Hair Basics - Structure of hair
When it comes to caring for your hair there are so many products to choose from. How do you know which is right for your hair? The answer is by getting to know your hair and scalp better so you can make a wiser and more informed choice and enjoy the right outcomes. Through these mini info series on hair care, Timeless Beauty Secrets will address all concerns relating to hair and help you make informed choices on the right products to benefit your hair.
The first in the series is about understanding the structure of the hair. Each strand of hair is a protein fibre with an organic root under the skin and a visibly protruding shaft. The shaft is made of three concentric layers - the outermost cuticle, middle layer cortex and innermost medulla. The cuticle is a hard and transparent layer of cells that are arranged in an overlapping fish-scale like pattern. The next layer cortex is what gives hair its mechanical strength and texture as it makes most of the protein mass and Melanin, It also gives hair its colour as melanin pigment is injected into the cortex before hair emerges from the follicle. Medulla, the innermost layer of the hair shaft, has no real function and is only present in thick, curly coarse hair. The internal composition and physical condition of these layers contribute to hair appearance – if it’s straight, wavy, curly, or kinky or if it’s dry rough or frizzy. You have your genes to thank for your type of hair and hence any chemical or colour alteration can only be achieved on hair that has already emerged out of the scalp.
Getting under the skin, each strand is attached to a factory of its own helping it with various supplies and functions – capillaries for blood and nutrient supply, sebaceous glands for natural lubrication, hair follicle for growth, sweat gland and a tiny muscle that causes goosebumps. While external care contributes to the health of the hair fibre and the scalp itself, hair growth can only happen with a good diet, blood circulation and well-functioning hormones. Sebum secretion along with sweat forms a protective layer on the scalp and combing action helps spread this mix on the shafts to condition and smoothen out the cuticle.
So what gives us shiny soft hair? The answer lies in the way the cuticles are layered. In a healthy cuticle, the overlapping cells lie flat providing a large surface for light to reflect on and give the appearance of shine. If the cuticles are lifted, then hair appears dull and lifeless. It is also prone to breakage due to increased friction between strands. Chemical treatments such as colouring, perming, rebonding and straightening have to work through the porous cuticle layer into the cortex. This requires the cuticle to be lifted or even stripped off in some cases. Hair altered repeatedly in this way tends to be weak and needs gentle handling as it becomes vulnerable to breakage with cuticle being permanently damaged. Is there salvage to this condition? Changes in the choice of products and adopting a good hair care regimen can bring about a world of difference. Other factors such as pH, temperature etc also affect the way cuticles lie. In the next series, we will bring you more about hair development and hair types and how to care for each type.