Monday, December 24, 2018

Product pH List

This is a short-looking list but read carefully, for some brands or some lines within a brand, the pH range is for multiple products. Some brands are not forthcoming with their pH range, either by direct request or looking through safety data sheets.

pH is given in a range because it may vary from batch to batch or product to product, though the pH needs to be in a specific range in most cases in order for preservatives to be effective and the product to be stable on the shelf.

Hair is at its least vulnerable between about pH 4.5 and 6.5. Outside that range, it is more vulnerable to damage. Lower pH products don't necessarily force cuticles to "close" - for some people the opposite can happen - hair-swelling in very-low pH can cause cuticles to pop up. It's likely safe to keep products in this range if you have delicate, breakage-prone or damaged hair.

If there is a product you are interested in, leave a comment. I won't post the comment, but I will try to look up the product. It may take some time, though!

ProductpH Range
Alterna Bamboo Smooth anti-frizz shampoo6-6.5
Alterna Bamboo Smooth anti-frizz conditioner3 - 4.5
Aussie Instant Freeze Gel7.5-8.5
Aussie Mega Moist Conditioner: 5.3-6.7
Aussie Mega Moist Shampoo5.3-6.7
Castile soap (liquid, un-diluted, such as Dr. Bronners)8.9-10
Design Essentials Honey Crème Moisture Retention Super Detangling Conditioning Shampoo5.8-6.6
Clay, bentonite mixed with distilled water~8
Clay, rhassoul, mixed with distilled water6.5-7.5
Design Essentials Kukui & Coconut Hydrating Conditioner5.8-6.6
Head and Shoulders Dandruff Shampoos4 to 6
Herbal Essences Conditioner: Hello Hydration3.5 to 6.5
Herbal Essences Conditioner: Long Term Relationship3.5 to 6.5
Herbal Essences Mousses5.5 - 6.5
Herbal Essences Set Me Up Gel7.5-8.5
Homemade Flax Seed Gel (made with distilled water)5.3
LA Looks Mega Mega Hold Styling Gel5 to 6
LA Looks Sport 5 to 6
Lemon juice (undiluted) ~2
Long Hair Don't Care products5.5 to 6.5
Shea Moisture Brand Products (this is the range they provide for their products)5 to 6.8
Soultanicals (All products except Master Hair Cleanse)5.5 to 6.5
Suave Conditioners - all Variations5.2
Tresemme Conditioners (All varieties)5
V05 Extra Body4 to 5
Vinegar (undiluted)2-3

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Blog Comments

Hello Everyone - just popping in to say I'm working on the Comments section.

I tend to get about 2-3 "spam" comments per actual comment, so I "moderate" comments before they appear or you'd have to read through a page full of spam-advertising for hair transplant clinic and the like. Recently I have not had time to do any of this, and to make matters more annoying, the "spam load" seems to have increased significantly.

Please bear with me while I sort this out.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Flax Seed Gel Diagnostics: The Video!

There are plenty of "how to make flaxseed gel" videos on YouTube, right? I made this video to show you how to tell whether you're going to get a thin, easily strainable result or a thick, difficult-to-strain result. Because flax seeds are a natural product and how they behave when heated can vary based on seed variety and growing conditions, storage time and conditions, your water, how fast you get to the stove when you hear the seeds boiling, how low you turn down the heat when they boil - you need more cues than just timing.

Thinner flax seed gel: Boil the water and seeds about 5-8 minutes. The gel will thicken over the heat a little. Gel will hang in thin threads from your stirring utensil (see the video). The gel will strain quickly and easily.
This gel will provide some support for your hair, shine, all the good things flax seed gel can do. This thinner gel is good for thin or fine hair, hair that is easily weighed down or tends to be low porosity.

Thicker flax seed gel: Boil seeds 10-15 minutes. Some people boil them longer than that. The gel with be thick over heat, you'll get thicker strings of gel hanging from your stirring utensil. It will not run readily through a strainer, it will require some pressure. I usually mash with a spoon, some people strain through the cut-off foot of nylon stockings. NOTE: having your hands contact the gel while straining through nylon stockings will contaminate the gel! You'll need to re-boil it to kill bacteria if you want a long shelf-life in the refrigerator.
This gel will provide extra support and thickness, it might be too softening or heavy for thin or fine hair or hair that tends to go limp easily or is low porosity. Possibly great for thick or coarse hair.

Overnight-soak flax gel will tend towards the thicker side upon boiling. The longer the seeds are in water, the more mucilage/polysaccharides (gel!) can be extracted, whether that is an overnight soak, a longer boil, or leaving the seeds in the hot water after boiling.

Whether or not more mucilage/polysaccharides (gel!) is better depends on your hair and your personal preference.

Links to flax gel recipes on this blog:
Basic flax seed gel recipes with ideas for add-ins.
Super-Smooth Flax Curl Cream
Flaxseed Curling Cream (uses commercial strong-hold gel)
Flaxseed/Aloe Gel with Protein (scroll down a bit)

Watch the video to see demos - and what seem like awkwardly long close-ups of my strainer and Pyrex measuring cup.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Conditioning Technique: Squish to Condish, How it Works

First of all - this is not my technique. It was named by Melissa Stites, hairstylist and owner of There Once Was A Curl salon in Southgate, Michigan. Squish to Condish is a conditioner-rinsing method for which you can find Ms. Stites text here on her blog - which she has generously shared and it is helpful to so many people. This technique is meant to leave some conditioner in the hair and achieve excellent hydration and lubrication. I often recommend this technique, so I've had to think quite a lot about why it works so well. You can find videos on YouTube demonstrating the technique.

I use un-glamorous words like hydration and lubrication for hair. Because they seem most literal and accurate to me.

When hair is hydrated - meaning it contains a certain percentage of water - it is flexible. Dehydrated hair becomes inflexible, which is part of what we mean when we say hair feels dry or, "like straw." Flexible hair is more pliable. It can be shaped when wet. It has some weight or heft when dry. It will group more readily with neighboring hairs into waves or curls during styling. If your hair is straight - hydrated hair is less likely to spread out at the ends (like the end of a broom) if it is well-hydrated.

When hair is lubricated, hairs can settle in snugly next to neighboring hairs. Lubrication reduces friction - and friction creates frizz.

Squish to Condish: This method enhances 4 important elements to conditioner-use.
  1. Adding water to conditioner once in the hair to take advantage of conditioner's action as a "wetting agent." Wetting agents like surfactants (and conditioners contain cationic surfactants) help a conditioner overcome hair's resistance to water absorption. This is a little counter-intuitive because conditioners also help hair repel water once adsorbed to the hair. But don't over-think it - instead try it yourself. You'll find that if your hair tends to repel water and be slow to wet, applying conditioner to it first helps it become wet more quickly. Shampoos are even more effective wetting agents than conditioners.
  2. The physical manipulation used - scrunching, gliding, pressing hairs together, gentle squeezing, finger-combing, helps saturate hair evenly. Like kneading bread just enough - there will be no little bits of dry flour here and bits of wetter dough there after you've done this. The hair is more evenly saturated with water, and evenly coated with more-fluid conditioner.
  3. Better contact with all hair surfaces means conditioner can bond to more bonding-sites on the hair, and with it, water for more thorough saturation.
  4. More of the hair-penetrating ingredients can find their way into the hair because of better coverage, and more thorough saturation. That includes ingredients like Glycerin, Panthenol, Amino acids, Cetrimonium chloride (or bromide).
This is not a technique for smoothing down cuticles. As far as cuticles are involved - between cuticle edges is where water can seep past, and with it, some of the humectants and conditioning ingredients and oils in conditioners. Conditioners also bond to cuticles and their edges. But conditioner and Squish to Condish doesn't change the cuticle-condition, nor the cuticle position. This technique alters elements of flexibility, hydration and lubrication to change the behavior of the hair strands.

I admit it took me a long time to get to writing this post because I was having trouble with the visual aids. I wanted to use real hair, but imaging hair with conditioner on it is difficult. I decided on silver hair for its translucence, and I added blue dye to the conditioner for visibility. The dark lines in the center are medullas. The conditioner appears as some blobs or irregularities on the sides of the hair. In the end, I had to "enhance" the final images a little to show you what seems so helpful about this method to me. 

Above: Hair with conditioner smoothed over the surface. The conditioner is blue. This seemed like good coverage to the naked eye and to the fingers. The blue dye worked fairly well If you *click to enlarge* the photo, you can see some blurry areas of non-blue conditioner which did not retain the dye. Conditioner coverage is not very continuous when just smoothed over the hair!

Close-up of hair with conditioner smoothed over the surface. Coverage is patchy.

Now the Squish to Condish hair. 

Hair using Squish To Condish - water added to conditioner on the hair, squeezed together, but has not has the excess water removed - a little more water/conditioner removal would be the next step. Blue coloring is spread more evenly over more of the hair, meaning more conditioner has contact with the hair, and the hair is better-hydrated from having "kneaded" the water and conditioner into the hair.

Squish to Condish hair close-up - blue-colored conditioner covers most of the hair surface.

Keep in mind - this is a dramatization to help you visualize and understand how this technique works. I did work with real hair and real conditioner - it's a conditioner with a little protein and oil, so this is very close to what happens in your hair.

By "kneading" the water and conditioner into your hair, you create a more-hydrated, better-lubricated, more malleable result. Just like kneading bread or mixing muffin or brownie batter to assure every bit of dough/batter is properly prepared.
Even if you need to rinse out your conditioner after conditioning due to sensitive skin, or hair that tends to become limp or develop an oily or coated appearance, this technique still provides much better conditioning that combing conditioner through your hair and hoping for the best.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

My Problem-Scalp Line-Up

Greetings blog-readers! The blog has been quiet because while I have ideas for blog posts, they generally take more hours to carry out than I have to write them. This is not intended as medical advice and does not replace a consultation with a doctor. Use any and all treatments at your own discretion - or ask your doctor or pharmacist. Nor does it replace buying half a dozen dandruff shampoos and handing them off to a family member or friend when they don't work for you. Alas. I buy these products myself - this is not a sponsored post. Everything you see here should cost less than $25.

I have an entire page dedicated to itchy, flaky, bumpy scalp products because so many of us encounter those problems from time to time, or on a more or less constant basis.

What kind of scalp problem do I have? My skin falls into the "atopic dermatitis/eczema" category. Also "seborrheic dermatitis." I don't see those things as separate entities, there is overlap, even though eczema usually means dry skin and seborrheic dermatitis usually means oily skin. Atopic dermatitis means you have allergies, and part of your allergic reaction is your skin barrier breaks down when your skin is bombarded by allergens - things like mold spores, pollen, pet dander. But because allergies have an inflammatory component, some people's skin "learns" that inflammation reaction and will also become inflamed - dry, red, painful, peeling or flaking, raw - from exposure to wind or cold or heat or pressure (hat-wearing or headbands).

The "seborrheic dermatitis" component applies because scalps (and eyebrows, noses, cheeks, chins) can sometimes be more-oily. And sometimes the flaking and peeling of skin is a more-visible symptom in these areas. And oiliness - greasy hair. But for some people, that "oiliness" actually looks like thick, waxy, yellow flakes. Or it may feel like a waxy/powdery residue or "scalp build-up" that accumulates under your fingernails if you scratch your skin, or leaves that residue on your fingers if you rub it. Some people get "scalp acne" or bumps or cysts.

What do I use? The right treatment varies a lot from person to person. I have skin that reacts badly to a lot of products, and I have tried many dandruff treatments with very few "hits." This is what works for me, when it works and why it works.

Scalp massage: Before washing, or between washes if you go several days between washes. Nothing fancy, massage the scalp gently with the finger-pads (not the nails - if you have a very sensitive scalp, that can leave you with skin damage). Then I stroke my fingers over and through my hair - which spreads any oils over the hair and can help hair feel more-hydrated and flexible after washing.

*For people who have a waxy, thick build-up, a shampoo brush can do a great job loosening that up. Using very warm water helps to soften waxy oils (or a warm towel wrapped around the head), by bringing them closer to their melting point so they're easier to remove - but if heat makes your skin worse, just use water as warm as you can tolerate.

DHS Sal shampoo: For dry-weather peeling/flaking and humid-weather itching and bumpiness. This product contains Salicylic acid to act as an exfoliant to remove skin cells which need shedding. Those of us with problem scalps tend to need help with exfoliation because our skin is not functioning like healthy skin, and skin cells which should be shedding freely tend to stick together instead. That can provide a moist little environment for yeasts and bacteria - the ones that normally live on our scalps without causing a problem - to grow more than usual -causing itch and inflammation. FYI: Yeasts are a kind of fungus. Good exfoliation can help keep your microbial community in check.

I use this 1-2 times per week when my scalp is flaring up. I wash my hair frequently to remove allergens. This shampoo is fragrance-free and contains no conditioners - which are a problem for my skin. My hair is short, but if it were long, dry, highlighted, relaxed, dyed, heat-styled or damaged, I would want to condition it before washing as well as after to protect the hair from drying out. An oil pre-wash treatment would also protect hair from drying effects of shampoos such as this. This shampoo is meant to de-grease hair and scalp, but not all itchy and flaky scalps are especially greasy. Mine isn't. I usually wash after this with my favorite mild shampoo to make sure there will be nothing left behind to cause itch.

I can't buy this product locally, so I order it directly from Person and Covey - their shipping is quick and I'm certain to receive a product which has not been sitting in a warehouse for too long. As I write this, it costs $8.60 for a 4 oz. bottle. That skimpy little bottle lasts a long while unless more than one person is using it.

Hydrocortisone cream: For applying to itchy, peeling, red (inflamed) or flaky areas. Some people get flaking and peeling all over. My scalp will flake or peel in patches (usually) with itching. So I can spot-treat with hydrocortisone cream, which reduces inflammation and itching quickly.
Cortizone-10 is my favorite, but I'll buy a generic if the ingredients are the same. In other countries, this anti-itch medication will have different brands, but the active ingredient is Hydrocortisone 1%.

That which needs extra medicine: When hydrocortisone cream fails, in summer when it is humid, when I've been sweating, if there has been a dramatic weather change, I've been wearing a hat, etc., the yeasts on a sensitive scalp (and sometimes bacteria too) can get a little out of control and that means extra itching, inflammation - usually slightly different symptoms than during our more-dry, colder winters. Sometimes it seems to turn on an allergy response, if you're not outright allergic to molds/yeasts to begin with. In which case, your eyes might itch or get watery, you might feel tired or foggy-headed and your mind will drift to washing your scalp and it's really, really hard not to scratch. This is the muscle for really bad skin days.

Tinactin antifungal: This is what I use to spot-treat itchy areas when topical Hydrocortisone does not work. Designed for athlete's foot, a fungal skin disease - this cream works so quickly when I need it on my feet, I decided to try it in my itchy pool-ears and eyebrows and after a few applications, things are usually back to normal. Sometimes I need to use this in addition to hydrocortisone cream on an itchy/peeling spot. One could use any brand or athlete's foot treatment you like, this is the one that gets along with my skin and works very fast. I use it to spot-treat my scalp sometimes. It's a cream, and it comes in a small-ish tube, so obviously I'm not going to put this all over my scalp. The active ingredient is Tolnaftate.

Zinc, Ketoconazole and antifungal shampoo/conditioner or treatments: I like DHS zinc shampoo, but the fragrance is strong. If the itch of an itchy scalp is more than I can spot-treat, and Salicylic acid shampoo isn't getting the job done, it's time to try something anti-microbial.
Pyrithione zinc shampoos like this tend to work for lots of people by reducing yeasts on the scalp. There are Pyrithione zinc, Ketoconazole shampoos and Piroctone olamine shampoos and treatments in a list on this page. Those are also anti-yeast.
I use these "as needed" because I've been dealing with this for years and I know (mostly) how my scalp will respond - usually a few uses is enough for me if I'm using other treatments at the same time - which I do. Usually one needs to use a medicated shampoo for about 2 weeks, and then less often for maintenance after your scalp has cleared.

Antihistamines: For those of us with seasonal allergies, taking antihistamines regularly when you need them, assuming it's safe for you to take them, can help minimize the intensity of skin reactions.

There you have it - one person's strategy for dry-weather scalp problems, humid-weather scalp problems, and things in between.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Is this oil good for MY hair?

Greetings! The blog has been very quiet lately. Life gets busy, busy, busy.

I keep reading how many people experience problems with oils. Some people's hair never met an oil it didn't like. And for others, their hair has a problem with all but 1 or 2 oils. Occasionally we try an oil and get such a bad result, we want to swear off all oils. But then you're probably missing out on some beneficial, inexpensive effects.

Here's my quick assessment checklist for whether your hair gets along with an oil or not. Don't worry that somebody else's hair does really well with an oil that makes yours look and feel awful. We're all as different as we are the same. Skin and hair chemistry vary subtly from person to person.

Good oils for your hair: A good oil for your hair will look and feel good when you apply it - maybe adding a little sheen, a smoother feel, ease of detangling. And it will still have that sheen and smoothness hours later. You may need to re-apply the oil at some point between washes, but your hair should not be worse off after using the oil.

Oils that don't work for your hair: Obviously limp, flat hair means your hair doesn't get along well with an oil - or you used too much. If your hair becomes dry, frizzy, waxy, brittle, tangly, stiff, crunchy or dull-looking - your hair is NOT getting along well with an oil you used. This may happen right away, or it may occur over the course of many hours - or maybe not until after days or weeks of use. Sometimes we blame other ingredients for some of these effects and forget to consider the oils in products.

Oils that are underwhelming: Do you keep adding oil to a deep conditioner or doing oil treatments and not seeing any result? You may not yet have found the right oil for your hair. Some people's hair will tolerate a lot of different oils without showing much change for better or worse - but when you find the right one - that's when your hair stands up and does a little dance!

Watch out for: 

  • Many products combine 1 or 2 or a whole bunch of oils (and butters, too) in a single product. If your hair does well with one of those oils, but the product as a whole does not agree with your hair - the problem may be an oil you are not familiar with. If your hair is picky about oils, save your money and don't buy products that use several different oils.
  • A problem with quantity vs. the oil itself. Too much of a good thing can be a bad thing. If you've only ever used enough oil to get your hair greasy or wet-looking and found it too difficult to wash out, and leaving your hair feeling crunchy and like artificial hair you may need to use less to get a useful result.

Make it work for you: Not all oils are good in the same application. Some oils are nicer to use on dry or damp hair, but terrible if mixed into a conditioner - save those for oil treatments. Some oils might not provide a nice result when used during styling, but are good in a conditioner (added by you upon use, or by the manufacturer). Some oils work well for one part of styling, but not another - for example, smoothing frizz in dry hair only, or sealing damp hair only. You never know what will work - sometimes you'll be pleasantly surprised. Sometimes you'll have to go wash your hair again. It's all part of the learning process, right?

What sort of hair is more picky about oils? I don't know if there is any foolproof, always-accurate way to guess with the tools we all have at our disposal. Low-porosity hair seems to be more reactive to oils sometimes. Hair which is quite coarse (wide in width) may be more picky because any added rigidity is more noticeable. Hair which tends to feel or behave wiry or springy may also be more sensitive about oil choices because of the "added rigidity" problem. Hard water can go either way, it can make your hair more or less oil-friendly. Porous hair may be more oil-loving, but it can still have bad reactions to different oils. Temperature and humidity matter too - oils may behave differently in your hair in hot weather vs. cold weather.

Monday, July 10, 2017

UV Protectant Hair Ingredients and Products

UV protectants are ideal for active people, for going to the beach where sand and water amplify UV radiation, and especially helpful for gray hair which tends to discolor (usually turning yellowish) in sunlight. Any hair benefits from UV protection because direct sunlight increases hair's porosity. Sunlight tends to make your hair's cuticles shrink and fuse together - like "shrinky dinks" or similar to what happens to hard plastic placed in a hot oven. That means tiny pores are opened up where the cuticle used to cover the hair. This takes only 200 hours in the sun - half an hour a day for just over a year.

Brown to black hair tends to fade both lighter and reddish in the sun and blonde hair and red hair lose color. Highlighted hair tends to become "brassy" and gray/white hair can turn yellowish as well.
One may not blog about summer and
sunshine without invoking a beach
scene. Here you go.

The Ingredients:
These are all UV light absorbers - the word "protectant" is commonly how these are marketed.

  • Octylmethoxycinnamate  (a.k.a. ethylhexyl methoxycinnamate or octinoxate) - This works best as a spray containing oils or oily ingredients - not as well in gels or shampoos or conditioners. 
  • Cinnamidopropyltrimonium chloride - This is a good UV protectant simply because it is also a substantive (bonds to hair) conditioner - it bonds to the hair whether applied as a shampoo, conditioner or spray, it stays on if you go in the water. It also helps prevent breakage because it is a conditioner. This is used in quite low concentrations – it does not need to be at the top of the ingredient list. 
  • Benzophenone-3, Benzophone-4 - Water-soluble UV absorber. For leave-on products, but may wash off if you go in the water. 
  • Quaternium-95 and Propanediol - This is also fairly new and is also a substantive conditioner, so it can be applied as a shampoo, conditioner, or leave-on and should stay on if you go in the water.
You know, wear a hat. A hat with a dense fabric (straw hats need to be a reasonably tight weave) will keep off much of the UV. Or you can buy a UPF 30 or 50-rated hat (the fabric has the UPF rating). Hats protect your eyes from sun so you don't get cataracts, keeps the sun off part of your face so you don't end up with lots of wrinkles or dry skin, prevents "part-burn." Hats keep the UV light off your hair, but your hair can still get pretty hot under a hat and dehydrate.

UV Buffs with UPF of 30 or 50 are handy too. Cover all your hair - if you have long hair, pin the ends up so they're covered.