A young beautiful Israel girl came complaining that her hair has changed. She came to Malaysia 2 years ago. And for the last one year, she found her hair turning more yellow and brittle. She reported her hair condition to be much better when she returned to her country for a month early this year.
Hair is a dead structure consist of proteins, lipids, water, malanin and trace elements. When I said it is dead, it doesn't hurt when it is cut or damaged.
Our hair shaft consists of cuticle, cortex and medulla (from outside in).
- Cuticle is the protective layer of keratinized scales.
- Cortex is the cysteine-rich keratin filaments that made up the bulk of hair and contributes to the color of hair.
- Medulla is the central core of the hair.
The tip of the hair has more cuticle and less cortex.
What has happened?
Her hair is damaged, or some say has underwent "weathering". Hair weathering is structural damage to hair fibres. The defect in hair shaft can be progressive from loss of cuticular protection to reduction in the ability of the cortex of the hair to maintain moisture. When the hair is dry it is more frizzy and can create "flyaway" look. Ultimately the hair loss its elasticity, shine and strength and could easily be broken.
Is this common?
Yes, this is the top 3 hair concern that comes to dermatologists, after hair loss and thinning.
How would the dermatologist diagnose hair weathering?
The diagnosis of hair weathering is made after detailed history of hair care practices and hair products used. He or she may collect your hair shaft samples to be examined.
What could be the cause?
The name of hair "weathering" suggests the cause is environmental. Ultraviolet (UV) radiation, wind, sea salt, polution, chlorinated water are among the culprits. Despite the name, the cause is not necessary limited to bad weather. Excessive combing, brushing, braiding, weaving, hair extensions, straightening, perming and dyeing could potentially damage the hair structure. In short, any sort of physical or chemical trauma can damage the hair.
I lived in Malaysia for years and have no problem with my hair. How can she attribute our environment to the possible cause of her hair problem? How is hair different among different ethnicity / race?
The proteins and the structure of hair fiber is similar among Asian, Caucasian or Africans.
The cross-section of Asian straight hair is usually round and larger in diameter and therefore usually stronger in tensile strength. The sebum coating, moisture, water swelling rate are the highest among typical Asian straight hair. For the same reason, black hair is most difficult to perm or dye. When they are subjected to chemical treatment, often, they are given higher concentration of chemicals and longer duration of exposure leading to hair damage.
Among the Caucasian, the cross-section of the hair shaft is round to oval and therefore often curls. Among the Africans, the cross-section is elliptical or flattened. When they groom their hair, there is significantly increase friction and hence there is increasingly at risk of weathering as well.
Regardless of ethnicity, as we aged, our hair turns grey which are coarser, stiffer and dryer.
How can I prevent this?
- Avoid prolonged direct exposure to UV radiation and extreme weathers.
- Choose combs that are made of bendable plastic instead of hard metal or wood, particularly those with irregular teeth. Soft brush are better than hard ones. Round tips are better than sharp ones.
- Avoid backcombing that raises the hair cuticle, expose the cortex and make the hair more vulnerable to damage.
- Avoid excessive brushing particularly when the hair is wet. Wet hair produces more friction than dry hair and hence easier to be stretched until its breaking point. It is a good practice to dry the hair before combing.
- Avoid braiding and weaving.
- Straightening and waving by heat (temporary) or chemical (permanent) may damage the hair. Exposure to heat on wet hair results in greater damage than dry. Using a heat protector spray onto dry hair prior to the procedure may reduce the risk of hair breakage, bubble hair* and thermal burn on scalp skin.
- Avoid hair styling or treatment by non-professionals as overperming, poor neutralisation after washing off perming solution can damage the hair.
- Shampooing the night of or after the perming and cause formation of new incomplete bonds for the new shape of the hair. Hair breakage can happens close to the scalp. This usually happens a few days after perming.
- Dyeing of hair may cause contact dermatitis to the skin. There are many different type of hair dyes. Permanent dyes usuallly use a highly alkalinised solution to make the cuticle swell so that the dye can penetrate into the cortex. Bleaching with hydrogen peroxide to oxidise the melanin in the cortex of the hair can destroys the keratin and cuticle making the hair more dull and brittle due to loss of water.
*bubble hair is the formation of holes that are filled with steam when the hair shafts are overheated.
My hair has weathered. What can I do?
- Get a good quality haircut.
- Minimise further damage, physically or chemically. (Avoid bad hair treatment from inexperience staffs!)
- Frequent shampooing is good. Fluffy hair (rather than greasy ones) may give an illusion of thicker hair. Use a mild and gentle shampoo. Minimise massage and dry the hair (especially long hairs) from tip to root.
- Use a conditioner to improve manageability and reduce static electricity.
- Get a good, bendable, soft comb.
- Detangle your hair from ends to root with your fingers when it is still wet.
- Air dry your hair before combing.
- If you use a blower or dryer, make sure the temperature in increase gradually rather than abruptly.
- If you have itchy scalp condition, get it treated to avoid scratching.
One last happy note: Our hair grows continuously (unless you have damaged hair follicles), so hair shaft problem can be completely solved! Exercise good hair care and be patient to wait for your new healthy lustrous hair to grow out soon!