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Is your cuticle layer closed???

We have been chatting quite a bit about moisturizing your curls. Why? Curls can't be healthy, shiny, springy, & bouncy if they aren't first moisturized. Moisture is the secret ingredient to every head of beautiful curls.

This post may feel a little long and boring but I think it's essential for you to understand exactly what has to happen in order for you to have beautifully moisturized curls. So let’s start at the beginning...the science of the hair strand. It’s going to be tempting to skip the science and jump ahead.  Let me say very slowly, clearly, and in several languages…”DO NOT SKIP THIS SECTION!” Understanding the science will empower you to choose the right products to use at the right time in your hair care regime.  You will no longer need to turn to me or anybody else to help you solve your moisture issues. As a matter of fact, your moisture issues will be solved and you can move on to more exciting issues, such as styling! And as a bonus, understanding the anatomy of a hair strand will give you the necessary knowledge to accelerate hair growth.

Every hair strand has two major parts, the root/follicle which is the living part of the hair and the hair shaft.  The root is found below the surface of the scalp.

The way the follicle tunnels into the scalp also contributes to the texture of the hair.  Straight hair follicles tunnel straight down into the scalp. Follicles that tunnel at a curve into the scalp produce a curly strand of hair.  The hair curves as it grows out of the scalp, producing a curl. This is the first contributor to dryness. We have sebaceous glands that line the follicle.  These glands produce a natural oil, that have moisturizing properties. Unfortunately, the curve of the hair strand makes it difficult for this natural oil to travel the length of the hair strand. 

The shaft is the part of the hair strand that we are able to see.  The parts of the hair shaft are divided into three parts, the cuticle layer, the cortex, and the medulla.  The medulla is the core. It is the supporting strand of the hair. The medulla is only present in thick or curly hair types.  Natural blondes do not contain a medulla. Hair strands that have a medulla layer require overlapping cuticle layers to protect it. This is sometimes responsible for the frizziness that you see in naturally curly hair.  The medulla is the softest and most fragile part of the hair strand. The size and thickness of the hair strand is determined by the medulla.  

The cortex is the is the middle layer.  It is formed by rope like protein fibers. When the cortex is damaged, it becomes weak and exposed and moisture is lost. The cortex is located directly below the cuticle layer.  This is where the melanin is housed. The cortex is responsible for the color of the hair strands. This is also the layer that determines the elasticity of the hair.

Now let’s get to the juicy part of the hair shaft, the cuticle layer.   The cuticle layer is the outer layer and it consists of hard, transparent cells. The cuticle layer can be composed of up to 12 intertwined layers of the cells.  The cuticle layer is the hair’s first line of defense. The cuticle layer protects and provides strength for the hair. This is the layer that determines how well your hair holds a style, how it feels, and how well it absorbs moisture.  Some say this layer looks like fish scales, others describe it like shingles. These scales are made of protein and these layers of protein are responsible for allowing moisture to enter the hair shaft and remain there. 

These protein scales open and close when the right combination of things take place.  The cuticle layer of curly hair is raised naturally. This is the reason for some of the frizzy look and tangles that many curly hair wearers experience.  The nature of the cuticle layer for curly hair is to stay open. This creates an open gateway for moisture to enter and leave constantly, hence the complaint of dryness.  A cuticle layer that is healthy enough to open to receive moisture and then close to trap moisture within the hair shaft is the goal. There are a few things we can do to keep a healthy cuticle layer.  

First of all the cuticle layer reacts to water.  It is prompted by the PH in products and the water we use on our hair.  Products within the range of 4-5.5 are slightly acidic and what is needed to close the cuticle layer of the hair shaft.  Heat is another tool we can use to seal an open cuticle layer and trap in moisture. All heat is not created equal. Heat from a steamer, hooded dryer, or hot towels are the best forms of moist heat necessary to trap in moisture. 

Since we are talking about the behavior of the cuticle layer, let’s talk about the things that make the cuticle layer stick up.  After all, that is what is responsible for the moisture loss and the frizzy frayed look that many naturals despise. So, take a breath cause this is going to be a short list of things we love...the chemicals in some hair colors, hot water, wind, cold weather, extreme temperatures, too much moisture, products with screwed up PH, and product build up.  Whew...I know. You can’t be shampooing your hair in cold water, walking around in mid temps, with gray hair all of the time. What you can do is make an effort to not pile tons of product on your hair strands, jamming the cuticle layer open for moisture to quickly seep out. Essentially, all of the products you’re using to moisturize are simply propping the door open for moisture to leave your hair strands.  I’ve been telling you for a few months that the big, sexy, oily wash and go was at the root of your moisture issues. I know you didn’t wanna believe me because you really wanna walk around all of the time with your curls free, bouncing around.

I know there’s this beautiful feeling of black girl magic that happens when you free your curls but in the long run that freedom is hurting your curls. It is allowing moisture to slowly sneak away, drying your curls out, keeping your hair stuck at one length.  Your hair is popping off on the ends at the same rate that it is growing. Not understanding moisture comes with a cost. Dryness is a bish.

Curly naturalistas know this happens the moment you step outside on a nice moist day.   What are some things you can do to protect your hair from moisture loss?

Shampoo to remove dirt, debris, and open the cuticle layer. Rinse in cool water.  The cool water will cause a healthy cuticle layer to close, trapping the moisture and water in the hair strand.  Hot water is great for opening the cuticle layer, removing dirt, oil, and debris from the hair strand, and scalp.  This is an essential step in moisturizing. But it is also very important to rinse with cool water to close that cuticle layer and as an added benefit, you should notice a little more shine.  

Use conditioners that work well for your hair texture and lifestyle.  Follow up with leave in conditioners that infuse the hair strands with moisture.  Seal with oils. Maximize protective styling. Avoid harsh heat styling.  

So that's pretty much the simple science needed to understand how the cuticle layer works and why it's necessary to have a healthy cuticle layer when it comes to moisturizing your curls. Now that you understand all of that good juiciness, take a look at your hair care regime and carve out the things that are robbing your hair of moisture. Are you doing the things necessary to open your cuticle layer and then seal it? Are you shampooing to remove dirt and debris? Are you protecting your curls?

Have questions? Feel free to schedule a curl consultation. Let me share a little of my curl expertise with you and help you save your curls from dryness and breakage. We can chat for 20-30 min about your curls, what protects will work best for your curls, and what styles you can easily achieve at home.

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