Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Curl Whisperer on Shine Enhancers

Oh, the elusive state of shine in the world of curly hair. Historically, we ladies with curly tresses have more issues with natural shine than our straight-haired sisters because of how our hair catches the light. Straight hair reflects light, giving it a shiny appearance; curly hair refracts, or diffuses, light, making it appear dull and drab. Consequently, girls with curls often turn to shine enhancers to add the additional shine we lack naturally. It is important, however, to understand the differences between the different types and to know how to choose the most appropriate one to ensure good hair health over the long term.

There are three main types of shine enhances: silicone serums, oil serums and glazes.

Silicone Serums
Everyone is familiar with silicone-based shine serums, which claim to smooth the hair surface and add brilliant shine. Most of these serums, however, consist of non-water soluble silicones, such as dimethicone or dimethiconol, which form an impenetrable barrier on the hair shaft. Any product ingredient which seals the hair shaft shut can be problematic and create issues in the long run. The cuticle of our hair strand is formed like roof tiles to allow penetration of moisture and oxygen into the hair shaft for a reason. Continually coating and sealing the cuticle to prevent it from performing its proper function for a long period of time is not the best route to optimum hair health in the long run.

If you are going to use a shine serum, find one that includes water-soluble silicones, such as dimethicone copolyol or PEG/PPG-manufactured silicones, whenever possible to avoid any potential issues.

Oil Serums
Many believe a safer alternative to silicone-based shine serums are oil serums, which are touted as using carrier oils such as jojoba or olive oil to deliver shine and manageability. The vast majority of these products usually also contain some level of non-water soluble silicones in addition to the oils, however, and sometimes in greater quantity than the oils themselves. Additionally, care must be taken when using any type of heat application with any oil-based product as excess heat can literally "fry" a hair shaft coated in oil.

If you would like to use oils for shine, a good approach is to buy a can of olive oil cooking spray (such as Pam®) and use it to spray lightly on your curls (for both shine and frizz control). Be judicious, as you do not want to make yourself oily from using too much. Keeping the spray can at least 10 inches from your hair while spraying will also help to ensure any propellants will dissipate before reaching your hair.

I love clear shine glazes and use them often in my own color work. Glazes are mainly semi- or demi-permanent color treatments with a clear or tinted result. They are different from permanent color in that they only stain the outside of the cuticle, whereas permanent color actually results in a chemical change inside the cortex. Clear glazes add a beautiful dimension and give hair enormous depth and shine.

As a bonus, glazes can help to prevent permanent color from fading since they add another level of "defense" on top of the hair shaft and normally last anywhere from six to 12 weeks, depending on the type of glaze used. Glazes are my preferred method for adding long-lasting shine to hair.

Shine on!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The 'Curl Whisperer' on Carrier Oils

Carrier oils are oil extracts from seeds, fruit, vegetables or nuts that are rich hair emollients (moisturizers). They can also be used to “carry” essential oils, which are either too concentrated or will evaporate upon contact on their own, into the hair.

Unlike essential oils, carrier oils, which are also known as "base" oils", do not usually carry a strong scent of their own and are classified as "fixed' oils, meaning they do not typically evaporate. They can have many health properties of their own as they often contain vitamins, minerals and some essential fatty acids.

Cold-pressed oils, where the oil obtained from seeds and nuts is extracted using little to no heat, is a more expensive process, but the oils produced are considered to be a superior quality in many applications. Carrier oils produced by using a procedure called "hot extraction", in which extremely high temperatures are used to extract the oil, are often regarded as inferior as much of the oil's benefits are destroyed in the process.

Carrier oils are also available in refined and unrefined forms. Although unrefined oils are preferred in massage therapy and certain practices of aromatherapy, refined oils are generally chosen for use in cosmetic preparations so their heavier color and texture does not compete with any other ingredients.

Because carrier oils are oily in nature, they are included in many hair care products to supply additional moisture to the hair shaft. In hair care products with more natural formulations, they are considered a better base than alcohol, which can be drying, and can also assist in combating breakage, splitting and tangling.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

The 'Curl Whisperer' on Alcohols

There is widespread concern about the use of alcohols in hair and skin products; common perception is that alcohol is drying to the skin and hair, so many individuals seek to use products that are alcohol-free.

What is not commonly known, however, is that there are two types of alcohols: fatty and short-chain alcohols. There are important differences between the two and it is important to be able to tell them apart, as fatty alcohols can be quite beneficial to curly hair care.

Because the molecules in fatty alcohols are more oily in nature than those of other alcohol molecules, fatty alcohols are used as emollients in hair care products and contribute a smooth, soft feel to the hair. Excessive use of them can make the hair greasy, but a judicious amount of fatty alcohols in hair care products can add beneficial moisturizers.

Fatty alcohols should not be confused with what are known as “short-chain alcohols,” which are effective in aiding the dissolution of product ingredients not soluble in water, but can be drying to the hair when used in large amounts. They evaporate quickly, but can still ruffle the cuticle and strip moisture from the hair. As long as a short-chain alcohol is close to the bottom of a product ingredient label, you can be reasonably certain it is only included in the formulation to aid in creating a stable emulsion and will most likely not contribute any drying effects to your hair. And individuals with fine hair should be cautious about using any product with heavy amounts of fatty alcohols, as an overabundance of this product ingredient type may over-moisturize and weigh down fine strands.