Sunday, August 9, 2009

The quest for truth

Forty-plus years ago, we put a man on the moon. How come hair science still remains so much of a mystery?

The little bit of information that does seem to find its way to us, the unwashed masses, is often as much folklore as science. But we have no idea what's true and what isn't. In the end, all we really know is what works for us individually, and making that determination is fraught with confusion and often costly experimentation.

I am always on the hunt for scientific explanations. Not being a scientist, however, makes this adventure a little harrowing at times but seeing as how I don't have the time or inclination to get a degree in cosmetic science (or any kind of science for that matter), I want to rely on people who know what they're talking about.

So I turn to people in the industry who have earned their degrees, read the right research studies, and understand ingredients from a chemical perspective. I recently found JC, who writes The Natural Haven blog. She is a natural-haired lady in the U.K. who is a scientist unaffiliated with any cosmetic companies, and I've learned a couple of things already from her blog. What's also nice about this blog is that you get the feeling JC is sometimes learning along with you. She is curious and knows where to go to get information that answers reader questions. She never makes people feel stupid for not knowing something.

First thing I learned
Cuticles don't swing open and closed like doors. Not only is the movement teeny tiny (which it would have to be since hair is pretty damn thin to begin with), but once the cuticle is opened (such as through heat styling or subjecting hair to water, which is alkaline), it cannot then be closed by the application of some product or substance (such as vinegar or cold water). She does quote a study, however, that indicates certain conditioners can help make the cuticle feel smoother -- and they contain silicones.

This flies in the face of everything we thought we knew, doesn't it?

One reader questioned her about why her hair feels smoother after she uses ACV (apple cider vinegar) rinses. JC doesn't discount the reader's experience at all, and tells her that there might be some other reason why the acidic rinses do this. She confesses, though, that she doesn't know what that reason might be. She says that her research indicates that a substance with a low pH is not responsible for closing a cuticle.

I am amazed that science cannot account for this phenomenon. We can propel astronauts millions of miles into space but the simple behavior of a hair cuticle vexes scientists into silence. (I'm not pointing to JC here -- I'm shaking my fist at cosmetic science in general.) I can't find scientific evidence to support the long-standing belief about shutting down the cuticle with acidic rinses, but if any of you find something, by all means, post a comment and share it! (Much cosmetology-based information is available but this is not the same as scientific studies. I looked in my egghead book about hair and found nothing to support the acidic-rinses-closing-the cuticle theory, but I did find several references to alkaline raising the cuticle.)

Second thing I learned
I also learned that coconut oil applied before wetting the hair can not only help retain whatever protein your hair has, but also minimize how much water your hair takes in. So, if you have a little problem with hair expanding too much after getting wet (porosity), you might find that coconut oil controls that issue for you. I have certainly noticed this to be true of my hair. Ever since I started using coconut oil at night, I do have less frizz than I used to. I knew the coconut oil was responsible but I wasn't entirely sure why. So, thanks, JC!

The Natural Haven is now on my blog list. Maybe it should be on yours, too.


Angela said...

Thank you so much for looking into the ACV/porosity issue further and explaining what you found (or haven't found) in such an easy to understand manner. I have also been unsuccessful in finding anything to support that theory that you can close the cuticle with an acidic rinse except for on beauty related sites. Hair science currently boggles my mind and probably always will.

Love your blog!

Jc said...

Aww thanks, this is an AWESOME introduction to what I do. You are very definitely right, I am definitely learning along with everyone else on the blog and this is why I love getting questions from readers.

I am glad to be on your list!

StruttsWife said...

The history of cosmetology is a long and honored one, stretching back many of thousands of years. I think the scientists at cosmetology institutions such as Milady and Pivot Point International would take exception to the inference their educational texts can be discounted because they are not specifically "scientific studies."

Opening and closing the cuticle through use of acidic and alkaline solutions is a core skill employed by every licensed cosmetologist, one that often means the difference between an average service and a great service. If we abandoned our methodology just because someone decides the volumes of proof that do exist are not good enough, there would be more than a few unhappy clients out there.

Even state board licensing examinations require candidates to understand the science behind cuticle manipulation:

What product is used to trap color molecules in the hair by helping to close the cuticle?
(A) Acid-balanced shampoo
- Wisconsin Department of Regulation and Licensing

With little exception, almost every single person I know who has tried an apple cider vinegar rinse has reported a considerably noticeable difference in the feel, movement and response of their hair. If acid solutions really are ineffective in changing the cuticle of the hair, should we then conclude our perception of the results is all in our heads?

Another point to ponder: if the movement of a cuticle is so teeny tiny as to render it that insignificant, then why do porosity issues exist?

I understand we still have a lot to learn about hair science; however, I have yet to see a valid reason or any counter-proof that would lead me to dismiss the information on this subject that has been published by such venerable, credible and long-established institutions as Milady and Pivot Point International.

Sage Vivant said...

StruttsWife, I'm glad you chimed in. You deal with hair all day long and you've got first-hand knowledge of how hair behaves.

I didn't mean to disparage cosmetology. The point I was trying to make is that if a theory -- no matter how seemingly obvious -- can't be supported by science, then maybe the theory needs to be re-examined. I'm not saying that either cosmetology or science is right about this whole acid-closing-the cuticle. All I'm saying is that JC can find scientific journals that detail one phenomenon (the raising/opening of the cuticle) but not another (the closing of the cuticle with the use of acidic solutions).

I cannot imagine that cosmetology books contain information that isn't based on scientific experiments and discoveries. But I'd feel more comfortable accepting them at this juncture if somebody somewhere could produce a bona fide study that shows cuticles closing after an acidic rinse.

Also, JC doesn't deny that many people experience positive after-effects of ACV rinses. She just says she doesn't find evidence to support that it's the pH of those rinses that produces the effect, and she says that there could be another explanation, unrelated to pH.

I don't know if she's right. But I don't know that she's wrong, either. I long to be definitively convinced by either side.

Doodlebug said...

I wish that I had time at this moment to go through all of the literature to provide you with references, but I am a scientist, with experience both in and out of the fields of chemistry, polymer science, colloid chemistry, cosmetics chemistry, and biochemistry, and there is most definitely scientific evidence regarding the opening and closing of the cuticle.

It is well-documented, I am pretty certain. Of course, it is on a micro- and nano-scale, which is perhaps what the blog author was meaning?