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!

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The Curl Whisperer on Curly Kids

My daughter, Katie—the love and pride of my heart—will be five years old in December. She inherited her mommy's curls but, unlike most children of her age, will tell you all about her "pretty curls" with little prompting. And she always notices others with curly hair. "Look, Mommy," she'll say when we are out shopping and pass a woman with curly locks. "That lady has pretty curls just like you and me."

I can't describe the joy I feel at being able to give her a positive experience about her hair. So many of us grew up feeling self-conscious about our curls: sometimes with mothers or other guardians who simply didn't understand how to deal with it, sometimes with pressure to conform to some standard of "acceptable" hair that felt wrong to us deep down inside, but we unable to understand why we felt that way.

The good news is that, as we educate ourselves about how to deal with our own curly hair, the more equipped we are to pass that education along to our children. The hardest thing to remember, though, is how quickly our children sense and pick up our attitudes if we haven’t quite accepted our curls ourselves.

I had a huge reality check myself when Katie was three years old. I've learned to love my curly hair, but that doesn't mean I don't still have bad hair days or days during a Florida August where I'd trade my left arm for an afternoon of straight, shiny, frizz-free locks. One day, in the thick of the summer heat and humidity, I was fussing and complaining about how I didn't want my curls anymore when this tiny voice suddenly piped up beside me.

"Me either, Mommy."

Talk about a major smack in the face. The first thought through my mind was: what was I, a supposed curly hair expert, teaching my daughter? How could I expect her to love her hair if I didn't lead by example and show her I loved my own?

It took a while after that for Katie to understand that our curls were special and Mommy really did love her hair. Today, I don't hide my bad hair days from her, but I am very careful to make the distinction between disliking my curls and disliking how they are falling on a particular day. And she gets it, thank goodness, but I shudder to think how easily I could have instilled a hatred towards her curls in her, no matter how innocently.

One of the best presents we can give our children in any aspect of life is honesty and knowledge. I think teaching our curly kids how to love their curls while educating them on the realities of their care is a good part of the game plan. And if you are the straight-haired parent of a curly child, it is doubly important you find resources to help you understand your child’s gorgeous and special hair.

Here are a few tips on how to help your curly child understand, love and care for their beautiful, unique gift:

1) Teach them that their hair is special. I tell my daughter having curly hair is a privilege and an honor, and that means it takes a little bit more care than other kinds of hair. It is never too early to start instilling pride of ownership in them: I’ve had children as young as four or five sit in my chair who were already uncomfortable with or disliked their curls.

2) Include your child in the care maintenance routine of their hair. Of course, a child of three or four isn’t going to be able to participate as a child of eight or nine can. But it is still important for you to include them in their own hygiene routine at the level where they can participate, and talk about or show them how to properly cleanse, condition and detangle their curly locks.

3) Respect their preferences. As your child gets older, she will start to express preferences for her hair style as a natural part of her growing identity. Do your best to respect her wishes so she feels her input into her appearance is important and valued.

4) Find a curl-sensitive stylist. All the pride in the world won’t combat the damage done by an insensitive stylist who exclaims, “Oh my God, look at this hair!” in disbelief. Before you take your curly kid to a new stylist, arrange a consultation with them prior to your actual appointment to determine their attitude towards and sensitivity to curly hair. It only takes one or two thoughtless remarks to cause years of self-consciousness.

I can promise that instilling pride and self-esteem into your beautiful curly child now will save them years of heartache down the road.

Check out the Curl Whisperer's site, HERE.
Submit your hair questions to the Curl Whisperer, by emailing [email protected] Be sure to use 'Curl Whisperer' as the subject line!

The Curl Whisperer on Ethnic Hair

I get a lot of questions on whether or not I know how to handle "ethnic hair" or about the special needs of ethnic hair. And I'm here to tell you there is no such thing. Hair is hair is hair. Period.

Your hair is fine, medium or coarse. Your hair is porous, overly porous, or has low porosity. Your hair has normal elasticity or low elasticity. Your hair is thin, medium or thick. It does not matter what your ethnic background is. Fine, porous, elastic, thick hair is fine, porous, elastic, thick hair whether it is on an African-American woman, a Caucasian woman, a Native American woman, an Asian woman, a Latina get the picture.

Now, you may have a genetic predisposition to have a certain type of hair based upon your ethnic background. African-American women often have much finer hair and a much tighter wave pattern than women from other ethnic backgrounds. Asian and Native American women can be so coarse and stick-straight, cutting their hair is a huge challenge because every slice of the shears can leave a visible mark.

There is, however, no guarantee your hair will follow a certain pattern just because you belong to a particular ethnic group. I have African-American clients with loose waves and medium texture; I have white clients with coarse hair and extremely tight coils. And that's just the way it is.

That's not to say we shouldn't take pride in ourselves and where we come from, or not seek advice from others who share the same culture as we do! But by realizing that "ethnic hair" truly doesn't exist and knowing that our particular hair type is the key to taking the best care we can of our curls...we will always have red carpet ringlets, no matter what our ethnic backgrounds.

Check out the Curl Whisperer's site, HERE.
Submit your hair questions to the Curl Whisperer, by emailing [email protected] Be sure to use 'Curl Whisperer' as the subject line!

The Curl Whisperer on Porosity

There are a lot of myths out there about hair porosity and how it relates to curly hair care and maintenance. Let's see if we can't set some of the record straight.

Porosity is, simply put, the hair's ability to absorb and retain moisture. Porosity is a critically important factor in determining one's curly hair care. Since moisture is what defines and shapes our curls, the inability to keep moisture within the hair shaft will defeat the most valiant efforts to maximize curl potential.

If you don't know your hair's porosity, you won't be able to make the best product and maintenance routine choices to maximize the amount of moisture your curls retain. The existing "curl classification systems" never, ever mention porosity in their classification process. Since lack of moisture is one of the biggest causes of frizz, I personally find that odd in the extreme. Just one more reason I don't find those systems very helpful or informative.

Your degree of porosity is directly related to the condition of your cuticle layer. Healthy hair with a compact cuticle layer is naturally resistant to penetration. Porous hair has a raised cuticle layer that easily absorbs water, but is quick to lose moisture as well. The texture of your hair is not an indication of its porosity. Different degrees of porosity can be found in all hair textures. For example, although coarse hair normally has a low porosity and is resistant to chemical services, coarse hair can also have high porosity as the result of damage or previous chemical services.

There are three different levels of porosity:

Hair with low porosity is considered "resistant" hair. Low porosity is when the cuticle of the hair shaft is too compact and does not permit moisture to enter or leave the hair shaft. Hair with low porosity is much more difficult to process, is resistant to chemical services, and has a tendency to repel product rather than absorb it. Chemical services performed on hair with low porosity require a more alkaline solution than those on hair with high porosity, to raise the cuticle and permit uniform saturation and penetration.

Hair with average porosity is considered "normal" hair. With normal porosity, the cuticle is compact and inhibits moisture from leaving or entering the hair shaft; however, it allows for normal processing when a chemical service is performed -- according to the texture -- and will readily absorb and retain product properly formulated for this hair type.

Hair with high porosity is considered "overly porous" and is the result of previous overprocessing. Other factors that can also affect porosity include heat damage, chlorine/hard water/mineral saturation, sun damage, or use of harsh ingredients. Overly porous hair is damaged in some way, and is dry, fragile and brittle. It has an open cuticle that both absorbs and releases moisture easily; it processes very quickly and can be easily damaged even further if extreme care is not taken when a chemical service is performed. Although overly porous hair absorbs product quickly, it is often dry as the open cuticle does not allow for product retention within the hair shaft. Chemical services performed on overly porous hair require less alkaline solutions with a lower pH, which will help to prevent further overprocessing.

Porous hair accepts haircolor faster and permits darker color than less porous hair; however, although overly porous hair takes color quickly, color also fades quickly. While hair with low porosity is difficult for chemicals to penetrate and takes a longer processing time, the color will last much longer.

You can check porosity on dry hair by taking a strand of several hairs from four different areas of the head (front hairline, temple, crown and nape). Slide the thumb and index finger of your other hand down each hair strand from end to scalp. If it is smooth, you have normal porosity. If your fingers move very fast up the hair strand and it feels exceptionally slick, dense and hard, you have low porosity. If your fingers "catch" going up the strand, feel like they are ruffling up the hair strand, or if the hair strand breaks, your hair is overly porous.

Unfortunately, porosity issues stemming from irreparable hair damage CANNOT be permanently corrected. Only time can truly mend damaged hair. You can, however, create a temporary fix until the damaged part grows out by "reconstructing" the hair shaft with protein treatments. Protein fills in any holes within the cortex (inner layer of the hair) and also helps to fill in the gaps exposed by a raised cuticle.

Individuals with coarse hair, however, must be cautious: putting additional protein on coarse hair can dry it out even more. For those with a coarse texture, acidic treatments such as apple cider vinegar rinses are likely a better alternative as your hair already manufactures an overabundance of protein naturally.

(Which brings to a small derail. I know people are tired of me harping on the excessive use of shampoo bars. If, however, you have porous hair, you are not doing yourself any favors by using them. These bars are fairly alkaline and raise the cuticle, the exact opposite of what people with overly porous hair are trying to achieve. Your goal is to establish a routine and determine the most effective product use for your hair without swimming upstream in the process.)

So, what does this mean for the average girl with curls? It means you need to determine your hair texture and your hair porosity, and then think about what types of products are best suited to your particular hair type. Other factors will come into play, but these two hair properties are the most important properties to know.

** Please submit your questions for the Curl Whisperer to [email protected] Please use "Curl Whisperer" as the subject line.

For more Tiffany, The Curl Whisperer, click HERE.

The Curl Whisperer on Silicones

For our last article on product ingredients: silicones.

There are few product ingredient subjects that inspire as much debate as silicones. Silicones are polymers used used to coat the hair shaft to provide a smoothing effect. All silicones, however, are not created equal.

Many conditioners and styling products on the market, both professional and drugstore brands, contain non-water soluble silicones such as dimethicone, which lie on top of the hair, creating an impenetrable barrier into the hair shaft. They look like a quick fix for frizz since they temporarily smooth the hair shaft down and make frizz seem to disappear—but they also suck out the moisture from inside the hair, dehydrating curly locks and creating more frizz in the long run. Since they can't be rinsed away with water, they also build up on the hair shaft and generally require a surfactant (detergent)-based shampoo to remove.

Water-soluble silicones such as dimethicone copolyol, on the other hand, provide many of the same benefits but are generally considered safer to use on curly hair as they form a "breathable" film on the surface of the hair, allowing moisture to penetrate into the hair shaft. Additionally, they do not build up as non-water soluble silicones do, meaning any product containing water-soluble silicones will slide right off the hair shaft when you rinse your hair.

Some amine-functionalized silicones, such as amodimethicone, are not soluble in water, but have chemical properties allow it to repel further deposit, helping to prevent buildup although they will still lock moisture out of the hair and require a surfactant to remove, which may be an issue for those who prefer to solely do conditioner washes.

Incidentally, if you do an Internet search on amodimethicone, you will find quite a few sites (including mine, until recently) that list amodimethicone as a silicone that is "slightly" soluble in water as long as two additional ingredients are included in the formulation:

***Amodimethicone (and) trideceth-12 (and) cetrimonium chloride (as a mixture in the bottle)***

The assumption has always been that the inclusion of trideceth-12 (a nonionic surfactant) and cetrimonium chloride (a cationic surfactant) render the amodimethicone, non-water soluble on its own, slightly soluble in water and it could be considered fine for use.

Turns out that has been a completely incorrect assumption. What the trideceth-12 and cetrimonium chloride do is render the amodimethicone dispersible in water. Once the amodimethicone is deposited onto the hair shaft and dries to a film, however, it is not water-soluble, will prevent moisture from getting into the hair shaft and will require a surfactant to remove.

Tiffany has come to the end of the product ingredient classes, so next week, we will resume answering your most burning questions. Please submit your questions for the Curl Whisperer to [email protected] Please put "Curl Whisperer" in the subject line.

For more Tiffany, The Curl Whisperer, click HERE.

For other articles on Silicones, check out the links below:
To Cone or Not to Cone
Hair Tip of the Day
Another Cone Question
Can Split Ends be Fixed?
Friend or Foe?

The Curl Whisperer on Surfactants

This week: surfactants.

A surfactant—sometimes referred to as a detergent—is a substance that, when dissolved in water, gives a product the ability to remove dirt from surfaces such as the human skin, textiles, and other solids. It is what is responsible for all the suds and bubbles in your shampoo.

A lot has been written in recent years about the "sulfates," which belong to the class of surfactants known as "anionic." Many curly hair experts, myself included, advise avoiding shampoos that contain a sulfate surfactant for two reasons: 1) we consider them to be extremely damaging to curly hair because they strip it of its natural moisture, making it frizzy and unmanageable and, 2) more than a few studies have shown that long-term sulfate use can lead to damaged hair follicles, hair loss and hair breakage.

Advocates of shampooing insist that by not using sulfate surfactant-based shampoo to cleanse the scalp and hair, individuals will start to experience scalp issues and eventual hair loss. These shampoos, they argue, are the only way to ensure the hair and scalp are as clean as they need to be in order to maintain proper hair health.

However, it is NOT the sulfates in shampoo that keep your scalp and follicles clean—movement and agitation are what do the cleansing. Think of a washing machine: that agitator in the middle that swishes your clothes back and forth is there for a reason. Without it, your laundry detergent would be fairly ineffective, no matter how many mountain fresh chemicals are loaded in there.

If you use a non-sulfate based or conditioner cleanser or shampoo with an alternate surfactant once a week and give yourself a really good, brisk scalp massage while cleansing—using your fingertips and rubbing your scalp with a firm, energetic circular motion—you are massaging the sebum, dirt and debris out of your hair follicles while stimulating your sebaceous glands to maintain their proper function.

A good, gentle shampoo acts as an agent to carry that oil and debris away without damaging and drying out your hair shaft. That's the real purpose of a cleanser, not harsh detergents that strip your hair of the moisture and essential oils that keep it healthy.

If, however, you use a non-sulfate or conditioner cleanser or shampoo with an alternate surfactant once a week and you squirt a bit on your scalp and kind of halfheartedly move it around, then rinse without really doing any kind of work, you aren't cleansing your scalp correctly and you may, in fact, start having problems. But it doesn't have anything to do with the fact that you are not using shampoo. I've seen clients who use regular shampoo and their scalp is full of dry flakes and scales because they don't cleanse their scalp properly.

I personally believe much of the “you MUST use shampoo” screaming is an effort to drive more product sales within the beauty industry. Quite frankly, however, if you are doing a weekly non-sulfate cleansing with some serious scalp massage and really focusing on getting your scalp clean, you are doing all the right things and you should never have any issues with clogged or damaged hair follicles (at least not because of your cleansing routine).

Next week: silicones

For more of Tiffany the 'Curl Whisperer' click HERE.

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