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What are the types of hair damage?

Different types of hair damage

Almost every one of us suffers from some form of damaged hair. Some may not even know that this is why they cannot get all out of their hairstyle that they want. This article will discuss the different types of hair damage and the causes of that damage to address this problem.

Cuticle or Cortex

There are only two types of hair damage. Damage to the cuticle and damage to the cortex. Each differs from the other and has its symptoms.

Cuticle Damage

Damage to the cuticle is easily recognizable. It often presents as frizzy or dry hair that tends to stick together when wet. This is because the cuticle has flared open and no longer lies flat against the cortex.

The rough edges rub together and catch on one another. In this case, the cuticle no longer has enough moisture content for the layers to adhere together as a mostly flat surface. Not only does the hair feel dry, but it is dry. In most cases, this type of damage is not permanent. It can be corrected and managed with the correct hair care regimen.

Cortex Damage

Damage to the cortex is a more complex issue. It can be caused by the cuticle's dryness or some injury to the hair shaft. Remember that the cuticle is a protective barrier that protects the cortex from the environment. The cuticle is a hard flat protein intended to endure exposure to the outside world.

The cortex is not and is more easily damaged than the cuticle. Because the cortex provides the shape, structure and color for the hair damage to the cortex can exhibit in many ways. When the cortex is damaged, it is more often than not permanent damage that cannot be repaired. This is known in the industry as a blown cortex. A blown cortex means that the hair's cortex has been damaged to the point of no repair. It will not hold colour or style as desired. There are ways to minimize the impact of a blown cuticle; however, the best option is to cut off the damaged hair.

Causes of hair damage

Hair is made of a protein called keratin. Like all proteins, keratin is an amino acid with a shape defined by polypeptide chains. A protein’s shape determines how it will behave. And a protein's shape is susceptible to changes in heat, pH, chemicals and radiation. Including UV radiation from the sun. When these chains are changed, the protein no longer functions as it should. An easy way to understand this is to think of an egg white. Egg white is a protein known as albumen. When you crack open an egg, the white part is clear and runny, not white. When you place that egg into a hot pan, it changes in response to the temperature change almost immediately. The albumen is transformed from clear and runny to a semi-solid, white. This change is permanent. The albumen will never again be clear and runny because the heat has changed its shape. Being a protein, keratin is just as sensitive to changes in its form and behavior. When these changes happen, we recognize it as damage to the hair shaft. While there are many ways to damage hair, these causes can be grouped into four major reasons. Environmental, mechanical, thermal and chemical hair damage.

Environmental hair damage

This type of damage is encountered by everyone daily. It cannot be avoided; however, with knowledge of how hair can be damaged, the road to prevention opens up. The three most common causes of environmental damage to the hair shaft in Fredericton, NB are wind, sun, and chlorine. Wind does its dirty work through friction and abrasion as the hair shafts are tussled back and forth by the wind the bash into and rub against each other. Over time this contact will thin the cuticle through abrasion. The sun is a UV radiation source that can pass through the cuticle and damage the cortex, just like it penetrates the skin and causes damage to the underlying cells. And finally, chlorine. Although this is a chemical and can be considered chemical damage, a better description is environmental damage because so many people encounter it daily. While most people encounter chlorine in swimming pools and hot tubs, it can also be found in some water sources. Chlorine is essentially bleach, and it will dissolve the keratin in the medulla, cortex and cuticle when given enough time. While it is not likely that hair will be dissolved to the point of falling off by getting into the pool, frequent exposure will damage the cortex and lead to future problems if not managed.

Mechanical hair damage

Mechanical damage can best be described by the stretching, pulling, twisting and binding of the hair shaft during any number of hair styling activities. This includes brushing or combing, clipping, pinning, scrunches and razor cuts. This damage is caused by abrasion during the styling process or over-stretching the hair shaft. Remember that hair can stretch up to 30% but overstretching hair will cause breakage or tiny fractures in the hair shaft's cuticle. It is also possible to cause a physical separation between the cuticle and cortex by overstretching hair. Many hair salons and hairstylists will tell you that a razor cut is more beneficial for your hair than a cut with shears. Or that your hair will grow more quickly if you use a razor to cut the hair. This is not true. A razor cut is not more beneficial or healthy than a cut with shears and predisposes all hair types to split ends. This is why razor cuts require more frequent visits to the hair salon for reshaping or in other words, to cut off the split ends. And in some hair types, it can be quite damaging to the hair end and result in unmanageable split ends.

Thermal hair damage

Thermal damage is the easiest to understand. Heat turns water or moisture into steam. Frequent use of high heat to style hair will strip the moisture away from it. This moisture must be replaced, or more significant damage can occur.

In the instance of permanent heat damage, think back to the egg white. Apply enough heat over a long enough period of time, and the cortex of the hair shaft will be damaged in a way that cannot be repaired. Use of the least amount of heat necessary and a hair care regimen designed for hair that is frequently exposed to high heat is the best way to avoid this type of damage.

Chemical hair damage

This form of damage is the least understood of all. It is the result of putting chemicals in your hair. There are many reasons people put chemicals in their hair, and there are many chemicals out there that provide the desired result. For the sake of keeping this article brief, we will focus on three types. Chemicals that deposit colour, chemicals that remove color and chemicals that restructure the disulfide bonds in the hair shaft, otherwise known as texturizers which include perms and straighteners.

1. Chemicals That Deposit Color

Chemicals that deposit color are well known to many people. The use a combination of developer, ammonia and dye to open the hair cuticle and deposit color on the cortex of the hair. The primary cause of damage to the cortex is the ammonia content in these products. High concentrations of ammonia will cause more damage than low concentrations of ammonia.

Exposing the hair to low ammonia concentrations for long periods of time will cause more damage than short exposure times. It is important to remember this when choosing a hair salon.

Please take into account what products they use as many contain more ammonia than others. And the knowledge and experience of the hairstylist. The stylist should be limiting the amount of time that ammonia is on the hair shaft and restrict the amount of ammonia in the product they use in the interest of limiting the amount of damage to your hair. At Vibrant Salon and Spa, we use high-quality products only.

Health Canada requires makers of over the counter box color to list the concentration of the developer included in the box. This is because they are only permitted to use 20 volume developer. To get around the limitations of developer concentration and still provide adequate coverage to a large variety of hair types, they use a high concentration of ammonia so that more of the color will deposit faster. This is not a healthy hair practice and should be avoided if possible. Especially in individuals prone to split ends such as individuals with fine hair.

2. Chemicals That Remove Color

Although sometimes misunderstood, highlights are not the same thing as hair color or lowlights. Highlights remove color from the hair cortex. To accomplish this, the hair cuticle is opened, and bleach is used to remove the color from the cortex. Much like bleach will remove the color from your clothes. There are many terms for bleach, such as blonders or lighteners. But essentially they are formulas that use a combination of bleach and conditioners to create a product that reduces the amount of damage done during this process. Believe it or not, hair lighteners used with high concentration developers left on the hair for too long will destroy the hair to the point where it falls off all together. So just with color, limiting exposure is the key to hair health. The lowest concentration of the developer and the smallest amount of time the product is left on the hair to reach the desired effect is best for hair health. This is extremely important when individuals are trying to remove a color from their hair that does not occur naturally. So, for instance, a blonde that went black, but now wants to be blonde again.

Many hair salons will tell clients this is an easy and quick transition back to blonde. What they mean is they will put high concentration developer mixed with a lightener on your hair under heat and leave it there until the color comes out. Unfortunately, this more often results in permanent damage that must be grown out and cut off. Be judicious in your choice of hair salons when considering lightening services. Vibrant Salon and Spa have always been more concerned with a client’s hair health than their cash. If a client wants a service that will be detrimental to their hair health, we will refuse to provide it. We will offer an alternative service that is safer and healthier for the client’s hair.

3. Chemicals That Restructure Disulfide Bonds

These are known more commonly as perms, texturizers, straighteners and relaxers. Those that frequently visit hair salons will instantly recognize the smell of these products. The products that change that shape use sulfur to break those disulfide bonds and then the stylist redefines the shape of the hair with rods or a flat iron as the bonds are reformed. This permanently changes the shape of the cortex. Many years of research and development of these products have yielded various formulations to fit individual hair types. When a product is not used for the correct hair type or is left on the hair for too long, it can damage the cortex of the hair.

This damage is permanent and cannot be repaired. There are many horror stories of clients that have had their hair almost melted by a perm. As a side note, this process opens the cuticle and allows the chemicals to interact with the cortex. It takes up to two days for the cuticle to close entirely and washing a perm or texturizer before that two days’ time period will directly expose the cortex to water and whatever is in it. Almost always resulting in damage to the cortex and a frizzy hairstyle. Never wash a perm or texturizer until 48 hours after the service.


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