Monday, March 21, 2016

Hard Water and Your Hair



Do you have hard water? The best way to find out if you have municipal water is to check your annual water report, where hardness is frequently reported. Your water treatment facility may also have water quality data online. If you cannot find hardness, give them a call and ask - but not just about hardness - ask about the pH of the water also! Why? Read on.
©Science-y Hair Blog 2016
If you use well water, find your location and hardness on this map from the United States Geological Survey (or your state or country may have its own maps) or consult a "water hardness map" for your country or region. 

Calcium and magnesium ions (an ion is a mineral with an electric charge) are the most common minerals in water. It is minerals that give water its hardness. Those minerals come from aquifers - porous stones through which water flows - or are picked up in streams and rivers.

I did some digging into a 2011 article published in the Journal of Cosmetic Science1 to find this information for you - I hope you'll be able to put it to good use.©Science-y Hair Blog 2016

Quick summary: Hard water minerals bond to hair in the same way that conditioner does. It also finds its way beneath the surface layers. The more damaged the hair (heat, highlighting, permanent color, relaxer, permanent wave, mechanical damage in very long hair), the more minerals will bond to it, but minerals bond to little-damaged hair too. Hard water minerals can create stiffness, inflexibility, brittleness and breakage, dullness and friction in hair. For low-porosity hair, hard water can exacerbate the low porosity behavior and make hair even more intolerant of conditioners and oils.

How does hard water interact with hair?
The short story is that hard water ions have a positive charge - they are cations. Elsewhere in this blog, I refer to conditioners that bond to the hair as "cationic" because they, too have a positive charge. Hair tends to have a negative charge along cuticle edges and in damaged areas. Because positive and negative charges attract - those mineral cations from hard water can bind to your hair!

Is it damaging? Possibly. Minerals that make your hair feel more stiff might reduce elasticity or at least flexibility and increase friction in your hair. Less-flexible hair is a cosmetic problem and makes hair products behave unpredictably. But friction in hair is something that can increase porosity as hairs rub against each other, breaking off cuticles and creating tangles.

Where do the mineral ions go?
They are found on the cuticles (the outside) but also in the cortex (beneath the cuticles) and in the medulla (the inner portion of hair).©Science-y Hair Blog 2016

What does "hard water build-up" feel like or look like?
That depends upon a lot of things. The pH of your water, the width of your individual hairs, the products you use in your hair, and whether or not your hair is chemically-treated (highlighted, dyed, relaxed, permanent waved). Hard water build up tends to make hair feel dry or less soft (more rigid). It may cause hair to look dull and frizzy. Some hair may get a brassy or reddish discoloration or grayish. If there is a substantial amount f iron in your water, orange shades tend to appear, especially in lighter-colored hair. Some people's hair will not grow past a certain length (i.e. shoulder-length) when their water is very hard because hair may become brittle with hard water accumulation.

Limitations of this study:
This study was done with "Caucasian" hair (non-Asian, non-African) hair. We also don't know the width of the individual hairs - probably between 80 and 90 microns.©Science-y Hair Blog 2016

What was done:
The hair was divided into study groups of un-treated (virgin) hair, lightly damaged hair (bleached a little), and heavily damaged hair (bleached a lot). The bleaching was done by the researchers to control the amount of damage. It was subjected to 6 washes in clarifying shampoo with water of different hardness (soft, moderately hard, hard and very hard) and varying pH. After that, they extracted the minerals from the hair to find out how much of the minerals from the water the hair had "taken up" during those treatments.©Science-y Hair Blog 2016

Results for hardness:

  • More-damaged hair binds up the most minerals, having lost it's water-and-cation-repelling 18-methyleicosanoic acid (18-MEA) layer, revealing an ideal surface full of negative charges to bond with the positively charged mineral cations. 
  • Lightly damaged and virgin (chemically untreated) hair also takes up mineral cations from hard water, but somewhat less than more-damaged hair.
  • The harder the water, the more minerals bonded with all hair - more damaged hair still takes up more mineral cations.

So the more damaged your hair (lightened, and by extension - permanent waves, chemically relaxed), the more minerals it will pick up from hard water. But even low porosity, virgin hair will bond with hard water minerals.©Science-y Hair Blog 2016

Hardness in relation to pH and your hair:

The higher the pH of your water, the more minerals will bind to your hair from the hard water. In pH 7 water (neutral) both bleached and unbleached hair took up lesser amounts of mineral cations than in pH 8 and pH 9 water. 

As the pH of your water goes up, so does the amount of minerals that will bind to or find their way into your hair. Damaged hair still takes up more minerals - but pH makes a significant difference. My tap water is a whopping pH 10.5, so my moderately hard water probably deposits minerals on my hair like very hard water - especially the sun-damaged parts of my hair.

If you want to know your water's pH, call the municipal treatment facility. If you have well water or want to test on your own, pH test strips can be notoriously inaccurate for tap water, even though they perform well for other applications. Get good-quality test strips or a pH meter for more accurate testing.

Manage hard water build-up:
To remove mineral build-up from your hair, you need an ingredient which can pull minerals away from their bond with your hair - a chelating ingredient. For commercial products, a chelating shampoo is what you want to look for. Most will be labeled as "hard water shampoo" or hard water treatment, or as chelating shampoos. They will contain Disodium EDTA (Ethylamine Diamine Tetraacetic Acid) or Tetrasodium EDTA at 0.5% to 1% - you'll find it around where preservatives are listed, near the end of the ingredient list. Just because a product contains EDTA doesn't mean it is a chelating product - better to choose from products made for hard water or that say "chelating" or "removes minerals" which contains EDTA.
Note: I've listed "Sulfate-free" products. Sulfate free does not mean the product is non-drying, read reviews online and buy samples whenever possible if you are concerned about over-drying your hair.

Examples are: 


DIY: Citric acid is also a chelating ingredient, but in most shampoos or conditioners, it is used to adjust pH and may have no impact on minerals on your hair. You can make a rinse with citric acid powder or crystals: 1/16 teaspoon (0.3 ml) citric acid in 1 cup (230 ml) distilled water if you know your hair is okay with acidic treatments - or 1/16th to 1/8 (0.3 to 0.6 ml) teaspoon per 1 1/2 to 2 cups (350 to 475 ml) if you're not sure. Leave it on your clean, wet hair for a few minutes with some heat, then rinse well and condition. The pH of this is quite low, so it is best to try it on a small test-strand before applying to all your hair to make sure this works with your hair.

Lemon juice can be mixed with distilled water, lemon juice contains citric acid. Start with 1 part lemon juice and 4 parts water and use it with heat as for the citric acid rinse. You might try mixing lemon juice with conditioner if you're a conditioner-only sort of person.

Diagnose hard water build-up:
If you have only slightly hard water with a pH around 7 and low porosity hair or only mildly damaged hair, you may not have issues with hard water. Try doing an entire wash with distilled water. There are no minerals in distilled water and the pH is around 6. If you find your hair shows little difference, you may not have a problem with hard water. If you notice that your hair is softer or more flexible after a distilled water wash, you may have problems with hard water.

Detergents: In really hard water, most detergents won't create foam. I say most detergents - anionic detergents in particular. The anionic (negatively charged) end of the detergent interacts with the positively charged minerals to prevent formation of foam. It also means that the combination of detergent + minerals may form "scum" on your shower - and your hair. Soap (real soap - fats reacted with a strong base like lye) is the worst offender because of the fats in the soap. But it's worth trying other shampoos to see if they alter your hair's mineral "load."
The non-ionic detergents and cationic (or amphoteric/zwitterionic) detergents are less affected by hard water. So if your shampoo contained only non-ionic surfactants like Decyl glucoside (and/or Lauryl glucoside), at least the shampoo would not be contributing to the accumulation of minerals nor be rendered less effective by them. Amphoteric/zwitterionic detergents like Cocamidopropyl Betaine, Disodium Lauroamphodiacetate, Sodium Cocoamphoacetate (a.k.a. Disodium Cocoamphodiacetate) won't interact with minerals in water either.

How often to use chelating treatments and other miscellany: 
Use a chelating treatment again when the effects of the last one have worn off. Some of the products recommend weekly use, but that may or may not be practical or necessary depending on how often you wash your hair.

Some fine-haired or thin-haired people don't mind a little bit of hard water build-up - it adds some volume and "grip" to hair.

If you use soap - real soap, (some ingredient lists try to pass soap off as sodium carboxylate, which is what it is, but doesn't let the customer know that soap scum may occur). You will accumulate hard water build up more readily due to interaction between minerals and the fats in the soap.

I have no information about chelating ingredients in conditioners. My thoughts are mixed, though I think it may work and I hope I'll bear from blog readers about their experiences with EDTA in conditioners - chelating conditioners. Or mixing lemon juice with conditioner.


Most filters you can put on your shower will NOT soften water, even if they try to indicate that they do. You cannot soften water without a resin chamber which needs regular recharge with salt. The only shower-based water softener I know of is "Showersticks" brand.

1A.O. Evans, J.M. March, R.R. Wickett, 2011. The Uptake of Water Hardness Metals By Human Hair. Journal of Cosmetics Science 62, p. 383-391

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Hair Loss Posts

I'm "herding" together some posts about various common causes of excess hair shedding because it had been on my mind (and my scalp) lately.

Firstly, I updated the "Friction and Shedding" post, which could also be titled, "Are your hair products ripping out your hair?" Too graphic?

Secondly, The post about iron, vitamin D and hair loss - these are common deficiencies and common causes of hair loss.

Thirdly, bringing back the post about seasonal shedding. Not everybody notices this. And if you have the other two causes of shedding (above) this one might be more noticeable.

This is not to leave out the other causes of hair loss that are significant (illness, medication, severe stress, scalp disease). But other sources have more information than I do on those things.


Thursday, November 26, 2015

Ferritin (Iron), Vitamin D and Hair Shedding

I provide my sources via in-text citations and in the references at the end. This information does not replace medical consultation or blood tests. Consultation with a doctor or nurse practitioner or pharmacist should be sought for diagnosing and treating nutrient deficiencies. If you have no health insurance or your insurance does not cover diagnostic testing (which includes testing for nutrient deficiencies), ask at your local clinic or pharmacy about on-demand testing or independent lab testing, but please plan supplements with the guidance of a qualified physician or pharmacist.

IRON 

In pre-menopausal women, low serum (blood) ferritin is one of the more common causes of hair thinning or pattern hair loss. ©Science-y Hair Blog 2015

When you get a typical blood test - the iron test is often for hemoglobin. That is the form of iron in your blood that can carry oxygen to your tissues. If it is low, you are anemic. If you are anemic - your hair may be thinning. But recently, researchers have questioned how low is truly a"low" level for ferritin in relation to syndromes like thinning hair and female pattern hair loss and restless legs syndrome. Ferritin is a form of iron that is stored in your liver - like a "bank" of iron from which your body makes withdrawals when it needs iron. We use iron for a lot of processes in our bodies. If you think of your body like a machine made from lots of different materials - including metals - then naturally there's going to be some iron here and there and in a lot of places, playing a lot of roles. Carrying oxygen is only one of iron's roles in your body.

If your ferritin is low, you don't have the back-up supply or iron you need. You can shuttle oxygen around, but other functions suffer. Like hair growth.

How much ferritin is enough? The level that will be flagged as low on a blood test is around 10 ug/l  (that's micrograms per liter). But studies of hair loss or thinning indicate that ferritin levels need to be above 40-50 ug/l (Rasheed et al.) or up to 70 ug/l (Rushton, Song et al.) to prevent iron-related hair loss. For women, ferritin levels up to 300 ug/l are still within the normal range, so 70 ug/l doesn't appear to be an excessive target.

What does that mean for you? If you see a doctor for hair loss, ask to have your ferritin tested as well. If it is lower than 40-70 ug/l, discuss a reasonable strategy for getting your ferritin level up above 40-70 ug/l. Closer to 70 seems to be indicated at the cut-off point above which hair loss can't be called iron-related (people without hair loss have levels that high or higher, but more women with hair loss have low ferritin levels).©Science-y Hair Blog 2015

Iron supplements are the usual treatment, but they can be dangerous, even deadly, so a blood test is necessary and so is follow-up re-testing to see how the supplement is working. Iron supplements can also be difficult to take, with common side effects being nausea, stomach pain, and constipation. To avoid nausea, take the supplement with food. To avoid constipation, magnesium citrate supplements or stool softeners are common remedies. Taking iron with vitamin C can increase your absorption of iron up to 100%. 250 mg of vitamin C provides the greatest boost in iron absorption (Cook and Reddy).©Science-y Hair Blog 2015

Coffee, high-calcium foods (dairy products) and foods high in phytate (beans, whole grains) all interfere with iron absorption - avoid eating/drinking those at the same time as you take an iron supplement if possible.©Science-y Hair Blog 2015

VITAMIN D

Low vitamin D levels have also recently been associated with thinning hair and female pattern hair loss. Low vitamin D is becoming more common as people spend less time outdoors, and wear sunscreen and protective clothing. A study by Rasheed et al found a vitamin D level below 30 nmol/liter (nanomoles per liter) which is the same as 12 ng/l (nanograms per liter) was associated with thinning hair or female pattern hair loss. This level is also considered a serious deficiency in vitamin D.

Vitamin D levels need to be above 67 nmol/l (27 ng/ml) to no longer be associated with thinning hair. The National Institute of Health (NIH) indicates that a level of 50 nmol/l or greater (20 ng/ml) is adequate for most healthy adults, so that seems a reasonable target for women with hair thinning or hair loss.©Science-y Hair Blog 2015

Vitamin D comes from the sun, getting enough sunlight on your face and arms or legs or back a few times per week can be all it takes to get enough - it takes only a few minutes. In many quite Northern (or Southern in the Southern Hemisphere) latitudes, you really don't get vitamin D from the sun in winter, even if you are a fan of bikini ice fishing (I sincerely hope that's not a real thing). If you can correlate your latitude in line with any of these cities, you can calculate your UV exposure to get enough vitamin D: http://zardoz.nilu.no/~olaeng/fastrt/VitD-ez_quartMED.html

There are many food sources of vitamin D also, see this page for sources - this is from the Skin Cancer Foundation, who don't want us over-exposed to the sun: http://www.skincancer.org/healthy-lifestyle/vitamin-d/make-vitamin-d-not-uv-a-priority

Vitamin D can also can and should be checked by a blood test, especially if you plan to take supplements because vitamin D supplements can also be toxic in too-large doses over time.  For people taking supplements, talk with a pharmacist  about a safe amount to supplement (stop in when they're not too busy - they're very knowledgeable). It is possible to over-supplement with natural vitamin D sources like cod liver oil, so it's best to plan supplementation carefully if you use natural sources also.©Science-y Hair Blog 2015

People over the age of 50 cannot synthesize vitamin D from the sun as well as before age 50 and may need supplements to stay in the "normal" zone - which is important in maintaining muscle and bone health and preventing falls.

Bottom line:
To prevent iron-related hair thinning, have blood ferritin levels tested and maintain a level around 70 ug/l, assuming you are healthy. This is higher than the level that a laboratory will label as a deficiency which is 10 ug/l or below.  The clinical "low" it too low for hair-maintaining purposes.©Science-y Hair Blog 2015

If you donate blood regularly- get your ferritin checked! You lose a lot of iron with every blood donation. Women also lose large amounts of iron during childbirth.

To prevent vitamin D deficiency-related hair thinning, keep vitamin D levels well in the normal range for healthy adults, 20-50 ng/ml (~50-70 nmol/l), though the study cited indicates that hair loss is less likely toward the higher end of that range.

-----------------------------------------------------------------

Decreased Serum Ferritin and Alopecia in Women. Journal of Investigative Dermatology 2003
D Hugh Rushton

Effect of ascorbic acid intake on nonheme-iron absorption from a complete diet. American Society for Clinical Nutrition 2001, 93-98
Cook JD, Reddy MB

Iron Plays a Certain Role in Patterned Hair Loss. Journal of Korean Medical Science 2013, 934-938
Song Youn Park, Se Young Na,Jun Hwan Kim, Soyun Cho, Jong Hee Lee

Serum ferritin and vitamin d in female hair loss: do they play a role? Skin Pharmacology and Physiology 2013, 101-107
Rasheed H, Hahgoub D, Hegazy R., El-Komy M, Abdel Hay R, Hamid MA, Hamdy E.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Protein 101 - Lots of Basic Information About Using Protein in Hair Products

I have some more in-depth information about using hydrolyzed protein in your hair on this blog - like here and here.

But as one blog reader pointed out - I don't have a summary for people who are just beginning to dip their toes into the hair care pool. I have loaded a lot of information into each sub-heading, so even if you don't see a sub-heading that fits what you're looking for - that information may be there. ©Science-y Hair Blog 2015
Hydrolyzed proteins have been used in hair products for decades. Even in small amounts (0.5% to 1%) hydrolyzed proteins can create a noticeable difference in hair care products. You can tell how much protein is in the product by where it is listed on the ingredient list. If there is protein in the first 5 or 6 ingredients listed, this is a higher-protein product or a protein treatment. If it is near the bottom with fragrances, it is a lower-protein product. High-protein, protein treatments might be in the 5-6% protein range.©Science-y Hair Blog 2015

Hydrolyzed proteins are not whole, intact proteins like those in foods. They have been broken into smaller pieces - smaller molecules - through treatment with acids or fermentation. Large proteins like those in foods are not very beneficial to hair. But hydrolyzed proteins can do a variety of things like form a clear, flexible film over your hair that slows water loss. Some protein penetrate below the outermost cuticles to keep hair hydrated at slightly deeper layers. Protein in products can also add a little extra support to hair - which is great if your hair is fine or medium, but can lead to rigidity and breakage if your hair is quite coarse and you use protein too often.

On a porous hair, the blue color
shows where protein would go
both to fill in gaps created by broken cuticles
(drawn only on edge of the
hair) and forms a film over
the hair.

On a lower-porosity hair, protein (blue color)
mostly coats the surface and fills in a few
gaps from broken cuticles.

Why use protein?
Protein is used for strength, for shine, for hydration and to reduce breakage. Protein helps temporarily repair damaged areas in hair by filling in gaps in the cuticle. Protein keeps hair hydrated by slowing the loss of water from hair.

Protein words
Look for these words to spot proteins in an ingredient list: Hydrolyzed ______ protein, amino acids, peptides. These are all proteins. Cocodimonium Hydroxypropyl Hydrolyzed (protein source - wheat, keratin, etc.) and Lauryldimonium Hydroxypropyl Hydrolyzed (protein source) are proteins which have been modified to be better hair conditioners and bond to hair better, add more softness. Yeast extract is a protein.

Whose hair needs protein?
  • Damaged hair/porous hair: sun-bleached, pool-damaged, highlighted, relaxed, permanent waved, and permanent-dyed or semi-permanent-dyed hair usually needs more protein. Hair with lots of high-heat styling tends to need extra protein because it has lost some of the protective layers that hold moisture in and lost some native proteins. If you use baking soda or soap bars (alkaline treatments), your hair probably needs protein as a result of those things. If you brush your hair vigorously and the ends are thinner than the middle and look lighter in color, your hair may need protein - especially on the ends. Protein balances out porosity in damaged hair.
  • Dry hair - if you have tried deep conditioning, oil treatments (with coconut, palm, sunflower, avocado or olive oil - left on for 4-8 or 12 hours) and those things aren't working, your hair's dryness may indicate a need for protein rather than-or in addition to emollients.
  • Fine and medium hair: Protein also provides support for fine and medium hair because it adds just a little extra rigidity - protein is support for your hair. Coarse haired people tend to find that using protein too often makes their hair feel stiff or brittle, dry or tangly or possibly too soft and limp.
  • Before coloring or lightening, relaxing or perming hair or after a lot of sun exposure or dry wind exposure hair can benefit from hydrolyzed proteins in products.
  • Breakage in your hair. Seeing or hearing lots of breakage? If you have already tried deep conditioning or a long oil treatment, it's time to try some protein. Because protein helps keep hair hydrated (it slows water loss!), it can help reduce breakage in dehydrated hair by increasing hydration. Hair is less likely to break when it is flexible and hair is most flexible when it is well hydrated.

How to use protein in your hair: ©Science-y Hair Blog 2015

Look for shampoos or conditioners which contain hydrolyzed protein. Until you know how well your hair handles protein, you don't need protein in both shampoo and conditioner - but only in one or the other. 

Styling products with protein and leave-in conditioners with protein can be great for damaged or porous hair or for fine and medium hair, but ease into using them - try them once or twice, see how it works and then give the protein-containing products a break. Maybe your hair can use them daily - or maybe it can only use them occasionally. Watch your hair and see how it responds.

Try the product as the label suggests initially.

Protein treatment or products that contain protein - which to use?
Protein treatments have a lot of protein. They're usually marketed for damaged hair - as "repairing" products or strengthening products. If your hair is breaking a lot and oils and conditioners aren't working or you know some or all of your hair is fine (like toddler hair), you might go right to strong treatments. You're safer using a product in a creamy base - one that also has conditioners in it. If you are new to protein, you might prefer to use a conditioner with protein to get to know how your hair responds to protein first.

How to tailor protein use: ©Science-y Hair Blog 2015
Choose smaller proteins (any amino acids, any peptides or hydrolyzed: silk, keratin, collagen) if you're new to protein or have coarse hair. Larger proteins (oat, wheat, soy, vegetable, quinoa) tend to work well for fine and medium hair and even coarse hair occasionally.

Deep condition after using protein?: After using a product which contains protein or a protein treatment, some people find their hair feels tangly or stiff. This is sometimes a sign of having used too much protein, used protein too often, or having used the wrong protein. But before making that conclusion - try either 1) applying extra conditioner and leaving it on for a few minutes, or 2) apply a deep conditioner (an intense conditioner) and leaving it on for at least a few minutes with some heat. If that brings your hair back to a flexible, less-tangly condition, you need to follow up protein use with extra (or deep) conditioning. 

How to time protein use: If you get a result you like from a product containing protein, there are 2 paths to take. 
1) Push the protein. If you really loved what protein did for your hair, see how often you can use it before you experience one of the signs of having used too much protein. BUT - limit the number of products you use that contain protein. If you're using protein in shampoo, conditioner and leave-on products, you may get a false "reading" on how much protein your hair can tolerate. Limit protein to just a conditioner, or just a protein treatment at first.
2) Protein with caution: Don't repeat protein use until the beneficial effects of the previous use begin to fade. This is the careful approach. Good for people with coarse hair, or if your hair has has a bad experience with protein, if your hair is lower porosity or tends to accumulate build-up. If you use henna, this might be a better approach - for some people henna also adds rigidity to hair that magnifies protein's strengthening, supportive effect.

Signs of too much protein: Using protein too often, or using a protein-containing product that is too concentrated for your hair, or using the wrong protein for your hair can cause negative effects that almost seem to contradict each other:
  • Hair can become stiff, tangly, sticky, brittle, curl pattern can be affected, it can feel dry and have too much volume
  • Hair can become overly soft, limp, flat and lose its wave or curl. Or overly smooth.
Doesn't that sound contradictory? It's true - and the same person could have both negative results under different conditions. 

Protein-moisture balance?  Think of it as a strength and stiffness vs. softness balance. Strength/stiffness comes from protein, softness from oils and conditioners - collectively called "emollients." If your hair needs strength and support, protein might be a good choice. If you use too much protein and your hair becomes too strong or stiff, then you need more emollients to balance out the stiffness with softness. If you have used oils and conditioners too much in hair that needs protein, it may become too soft and need some strength from protein. But don't forget that overly-soft hair can also happen when you use too much protein.

Signs hair needs protein: ©Science-y Hair Blog 2015
When wet, hair that needs protein tends to feel mushy and not dense - like an old cotton/poly blend undershirt instead of a substance composed of individual fibers. Once you add enough protein - the hair feels like fibers again and you learn that mushy, thin feeling means you need protein.


  • Hair that loses its bounce may need protein.
  • Hair that just won't behave though you have tried deep conditioning or using oils probably needs protein.
  • Hair that is snapping off though you are using plenty of good (protein-free) conditioner probably needs protein.
  • Hair that remains dry despite using oils and conditioners may need protein for hydration.

How often to use protein:©Science-y Hair Blog 2015
Porous hair that is not coarse might do well with protein every wash-day in a conditioner or in a leave-in product - the protein is needed to manage hydration and porosity. Or weekly protein treatments and occasional protein in between. Normal porosity hair that is fine or medium width may be able to use a similar schedule. Low porosity hair that is fine and medium may do fine with weekly protein in a conditioner or a protein treatment for the support and hydration. Narrower hairs or people with thinner (lower density hair), lower porosity may be able to use protein between weekly treatments also for support and hydration.
Coarse-haired people (wider hairs) that is porous (dry, damaged or chemically treated) may be able to use protein occasionally - maybe once per week (damaging chemical treatments, smaller proteins) or every 2-3 weeks; but low-porosity, coarse hair may need protein only every 1-2 months in a conditioner, perhaps if you are out in the sun a lot or your hair is wet for a long time.

How to personalize protein-containing products:
1) Choose proteins based on size. 
  • Amino acids and peptides are smallest and will likely agree with the widest variety of hair types - fine, medium and coarse, porous, normal porosity and even low porosity. 
  • Hydrolyzed silk, keratin and collagen are smaller and may agree with a wide range of hair types - fine, medium and coarse and low to high porosity.
  • Gelatin is between medium and large - better for porous or very damaged/brittle hair or fine/medium hair. 
  • Hydrolyzed wheat, oat, quinoa, corn, soy, lupine and other plant or vegetable proteins tend to have components that are medium to large and may be tolerated best by porous hair, fine and medium hair, damaged hair, chemically treated hair. Infrequent use recommended for coarse or lower porosity hair.
2) Select the timing, intensity and make a good assessment of the results
  • Leave protein-containing products or protein treatment on for more time to allow more protein to bond (temporarily) to your hair for better hydration. This makes the treatment more intense.
  • Use heat with a protein-containing product or protein treatment to encourage the hair to swell gently and slightly, to improve bonding of protein to the hair and increase the area that proteins can bond with. This makes the treatment more intense.
  • Leave protein-containing products on for less time or without heat for a less intense treatment - for example, for coarse hair or medium-coarse hair, for frequent protein users, or for lower porosity hair. 
  • Hair feels tangly and rough after using protein? Rinse very, very well. Apply a lot of rinse-out conditioner or a deep (intense) conditioner and leave it on for 3 or 5 to 15 or 30 minutes (with or without heat). If that rough feeling doesn't go away with this post-protein deep conditioning, then you 1) left the protein on for too long, 2) the protein was the wrong protein for your hair, 3) your hair didn't need protein now or 4) the protein was too concentrated (too strong), Either chose a lower-protein product or dilute the product you have with water or conditioner to make it less concentrated next time.

Frequent protein faux pas:

  • Protein is in every product you use or almost every product. Limit protein to only some products so it will be easy to add protein only when your hair needs it, and you'll avoid over-doing protein inadvertently.
  • You bought a product that combines several large proteins (oat, soy, corn, wheat) and maybe some smaller ones and used it every time you washed your hair. Unless you're very experienced with protein, try to stick with 1-2 protein sources in a product so you don't get a bad impression of a product because it was a very high-protein product or a bad protein combination for your hair.
  • This protein-product works in everybody else's hair, but not mine - my hair must be protein-intolerant. Maybe - but maybe it just doesn't work in your hair and your hair would tolerate a different product with a different protein (or less time or no heat, or more heat) just fine.
  • I only use natural products with lots of herbal extracts - my hair gets stiff with any protein. Try a product with protein but no herbal extracts or vitamins before you write off protein forever. Sometimes plant extracts can actually leave a stiff feeling in hair and so can some vitamins like biotin.
  • You want to try protein, so you use it daily. There's a good chance that will be too often. Or you might have a negative effect from another product that you attribute to the protein. 
  • You automatically deep condition following protein, whether your hair needs it or not. If you were using protein for strength and your hair doesn't feel too rough or stiff, use enough conditioner to detangle and so hair feels smooth and wait until your hair dries to determine whether it needed more softness or weight from conditioner. On the other hand, if your hair feels very rough and tangly after using protein - go for the deep conditioning.

Monday, October 5, 2015

The Autumnal Falling of Hair

Several years ago, a study was published in the journal Dermatology measuring hair loss (shedding- hair fall) in women over the course of 6 years.

They found that in summer, there were more hairs in the telogen phase (resting, getting ready to shed) and that those hairs tend to be shed from the scalp about 100 days after the middle of summer. Just figure about 3 months after your summer solstice - the longest day of the year.

That means if you notice more hairs shedding in late September, into October or November - it's normal. For folks in the Southern Hemisphere, your autumnal shed should be around late March and into April and May. 

The hairs you shed are going to be replaced by new hairs.

Of course, this time of year comes a change in seasons for a lot of us and sometimes that also means drier air and more wind - and therefore hair that may tangle more, dehydrate more readily  and need extra conditioner or lubricants like oil and if you don't keep up with that requirement - you can have extra shedding too from the extra friction.


But if you're seeing extra hairs when you detangle and you and your scalp are otherwise healthy and the shedding goes back to normal in late November or December - you were probably just experiencing the autumnal shed.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Ideas to Avoid Being a "Product Junkie"

Buying and trying new hair products is fun. But it can take on a life of its own and consume lots of money and time and frustration as each new product does or does not deliver.  Or you get frustrated with your hair. Or accumulate product build-up.

People encounter a lot of challenges in trying to figure out which hair products to use. One is looking at somebody's hair you like or who seems to have everything figured out and think "If I just use what they use, mine will look like that too." WRONG! That almost never happens. Not unless that person's hair is almost exactly the same as yours in shape, width, density, color, and curl or lack thereof. You need to have their styling skills too. And their tolerance for hair styling time.

Your hair is your hair. Products can pull it together and add a nice finish or improve she shape of what is already there. But they cannot transform it completely. That's unrealistic. A finished hairstyle is a combination of several products (cleansing, conditioning, styling), that person's daily hair care, all the physical manipulation that went into creating the style. Products are just part of the equation.

Stopping the cycle of buying and trying new things that you don't really need and getting upset about it is like breaking any habit - difficult to do because buying and trying is also how you find good products. 

How do you know if you have "product overload" or are a "product junkie?"
You hide your new purchases from your family (or yourself - put them where you won't be reminded you bought them).
You feel bad about the expense or feel guilty for making the purchases, but you keep buying new ones.
Buying hair products causes you anxiety  - and thrills.
You have several products you have purchased and tried once and not used again, or used very rarely.
You have strong feelings about buying new things for your hair - feelings that you don't feel for buying tires or cookware or laundry detergent. - You develop emotional attachment to the new products (and brands) you want to try and feel anticipation about trying them. If they don't work - the let down leaves you annoyed, disillusioned. 
Your bathroom is littered with different hair products - it looks like a drugstore. You have a "product graveyard" of things you don't use but won't throw away, just in case they magically start working.
You're thinking about hair products while you are doing other tasks that require your full (or nearly full) attention.

Is this a problem? If you can afford it, if nobody is giving you grief, and you're not feeling bad about yourself or about the waste (you have friends and family to give stuff to!) and hair products are not intruding into your mind when they should not be, then it probably isn't. But if you're not respecting your budget or you worry you won't, or you aren't feeling good about the quest for the perfect product - maybe you need a different approach.


Ideas to Avoid Product Overload:

  • Learn about ingredients - read the ingredient lists from products you like and become familiar with the ingredients. Nothing demystifies those hair products like understanding what goes into them and why it's there. Use my product list by category. Or these posts about what ingredients do here and here.  If you know ingredients, you are less likely to buy things you don't need (or already have).
  • Recognize that big changes come from new hairstyles or adding or removing curls or learning a new styling technique, not from products alone.
  • Search out sample sizes and travel sizes for a lower risk investment.
  • Don't think one product can change everything. It can't. Sure, the right product can do a lot of nice things - but have realistic expectations and make realistic assessments.
  • Set a monthly budget for hair products. Or set a per-product price (or per ounce price limit). Or allow yourself only to buy a certain number of hair products per month. Or require that you deposit an equal or greater amount of money in savings for each hair product you buy. Whatever works to bring your rational and budget-minded part of your self into the decision-making process.
  • Ask yourself if the product fits into your existing routine. Are you willing to add an extra step? If not, don't buy.
  • Know that people are attracted to novelty. Do you want this just because it's new? Are you being manipulated by marketing that exploits your attraction to novelty? Are you buying this because they got a great-looking new label or packaging? Is there something really innovative about this product that makes it different from everything else you've tried?
  • Do you already have a product that is like this one? Have you tried applying that one in several different ways and combinations? If not - exhaust all options before buying new.
  • The person in that advertisement has professionally styled hair, possibly with extensions and digital photo-editing. Be realistic about what you think a product can do based on advertising.
  • Don't be fooled by the "Something-Free" label - free of silicones or sulfates or gremlins or cheese puffs. You find these even on products that never would have contained sulfates or silicones or gremlins or cheese puffs. They're just trying to sell you on what's not in the product. Something you may or may not have been trying to avoid in the first place. 
  • If a promise is too good to be true, it isn't true. If a product promises 50% stronger hair - 50% stronger than what? How was that measured? See right through that baloney. All that matters is how it works for your hair and your lifestyle and budget.
  • Ask yourself if you already have a (shampoo, conditioner, hair gel, mousse) that works reliably. 
    •  If yes, do not buy right away - wait until you run out of what you already have. 
    • If no, what is it about the one you have that does not work? Analyze what you need.
  • Has everything suddenly stopped working for your hair? Maybe you need a trim or a protein treatment or a deep conditioning treatment or a chelating treatment if you have hard water or swim often or a clarifying shampoo if you have lots of product residue in your hair. 
  • Why do you want to buy something new? Seriously. Did you have a bad week? An argument with somebody you care about? Are you feeling lonely? Tired? Bored? Stuck? Anxiety over an upcoming event? Big life changes? Something else in your life that you'd like to change but cannot? Is having a new hair product going to solve any of those problems? That sounds trite - but it is also true. It takes self-control to avoid buying it. Self control requires mental energy. So yeah - when you're tired or busy or distracted or stressed it's more difficult to avoid wanting new products. 
  • If you "fall off the wagon" and buy more than you meant to, don't let that ruin your good intentions. Find a way to make peace with the situation without punishing yourself or being unrealistic. But don't lose your resolve. 
  • If you are in the grip of, "But I really want it!" with the intensity of a 9-year old who wants a new toy that "everybody has," compromise with yourself to wait 2 weeks and try various application techniques with what you already have. If you still want it, wait 1-2 more weeks. If you still want it at that time, either buy it to get it out of your system, or employ other means of avoidance - your emotional attachment to products is strong!
  • Has the weather changed dramatically? Keep notes of what you do to deal with humidity or drizzle or dry weather so when it comes around again, you have a plan. Weather can change the products your hair responds to for better and worse.

Make the most out of "almost perfect" products.
A gel that is too stiff might need to be diluted by applying it to dripping wet hair. Or it might need to be used with plenty of leave-in conditioner to soften up and "flexibile-ize" the hold.

Try as many other application techniques as you can for an "almost perfect" product, how you apply, other products in your hair, different combinations or shampoo or conditioner and styling product, leaving in more conditioner, rinsing out more conditioner, applying products in a different order - get creative.

A leave-in that doesn't quite give the softness you're looking for can be improved by mixing with a little oil (jojoba, argan, avocado) - or layering it with the oil under or over.

A conditioner that doesn't have enough slip can be mixed with a few drops of oil (when you use it).

A creamy styling product that leaves your hair looking heavy when you use it on wet hair (to style alone) might be a perfect product to use a tiny amount of on dry hair to smooth frizz and flyaways, or for shaping up multi-day hair.

Buy a protein additive for making a protein-enriched conditioner - from a cosmetics supply company or Neutral Protein Filler or just mix in some flat beer or some dissolved gelatine.

Make your own deep conditioner with conditioner + oils + aloe vera or honey or agave nectar or baby food bananas or plain yogurt and leave it on with some gentle heat.

Take a hair vacation: If you always wear your hair down - wear it up for a week to give your mind a rest. Accessorize with scarves or headbands or whatever suits your fancy and your workplace or school. If you are striving for a certain result (hello, perfectionists!) - give yourself a week to try for something less than that. Try curling your hair or wearing it straighter - whatever you usually don't do (just don't fry it, stick to lower-heat styling). Sometimes we've got to give ourselves a break to change our attitude and break the spell of the quest for the magical, mystical perfect hair product. Saying "I don't need you" for a whole week can change your reasoning from emotional to more rational. 



Friday, August 7, 2015

A Few of My Favorite Things

I realized that I don't share some of my favorite products here! Which isn't a great loss to you because I can't use many hair and skin products due to sensitive skin and being a real grouch about fragrances.

But here are some of my favorites. Some are, "Almost great, but at least they're fragrance-free" and some are, "Where has this been all my life?" I buy all these things on my own, so these are unsolicited raves (and realistic ones).

1) Free & Clear Hairspray.
 Just about every hairspray I've found that says "fragrance-free" on the bottle actually contains a "masking fragrance." That's just insulting. This product has NO FRAGRANCE. It also has good humidity resistance. It is just a little stiff-ish when dry but there are 2 ways to manage that. 1) Spray at a distance from your head and move the bottle while you spray - short strokes (read the bottle, follow the instructions). Use light layers to form an invisible net over your hair, don't try to wet it with spray. 2) Rub a little conditioner or pomade or hair "serum" in your palms and squeeze your hair with that once the spray is dry.
Unless you use a lot, your hair won't look immobile and you won't have flashbacks from nineteen hundred and ninety nine. Sometimes I can get it locally, sometimes not. It's a mid-price product, but if fragrance-free is a requirement for you, it's worth it.

2) Ouidad Finishing Mist Setting and Holding Spray is my all-time favorite hairspray that melts frizz, adds shine and holds with absolutely no crunch, (if you get any crunch, squeeze your hair and it will be gone); but it can be itchy. So I usually use the Free&Clear if I need hairspray to avoid fragrance and itch. Alas, because otherwise, this product is perfect. I once styled my hair at 4 AM and it was still reasonably intact by 9 PM with this spray.

3) Aquanil HC is a topical hydrocortisone lotion for eczema, skin rashes, insect stings, anything that itches or rashes. If you use anti-itch products and find that they spread as well as toothpaste, this will amaze you. It's not cheap, but it is so lightweight and fluid and easy to spread that you use very little without losing any effectiveness. It's not at all greasy or heavy. No fragrance added. It doesn't seem to interfere with lotions or creams you need to put over it. I have lots of eczema this spring and summer and I've been applying it liberally and barely made a dent in the bottle. It was a worthwhile investment.


4) Stay-On Satin Pocket Bonnet. It's not really satin - it's flexible and light. For the price, it's a great product. The outside is slippery (satiny) and the inside is fairly smooth, but not slippery. If you need the slippery side towards your hair, you'd just turn it inside out and have the added benefit of having the seams on the outside too. You can wear your hair loose under this without it getting too wrecked overnight, or in braids or twists and it's not all mashed up near your head. The best feature? This thing has ties! It can lap over your forehead and has ties in the back at the nape of your neck. It stays put for me. No circulation-crushing, hairline-hair-breaking, "one-size-fits-all" elastic to leave you with goofy lines on your forehead or pin your ears down.


5) Bass Cushion Brush, Wood Bristles: This brush is the living end. Best brush ever. I have standard issue Northern European hair. Wavy. It becomes a a fluffy wreck in some areas and smooth 1940s waves in other areas when I brush it. But when I set (curl) it and it needs to be brushed to smooth or if I want to detangle with a brush or darn it, I just want my hair brushed because it feels good - this brush is IT. I had a Denman Brush and I thought - oh, this is better than the prickly bristle brush that used to rip through my hair and break it off; this brush puts it to shame.

The bristles are smooth bamboo and well-spaced. They "give" so they don't tear through your hair thanks to the cushiony base. It doesn't hurt, it has a nice feel, and it's darn attractive. Handle the brush and your hair gently and it will last quite a while. If you have tangles or are getting resistance, use a little oil for dry hair detangling (let it sit there for a few minutes) or conditioner for wet-hair detangling.