Let’s talk about the basics of hair

There’s going to be a lot of educational aimed posts coming up, and I thought they would be a lot easier to follow along with if we started with some basic knowledge first. I’m not here to try and teach you to be a hairdresser, but I do want you to be able to understand what’s going on with your hair and possibly why your salon professional is making the recommendations they are. In a perfect world, all salon professionals are going to have your best interests in mind when discussing options for your hair, but we all know that’s not always the case. I hope these posts also help you know what to look for in a trustworthy salon professional near you.

Let’s get into it

The hair strand is made up mostly of a protein called Keratin. It’s the same thing your fingernails are made of. Woven in and around that protein are amino acids, and they’re all fueled by a tiny blood vessel in the hair’s follicle. This is why your diet, health conditions, and medications can have such an impact on your hair growth. Once it leaves your scalp it can only really be affected by outside influences, but how it’s built before it crosses your scalp line is impacted significantly by the things going on inside your body.

Let’s dive into that a little further. The medula is that very innermost layer of the hair. It’s often not present (or there very minimally) in naturally light hair, and there really isn’t anything external that will actually affect it. The cortex surrounds the medula and is what gives the hair its color and strength. The cortex is typically what’s being targeted when coloring hair. The cuticle is the outer layer of the hair and is usually what’s being targeted with “repairing products”. While maintaining the health of the cuticle is vital to how healthy the lower layers stay, once your hair is damaged it’s damaged and there’s no true “repair” other than to remove the damage with a haircut. Most of the time when you hear something that’s aimed to repair it’s aiming to soothe the cuticle and the previous statement is still true even with professional products. The biggest difference is that a professional product usually isn’t designed to be a “miracle cure” because that just doesn’t exist. The best way to keep your hair healthy is to make sure that your cuticle is in tip top shape and you’re doing what you need to do to keep it there.

Hot water and warm steamy rooms can open up your hair’s cuticle, which can be both good and bad. The good is that an open cuticle can accept moisture and other proteins that it might have been lacking. The bad is that all the good moisture and even your hair color can slip out if the cuticle is too open. The optimal washing scenario would be to shampoo and condition with the coldest water you can stand, but generally unless you’re dealing with direct dyes (the most “fragile” of the kinds of color), as long as it isn’t skin meltingly hot you’re probably fine.

The more important part is using products that work the best for you. My professional opinion is that in most cases the shampoo is more important than the conditioner. Just about all conditioners are designed to seal the cuticle in some capacity, but the shampoos can take out more than they should. I could get into a lot of detail about drugstore shampoo and conditioner vs professional shampoo and conditioner, but the short version is that in most cases the drug store ones are mostly fillers designed to coat your hair to give you that soft shiny feeling after use. Unfortunately that also often ends up leaving a buildup long term which causes other issues. And yes, using filler heavy products can affect the results of your color.

While the basic construction of the hair strand is generally the same across the board, there’s a lot of variations you can run into along the way. We need to be able to identify the difference in texture, density, and curl pattern (which can also fall under texture). Density is how much hair you have, and texture is how thick the actual hair strand is. A tight curl pattern adds more texture than straight hair would have, but straight hair can still be coarse. How coarse or fine your hair is and the density you have makes a difference in outcome for both services and products. Someone with a lot of coarse hair is going to need a heavier product than someone with fine hair, even with the same amount of density.

Obviously there’s a lot more detail I can get into, but I wanted to give you good background knowledge so you can approach future educational posts and be able to know what was going on. If for any reason you need further explanation or have more questions, definitely don’t hesitate to reach out. You can easily leave a comment here that I’ll see or reach out privately on Facebook, Instagram, or even on Twitter.

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