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.