everything I've learned about growing, maintaining, styling, and loving long hair

Posts tagged “healthy hair

oil vs water

Years ago, when I first began my hair journey, I quickly discovered that some of the widely accepted and practiced methods for growing long healthy straight hair did NOT work for me at all.  In fact, sometimes it made it worse.  One of those practices is stretching the time between washes (as in, don’t get your hair wet in the shower) so the natural oils will have a chance to soak in.  Another is to apply oil to the ends of the hair where the natural oils never get a chance to reach.  I tried this for a few months.  It made my hair look and feel awful.  What I hadn’t yet learned was that curly hair is generally dehydrated by nature, and that my hair actually NEEDED the water I had been depriving it of in the shower.  I do try to shampoo only once a week or less, and I use a gentle shampoo, to keep from stripping away all the natural oils on my scalp and hair.  But I still get it wet, even when I don’t wash it.  Doing this improved the health significantly.

This article does a good job of explaining why.

Written by Jonathan Torch, owner of Curly Hair Solutions

At the base of every hair on every human, there is a gland that secretes a waxy material called sebum. The sebum is essential for supplying nutritious minerals to the follicle that moisturize and protect the skin and hair. The sebum has a tiny molecular weight that allows for deeper penetration and absorption of these minerals without blocking or clogging any other pores and cuticles – and to make it even better, the sebum evaporates without any residue.

When it comes to oils and our hair, we have had quite a long track record of using them! All around the world, humans have been using and bathing in oils; to try and replenish the missing moisture that preserves youthful glow and energy. Cleopatra, the infamous Queen of Egypt, was constantly in search of a more miraculous oil to preserve her beauty. The more exotic the oil, the bigger the price tag, and therefore, the more in demand it was. It was seen and believed to be cosmetic elixir.

To this day, oils are still extremely popular in hair care and therapy. Sales of oil-based products continue to grow every year, as more and more exotic and potent oils enter the beauty industry – and it`s completely understandable, as the benefits of oil on hair are so easy to notice. In particular, the look and feel of soft, shiny, and supple hair is most appealing to everybody who uses oils.

When I started to focus on naturally curly hair as my specialty, it became increasingly obvious to me that while oils make the exterior of hair look beautiful, there is a tremendous difference in the quality of the hair when comparing oil-based products and water-based products. My focus was on the end results: Style Management is incredibly easier to have when there is absolutely no silicone or oils coating the hair. Water is the healthiest moisturizer in the world – it is what makes up our atmosphere, it is what our bodies are made of, and it is an integral part of the hair. Water is essential to life, and hair automatically responds as a natural moisture magnet – it sucks up all the moisture it can, particularly when water is involved.

By understanding this common-sense fact, it became obvious that eliminating oils from the styling process makes it far easier to moisturize and style hair. Oil and water do not mix. While they both have their proper roles and benefits, they are very far apart in what they do. Oils act as a lubricator, cosmetically softening – and weighing down – the hair. When there`s a coating surrounding the hair, it becomes very difficult for each hair to group with other hairs to make a beautiful curl or a ringlet. Because of this effect, any movement to the hair causes flyaway hairs, essentially encouraging frizz. On the other hand, water fills the hair cuticle, encouraging grouping and joining of each hair, and this automatically creates a frizz-free curl. Water works every time in every scenario of curl formation in all weather conditions – and it`s the most natural thing I could base my products on.


silicones in hair products

 (written by Laura Jane from The Long Hair Site)
Ok, the whole silicone thing… I have a B.S. in biochemistry, so I do know something on the subject…

Silicones are polymers (long, stringy molecules made up of similar pieces all strung together) made of silicon, oxygen, hydrogen, and sometimes other elements (e.g. carbon).  (Note the difference between the element SILICON, the compounds called SILICONES, and SILICA which is SiO2 the compound that makes up both sand and glass.  The vast majority of people don’t know there’s any difference, let alone which is which, but they’re really quite different things.)

As far as hair is concerned…  Silicones coat the hair shaft. This often provides a smoothing effect, but depending on the type, they can build up and cause drying and tangling in the long run.  There doesn’t really seem to be a consensus on whether
they’re bad for everyone.  Personally, they don’t work well for me, but I know people who swear by them.  As with so many other things, it seems to depend a lot on hair type.

Certainly some are less damaging than others.  Whether they’re more or less hydrophobic (literally "water-fearing", as opposed to hydrophilic which is "water-loving") makes a big difference.  All other things being equal, silicones that are more hydrophilic will wash and rinse out more easily, causing less buildup.

Sticking to all-organic products will not necessarily be best for your hair, although there are some excellent all-organic products out there.  I’m personally a big fan of Aubrey Organics, not for ingredients reasons, but because they work well FOR ME.  (This doesn’t mean anything about how well they’ll work for anyone else, of course.)  There are plenty of organics that would be bad for your hair.

Things to avoid, in general, are strongly alkaline substances (this is a big one!), and chemicals that tend to build up on the hair
shaft.  To be used in moderation are detergents (which can strip hair of oils or even damage the proteins if overused, but which must be used to clean the hair unless a soap is being used) and oils (we all know, of course, that too much oil is yucky!).

A few words on detergents, since this is a big topic in lots of long hair discussions, and so much misinformation exists.  Detergents are not necessarily bad.  Actually, they’re quite useful.  To remove excess oils and dirt and so on from hair, it’s necessary to use either detergent or some form of soap.  They serve essentially the same purposes, and have
essentially the same effects in a general sense.  Soaps tend to build up more than detergents (or, to put it another way, detergents tend to rinse out more completely).  This is actually why detergents were originally developed – to counteract soap scum.  Detergents are often more effective than soaps at removing oils and dirt, which makes them easier to overdo it with (leaving your hair stripped and dry and possibly damaged).

Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS, more properly referred to as sodium dodecyl sulfate or SDS) is a detergent.  Contrary to much misinformation out there, it is not dangerous (check with NIH, for example – the claims that is causes cancer are just so much nonsense!), nor is it necessarily harmful to your hair or skin.  Like any other detergent, it can be drying if overused, but so can soap.

Personally, I use castile-based shampoos by Aubrey Organics.  This is not because I think soap-based shampoos are necessarily superior to detergent-based shampoos, but because I’ve tried them and they work well for me.  (They’re also convenient, don’t make my allergies act up – a real challenge anymore, since I have so many – and smell nice without being
overpowering.  For me, they’re cost-effective, because I don’t have to wash my hair as often as I used to, and it doesn’t take much.)

In the end, what’s most important is, of course, what works for you.  The few hard-and-fast rules I’d suggest are watch out for strongly alkaline (basic) chemicals and watch out for peroxides.  Be careful if you choose to use silicones, and keep an eye out for buildup, which may or may not be a problem for you.  Some alcohols can be drying (some aren’t – it’s not really a simple "alcohols are drying" situation, in spite of what you may hear).

Laura Jane
who probably told you much more than you wanted to know

how often to shampoo

(written by Heidi W. on The Long Hair Site)

As you likely know, the scalp has sebacious glands that constantly produce its own sebum (a waxy ester sometimes referred to as oil) that when hair is left unwashed coats the hair for approximately 4-6" down the length from the roots. This natural production of sebum has much to do with age really meaning hormones and to an extent, a response to frequency (or not) of washing.

It is understood that if one washes daily thereby stripping the hair of its sebum, this sebum produces a little faster to replace what’s missing from the scalp skin and the hair. In my opinion, sebum production is not so much something our bodies do to benefit our hair — that just happens to be an aside — rather, it is intended to keep our scalp skin healthy.

However, it’s possible to go too far in the nonwashing. At a certain point, sebum will break down. On our skin (scalp skin included) is ever present bacteria that at a certain point begins to break down sebum. This bacteria can get into hair follicles/roots and cause early release of hair. An indicator of sebum buildup gone too far is a rather pungent odor, and of course, the hair is rather cake-y in appearance on the top of the head.

Locating the balance point between allowing some sebum buildup to occur and the next hair washing. Obviously, one does not want to encourage early release of healthy hairs.

It is also possible, in the process of allowing a longer duration between hair washings to also get clogged hair follicles/roots from sebum buildup. The hair follicles/roots are not unlike the rest of our skin which does have little hairs sticking out all over our bodies (some thicker and easily visible; others are finer and not as easily seen). All skin can get a pimple or an ingrown hair and often these are due to a clogged pore from dirt, grime, and yes, even our own sebum on our scalp.

Hair washing is, in my opinion, more about cleansing the scalp than washing the hair. Notice that hair length does not require the same cleansing schedule as the scalp hair might, or the scalp itself might. This is why some of us scalp wash: to get at the scalp and the hair on top of the head more frequently while leaving the length alone.

In my opinion, being able to grow beautiful hair has much to do with the health of the skin of the scalp since hair itself is dead yet the skin is a very alive organism as are the roots/follicles under the surface of the scalp’s skin.

So, typically, in scalp washing, the first wash is to get the grime off of the scalp hair–the hair. The second wash is to create a slightly larger lather (now that the grime/buildup of sebum is removed), and this lather should be massaged into the scalp skin. Some find they need more than 2 shampoo’s to adequately cleanse the scalp and the hair on the top of the head.

Yes, the scalp does to a degree regulate its flow according to frequency of washing. (For those who do indeed need frequent washings, using a gentler shampoo is required.) Follicles/roots can indeed become clogged from not washing, and although the likelihood increases with less frequent washings, it can occur with frequent washings, too! Not unlike acne. We wash our faces daily yet acne happens even so.

The key in washing the scalp’s skin is massaging the lather into this skin.

With this new consideration of paying attention to work the lather into the scalp’s skin, it may be a while before you notice any increase in hair’s density (hairs per square inch on the head)….but keep aiming to cleanse the scalp and in time you should definitely notice some increase in new growth.

Do not use "clarifying" shampoo at every single washing. Use it when you need it. You might find occasion to use it repetitively two times in a row, but it should not be used as your shampoo choice on a regular basis if it’s a "clarifying" shampoo. These shampoos strip the hair of all oils and leave the hair quite dry. When this occurs, you must replace as immediately as possible what has been removed.

Allow your sebum to manage the top hair down to around the earlobes (give or take). Wash hair, I’d say, approximately every 3 days if you can go that long, depending on your sebum production. (Of course you can scalp wash). Use oil in your hair length to coat the hair with a protective layer that imparts a pleasant shine and supple softness.

healthy hair tips

~ Once the hair has emerged from the scalp, it is dead and has no ability to renew itself.  The average growth rate is 1/2 inch per month.  At this rate, by the time the hair reaches your shoulders it is about 2 years old.  That’s a long time to be exposed to daily wear and tear.  Imagine what a piece of silk would look like after 2 years of constant handling!  Treat your hair as gently as possible, as if it were a valuable piece of delicate cloth.
~ Your hair reflects the over-all condition of your body.  If you are healthy and well-nourished, your hair will be glorious.  You need the right balance of vitamins and minerals.  Beta-carotene (found in green and yellow vegetables) is essential.  It maintains bone growth and promotes healthy skin and hair.
~ Hair is protein.  If your diet is low in protein, the result will be thinner hair and slower growth. 
~ Excessive stress slows down the growth rate.  Reduce your stress as much as possible and get plenty of rest.
~ Scalp massages increase circulation and stimulates the hair follicles which results in healthier faster growing hair.
~ Use combs only (not brushes) for detangling.  Work out the knots by hand instead of ripping them out with a comb or brush.  Brushing wet hair will guarantee damage!
~ Avoid "-cones" in hair products (dimethicone, cyclomethicone, etc).  These are silicones that coat the hair shaft to make hair smooth and shiny.  But it also seals out moisture eventually causing the hair to be dry and brittle.
~ Use a clarifying shampoo about once a month to remove build-up from products, hard water, air polution, etc.
~ Wash your hair as infrequently as you can get away with.
~ Make sure your combs, barrettes, and other accessories don’t have molded plastic seams, they’re sharp and can actually cut your hair.  Use a nail file to smooth out the seams if possible.
~ Never do styles too tightly, this will cause breakage and possibly hair loss over time.  Wearing your hair in the same style day after day is bad for the same reasons.

4 major hair killers

(written by Karen M. Shelton of HairBoutique.com)
     I have always loved the book [Don’t Shoot Yourself In The Foot] and as I was reading it again for about the 100th time I realized that many people who write to me at HairBoutique.com who want to have success with their hair, are their own worst enemies.  Hmmmm.  So what do they do that specifically trips them up?
Poor Physical Conditioning – Lackluster Hair
     Not only is poor physical conditioning and health a major reason behind heart disease and major medical bills, it causes chronic fatigue, low energy, and other problems.  How does this relate to hair?  It has been proven that hair benefits greatly from exercise and good circulation.  Hair is a barometer of overall physical health.  Think about it, if your body is not being well taken care of, what does your hair and skin look like?
     Developing good physical conditioning doesn’t mean that you have to join a health club and work out hours every day.  It just means to pay attention to your body and get some exercise for at least 20-30 minutes at least 3 times a week.  More is better of course.
     I am the original couch potato.  My daily exercise used to consist of moving from my PC to the coffee machine and back.  Did my hair suffer?  Yes, definitely.  I discovered some years ago that when I don’t exercise, my hair starts to look drab and it seems to "act up."  When I walk at least 30 minutes on my treadmill (next to my PC of course) at least 3 times a week, my hair improves significantly.  The added physical circulation is definitely a big bonus for healthy hair and skin.
     If you are on a tight budget, forget the treadmill and go to the nearest mall and walk briskly for several minutes.  Or park your car as far from your destination as possible.  I have a ding phobia and always park my car in the biggest and most remote corner I can find.  Not only does this save my car from door dings, it forces me to walk and get that circulation going.
     The best hair care products and best stylists in the world can not help your hair if you don’t exercise and take care of your physical health.  So go lace up your walking shoes, pop in a great CD or tape and let that energy flow.
Erratic Sleep Patterns – Accelerated Hair Loss & Brittle Hair
     I am world famous for running on about 2-3 hours of sleep at night and sending out massive e-mails at 3 am.  Yes, I have lots of excuses.  Besides HairBoutique.com, I am in charge of a fast growing software company.  Yikes.  There is always 100 things on my "to do" list.  So I always try to "catch up" in the wee hours of the night.  Is this a great idea?  Not really.  Our bodies are still human and not bionic.  We can’t just plug into a wall somewhere and zap 8 hours of rest into our body parts.  It would be cool if that were possible, but it’s not.
     Last year I started to have lots of problems with my hair starting to fall out.  It turned out that besides not exercising, I was also not sleeping much and my thyroid was on strike.  While my fabulous doctor got my thyroid balanced, he told me that not sleeping was making everything worse.  So I started sleeping more and sure enough, my body and hair improved.  Although we don’t all need the same amount of sleep, most of us need between 6 and 8 hours of sleep each day.  The more regular your sleep schedule, the better.
     While I have not worked up to a regular 6 hours every night, I have learned to take regular 1-2 hour naps when I get tired.  It helps a lot and my hair loves naps.  Some people benefit from naps, some don’t.  The key is to get in touch with your own personal sleep requirements and then work at meeting them.  If you have problems sleeping for whatever reason, take the time to address the causes.  Luckily my problem is that I just don’t want to take the time to sleep.  Besides helping your body to refuel and regenerate, sleep reduces stress levels, helps you relax, and is a great hair tonic.
Eating An Unbalanced Diet – Hair That Won’t Grow
     I used to think that the basic food groups were all grouped around C.  Cookies, candy, and chips were my staples.  My hair and skin were the victims.  Unfortunately my skin has a strong tendency to break out if I indulge in the C foods too often.  Good hair, skin, teeth, and over-all health is directly tied to eating well balanced meals.  So many people write to me that they have noticed a definite improvement in their hair after taking vitamins.  When I quiz them, they often tell me of a history of poor dietary habits, which explains why the vitamins help them.  Our bodies crave vitamins and minerals.  When we don’t provide these goodies to our bodies, many things suffer.  Often our hair and skin are obvious victims.  A poor diet will also prevent us from having the optimal energy to be successful in other areas of our life.
     I have tried just about every food and dietary plan invented.  I have found that my personal best eating plan is closely tied to the Zone way of eating.  Yes, I still love C foods, but I work hard to limit those foods to every once in a while.  I have found that a healthy breakfast is one of the best things I can do for my day and my hair.
     Self-knowledge is great power.  Understanding what foods drive your body best is a key to great success in all areas.  Many people do well on lots of small meals while others do well on 2 or 3.  Some people find their optimal physical success on a high carbohydrate plan while others do better with higher protein levels.  Try eating a couple of different dietary programs to find the one that works best for you.  It is essential that your body and your hair receive a good balanced diet.
     Yes, hair vitamins do work.  This is because they actually supplement the vitamins and minerals that our bodies and hair require for optimal growth and condition.  Hair vitamins alone are not the perfect solution.  Eating well for your body type in combination with vitamins and minerals will be the real winning combination.
Excessive Caffeine, Nicotine – Hair Robbers
     When it comes to hair and skin, I am totally against smoking because of the known damages that it can do.  Smoking has been conclusively proven to prematurely harden blood vessels, restricting blood flow and damaging cappilaries.  This definitely will harm healthy hair patterns.  Smoking has been proven to accelerate the incidence of hair loss and the accumulation of gray hair.
     Caffeine is also not blameless.  Excessive caffeine use can do all kinds of damage and has been proven to be a culprit in all sorts of hair and skin related problems.  I love caffeine, but limit my Starbucks to 1 latte per day.  Again, I notice a difference in my hair. 
     Whether you smoke or not, or consume lots of caffeine is a personal choice.  Everyone is entitled to do what works for them.  However, these substances are proven hair killers.  What is the point of spending a fortune on having gorgeous hair to throw it away with habits that block you from your goal?  This is something that everyone has to decide for themselves.
     If you have been struggling to grow gorgeous, thicker, longer, or healthier hair without noticeable results, maybe you are sabataging your own potential for great hair by not addressing the four major hair killers that I have addressed above.  There are several causes for hair problems from overuse of chemicals (bleach, perms, straighteners), hot hair tools (dryers, curlers, irons) to poor product selection that may rob the natural oils from your hair.  Some physical problems like major disease or prescription drug therapies can cause hair difficulties.  However, if the basic building blocks for great hair are not met through good physical exercise, enough sleep and relaxation, a good diet, and good health habits, your hair may never achieve the levels of beauty that you wish to attain.  If you are deficient in any of the 4 areas, try making some changes and see what happens.  Your hair will love you for it!