Monday, March 9, 2009

The curl doctor is in!

Sometimes it feels like the beauty industry is intent on keeping us in the dark so that we'll keep blindly buying products, hoping for the one that delivers that long-awaited beauty. StruttsWife of (or Tiffany, creator of Live Curly, Live Free) has been one of the posters at the forums to provide real information -- the science behind the beauty. She's helped hundreds, maybe even thousands of us who frequent that site, to understand what hair is, how it reacts to things like weather and chemical treatments, and how to figure out what our hair wants. She is generous with her time and her knowledge, and I am personally eternally grateful for all that I've learned from her. And today, she is here to answer your questions. Well, actually, she answered my questions but you'll benefit from her answers too, I feel certain. I'm so jazzed that she agreed to this interview! (And no, the photo does not depict Tiffany. It is what I imagine a curl doctor to look like in Jillipoo Fantasyland.)

Tiffany, you've written a lot lately about texture and porosity (and only slightly less about elasticity and density). You've even started an excellent thread over at to help people get a handle on these concepts, so I will try to stay away from questions that'll just make you repeat what you've already said.

1. For porous or damaged hair, protein is often prescribed. But there seems to be a lot of confusion about different types and forms of protein. There's keratin, eggs, silk protein, reconstructors, and probably more that I don't even know about. Some are called "light" protein treatments while others are "intensive." What's the difference in terms of the effect on the hair? Is it true that some protein has molecules small enough to penetrate the hair and be more effective? If so, what kind of protein is that?

Your hair's condition and texture is a great baseline to determine how much protein you need. If you want to add protein simply because you have a fine texture and you need the extra support, a light protein treatment is fine. If, however, you have damage from sun, chlorine or chemical processes, a heavier protein recontruction will then be necessary for any real effectiveness.

Any protein that is animal-based or that has the prefix "hydrolyzed" in front of it is a stronger protein; those such as natural "wheat" or "soy" are the proteins that are lighter. "Keratin" is the natural protein from which your hair is made.

Proteins with smaller molecules are not necessarily more effective than those with larger molecules. While it's true smaller molecules can penetrate into the cortex--or inner layer of the hair--more easily, this really only becomes a consideration when you are effecting a chemical change in the hair, such as with color or texturizing. Proteins with larger molecules may take a slightly longer time to penetrate into the cortex, but they will be just as effective as those with smaller molecules once they get in there.

2. What do you think of clear or colored rinses such as Sebastian's Colourshines or Jazzings to help control porosity and preserve color treatments? Should they be used often or just after you color? How long do they last? Or would a protein treatment be just as good, or possibly better? Or are these products just another form of protein? Does lemon juice, citric acid, or vinegar accomplish the same thing?

I love color glazes and use them often in my own color work. They add a beautiful dimension to permanent color: for example, in the winter, I apply a clear glaze over my dark espresso color which gives my hair enormous depth and shine; in warmer weather, I like to mix a bit of a burgundy cherry color with the clear for a more "summery" look. However, you can't always automatically assume a glaze will help to control porosity; quite the contrary.

Glazes are mainly semi- or demi-permanent color treatments with a clear or tinted result. They are different from permanent color in that they only stain the outside of the cuticle, whereas permanent color actually results in a chemical change inside the cortex. Glazes can help to prevent permanent color from fading since they add another level of "defense" on top of the hair shaft and normally last anywhere from six to 12 weeks, depending on the type of glaze used.

Unless there is some type of protein in the glaze, however, it will not help to reconstruct the hair in any way; and, frankly, I believe it is much more effective to apply a glaze, wait 24 hours, and then do a separate protein treatment. Lemon juice, citric acid, and vinegar are different in that their function is to shut down the cuticle, whereas protein treatments actually penetrate into the hair shaft and fill in any "holes" left in the cortex by damage or chemical processing.

3. It's clear that you are trying to teach people about the principles and characteristics of hair so that people can start to make connections between ingredient behavior and hair characteristics. (Using myself as an example, using glycerin on my porous hair is inviting more moisture into hair that already doesn't know when to stop drinking. So, I limit my glycerin use.) But people like quick and easy answers, so let's give them some quick fixes...

For example, if your hair is porous, what should you use?

Always, always base your product selections on your hair's texture and condition rather than on its porosity: protein-based for fine hair, humectant- and emollient-based for coarse hair (medium texture hair can usually support a wide range of product ingredients).

If your hair is not porous, however, you need to open up your cuticle before you apply your conditioner for it to be the most effective. Warm liquids and alkaline solutions (such as baking soda scrubs) are what open the hair shaft, so rinse your hair for a full minute with very warm water before you apply your conditioner. Then follow with a cool rinse to close the cuticle back down.

If your hair is porous, your hair shaft is already open, so you can apply your conditioner then follow with a cool rinse to help shut the cuticle back down. Any product that is "pH-balanced" or "acid-balanced" will also help to keep your cuticle shut; ACV or lemon juice rinses are also a good idea in moderation, provided you remember these are acids and can damage your hair further if not used wisely.

Coarse hair can feel smoother if you use:
... anything with a healthy humectant or emollient base, and a lot of it. Coarse hair has so much protein in it naturally, applying any product with protein on top of it can spell disaster--resulting in a strawlike, wicked dry mess. And I find a very common problem among my coarse-haired clients is that they have a tendency to skimp on product. Coarse hair needs to be saturated, and saturated often, with very moisturizing ingredients to keep dryness at bay.

4. In your opinion, what's the biggest curly hair ripoff on the market today? (Can be a product or a philosophy or both)

That your wave pattern has anything to do with how you should care for your curly hair. It makes me crazy to see people buy into the philosophy of "my hair is classified as spiral ringlets, therefore I should use products X and Y in my maintenance routine." That is so misleading!

It is your hair properties that help you to determine how to care for your curly hair properly. That's basic trichology, good hair science, and it holds up against any of those so-called "curl classification" systems.

5. What do you think of deep treatments? Are they necessary for all hair types? Is there ever a point at which they are no longer necessary? What about those new, expensive steam treatments for hair?

Deep treatments can be a great part of your maintenance routine, depending on your hair's individual needs. Because I color, I do a deep treatment twice per month--once 24 hours after I color, another at the midway point between colorings (at about three weeks), which helps to keep my hair healthy and in great shape. If you do any kind of a chemical process, a monthly or bi-monthly deep treatment can be a good idea.

People with fine hair, however, should be extremely careful since their hair typically needs more protein, not more moisturizers. I seldom recommend routine deep treatments for any of my fine-haired clients, unless it's an initial series of treatments because she is severely dehydrated. An "as needed" protein pack is usually far more effective here.

I don't think there is a point deep treatments are no longer necessary for most people, but I believe there can come a time where they no longer need to be routine. If you don't chemically process and if your hair is healthy, you can do a deep treatment at arbitrary times just when you feel a little extra moisture is needed--such as if the weather becomes extremely dry, if you've been sick, etc.

The jury is still out on those steam treatments; frankly, I've yet to see where paying $$$ at a salon is more effective than what you can do for yourself at home. Boil a pot of water, remove it from the heat, lean over the pot and hold a towel over your conditioner-saturated head to capture the steam for 5-10 minutes--you'll steam your hair and give yourself a great facial at the same time (throw some mint or rosemary leaves in there for a little aromatherapy while you're at it!).

6. Closing the cuticle has come up recently as an important step in preserving color treated hair. Acidic products help do this, and several curlies were conjecturing about the good effects of vinegar rinses, citric acid, and acidifying products. What is an acidifying product? Aside from looking for products that are labeled "for color-treated hair," how can a curly spot such an item on a store shelf? What ingredients might an interested curly look for?

Closing the cuticle is definitely important, not only for preserving hair color, but for the overall health of hair in general!

An acidifying product is one that lowers the pH of the hair and brings it back into an appropriately balanced range. Just because a product is labeled "for color-treated hair", however, does not necessarily mean it is acidifying. Look for citric acid (organic) or phosphoric acid (inorganic) on the product label as an indication acidifying product ingredients have been included in the formulation. Conversely, be cautious with products that include TEA (Triethanolamine) or DEA (Diethanolamine), which are both alkalizing agents and will raise the pH of the product.

You can also "balance" your own conditioner by adding a small drop of apple cider vinegar or lemon juice for each tablespoon of conditioner (do not premix, as the solution can go rancid even if the product already contains preservatives). Don't go overboard---you want to lower the pH of the product to an appropriate range, not make it so acidic that it begins to dry the hair shaft.

Thank you so much, Tiffany! It's been fabulous having you here today (even if you don't look like that guy with the stethoscope).


Paula said...

Thank you so much for this. I've been wondering about acidifying my conditioner, and the tip about the drop of vinegar is quite helpful,as is the whole interview.

I liked seeing that my gut instinct of avoiding protein and using a good bit of product is really what one needs for my hairtype.

I also love that you use a curly doctor! :)

Susan said...

This was fantastic!! Thanks to both of you. After reading this I was thinking about the fine hair and protein part. I picked up some Aubrey Organics GPB condish and used it the next day. Amazing. My curl perked up a lot. I will definitely be trying this on a weekly basis.