Protect Your Cuticle: The First Line of Defense for Natural Hair

Fig. 1: Undamaged hair

Tonya McKay writes:

As a polymer scientist with a love for biological structures, I find hair and skin to be extremely fascinating systems. Human hair is an intricate composite structure comprised of keratin proteins, lipids, polysaccharides, water and pigment particles. All of the individual components are complex and perform very specific functions. Those of us with curly hair are concerned a lot about our hair’s texture and porosity (a popular buzz word of late). These two factors are primarily based upon the structure of the cuticle — the outer layer of our hair.  

The scanning electron microscope image in Figure 1 shows highly magnified detail of the exterior surface of a strand of human hair. The external layer is called the cuticle, and is much like bark on a tree. Both the cuticle layer and tree bark are made up of many smaller, individual pieces (called scales when referring to the cuticle) that work together as one overall unit to perform a function. The job of the cuticle is to provide protection to the hair shaft from mechanical and thermal damage, while allowing moisture in and out as needed. The cuticle structure is an amazing work of nature, because it is strong, yet flexible, and is made up of many pieces, which allows it to act as a seal to protect the inner cortex of the hair, and yet also allows it to be permeable, or porous.

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Understanding Hair Butters and Oils- Natural Hair

Tonya McKay writes;

Butters, oils, and waxes all come from fats that are derived from plants or animals, and have two basic components; fatty acids and alcohols. The difference between butters and oils is primarily whether or not they are solid at room and/or body temperature. Although they are both composed of groups of fatty acids, there are differences in the molecular composition and structure of butters and oils that are responsible for these differences in melting points.

Factors that determine melting point of lipids
  • Molecular weight – lower-molecular-weight fatty acids have a lower melting point, so that they are liquid at room temperature or body temperature. Higher-molecular-weight fatty acids form crystalline structures that persist to higher melting points, and so they are usually solids at room temperature and higher.
  • Saturated molecular structure — longer-chain fatty acids without any double bonds are straight chain molecules (like long snakes) that are able to closely pack next to one another This close-packing induces crystallization, which requires more energy to break apart than molecules not packed together into a crystalline or semi-crystalline structure. For this reason, the melting points of these types of fatty acids are much higher. This means the “oil” will exist in a solid state at room temperature or even body temperature.
  • Unsaturated molecular structure — unsaturated molecules have at least one double bond somewhere in their structure. This creates a kink or branching effect in the geometry of the molecule. This prevents unsaturated fatty acids from getting too close to one another, thereby preventing crystallization. These molecules have lots of space between themselves, which allows for more mobility of the molecules and results in a lower melting temperature. These oils may be liquid at room temperature or melt upon contact with skin.
  • Stearic acid, a saturated hydrocarbon molecule with 18 carbons (relatively long-chain fatty acid) has a melting point of 69.6°C (157.28°F). Oleic acid, a monounsaturated hydrocarbon molecule, has a double bond in it that creates a kink in its geometry, which makes it more difficult for adjacent molecules to pack tightly next to one another. It has a melting point of 10.5°C (50.9°F). Polyunsaturated acids, such as linoleic and linolenic, have multiple kinks in their chains and are liquid at very low temperatures (melt point = -5°C (23°F) for linoleic acid).
  • Linolenic acid, polyunsaturated fatty acid.
  • Linoleic acid, polyunsaturated, omega-6 fatty acid.
  • Oleic acid, monounsaturated fatty acid.
  • Stearic acid, saturated fatty acid.

Don’t Let That Water Weight Fool You!

Charnika Jett of NaturallyCurly writes;

After the first week of reducing your calories, working out at the gym and consuming different varieties of fruit and vegetable medleys, you step on the scale to see your fate. If your weight loss is so remarkable that you can’t believe it, chances are you shouldn’t because you’ve probably only lost water weight.

According to, when a person cuts back on calories suddenly, the body tries to make up the difference by borrowing some fat and protein from your body. When this happens, you lose a lot of water weight, as muscle tissue holds a lot of water.

During the following week the body stabilizes and you might see a huge difference on the scale. More than likely, it will look as though you gained weight this week, when really the scale is showing you an accurate body weight.

Read on...

The Buzz About Honey

CurlChemist Tonya McKay writes;

If you peruse the CurlTalk discussions, you’ll see honey mentioned on numerous threads.

This should come as no surprise, given honey’s long history as a health and beauty ingredient.

The use of honey has been documented throughout human history, with mention found as far back as in various Sumerian tablets. The practice of cultivating bees for the purpose of harvesting their honey was an integral part of ancient Egyptian culture. Honey was widely used in Egypt and Babylon as a hair and skin treatment, in cosmetic mixtures, for medicinal purposes, and as a bath component. Through trading, honey gradually found its way into the lives of humans all around the globe.

During the post World War II era, many natural ingredients typically were replaced by lab-synthesized chemicals, which were touted as being superior to nature and were valued for being “modern.” Recently natural ingredients are experiencing a renaissance. This has driven the cosmetic industry toward the development and marketing of products containing natural ingredients such as honey.

There are many hair and skin-care products being marketed that highlight the inclusion of honey. There are also many recommendations for the use of honey in recipes for home conditioning treatments and rinses for curly hair.

So what’s the real story on honey? What sorts of things should one be aware of when using honey in a hair-care routine?

Read on...

What's the Scoop on Silicones?

CurlChemist Tonya McKay of NaturallyCurly writes;

We always get lots of questions about silicones, as they are in so many products and are of ongoing concern to many curly-haired consumers. I thought this month we could tackle a couple of those questions in a quick, practical manner (hopefully) to aid in the seemingly never-ending process of ingredient scrutiny and product selection.

Q: Is there any way to rank silicones in order of their water solubility and also recommend the best surfactants to remove each category?

A: It is difficult to actually rank the silicones in order of water solubility, simply because they are usually either soluble or not. Most silicones are water insoluble due to being non-polar, but there are a few that are chemically modified in order to render them more compatible with water. The following table lists the main types of silicones found in hair care formulations. It also indicates whether or not they are water soluble and includes which surfactants can be used to ensure good removal of the silicone from the hair. Studies done by Dow Corning have found that the water-insoluble silicones show no appreciable buildup when a shampoo containing one of the recommended surfactants was used.

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What is pH and What Does it Have to do With Hair?

“pH” is an abbreviation for “potential hydrogen” and is a scale used for ranking the relative acidity or alkalinity of a liquid solution. The precise mathematical definition of pH is the negative logarithmic value of hydrogen ion (H+) concentration in the solution. pH = – log [H+]

A scale of zero to fourteen is used for pH, with 7.0 being a neutral solution (water). A number below 7.0 is considered to be acidic, with a lower number being more acidic, and anything above 7.0 is considered to be alkaline or basic, with 14 being the strongest alkaline value. Due to the logarithmic nature of the pH scale, a solution with a pH of 2.0 is ten times more acidic than one with a pH of 3.0. Human hair is a solid material, a composite of protein molecules with three distinct layers. The central portion called the medulla is not present in every hair and is usually just made up of air. The surrounding layer, known as the cortex, is composed of bundles of fibrous coils made of keratin protein molecules that supply the hair strand with its strength and elasticity. The cortex also contains particles of melanin, which impart color to the hair strand. The outer layer is comprised of multiple layers of overlapping, keratinized scales and is called the cuticle, which acts to protect the cortex and medulla. Hair and skin are both covered by a very thin fluid layer comprised of oil, salt and water, called the mantle, which is slightly acidic (pH = 4.5 – 5.0). This acid mantle is very important in maintaining the proper moisture balance in our hair and skin. It is also instrumental in making the cuticle scales lie flatter against the surface of the hair shaft, which makes hair smoother and shinier as the flat scales reflect light more coherently. Scales that lie more snugly against the hair shaft also prevent moisture loss more efficiently, which helps hair to be stronger and healthier. With the normal exposure to the environment as well as washing and styling, this acid mantle can become contaminated or removed and must be restored with the use of properly pH-balanced products.

Beer for Hair? Yes! 4 Ways to Repair Damaged Hair

Alyssa Hawkins of Naturallycurly writes;

Break out the bottles of beer—for your hair.

One unfortunate fact of life is that it is much easier to damage your hair than it is to repair it. But if you have the right tools and products you can reverse the damage you have done over your life and get back on track to having the perfect curls you have always wanted. So instead of looking for split ends or thinking about how dehydrated your curls are, read on and find out ways to bring your curls back to life.


I Can't Work Out Because of My Hair

Charnika Jett of NaturallyCurly writes;

“I think that’s a myth,” Danielle Andrews said when asked what she thought of women who pass on working out because of their hairstyle.

“I used to be a kick-boxing instructor and I would see many women wearing their hair in all sort of styles. I figured if you were serious about getting in shape, then hair would be the last thing on your mind,” Andrews said.

With a short cropped head of curls, Andrews, who works out five times a week, has a low-maintenance routine to keep her hair in check after enduring intense workouts. But other women with longer tresses find it difficult to manage their curls during sweat-drenching workouts.

“I hate to say it, but [my hair] is one of the main reasons I don’t work out,” says Sheryl Gifford. “I know that sounds horrible, but I don’t have the time to work out and then spend hours doing my hair every other day; that won’t work for me.”

Gifford, whose 3c curls fall a few inches past her shoulders, has the same problem as many other women. Whether relaxed, transitioning or natural, some women avoid the gym like the plague for fear that one drop of sweat will ruin the ‘do that they’ve tried hard to create.

Ten Iconic Curly Celebrities

Naturallycurly writes;

From Shaun White to Chaka Khan, there are so many great curlies to choose from (though never enough, right?) that we had a hard time whittling it down to just 10—5 curly guys and 5 curly gals. We chose these curlies based on varying factors: Are they natural (most of the time at least)? Do they represent curlies? Do they wear their curls proudly? Do we associate them with curly hair?

Here are our picks for Ten Iconic Curlies from old school to present day (and we mean old school). Ladies first, of course (but other than that, no particular order)!

Read on...

Who are your curly icons?

Loving the Versatility of Curls

Amy Ford of Brown Babies Pink Parents writes;

I prayed my whole life for curly hair. You see, I was born with my mother’s long, straight hair with not a single wave in sight. For years, I spent hundreds of dollars on perms every few months, trying in vain to make my hair do what it was never intended to do. I finally gave up the quest sometime after college and accepted the truth of my baby-fine, straight hair.

And then God answered my unanswered prayers for curly hair by blessing me with 3 beautiful daughters, all of whom have gorgeous curly hair. Ah, beautiful curls, how I love thee! Let me count the ways! I can do anything with the curls that crown the heads of my daughters. For years, I have reveled in the curls, using products like Miss Jessie’s Baby Buttercreme and Miss Jessie’s Curly Pudding to accentuate the curls. These two products smell good enough to eat and make the curls spring to life when I put their hair in puff balls or leave natural.

But sometimes, a change is nice. And while I’ve always yearned for curls, my daughters have always wanted a change, too—straight hair, for a change.


Eat Healthy, Lose Weight, Improve Your Hair!

Charnika Jett of Naturallycurly writes;

If you plan to bring sexy back come springtime by reducing your calorie intake and increasing your time at the gym, expect your new bikini body to come with longer and healthier curls. You can lose weight and get better hair, too!

Eating a healthy diet will contribute to growing stronger and healthier cells throughout your entire body—inside and out and of course that includes your hair.

To entice your palette with the best foods that will give you the most benefit, try to include dishes that are not only beneficial to your weight goals, but also provide some life to those curls.

One example of a satisfying meal that provides an abundance of nutrients to both your body and hair is salmon with a side of wild rice and broccoli. According to the article, salmon is a high-quality protein source, packed with omega-3 fatty acids, which are needed to support scalp health. The rice will provide the hair with a dose of iron and zinc, and the broccoli provides an excellent source of vitamins A and C, which your body needs to produce sebum.


Humidity, Humectants, and Hair

Tonya Mckay of Naturallycurly writes;

We hear a lot about the humectants. But many of us may not know what they are and how they work.

Humectants are used in skin and hair-care products to promote moisture retention. These hygroscopic compounds posses a chemical structure that attracts water from the atmosphere and binds it to various sites along the molecule.

There are many different types of molecules that are effective humectants, but the chemical similarity they share is having multiple alcohol (hydroxyl) or similarly hydrophilic sites (such as ethers or ammonium groups) available for hydrogen bonding with water molecules. The strength of the hydrogen bonding between humectants and H2O improves moisture retention by minimizing water loss due to evaporation.

These ingredients are used in many products, especially those designed for consumers with dry, damaged hair. While they can provide benefit in certain circumstances, it is important to understand how they work and under what circumstances they might provide less-than-optimal results. When considering whether to use humectants, the most important piece of the puzzle is how the weather can impact your hair and the performance of these molecules.


10 Secrets to Styling Curly Hair

Susonnah of Naturallycurly writes;

Styling curly hair can be quite a challenge as humidity, frizz, and dryness present obstacles for even the most experienced of curlies. Curly hair has such personality that it’s often difficult to perfect a hairstyling technique when the behavior of curls can vary from day to day. Whether you’re new to the curly scene, or just in need of some advice, check out these ten tips that can make styling curly hair easier.

1. Start Fresh
Before styling your hair, it is important to wash out all the leftover product, spray or serum that might be in your hair. Starting with a clean, fresh head of hair will ensure that you don’t have any product left in your hair to conflict with your next styling. Use a proper cleanser, preferably a sulfate-free cleanser, to wash out all the excess. Curious about the shampoo free routine? Find out if the shampoo free method is right for you!

2. Grab that Leave-In Conditioner
The key to a frizz free style is moisture. Moisturizing the hair will not only help its overall health, but it will keep your frizz at bay. Before styling your hair, be sure to spray your hair with a leave-in conditioner. It acts as a prep for your hair style, and gives your hair that extra moisture that it craves.

Design Essentials Exec's Natural ‘Do

Michelle Breyer of Naturallycurly writes;

Marketing coordinator Cyntelia Abrams was walking down the hall at Design Essentials two years ago, bemoaning the fact she needed another relaxer, when a visiting stylist suggested she go natural instead.

Abrams, who started working for the Georgia-based haircare company in 2005, had experimented with low-lye relaxers, but she had never been quite ready to embrace her natural texture.

“I hadn’t seen my natural hair since I was five years old,” Abrams says. “Growing up, I never thought natural hair was pretty.”

She decided to transition to her natural hair. “I was still wearing my hair straight,” says Abrams during an interview at ‘Fro Fashion Week in Atlanta.

A year and a half ago, the light bulb went off. She said it was time that she finally embraced her natural hair— kinks, coils and all.

“I can’t just love my natural hair when it’s straight,” she says. “I realized—this is my hair. It was time to get comfortable in my own skin.”

Although she still wears her hair straight every now and then, Abrams says she wears it natural most of the time. Usually, she just wets it and goes.

And Abrams’s acceptance of her own natural ‘do is reflected by Design Essentials, which is committed to natural hair. The company developed its Natural Hair Care System— a collection of curl definition products infused with a combination of natural butters and oils to maintain and style loose wavy to tightly coiled hair textures. Each product is specially formulated with a blend of nourishing natural ingredients such as jojoba, cocoa butter, coconut oil, soy and almond oil to better meet the individual needs of each hair type. The ingredients provide the intense moisture that natural hair needs and the curl definition the natural consumer desires.


You Know You’re a Product Junkie If…

Alyssa Hawkins of Naturallycurly writes;

Though not listed in any medical dictionary, and often “harumphed” by doctors, many women of all ages face a serious problem in their daily lives: product addiction. In a 12-Step program, it is said that Step 1 is admitting you have a problem. Okay, I admit it. Now what? Am I ready to change? No way. Am I okay with getting rid of products? Absolutely not! Would I spend a good chunk of change on something I’m not even sure works? You betcha!

Hi, my name is Alyssa and I’m a product junkie. (“Hi, Alyssa!”) I never thought it could happen to me, but it has and I’m here to take full responsibility. I am also here to help you figure out if you’re a product junkie, too. I’ve put together a list of 12 things below, and if any apply to you, it could mean that you are a product junkie, too! Admittedly, this is my own version of a 12-step program—I don’t actually have a cure. Some may point fingers and protest that I don’t truly want help, and they are correct. I love my products! If you are a product junkie, I urge you to take full responsibility for your actions—and you may want to learn to love yourself and your cache of product. Don’t look to me for any real help; I’m happy with all my goodies stashed under the sink, in the shower, in the fridge—wherever I can find a place for them. Plus, I’m busy hoarding more product!

You may be a product junkie if:

1. You make sharing a bathroom impossible for any other person. You need your counter, drawer, cabinet space, wall space and even floor space!

2. You have more products than food in your refrigerator or worse—you have 2 refrigerators to handle your space problem!

3. Your day revolves around mail delivery and you are on a first-name basis with your mail carrier.

4. You purchase products containing ingredients that you have tried before and didn’t work for your hair, but they might work this time, right?

5. You have a product wish list longer than your grocery or To-Do list.

5 Hair Habits That Will Change Your Life

Alyssa Hawkins of Naturallycurly writes;

Deciding to go natural is only half of the battle. While you might think it is the hardest part, getting your curls to look their best can often be much more difficult and plain frustrating. We want you to have the easiest possible path to loving your curls, so we put together a list of five hair habits that once you adopt, will completely change your life and the love you have for your curls.

Stop Straightening

Curlies in numbers agree that the hardest part about being natural is simply doing it. We are often accustomed to changing the texture of our hair, so it is hard to quit and embrace how we look with the hair we were given. Once you can put down the straightening tools and products, you can embrace who you are and work to get the best possible curly version of you. Say “goodbye” to heat damage!

Deep Conditioning

Moisture is key when being curly and one of the best ways to get moisturized curls is through deep conditioning. Conditioning daily is important, but deep conditioners are made specifically to penetrate your hair’s many layers and give your roots the moisture they need to stay frizz free.

Trims Every Six-Eight Weeks

The length of time that you can go without a trim depends on the length of your hair, but most stylists will suggest that you come in every six to eight weeks. Once you get in the habit of getting your hair trimmed on a regular basis, you will notice your hair looking healthier; something many curly girls strive for.

Eat Your Veggies, They're Good for Your Skin!

Angela Lukach of Naturallcurly writes;

Your mother was right...

As if you needed yet another reason to eat vegetables, new research shows that your skin actually looks healthier with the glow you get from eating foods rich in carotenoids.

Carotenoids are phyto-chemicals that create the orange, red and yellow pigments in many fruits and vegetables. They are mainly involved in the production of Vitamin A in the body. In recent years, carotenoids have been discovered to have anti-oxidant and immune-enhancing benefits. Studies indicate their efficacy in anti-aging products (retinol) and preventing cancer.

You’ve probably heard that if you eat a lot of carrots, your skin will turn orange. This happens to be true; it’s even got a medical name—carotonemia. But you have to eat one heck of a lot of carotenoid-rich foods in a short period of time for this to happen. One enterprising gentleman in Germany ate nothing but carrots for two weeks to see what would happen and the palms of his hands turned orange-ish. The blog about his experience can be found here: The Orange Man Project.

While it isn’t advised that you eat such a restrictive diet designed with the express purpose of turning yourself orange, a recent study conducted at the University of Nottingham in England, shows that the golden cast to fair skin that comes from a diet rich in carotenoids makes skin look better. The researchers found that study subjects looking at the participants’ faces found those with the yellower tone to be more attractive and healthier in appearance. This behaviour has been noted in other species, too.


Fruits That Are Good For Your Hair

Timi K of Naturallycurly writes;

We know fruits are good for our health, but did you know that fruits can have healthy hair benefits as well? Fruits are full of nutrients and vitamins that are good for your hair.

Dark-colored fruits like plums and dark berries have nutrients called bioflavonoids that also act as antioxidants. Citrus fruits like oranges and grapefruit have Vitamin C and antioxidants. Many of these fruits have antioxidants that help increase circulation to the scalp, which encourages hair growth.

The Stylings of KinkyCurlyCoilyMe!

Do you need a hairstyle for your short natural hair? Check out these quick and easy hair styles for natural hair now!

Omega 3: The Essential Hair Secret

Karen Mcintosh of Naturallycurly writes;

Omega-3 Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs) are vital to every cell in the body. They have overwhelming benefits for heart, breast, bone, brain, hair and skin health, without any of the side effects of prescription drugs. That’s not just essential—it’s miraculous!

The Magic of 3: ALA, EPA, DHA
Alpha Linolenic Acid (ALA) is the primary fatty acid in Omega-3. Two others, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), are converted from ALA. Since our systems don’t convert ALA into DHA and EPA very well, we need all three omega-3 EFAs in our diet. And because our bodies are incapable of producing it, we have to import all Omega-3 in food or supplements.

Now you know how essential Omega-3 EFAs are for your health. Have you considered how vital they are for your hair and scalp?


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