
Both of these women have issues with hair breakage, but the solutions to their individual problems require two very different approaches. The two scenarios above perfectly illustrate what happens when the balance between protein and moisture is tipped too far in either direction. This article will teach you to effectively recognize the difference between protein based and moisture based hair problems and help you can organize your hair regimen to effectively combat these issues as they arise.
We will bring you part 2 very soon! In the meanwhile, let us know: Do you actively try to balance protein and moisture in your hair? How do you do this?
Audrey Davis-Sivasothy is a Houston-based freelance writer, publisher and longtime, healthy hair care advocate and enthusiast. Sivasothy holds a degree in health science and has written extensively on the science of caring for hair at home. She is the author of “Hair Care Rehab,” (www.haircarerehab.com)