The mane event
Trichologist Carole Michaelides, highlights some of the fundamental issues surrounding hair and unravels the language of hair care today
Our hair can make our day or ruin it. It plays a huge role in our confidence; we use it to express our personalities, to draw attention to ourselves and to attract a mate. We spend more time and money taking care of our hair than we do on the rest of our body. In 2014 in the UK, we spent £1.3 billion on hair care, and the global haircare market is forecast to reach £60 billion by the end of 2016. It’s estimated that over an average lifetime in the UK, we spend as much as £28,000 on haircare, and that’s not including salon visits.
The hair’s most important attribute is its elasticity. If hair didn’t stretch it would break every time you put a comb or brush through it, and no one could have long hair. Elasticity is made possible by the coiled polypeptide chains within the cortex—the main part of the hair shaft—and the imbricated design of the cuticle, which is the protector of the fibrous cortex underneath. This structure allows hair to stretch and retract without breaking.
The strands of protein are bonded together with both soluble and insoluble bond—water soluble salt and hydrogen links, and insoluble disulphide bonds. The soluble bonds dissolve in water whenever you wet your hair, and reform again once it dries. This makes it possible to style hair because we can wet it, alter its shape, then dry it and the bonds will reform into their new shape, which hold until the next time the hair gets wet—hence why styles tend to drop out in humidity.
The very strong disulphide bonds are difficult to break, but heat and cosmetic processing such as colouring and so on will cause oxidation of these bonds and eventually wear down the hair structure. To maintain the elasticity of hair, it’s vital to protect the outer coat, which in turn protects the inside of the hair, thus the hair structure will stay intact. Hair absorbs water all the time from the atmosphere, so to keep a style we can use one of the many products that have been designed to reduce this in order to maintain the hair style, including mousses, setting aids, hairsprays and so on.
Choosing hair care can be difficult—language such as normal hair, damaged hair, dry hair and so on, does not really help us as these descriptions can apply to all hair types. Normal is a particularly common theme, but one person’s normal can be very different from another’s and hair may well cross over many of these categories. Therefore is this language helpful? How can we differentiate and help our clients find appropriate hair care?
Hair can range from completely straight to tight, wiry curls, from fine and flyaway to coarse, heavy and frizzy. Our hair type is inherited and depends on the race or the mixture of races it comes from—but defining the hair type is the key to giving good advice on haircare.
1. African-Caribbean hair, will bend and twist because of its shape
2. Oriental hair is symmetrical and will hang very straight
3. Caucasian hair is elliptical and it will typically have waves
The diameter of typical human scalp hair ranges from as little as 40 microns to as much as 110 or more microns, almost three times the thickness. Those whose hair diameters are mainly around 40 microns—very fine textured—usually want to increase the volume and make more of it. Those whose hair diameters are mainly 100 microns or more— coarser textured—usually want to control it; to make it smoother and sleeker. It’s interesting to note the difference in the surface of the hair as we look from fine to coarse. Fine hair will automatically be oiler because it doesn’t absorb sebum so well—it will sit on the cuticle or outer layer. Coarse textured hair is automatically much more porous and therefore loses moisture easily, so it is drier. Once you identify the shape and the texture of the hair you can begin to advise on how to get the best individual haircare. Of course there are important variables to consider such as hair length, condition and the level of processing—whether its coloured, heat styled and so on.
When considering which hair care products to use, shampoo and conditioner are at the top of the list, both a must for nearly everyone. We all need to wash our hair and most of us—aside from those with very short, unprocessed hair, benefit from conditioning our hair. Then there are treatment products, dry shampoos, mousses, serums, volumising products, styling gels, waxes, heat protectors, and all sorts of other things as well.
It can help to think about hair care in layers, in a similar way to facial care. We cleanse our faces regularly, we might use toners, we often use some moisturiser, and women will perhaps apply foundation, a sweep of eye makeup, some blusher, a little dash of lipstick—it’s a case of layering things up. Hair care can be thought of in exactly the same way—first hair is washed and, conditioned; then perhaps it needs some extra moisturising in the form of a serum or a leave-in conditioner. Finally add styling products such as mousse or volumising spray to add body and hold; gels and waxes for creating definition. There is wide range of products to help get the best result.
And there are hundreds of product ingredients. As consumers it’s impossible to know what all of the functions of these ingredients are, so we have to rely on the cosmetic scientists. But key words can help us when we’re trying to identify a product that will do the job that we are looking for.
Common ingredients include cleansers (such as the now infamous sodium laurel sulphate), as well as proteins, silicones, moisturisers, alcohols. We tend to think of alcohols as drying, but alcohol is in lipsticks and moisturising creams and is used a lot in haircare.
Quaternary ammoniums are very useful, especially in products for fine textured hair, as they are substantive but not too heavy. And nowadays they are often combined with proteins and silicones to give an even better result. Because of the INCI (International Nomenclature for Cosmetic Ingredients) laws we must refer to all ingredients by their chemical names—hence tocopheryl acetate instead of plain old Vitamin E! Sunscreens are now commonly used in haircare formulations—this along with antioxidants such as Vitamin E, can help protect against the breakdown of disulphide bonds from oxidative stress.
Surfactants (cleansers in shampoos and shower gels) are mostly made from palm oil, which is similar to coconut oil. And it’s worth noting that sodium lauryl sulphate can be made from either oil—just like other cleansers.
Matching hair and products
The shampoo has to fit the job. It has to provide foam, or it won’t work. Fine textured hair needs adequate foam to remove the sebum, usually achieved with a mixture of surfactants that can boost foaming without being harsh, so the hair isn’t left limp. Shampoo for coarse textured hair generally needs less foam and more moisturiser, especially African-Caribbean hair.
The current trend towards naturals and organics has some benefits. Oils such as olive oil and almond oil have long been used in hair care and while we know the value of them, it’s easy to forget that like everything in nature, they are also ‘chemical’. There are certainly no safety advantages for so called natural ingredients, and they should not escape the rigorous testing applied to synthetic ingredients just because of the assumption (untrue) that natural means safe. The regulations cover all the things that go into the bottles and a natural cosmetic product might contain unmodified natural ingredients like olive oil, or Moroccan argan oil, or chemically modified ingredients that have been naturally derived, like guar and other nature-identical ingredients. There’s a lot of mythology around this subject and I think we need to be a little wary of the ‘natural myth’.
Washing frequency is often talked about. Just like our clothes, our hair comes with us everywhere. And just like the collar of a white shirt in London it can look a bit grimy by the end of the day. Scalp hairs trap dirt particles easily, and hair has a propensity for hanging on to dirt particles because of the coating of sebum. In today’s society you certainly don’t want hair to look greasy. There is also debate over whether to shampoo dry hair frequently. Using a face analogy—if your skin is greasy would you imagine that not washing it for a week would make it less greasy? If it is dry would you believe that not washing it for a week could moisturise it? The same is true for hair—and with hot water on tap and pH adjusted cleansers that do not require acidic rinses such as vinegar or lemon juice as in days gone by, as well as excellent conditioning products, we can shampoo our hair as often as we want to achieve the look we desire.
The idea that hair gets used to the same shampoo is another myth. The same shampoo used on the same hair type under the same circumstances will give you the same result. People change products because they are simply dissatisfied – they’re searching for that miracle that will magically transform their hair type and make their straight hair curly or their curly hair straight and so on. Of course something might change that warrants a different hair care routine—starting to colour your hair for example.
Conditioners contain a number of things—cuticle smoothing agents, emollients, anti-statics, de-tanglers, moisturisers and so on. They help to limit damage from the weather, the sun, and all the other things that cause wear and tear.
Use of high temperature implements on hair causes a lot of damage. Styling products can be used to provide some protection, but there’s a limit to what they can do. As a trichologist I always encourage people to turn the heat down—I see so much damage to hair these days from overly hot hair dryers and styling tools. They have got hotter and hotter in recent years.
Matching ingredients and hair types
Those with fine hair usually want more volume. This can be achieved by frequent shampooing and using lightweight conditioners without oils, but with ingredients such as quaternary ammoniums and hydrolysed proteins instead. Styling products with copolymers will add body and hold, and small amounts added of lightweight oils and silicones, proteins and antioxidants all give added benefits of protection, manageability and shine. The same ingredients can be used for medium textured hair, but with more moisturising waxes and humectants added. Serums with silicones and glycols help give smoothness and gloss. Coarse hair and Afro-Caribbean hair requires the most moisturising, with ingredients such as lanolin, and oils like the now popular Moroccan or argan oil, olive oil, avocado oil, castor oil and so on. Proteins are included in all haircare and are very useful functioning additives that help to prevent ongoing weathering in the hair. Sunscreens are useful in hair care for all hair types to help reduce oxidation damage from sunlight.
Carole Michaelides has been a member of the Institute of Trichologists since 1971, and has been practicing at the Philip Kingsley Clinic for over forty years. From 1992 to 2004 Carole was responsible for the Trichology Clinic in the Harrods Hair and Beauty Department, and as well as focusing on clinical practice, she gained a wider understanding of retail hair care and retail product training. She is also a member of several other organisations including the Society of Cosmetic Scientists and the European Hair Research Society. She was awarded a Fellowship of the Institute of Trichologist in 2013.