Hair Revelations: A Closer Look at Environmental Stressors
Do you remember the first time you looked through a microscope in science class? We do. The microscopic made large before our eyes revealed far more than we could ever see with the naked eye or even imagine, grains of sand became miniature boulders rolling against one another, and a drop of pond water came to life with swimming organisms.
What would we see if took a strand of healthy hair and put it under a microscope?
Healthy hair strand
A healthy strand of hair will show that the hair cuticle lays flush to the hair strand itself, in overlapping, scale-like layers that protect and strengthen the cortex and medulla.
One of the biggest environmental stressors on hair is hard water. While the mineral deposits are microscopic, they can cause damage not only to the cuticle but to the cortex of the hair strand as well as the scalp. Add to that the effects of hair without the proper pH balance and you have the perfect storm resulting in damaged, unmanageable, unhealthy hair that can’t hold color, a perm or any of the many treatments we love to enhance the look of our hair.
What else is happening to our hair that we can’t see?
Damaged hair strand
HARD WATER HAZARDS
85% of U.S. residents live with hard water in their home. Chances are, your tap water is rich in mineral deposits like calcium, iron, copper, magnesium, silica, lead, and chlorine.
Table adapted from and prepared by the United States Geological Survey
While hard water is okay to drink and provides the body with needed minerals, it can cause many problems for your hair and scalp.
Minerals and oxidizers have a positive charge. When a positively charged mineral comes into contact with our hair, scalp, or skin, it clamps on like a magnet, causing build-up on the hair strand and scalp. All this, on top of the build-up caused by hair products.
When hair is damaged it has a negative electrical charge (the more damage, the greater the negative charge). So for two people living in the same home, hard water will affect each person's hair differently depending upon the nature of prior damage to each individual's hair.
WHAT the pH
Keeping hair within its normal pH range is vital to its overall health and beauty. When in this natural optimal state hair is slightly acidic, with a pH between 4.5 and 5.5. This keeps the outer protective layer—the cuticle—flat and closed, forming a protective layer over the cortex (like shingles on a roof protect what is inside a house), giving you resilient, strong and shiny hair. A neutralized pH level in your scalp also ensures cellular regeneration which is vital to maintaining the health of both hair and scalp.
Hair care products with a pH higher than 5.5 cause the cuticle to rise. This happens because of an increase in negative electrical charge on the surface of the hair, which causes friction between the hair fibers and the cuticle to open, leading to tangles and breakage. The result is dry, dull and frizzy hair. In this fragile condition hair is open to greater water absorption and swelling, which further compounds damage from water and minerals. The strands also become susceptible to ions of dissolved minerals found in hard water, which build up over time and create dull, damaged hair.
By opening up the hair cuticle, high pH hair products leave hair more exposed and susceptible to environmental conditions, like cold air or heat.
If this wasn’t enough, solutions that permanently color, perm or straighten your hair can have a pH as high as 13.0 to purposely raise the cuticle so it can reach the cortex of the hair, where the structural bonds are. In the cortex is where cysteine bonds can be broken and reformed into a new texture, and dye can alter the color of the hair change. These damaging treatments make chemically processed hair even more prone to water saturation and extremely vulnerable. Hence it is vital that after coloring our hair, we use products that have a pH of 4.5-5.5 so that they can help the cuticle stay as flat as possible and reduce the incidence of further damage to the structural integrity of the hair.
The more damaged or frequently colored or treated your hair is, the more severely it is affected by mineral deposits and out of balance pH levels. Prevention is the first step in protecting hair and maintaining optimal hair and scalp health. AQUIS Prime Water Defense PreWash is the first step to fortify hair against damage caused by washing, drying and styling. Formulated with coconut oil, our lightweight PreWash helps to make hair hydrophobic prior to it getting wet and also helps maintain hair’s natural pH.
Whether your hair is in its natural, untouched state or sporting multiple processes, it’s important to keep it within the healthy pH zone. The more your hair remains in the 4.5 to 5.5 pH range, the less chance of creating the dreaded negative electrical charge on its surface, and the more capable it is of defending itself against daily wear and environmental damage.
DETOX YOUR LOCKS
In order to keep hair at its healthiest it is vital to remove mineral and product buildup on a regular basis. AQUIS Prime Detoxifying Hair and Scalp Wash 02+ gently removes mineral and product build up from hair. Activated charcoal and salicylic acid lift away impurities from the scalp and hair strand without stripping natural oils. Use every 3-4 washes or more depending upon your hair habits and the hard water situation in your hometown. If you are using styling products, use the detox wash more frequently (Detox Wash available on AQUIS.com January 30, 2020).
We all want beautiful hair. The more damaged or frequently colored our hair is, the more prone it is to damage by hard water, improper pH levels, and other environmental stressors. Protecting your hair is key. Start now. And the next time you’re near a microscope, sacrifice a strand to admire the health of your hair.
cover photo by @shanti via TWENTY20