Basically, she’s that friend you want to be good to or she’ll stab you in the proverbial back with her arsenal of frizz, breakage, moisture and color loss.
That cuticle is “where it’s at” and here’s more information as to why:
Like I had mentioned above, the cuticle makes up only 20% of the overall strength of the hair; however, that cuticle does comprise all of the protection of that other 80%. That means that if the cuticle is damaged, broken, split or exposed, it renders the rest of the hair vulnerable to the many elements that it comes in contact with every day.
There are many things out there declaring war on your cuticle. Three specific types of hair damage that we hairstylists look for when we’re checking out your locks, are:
Environmental - Smog, sun, wind, humidity and climate influence.
Mechanical - hot tools, brushes, elastics, blow dryers
Chemical - color, bleach, perms, relaxers
The health of the cuticle is going to impact what we should do with your hair but also what we CAN do to your hair.
Here’s the deal: Hair is dead.
It’s just fully keratinized (hardened) epithelial cells. That’s why it doesn’t physically hurt you when you cut it. Whether or not a haircut has emotionally hurt you is another story…. but I digress…
Basically, once that cuticle damaged or broken, that’s it. It cannot regenerate. All of that air, pollution and more can come on in and set up shop in your cortex and start tearing apart the other 80% of what makes up your updo.
How does this information or evaluation change what we can do in the salon chair?
Simple. Overly porous hair - hair that has a wide open cuticle or really damaged cuticle - will change the way hair color performs and whether we can allow it on the stage at all. It makes a difference on whether or not you need to cut or if we can do many other services.
When we apply color, bleach, perm solutions, relaxers and more, the highly alkaline processing parts of the formulas open the cuticle up. Those downward-facing shingles open like a pine cone so that we can pull color out, shove color in or change the structure of the hair altogether.
We, then, apply acidic (on the ph scale) products to close that cuticle back up to seal in your color or other desired results. Now, don’t fret… acidic is purely about its rating on the pH scale. We’re not applying caustic acid on people. That’s crazy talk.
There are, in fact, many acidic oils and other goodies in some fine hair conditioners. Avocado, Jojoba, Sweet Almond and other oils are acidic in nature and, thus, help that cuticle stay closed. It’s the reason why old school stories of using beer or vinegar on hair to create shine actually does happen. Yeast (beer) and vinegar are both acidic and the cuticle closes from their natural pH. Thankfully, many hair lines are now being made with great oils that help so we don’t have to smell like a bad night out or a salad to get some shine.
If you’re looking at your hair and it’s frizzy, guess what? That is an open cuticle you’re looking at. Remember the “pine cone” reference above? That’s what it looks like magnified. Those open shingles of protection cannot hold in moisture and color. They cannot protect the cortex.
Have you ever felt like your hair doesn’t want to dry? That the hair is holding onto the water more than you think it should? Those cuticles are crying out for the thirsty inner cortex. Listen to it.
In the opening quote from the International Journal of Dermatology, it mentions how the cuticle influences style (“disentangled state”) and appearance. Well, a closed cuticle is a happy cuticle.
A closed cuticle will be without frizz, have ample moisture distribution and protection and even have a more even color process throughout. A closed cuticle will bounce light off of it so we see shiny hair. A closed cuticle will also keep from tangling within itself. Imagine a bunch of pinecones together - they’re going to latch on.
If you’ve known of hair that tangles like crazy in the process of just shampooing it, you’ve got yourself an open cuticle and probably a fine texture, too.
So what can you do to care for your precious cuticle? Love it.
Have you ever heard someone talk about coloring their hair and they say that they "pull red"? This is why!
Product photography for Syd Justice Designs Jewelry
www.HairFacePhoto.com and www.PhotosForMedia.com
First off, understanding what frizz IS will help understand how to battle it.
The cuticle layer of the hair - the outermost layer - is made up of downward facing shingles - like shingles on a roof. These - when smooth - protect the hair, provide shine (light bounces off the smooth surface) and holds in moisture, color and more. Some people have lots of layers of their cuticle and some don't.
The cuticle becomes damaged through many things - heat and mechanical damage (flat irons or dryers), chemical damage (color / bleach) and also there are some heredity factors here - as those with curly hair have to deal with a more fragile cuticle which tends to be more open because of bends in the strand which make it curly.
When you understand what the hair is needing, it gets easier to understand how to fix it.
Control the moisture - That frizzy look is a cuticle open and losing moisture.
Layers - for the love of everything - curly girls, get layers. Long layers are great if you want it to be more seamless or you can get adventurous with stronger, box layers; either way, the layering of the hair allows those curls to lie naturally. If you have thin, fine, curly hair - go with long layers because the vertical cutting required to create the layers does remove the most weight. Keep the layers subtle. If you have the super thick curly hair, be willing to look into getting box layers - or a strong layering technique - to pull that weight out.
Layering is a vertical cutting technique (there's no such thing as a 3 layered haircut) and that removes the most weight from the hair. Remember - Vertical cutting removes weight while horizontal cutting builds weight. That's why - curly girls - if you've ever gotten a one-length (i.e. "Blunt") haircut, it looked triangular or "mushroom-like"...
Frizzy and straight? Go see your stylist for a trim and keep them up and add moisture. Those splits become like runners in pantyhose and will travel up the hair shaft. Don't pull your ends yourself.
Anything that is alkaline in nature will open the cuticle. Alkalinity is how we open the cuticle to put color in or take color out. It's also how perms and relaxers change the structure of the hair. On the PH scale, that which is acidic will do the opposite - it will close the cuticle. That's why some people have used cider vinegar and felt their hair was super shiny afterward - the acidic properties close the cuticle down and that shine is light bouncing off of it's freshly-closed goodness.
It's not great for moisture though.
Look for products that have things like Avocado, Almond, Flax, Hemp Seed, Safflower, Sunflower or Olive oil in them. Those are all acidic in nature and not drying like vinegar-type products can be. Also, your head won't smell like a salad.
Using sulfate-free products helps because the extra sulfates aren't there to add to the drying. Be sure to note that sulfate-free shampoos tend to not foam or "bubble up" as much as their sulfate-laden counterparts because that's one of the things the sulfates do is create bubbles. Believe me when I say: that does not mean that it's working better or more. Bubbles do not equal effectiveness.
Sulfate free products for shampooing and conditioning cut down on the stripping. You can also (if your hair tends to be dry) skip a shampoo or two and go for the rinse and condition, instead.
Just be aware that if you're a heavy spray / product user, you will want to clean that up on the regular.
Silicone-based products (like frizz ease) may work great but they are often misused. If you "must" use them, be sure that they always go on last because any conditioners or moisture or styling aids you put on after slip right off. Be sure to make that the last thing you do if you use them. I am a believer in finding something that doesn't have silicones.
Sleeping with a silk scarf over your hair is known to encourage control and moisture retention.
Just remember that it's all about the moisture so, if you're not a heavy spray / product user, you could get away with just rinsing and conditioning the hair. I like the usage of a leave in conditioner or a hair oil.
I prefer an oil that is more microblended and not too heavy for easier absorption.
Also be sure that you're "walking" the oil / leave in / conditioner up from the ends. Don't apply from the top down. Your scalp has it's own oils. The ends need it more.
Another product that you'd GREATLY benefit from is a hair masque. These are done weekly and provide extra love and conditioning that can help keep that cuticle strong.
If you straighten your hair a lot or blow it dry be sure to use a leave-in or heat protectant.
Naturally, if you have extensions, don't put these oils and conditioners on your bonds.
If it's humid out, be sure to put that moisture in so the cuticle isn't reaching for the air to get it. Molecules always move from greater to lesser concentration so, if the hair has what it needs, it won't look elsewhere and grow bigger and more unruly in the process.
I hope this information helps you love your hair like I do.
Dallas-based, licensed beauty professional, Sony photographer / Photojournalist, visual artist, wife, mom, breast cancer survivor... tired.