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The Topicals: Taking Care Of Your Hair From The Outside

The Topicals: Taking Care Of Your Hair From The Outside

 

Cleanse, condition, dry, and style. Straightforward stuff, right? In other words - clean your hair, protect your hair, dry your hair, and then sculpt it into the shape you want. What more is there? As always, a lot. So we’ve put together some notes for you. A few basic considerations when approaching each phase of your hair care regimen. 

 

The Basics of Washing Your Hair

Be gentle.

Keep it simple, and for peace of mind, just avoid shampoos with strong surfactants - i.e. the ingredients that do the cleansing. You’ll hear a lot about Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) - and while perfectly safe to use, it is still a very powerful cleanser with the potential to cause some undesirable results if used incorrectly. There’s also Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES), which is similar but less powerful.

In general, harsher cleansing agents, especially if overused, can be irritating to your scalp and essentially strip your hair of its natural oils. They can degrade the integrity of the cuticle. They can even sever the protein bonds within your hair’s cortex.

It’s the other misinformed crap being bandied about regarding SLS that we don’t care to hear. For more information on this, check out our blog. 

Anyways, surfactants usually function as foamers, emulsifiers (so oils and water can exist in the same bottle), and oil extractors.

So, what to do?

Be gentle!

As a starting point, find a shampoo with some less abrasive substitutes. A couple examples you can look for on the ingredients list are Ammonium Laureth Sulfate, and Disodium Lauryl Sulfosuccinate. Get a conditioner to pair with it. More on that below.

Don’t wash your hair every day. This strips the natural oils from your scalp that are produced to lubricate the hair shaft and can expose your hair to more damaging agents. It becomes more brittle, less flexible and harder to manage. It erodes the natural balance of bacteria of your scalps microbiome.

But! Not washing your hair enough also has its downside. You can develop new scalp conditions or intensify existing ones. Cleansing your hair helps keep that bacteria build up in check which dictates the potential for dandruff. Again, balance is crucial.

Wash cycles will be a very personal thing, so experiment with different lengths of time in between washes for a couple weeks to see what works for you. On off days you can keep your hair dry, wet and massage it in the shower, or even wash with just your conditioner. This is what’s known as co-washing, aka no-’poo. Yes, hilarious. Co-washing is a method of cleaning and nourishing the hair only with conditioner and is helpful for people with excessively fragile and dry hair and sensitive scalps.

Sweat a lot? Cleanse more often. Feeling a little greasier than usual? Cleanse.

 

The Basics of Conditioning Your Hair

Conditioners protect your hair by smoothing down the cuticle. This reduces the chance for damage and makes the hair shaft softer, more flexible, more combable, and generally more manageable. It also helps it retain moisture.

Conditioners can be applied in the shower, after washing while hair is wet or dry, and in a concentrated amount as a deep conditioner before washing.

In-shower conditioners are the most common and are often formulated as part of a pair with a shampoo.

Leave-in conditioners, or conditioners you add after washing, are very helpful if you plan on doing any sort of styling. Look for something light (a thinner liquid) if you have thin hair that is weighed down easily. Thicker hair can stand up to and may require heavier conditioners like creams or liquids with more viscosity.

Finally, deep conditioners typically have the strongest effect, hence their name. If your hair still feels dry or rough after using in-shower or leave-in conditioners, try a deep conditioning formula once every one to two weeks. Depending on the amount of conditioning you're looking for and what ingredients you favor, you can put it on for a few minutes in the shower, apply it all over your head a couple hours before a wash, or - if you’re just a little different - apply it at night and sleep on it using a shower cap or old towel. Just remember to wash it out in the morning.

Chances are, if you’re like us - you’ll stick to a traditional in-shower conditioner of medium viscosity, chalk full of nutritional benefits. Look for conditioners with ingredients like coconut oil, jojoba oil, castor oil, and even olive oil. Extra virgin of course.

 

The Basics of Drying Your Hair

One of the most common sources of hair damage is due to the direct application of heat. Blow drying, heat styling, irons, straighteners, you name it. You’re playing with fire.

Oddly enough, there's some preliminary research that indicates complete air drying also damages the cell membrane complex between the cuticle and the cortex fibers, so go figure.

So what to do? 

Be gentle.

Take your towel and first soak up some excess water from your hair. Hold it there, wrap it up, whatever. Just don’t start rubbing your head with it like you’re trying to scrape tree sap off your car.

Air drying is the best for smoothness and shine, but consider using a protein treatment and/or penetrative deep conditioner from time to time to conserve the integrity of your cell membrane complex and avoid fragility and breakage.

If you’re going to blow dry, use low heat. Takes a little longer but your coiff’ will thank you down the road.

 

The Basics of Styling Your Hair

Styling regimen is a very personal preference that people tailor to their own unique hair over time, so we won't presume to advise on any specific styling technique here.

But, as always, we’ve got a few rules for you when choosing styling products.

Avoid products with short-chain alcohols. Some examples of short-chain alcohols are SD alcohol, alcohol denat., propanol, propyl alcohol, and isopropyl alcohol. These are included in products to decrease drying time and make the product spread more easily. The problem is they also dry out the hair by pulling out moisture. Dry hair is more susceptible to breakage, damage, and frizz.

"Good alcohols" on the other hand include lauryl alcohol, cetyl alcohol, myristyl alcohol, stearyl alcohol, cetearyl alcohol, and behenyl alcohol. These are long-chain molecules that act like conditioners by smoothing the hair cuticle. Just be careful not to use too much, as that can make the hair feel weighed down and greasy.

Silicones have the same conditioning effect, but can be more difficult to wash out and therefore can build up over time with undesirable consequences.

Consider hair products that do more than just style your hair. Products that have some benefit beyond just hold and shine. Nutritionally dense options that help and heal your hair and scalp while still performing their styling functions. 

Sources

 

Bellare, J., Iyer, R., Mainkar, A., & Jolly, C. (2001). A study on the conditioning effects of natural shampoos using the scanning electron microscope. International Journal Of Cosmetic Science.  https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18498466/

Bories, M.F., Martini, M.C., Et M., & Cotte, J.(1984). Effects of heat treatment on hair structure. International Journal of Cosmetic Science. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19467113/

Garcia, M.L. & Diaz, J. (1976). Combability measurements on human hair. J. Soc. Cosmet. Chem. https://library.scconline.org/v027n09/1

Kelly, S.E, & Robinson, V.N.E. (1982). The effect of grooming on the hair cuticle. *J. Soc. Cosmet. Chem. https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Vivian-Robinson-2/publication/331563822_The_effect_of_grooming_on_the_hair_cuticle/links/5c80dd0b299bf1268d407c27/The-effect-of-grooming-on-the-hair-cuticle.pdf

Lee, Y., Kim, Y-D., Hyun, H-J., Pi, L-Q., Jin, X., & Lee, W-S. (2011). Hair shaft damage from heat and drying time of hair dryer. Annals of Dermatology. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3229938/

Mainkar, A. & Jolly, C. (2001). Formulation of natural shampoos. International Journal Of Cosmetic Science. http://www.fcfar.unesp.br/arquivos/481615.pdf

McKay, T. Good vs. Bad Alcohol in Hair Products. http://community.babycenter.com/post/a650595/good_vs._bad_alcohol_in_hair_products.

Rebenfeld, L., Weighmann, H.D., & Dansizer, C. (1966). Temperature dependence of the mechanical properties of human hair in relation to structure. J. Soc. Cosmetic Chemists. https://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.573.5768&rep=rep1&type=pdf

Sandhu, S., Ramachandran, R., & Robbins, C. (1995). A simple and sensitive method using protein loss measurements to evaluate damage to human hair during combing. J. Soc. Cosmet. Chem. https://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.515.882&rep=rep1&type=pdf

Vozmediano, Carbajo, Vozmediano, J., et al. (2000). Evaluation of the irritant capacity of decyl polyglucoside. International Journal Of Cosmetic Science. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18503463/