Sunday, December 28, 2014

Testing the "Float Test" for Hair Porosity, Part One

Porosity is tricky to define because of these three things:

1) Porosity is a physical condition that belongs to an individual hair - or a portion of a hair. It is the amount of surface area with porosities - gaps and holes through which water and other things can move.

2) Porosity is a behavior or your individual hairs and your hair as a whole - how quickly does water move through any porosities present.

3) We want to use porosity to determine what to do to our hair - but all the things we do can modify our hair's porosity-behavior or even mask actual porosity. For example, sun-damaged and therefore porous hair may feel different than bleach-damaged and therefore porous hair. Or hair which is easily weighed down or low-density (thin hair) may or may not be able tolerate lots of conditioner and heavy oil applications that we usually think porous hair needs. Different porous hair has different needs.

Why does porosity-behavior matter? Let's say you use a henna or cassia treatment on porous hair and it suddenly seems to be water-repellant. It doesn't seem to get wet and dries very quickly. That is a behavior of very non-porous hair. The same thing can occasionally happen with protein treatments or oil treatments, especially with coconut oil or butters.

Has that hennaed, cassia-ed or oiled hair truly become less porous? Yes and no. The porosities that were there before still are there. But the movement of water through those porosities has been delayed by the henna or cassia residue. The hair's behavior is less porous, but the hair still has porosities - it just takes a lot longer for water to move through them. With coconut oil and hair-penetrating oils, the oil repels the water, causing non-porous behavior in normal porosity to porous hair.

Experimental design
When we want to set up a test, one of the first things we have to consider is this: are there any ways this test can be biased? In other words - does anything in our hair's environment change the results of this test?

To do this, I'm taking hairs from one person. These hairs are low porosity on the top 1/3, normal porosity for most of the length and more porous towards the ends. No hair color, no henna, no cassia.

We have 4 "treatment groups."
- Hair which has nothing added (washed and dried with no conditioner or styling product)
- Hair which has coconut oil applied
- Hair which has leave-in conditioner applied
- Hair which has a little oil and flaxseed styling gel.

The water temperature is lukewarm - not warm enough to liquefy oils and not cold. I used a glass dish of water with a large surface area for this - which is actually also important to the results of the test because the hairs did not contact the sides which might override the surface tension of the water. More on that in another post.

I treated the hairs and placed them lightly on the water surface. Every single one floated immediately.
Click to enlarge! Black arrows point to hairs floating on the surface. These are all lighter colored hairs and even with the contrasting color background, the camera had a difficult time "seeing" the hairs on the water. 

I left the hairs for 2 minutes. Still floating. And still floating a minute later. I'm impatient, so I dunked them quickly.

After dunking: The hair with conditioner began to sink. About 1/3 of the hair's length ultimately sank. The rest remained on the surface of the water. Until I gave up after about 10 minutes.
Click to enlarge! Black arrows point to the place where the hair with conditioner on it is submerged (to the right of the arrows) vs. floating on the surface (to the left of the arrows).

Simple conclusion for Part One: Lots of leave-in conditioner or conditioner-enriched styling products can encourage hair to sink that would normally float.

Now we are already asking ourselves - is this a good test if we have to control conditions carefully or we get a biased result?  In science, that is okay. For example: You can't get accurate results from reactions you do in dirty test tubes. Those things that go into your experiment usually need to be controlled in one way or another. But if you just wanted an accurate result from your hair and you have leave-in conditioner or conditioning hair products in it - it's more likely to sink. Though it may not!

Conditioner is a 'wetting agent" so we could have predicted this result. If you need to get your hair wet in a hurry - put conditioner on it first. It will get wet more quickly. Did the conditioner act as a wetting agent here? Probably. It added weight - but not that much weight and the oiled hair also had additional weight and it did not sink.

Did the oil repel water and keep the hair floating? Apparently not. Because the hair which was washed and the hair with a little oil and hair gel also floated right along with the oiled hair.

Should I have left the hairs for 30 minutes? Overnight? I don't think that's going to improve the test. Anybody's hair will get waterlogged after that long in water.

Next time: Hairs of different widths, curl patterns and porosities. I'll be using darker-colored hairs and daylight - the pictures will be much better.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Laundry Static-Control Tip

Upcoming post news:  I've been a busy blogger - but not busy blogging.  Currently I'm working on a post in which I'll examine (and photograph) the at-home test for hair porosity called the "strand float test." Look for that in the coming week.

Here's a handy laundry tip for cutting static in laundry coming out of the dryer without using fabric softener. Fabric softener tends to make towels less absorbent and coats laundry. It also tends to be heavily fragranced (unless you buy fragrance-free). In winter I like to dry laundry on a rack indoors like in this post. But some things won't fit, like sheets.

So that's where I use aluminum foil. Pull off a large-ish piece of aluminum foil - a little larger than a letter-size sheet of paper. Crumple it up - try to crumple the edges on the inside to make the ball last longer and avoid sharp edges. Make 2 or 3 of these and toss them in the dryer with your laundry. You won't get shocked when you handle the laundry, it won't crackle and pop. And you won't walk around with a sock or a dryer sheet wriggling out of your pant-leg over the course of the day.

These will last for weeks. In some municipalities, you can recycle aluminum foil when you're done. But others will not accept foil for recycling, so be sure to check before you try to recycle it.

It works like this - in your laundry, the clothes build up electric charges from the hot, dry air and tumbling around, colliding with each other. Aluminum foil is a metal and it will conduct electricity - so the charges in the laundry flow through the foil, essentially neutralizing the charge on the laundry.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Huh? Air Drying is Bad for Hair?

Don't panic, air-drying is not going on your list of things you need to feel guilty about. Won't you join me in getting all "critical thinking-y" about this subject?

This post is in response to a blog reader's question about a recent study which reported that air-dried hair acquires some internal damage during drying whereas blow-dried hair accumulates more external damage. The study was published in the Annals of Dermatology, November, 2011: Hair Shaft Damage from Heat and Drying Time of Hair Dryer, Lee et. al. 

If you thought air-drying was best for hair - this catches you off guard, to be sure. But while I did a double-take when I saw that eye-grabbing factoid in what I think of as "hair social media" - after reading the article I think this information was taken out of proper context. In other words, it makes a great headline, but there is not enough information provided to support the idea that air drying is bad. Please, read on.

Some things to consider before digging in:
A) I don't think the authors made a solid case against air-drying, nor did they set out to do that. They are simply reporting an unexpected result, not condemning air-drying of hair. Human hair is made to air-dry. Maybe not to be washed frequently - but air-drying is part of our natural history. 
B) Blow-drying does a fair amount of surface damage; cracking the cuticles of the hair thanks to the rapid change in temperature and moisture. Cracked cuticles are rough and stick up. When cuticles stick up, they break off easily. The result of too much blow drying is dull, dry, rough, porous hair. 
C) Air-drying causes a lot less surface damage so your hair is not so rough or dull. That's why it is better for hair's feel and appearance, long-term.
D) The internal damage recorded in this study of the air-dried hair is of unknown consequence. Human hair has been air-dried for generations upon generations. Are we going to condemn it based on one study that found an interesting result but drew no conclusions based on that result
E) Researchers were not able to control how the hair was dried before it was used as a sample. This is an uncontrolled variable. We don't how the history of this hair sample/these hair samples may have influenced the outcome. Picky, picky! 
F) What is unclear to me is - did they use just one hair sample? How many heads of hair were represented here? The same hair sample for all 5 treatments? It looks like each treatment was a 2 gram sample of hair. This is not enough information for me. I would call a test based on one sample a "case study," not an experimental result.

The actual test was to repeat these treatments once per day, 30 times total in hair which is probably straight or wavy hair (from De Meo Brothers, Inc.), so there might be slight kinking but probably not much. The hair was washed in a shampoo containing 10% sodium lauryl sulfate (the absolute concentration of detergent as a raw ingredient is not stated, but this is actually on the low side for a shampoo), then excess water was "shaken" off and the hair was dried using the following treatments: 

1) Hair with no treatment - no washing or drying (control)
2) Air-dry hair at room temperature of 20°C (68°F)
3) Hair dryer, "low" temperature for 60 seconds, 47°C (116° F) at 15 cm (6 inches) away from hair
4) Hair dryer " medium-high" temperature for 30 seconds, 61°C  (142°F) at 10 cm (4 inches) away from hair
5) Hair dryer "high" temperature for 15 seconds, 90°C (203°F) at 5 cm (2 inches) away from hair.

Note: No conditioner, no oils, no heat protectant, no styling products. This is only meant to test the "naked" hairs.

So what did they find?
-With increasing heat, there is more surface/cuticle damage, despite shorter exposure to heat as they turned the heat up.
-With air drying (which took 2 hours) there was bulging in the portion of the hair beneath the cuticles as a result of the time the hair spent wet. This is the piece of information that has been seized upon by women's magazines and hair social media. I remind you - this may have occurred in a single hair sample. This does not necessarily mean everybody's hair acts like this. We simply do not know. The authors did not provide adequate information about their hair samples and the editors apparently missed that omission.

Why did they get this result in air-dried hair?
When normal porosity and porous hair is wetted, it absorbs water. As it absorbs water, it swells - but it is the inner portion which includes the cell membrane complex which does the swelling. Shampoos increase swelling unless they contain very mild detergents or very dilute detergents. The cuticle layer cannot swell or increase in girth. So we have a problem - a swelling interior and a non-swelling exterior!  That's stress - kind of like frozen water inside a pipe. More about that in this blog post

Is this a problem for hair? We don't know for certain. Too much swelling in hair probably makes hair a little weaker in structure. If you spend a day in the rain with your hair wet, it becomes more troublesome - tangly, behaving differently. If you spend a lot of time swimming - even in fresh water - your hair will weaken. That swelling of hair pushes cuticles up so they are easily broken off and water has access to the cuticle layer and beneath and can leach away anything water-soluble and probably even some oils. These actions increase porosity.

What would be a convincing result? I think a similar test would need to be done on hair from multiple donors, including a variety of hair widths (fine/medium, coarse, very coarse), including curly and kinking and coily (type 4) hair. A more convincing sample size (to me) would be about 3-5 of each of these. A result you can replicate in a variety of specimens is a result you can really get behind! If most hairs showed the same effect from air drying but not from blow-drying, then we can make some real conclusions. But we still wouldn't know the actual implications of the so-called damage. Maybe that's not structural damage at all. Maybe it's normal. It's not as though hair is meant to last forever.

What's good about air drying?
Air drying causes less cuticle damage (porosity) and cosmetic damage than heat-drying, that's a good thing. It makes some people's hair frizz less and that's a good thing too. Air drying doesn't use electricity - so it keeps your carbon footprint smaller and that's a good thing. You can do lots of activities while your hair air-dries - you're not tied to a hair dryer and that's a good thing. Some hair that isn't naturally straight (most of us) looks better when air-dried.

How to Air Dry Without feeling Like We're Slowly Destroying Our Hair? (I enjoy a little hyperbole). One of these may fit your lifestyle and hair styling requirements.

1) Use hair-penetrating oil treatments for 6-12 hours, especially on the length of your hair. Use coconut oil or sunflower oil, or olive or castor oil. These will help normal porosity and porous hair behave as though it is less-porous. It will swell less in water and you can avoid this problem. This really works. You don't have to soak your hair with oil either. See this post for details. You may even find you have a faster drying time with these treatments over time. 
2) Squeeze water out of your hair (styled or not) before air-drying. It will dry more quickly. Use an old t-shirt, a pillowcase or a cotton dish towel (tea towel/flour sack towel) to avoid creating frizz.
3) Limit your time under the water. I.e. wash your hair last. The less time your hair spends under water, the less saturated it will be. Yes, sometimes we need to get our hair all wet and juicy to be hydrated. But too wet for too long = waterlogged.
4) Wash or wet your hair less often. Works for some hair and lifestyles, not others.
5) Go as light on the styling products as possible. Lots of leave-in conditioner and lots of hair gel causes longer drying times.
6) All styling products make your hair take forever to dry? Try a styling foam or mousse - something that doesn't increase drying time, move around while your hair dries, step out in the breeze.
7) If your haircut is all-one-length, thick hair that takes forever to dry, getting some well-placed layers will shorten your drying time.

Best of both worlds?
You can slice your drying time in third or half by using a hair drier with a diffuser (to disperse the heat) either at the beginning of the drying time or at the end - whichever gives you a better result - for a short while. Maybe 3 minutes, maybe 8 minutes. Just to get the air moving and evaporate some water from your hair.

How long is too long to spend with wet hair? Nobody knows for sure. If your hair dries in 1 to 3 hours, you're probably okay. If your hair takes all day to dry, it may be getting stressed from all that time spent in a wet state. For example, if I am caught in the rain and my hair is wet all day, it becomes more tangly than usual and feels mushy or spongy when I wet it again - a sign that it needs a protein treatment for strength. And it will also need an oil treatment before it starts to feel it's normal self. To me, this is an indication that my hair was weakened by having been wet for 6 to 8 hours. I don't experience that result from my short showers and usual 1.5 to 2 hour drying time.
Your experience may be different from mine - watch your hair's behavior under different conditions and let that be your guide. If you use deep conditioning treatments in which your hair is wet all night, or you let your hair be wet overnight - that's probably too long to have wet hair and you may be weakening it.

Bottom line: Air drying is better for the surface of your hair (porosity) than heat-drying with a blow dryer. There isn't any clear evidence that air drying is bad for your hair at all. But spending too long with your hair in a wet state is stressful, including very long dry-times.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Thought For the Day

Hair Logic.

You see short hairs floating above your scalps, sprinkled throughout the length and think - oh no, is this breakage? Have I damaged my hair?

Probably not. Apply some simple hair logic. It's reckoned that we lose 50-100 hairs each day when we and our scalps are healthy. This varies - a few months after the end of summer we usually lose more hairs than in spring.

All things bring equal, it makes sense that 50-100 new hairs have begun to grow each day. And of course they're shorter than the rest of your hair.

Welcome those new little hairs. They're not broken or damaged, just exploring their new world.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Moisturizing Low Porosity Hair

Updated January, 2015
Low porosity hair is not necessarily difficult hair or problem hair. It is hair that is easily maintained in a healthy condition, strong and elastic. It doesn't need a lot of help to keep its integrity, it needs gentle handling and a little personalized care. So why do people complain about having a hard time moisturizing low porosity hair, then? What are we missing? Why isn't conditioner the quick path to moisturized hair? Why does oil and conditioner seem to sit on top of your low porosity hair, but soak in for everybody else? NOTE: Healthy, low porosity hair may or may not have the cosmetic attributes you find desirable.

If your lower porosity hair feels dry, wiry, tangly or brittle it not necessarily lacking oil or conditioner - it's lacking hydration and flexibility. Hydrating lower porosity hair takes a different mindset - and a special bag of tricks. If your hair is medium to coarse, it may also need help with softness, something you get from conditioners and some oils. Look for conditioners thickened with cetyl alcohol to lend softness to your hair.

Don't confuse silky or slippery hair with low porosity hair. That's not necessarily low porosity although it's more likely to be low porosity. Low porosity hair is usually more porous on the ends. Maybe a little more, maybe a lot. Most people's hair is not the same at the roots as it is at the ends. Don't neglect your ends! Lower porosity hair often needs "porous hair care" on the ends - but a lot less of everything than your all-porous-haired counterparts who can use handfuls of conditioner and oil with reckless abandon. If your hair takes a long time to get wet - it's not necessarily low porosity. If your hair is very thick or very curly, it takes longer to get wet.

The cognitive process begins with the word "moisturize."

Moisturize: A catch-all term. Moisture is water. Not conditioner, not oil. You don't drink oil when you're thirsty.

Hydrate: Provide and maintain adequate water. Ah, now this is what your lower porosity hair needs! Hair contains water. Well-hydrated hair is more elastic, more flexible, and less frizzy or fluffy than dehydrated hair. Hydration is all about water in and around your hair. Here's a post with more information about how much water your hair holds within the fiber.

Low porosity hair is what we all have coming out of our scalps. But for some people, it tends to stay low porosity as it grows and only rough handling combined with exposure to bleach (peroxide) or swimming pools or salt water and lots of sun over years can make it porous. For some, hair becomes porous by the time it reaches your chin or shoulders. But whether or not it behaves as though it is porous is a different story.

Low porosity hair and/or silky hair tends to run in families. And so does hair behavior that may help keep your hair from becoming porous - good hair care, an outdoorsy lifestyle, you get the picture. Any texture hair can tend to be lower porosity and any hair width, fine (narrow), medium or coarse (wide) can be low porosity.

Low porosity hair has cuticle scales that lie tightly against the surface of the hair. Low porosity hair is hydrophobic - it repels water from it's surface. It does not readily allow water in (when immersed in water), nor does it readily lose the water that is contained within the hair - it does not dehydrate quickly from its internal material. That doesn't mean it won't get frizzy or limp in humidity or feel dry and tangly. It also doesn't mean it feels soft and flexible - hydrophobic simply means that lower-porosity hair does not exchange water with the environment quickly. Low porosity hair can dry out in sun and wind and with lots of swimming or high-heat styling or bleaching (highlights). Low porosity hair may be more resistant to hair dye and other chemicals as well, but only if you handle it gently and don't expose it to multiple insults; for example permanent hair color + high heat styling. Or lots of summer sun + swimming in chlorinated pools or salt water. Wear that swim cap.

Lower porosity hair does not have many chipped and broken cuticles sticking up, ready to be broken off with abrasion, thus it tends to remain lower porosity.  That also means there are fewer binding sites for cationic conditioning ingredients, which is one reason it is difficult to use standard hair conditioners and get a good result.
Red "+" signs indicate (roughly) potential binding sites
for cationic hair conditioners in this low porosity, coily hair.

Red "+" signs indicate potential binding sites for conditioner
in this porous, coily hair. There are many more resulting
from chipped and broken cuticles.
Some people recommend using chemicals (baking soda solution, soap bars) to make hair low porosity hair more porous so it can take up more conditioner. This is something you need to do with caution - try the treatment on at least a 1-inch section of hair and assess the results before using it on all your hair. From hair that I have tested and blog readers comments, baking soda mixed with yogurt is less aggressive a treatment than baking soda and water and baking soda mixed with conditioner also seems to be less aggressive than baking soda and water. Baking soda mixed into shampoo seems to be more aggressive than baking soda and conditioner.

The problem with using baking soda and soap bars and acid to try to moisturize hair:
You'll read online that alkaline solutions make cuticles open and acidic solutions make cuticles lie flat or "close up" too. That is semi-accurate - alkaline solutions force hair to swell. As it swells, the cuticles pop up and there is an exchange of solutes inside the hair and alkaline solution that you applied. Everybody's hair is just a little different - not just the fiber itself, but what we've done to it, where we live (water chemistry, sunlight's UV and heat, temperature) and what we've put on it. Is it really possible that everybody's hair will display the exact same behavior in acidic and alkaline solutions? Of course not. Some hair reacts violently to baking soda and some hair reacts (swells) very little. Some hair is in between. If your hair is low-porosity, it's probably not extremely reactive - though if your hair is long or the ends tend to be truly dry, they may be more porous than the rest and more reactive. Please, please, please do a test strand first! 

If you like the result of a baking soda mixture on your test strand - but it seems too strong, cut the baking soda quantity in half or fourth and try again. Please note - baking soda takes a long time to dissolve in room-temperature liquids. If your mixture is gritty, the exposure of your hair to baking soda will be patchy - more concentrated in some areas than others. Baking soda will dissolve faster in a heated liquid with plenty of stirring. See more at the end about how baking soda changes your hair.

In my experience with hair analyses, it is unpredictable whose hair will swell and thus become more porous in acids and bases (alkaline solutions). Some people's hair is very sensitive to vinegar solution, but not citric acid or vice versa. Some people's hair does not swell in baking soda solution, but does in the lather of a strongly alkaline soap bar. If your lower porosity hair is acid and alkaline-sensitive and you use an alkaline soap bar followed by a vinegar rinse because the soap is supposed to "open" the cuticles and the vinegar is supposed to "close" them, you have just permanently damaged your hair without meaning to. Maybe a little, maybe a lot. Only time will tell. Your hair is unique. Only your hair "knows" whether it will respond badly to being subjected to acidic and alkaline solutions. Do what works for you and observe how your hair responds. If you use a treatment that works well for somebody else and get a undesirable result, don't think there's something wrong with your hair - there's something wrong with how that treatment interacted with your hair.

Lower porosity hair needs different terminology 
When we say want to moisturize our lower porosity hair - we're really trying to say something more complicated - but also very simple.

We want it to feel soft. We want it to be flexible. We want it to not tangle excessively. We want our curls and waves to be as well-defined as they can be. We want our straight hair to be smooth and reflective, not flyaway. Whereas our porous-haired counterparts can get those benefits with creamy deep conditioners or oils, we just get a limp or greasy or tacky-feeling and unsatisfactory result.

What do we want?!
Lasting hydration
Lubrication (slip) and detangling
Weight but not "heavy" and please, oh please no greasyness and no coated-feeling build-up!!! 
Definition (discernible wave and curl pattern, tolerable frizz and flyaway index)

Low Porosity Hair Hydration How-to (one or more of these may work for you)

1) Work at the surface of the hair with these tips: You can do a lot of hair-hydrating to soften, add flexibility and lubrication with products that never need do anything but stay on and around your hair shafts, helping prevent water loss and providing superficial effects.
  • Leaving in conditioner: For low porosity hair, leave-in conditioners are used to add lubrication, weight and flexibility and provide softness. We are not expecting a leave-in to "soak in" with low porosity hair. We're using it for a superficial effect, as a styling product. If you find that leave-in conditioners seem to sit atop your hair, try this trick:
  • The trick for low porosity hair: Use leave-in conditioners on dripping wet hair, or apply them and then quickly move your head under and then back out of the shower spray (or pour some water over your hair) for good coverage and dilution. Conditioner for leaving in can be used alone or mixed into a gel like homemade flaxseed gel to combine effects, improve distribution and get it all done in one step. You may not need much leave-in or left-in conditioner and diluting & distributing it with the shower spray or mixed into a styling product can be a necessary step because you're using it for a superficial effect. Your leave-in helps style your hair, plain and simple. You can also mix a little conditioner with distilled water in a spray bottle to apply a leave-in.
  • Film-forming humectants: Here is a link to a post about these ingredients. Film-forming humectants really are the bee's knees for low porosity hair. Flaxseed gel (linseed) or okra gel (homemade), aloe vera gel, pectin, hydroxyethylcellulose, marshmallow root, slippery elm, panthenol, xanthan gum, Hydroxypropyltrimonium honey; all these ingredients form clear, flexible films over your hair that trap water near your hair to keep it hydrated or moisturized - but without being heavy, creamy or oily. Protein also falls into this category, more on that below. These ingredients can keep hair hydrated extremely well and also have great styling benefits. Hydrated hair is flexible, well-defined and soft. Look in the "Product List by Ingredient Category" page to see how these ingredients translate into hair products. The list is near the end of the page.
  • Protein: Protein for lower porosity hair acts as a hydrating (or moisturizing) agent. Protein slows water loss from hair. Larger proteins form hair-hugging, water-grabbing films over hairs that trap moisture near your hair. Smaller proteins can do this and also settle in around the cuticles and keep the water in your hair longer. This is different than oils which just trap water. Proteins grab water from your wet hair and hold on to it so when your hair dries, it stays better hydrated. Moisturized! Fine and medium hair are more tolerant of protein than coarse hair.
  • Fine and medium hair can usually tolerate more frequent protein than very coarse hair. Because protein adds some extra support to hair, it can make coarser hair feel rough and dry and abrasive if used too often. This is a link to a post with more about protein.

2) Work at and beneath the surface of your hair with these tips:

  • Oil Pre-Shampoo / Pre-cleansing treatments: <-- Click this link for a post about how to make oil pre-shampoo treatments work with your hair. With low porosity hair - getting a benefit from oil sometimes means knowing some tricks for using it. Using a hair-penetrating oil on your hair like coconut oil or sunflower oil or olive oil or my oil blend for several hours before you wash your hair can add softness, lubrication and weight to your hair. Because you wash after this treatment, you won't have greasy feeling hair, but the softness and definition remains. Oils do not create build-up like conditioners can (with the exception of cocoa butter and plain shea butter or other solid-at-room-temperature plant butters). These are ideal treatments for lower porosity hair because even though your hair doesn't soak up loads of oil, it can benefit from it. And because low porosity hair can be build-up prone, oils can be a good option for deep conditioning. When your hair feels tangly, use oils that have good lubrication for your pre-wash such as sunflower, jojoba, olive or grapeseed.
    • Trick for using oils on low porosity hair: Use a light touch for an oil pre-wash treatment. Enough oil to add some shine, or maybe a little more to add some weight and make your hair feel a little "dirty." Use this only on the ends if your hair becomes greasy easily. Leave on for 2-6 hours. Use a good shampoo to cleanse; if you're using a very mild shampoo, you might want to do a second wash with shampoo diluted with water if you used more oil than you needed.
  • Heat: 1) Heat may increase your hair's porosity slightly but not in the more aggressive way that makes it as vulnerable as do acids and alkaline solutions. See this post for more details. Heat gives your hair a greater surface for binding conditioners. 2) Heat liquefies ingredients, the act of wrapping your hair to apply heat improves product distribution, and more conditioner will adhere to your hair with heat. Use heat with deep conditioning treatments if your hair is feeling extra dry or tangling more than usual. Using heat can double the amount of conditioner that binds to your hair.
  • Deep conditioning: Lower porosity hair does not pick up as much conditioning as hair that is more porous. If your hair needs an intense burst of softness, detangling or hydration, use a deep conditioner, or your usual conditioner with a little oil and whatever else you like added. 
  • - Add heat to the treatment, barely warmer than body temperature.
  • - Leave it on 5 minutes for hair that is easily over-conditioned or gets too soft, 10-30 minutes for the most intense effect.
  • See this post for more details about how to work with heat and timing for deep conditioning.
  • Alkaline solutions: But promise to do a test strand first and pay close attention to how your hair responds. Baking soda mixed with conditioner or water at whatever concentration works for you. These can temporarily (and permanently) alter your hair's porosity and may change surface texture. But there's more to baking soda than porosity...
    • The probable explanation for the positive result some people get with baking soda mixtures is related to surface chemistry as well as porosity. The alkaline baking soda solution likely disrupts or breaks down the "F layer" containing 18-MEA (the lipid-rich epicuticle - see the beginning of this post). Once this has happened, the hair is no longer as hydrophobic (water-repelling). Hair becomes more hydrophilic (water-attracting). It becomes wet more easily. There is a disrupted lipid barrier (the epicuticle is degraded or removed) that was slowing the movement of water in and out. As a result, the hair will bond with more of whichever cationic conditioner you apply. At least the first time you use conditioner after the alkaline treatment. This still isn't porosity, it's surface chemistry. You lose the natural lipid layer and replace it with commercial conditioner. Conditioners have different textural and aesthetic qualities from the oils that were on your hair before. 
    • Some people report a similar effect with bleached or highlighted hair - that it holds a curl better as a result of the treatment - and for very similar reasons. Sometimes alkaline solutions give hair a slippery feeling - alkaline solutions tend to feel slippery in general - they're dissolving the oils on your hair and skin, sort of turning them into soap. It's a similar chemical process. After repeated use, alkaline solutions may leave your hair more porous overall because there is exchange of solutes in the hair for alkaline solution while the alkaline solution is on your hair. Proceed with caution when using acids and alkaline ingredients on your hair and scalp.
    • Mix your baking soda with yogurt (unflavored, unsweetened) to take advantage of yogurt's hydrating qualities, some of the smaller proteins and amino acids and lactic acid (and other acids) and unique lipids from the milk. Yogurt bring the pH down to closer to 7, but still causes some swelling of the hair. Rinse really well to avoid stinky yogurt-hair later on!
    • Mix your baking soda with conditioner to buffer the hair a little. 
Other hydration boosters: 
Aloe vera rinse: Combine 1 part aloe vera juice (the drinkable kind) with 1 part water. Add a small squirt of glycerin if you like. Apply with a cup or squeeze bottle, work through and leave on for a minute or two. Rinse. The reason to dilute with water is to keep the pH around 5 because aloe vera juices can be quite acidic which is harsh hair and may irritate your scalp and eyes.

Honey: Mix warmed honey (do not let it boil, it will become hard when cool) into conditioner or with warm water or warm herbal tea. Apply to hair as usual for conditioner, leave a honey rinse on for a few minutes. You can use this with heat too.

Banana: You must be careful with bananas! Banana has amazing hydrating and shine-enhancing power. No green bananas. No solid-yellow bananas. I am not kidding. It's really hard to wash out banana chunks and for some reason, when you put banana in your hair which has not been pureed to complete and total mush or is not ripe enough - it forms chunks. In your hair.
But when it is good - it is so good! Honey and banana combination can soften hair a lot. Blend up 1/4 to 1/2 very ripe banana (lots of brown spots on the skin) and apply it to your hair - with some warmed honey if you like. Leave on with heat for 3-5 minutes.
A better idea is to use baby food banana puree if you have never used banana before. 

Yogurt: Stick with non-fat plain yogurt if your hair is easily weighed down. The lactic acid in yogurt hydrates hair and there are some proteins that are small enough to be "active" in your hair. Use this before a thorough cleansing to avoid any lingering yogurt in your hair.

Avoid dehydration:
Your low porosity hair is what everybody else is trying to mimic with deep conditioners and hair repair agents. Don't dry it out! Wear a hat or scarf in the sun and in cold, dry air. If you get a lot of sun exposure, use some protein if your hair tolerates it. 
Avoid high-heat styling tools.
Protect your hair while swimming, and when out in the wind.
Use lower peroxide hair color or plant dyes to color hair - or get your hair as healthy as possible to let your natural color be it's most intense.
Wear a silk or silky, smooth scarf, bonnet or "buff" at night to reduce friction and create a little humid environment around your hair - the humidity comes from your skin.

Every day give your hair some hydration. If you aren't wetting your hair daily, mix up a spray bottle with distilled water, a small amount of conditioner, and other goodies like aloe vera juice or a hydrolyzed protein additive or boil the distilled water with marshmallow root or horsetail or nettles. Mist your hair with this to provide water, lubrication and ingredients with lasting hydration to keep your hair supple all day.
Oils can soften hair in between washes if it gets that rough or stiff or lighter colored look on the ends.

Reduction-Induces Surface Modification of Human Hair. Kamath and Ruetsch. Journal of Cosmetics Science, 2010. 61, 1-12

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Film Forming Humectants - What They Are and Why You Need Them

What is a film-forming humectant? It's a term for a group of ingredients that are moisturizers par excellence! Especially for hair that is easily weighed down by conditioners, or hair that oils or conditioners seem to sit on top of instead of "soak in." There is a list near the end of this page of products emphasizing film-forming humectants. ©Science-y Hair Blog 2014

Rather than just attract water when water is abundant like glycerin or sorbitol do, film-forming humectants form a film over your hair that helps your hair resist dehydration. ©Science-y Hair Blog 2014
Humectant ingredients in products (once the hair is dry) can release the water they initially attracted when the air when the air around your hair is dry. Some humectants release water fairly readily like glycerin or sorbitol. When humectants form a film, water is slowed down by needing to pass through the film, therefore water loss from your hair to the air around it is slowed. 

With film-forming humectants, water is lost slowly from the hair through the humectant film because these are large, complex molecules which dry to form a clear, flexible film over your hair. Because they are very complex molecules they have more nooks and crannies for water to be packed into whereas a simple humectant molecule (like glycerin or propylene glycol) has fewer. Chemically, that's an oversimplification - but you get the idea. They not only trap water in themselves and in/around your hair - but the water has to pass through the film to escape from your hair.
Glycerin - a simple humectant molecule.
D-Galacturonic acid, one of the
several complex molecules in flax-
seed gels.

Analogy: If a simple humectant like glycerin dries quickly like an old, thin dish towel, then a film-forming humectant dries slowly like a very thick, plush bath towel.

Film forming humectants are often what your hair is needing when it seems dry even though you use oil or lots of conditioner or leave-in conditioner because they actively grab water and they keep their grip on it. If you want to keep your hair hydrated - a film-forming humectant in your leave-on or refreshing or moisturizing product is a necessity in a well-formulated product or product combination.

Where do film-forming humectants come from?
1) Plant gels©Science-y Hair Blog 2014
Many film-forming humectants are plant gels extracted from plant tissues. Plants excel at being able to store and move water. These all have a gel-like or juicy quality, tend to be slippery and to dry clear and smooth. Some work better in combination with others than alone.
  • flax seed gel (linseed)
  • okra gel (made from okra seed pods)
  • aloe vera
  • hydroxyethylcellulose
  • pectin
  • xanthan gum
  • guar gum
  • marsh mallow root
  • slippery elm
  • carrageenan (irish moss or seaweed extract)
  • nettle leaf tea or nettle extract

2) Hydrolyzed proteins

Proteins from plant and animal sources also act like humectants, with smaller to medium proteins tending to get under the cuticles somewhat to moisturize/hydrate from the inside (or at least around the outside of the inside) and medium to large proteins forming clear films over the hair. All sizes of protein help slow water loss from the hair over the day.©Science-y Hair Blog 2014

What are film-forming humectants good in? Conditioners, leave-in conditioners, hair styling products, shampoos. Hydrolyzed proteins will stay with your hair even if they were used in a rinse-out conditioner. With most non-protein film-formers, you need to leave them in your hair to have them work the best at sealing in that water.©Science-y Hair Blog 2014

Can you use film-forming humectants with oil sealants? Absolutely! They compliment each other. 
Oils as sealants on wet hair give you a waterproof barrier to water escaping from your hair. That's one sort of protection from dehydration - waterproofing. But oils are oily whereas film-forming humectants are more juicy and give you a water-soluble but strongly water-attracting layer. If you use both, you increase the likelihood that your hair will stay hydrated longer.

Something like a leave-in conditioner with a film-forming humectant could go over or under a layer of oil for sealing. A styling product with film-forming humectants can go over a layer of oil to seal. If you hair needs all the help it can get to stay hydrated and flexible, try all 3. Or mix everything together if applying more than one product seems like to much bother.©Science-y Hair Blog 2014

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Coconut Oil Makes My Hair Stiff! (Or rough)

Coconut oil is great for hair - some people simply cannot have a good hair day without it. It makes hair less porous so it doesn't get all dehydrated during washing, it makes hair soft, blah, blah, blah. I know, coconut oil is great, I wrote about it here and here.

There are those of us who use coconut oil, and find our hair gets crunchy or stiff or rigid or rough and we just don't see what the fuss was all about.

Or worse yet, we think there is something wrong with our hair - or maybe we did it wrong. Maybe our coconut oil is the wrong kind. 

Yet another Miracle Product that works for "everybody else" doesn't work for you. Well, that makes a person feel pretty mopey.

Cheer up! There's nothing wrong with your hair. It's the coconut oil.

Coconut oil's "miracle ingredient" is medium-chain triglycerides, a variety of fat or oil. Human sebum (skin oils) only contains around 35% triglycerides in general, and far less (maybe 10-15%) are shorter to medium-chain triglycerides.

Coconut oil is a large dose of a certain sort of fat (oil, lipid - pick your terminology) that is normally present in smaller amounts on your skin and (ideally) on your hair. So it makes sense that not everybody's hair appreciates being overloaded with medium-chain triglycerides when it was expecting other sorts of fats to be in the mix.

Coconut oil is so good at penetrating the hair because the medium-chain triglycerides are both small enough to seep between cuticles and they have polarity (a charge) that attracts them to the protein in your hair. Coconut oil is actively drawn to the inner portion of your hair whereas other oils need to seep through slowly.

What to Do:
Okay, you don't want to use coconut oil, but you still want an oil that penetrates your hair to prevent swelling and dehydration when you wash. You want an oil that softens deeply. You have options. Other oils penetrate the hair but either are less good at doing that, or may not have been studied in a lab, but still give a  good result:

Sunflower oil
Palm kernel oil
Olive oil
Avocado oil
Castor oil (possibly)

You can use one of these oils or a mixture of any of them.
You can use my oil blend recipe which is designed to be similar to the oils from your skin. Use it in moderation.
You can blend a little coconut oil into another oil to dilute it. Or add melted coconut oil to a conditioner. Sometimes you don't need to eliminate coconut oil completely, just don't use it "full-strength."

Don't care whether it soaks into your hair or not?
Then use any oil you like.