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THE HAIR FACTS

Now You and Your Hairdresser Can Know.
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SOMETIMES the hair promises more than the face can deliver, but there’s a certain justice in that. Even if your genetic code was less than accommodating on some details, it probably at least gave you some potential for good-looking hair. And never were there more products available to help you than now.

The economic woes of the day do not seem to have cut into the intense advertising campaigns that tell us just how to spend our money beautifying our hair. (Six of the top 10 advertisers in the United States are in the cosmetics and hair-care business.)

Unfortunately, most of us lack understanding of the basic facts about hair – the knowledge that could help us slog through the bogs of claims and counterclaims. If we’ve ever lingered long enough in the tub to read through a list of shampoo ingredients, we may wonder that we’ve never had a bout with toxic-waste poisoning.

A superabundance of advertising jargon – “Special organic, pH-balanced, protein-enriched, herbal-scented shampoo to nourish and enrich your hair” – beseiges us along with a sparcity of solid fact. That’s probably because there is hardly a less romantic subject to discuss. It’s a bit jolting to realize that the luxurious, shiny, fragrant symbol of virility or femininity you see floating in slow motion on your TV screen is . . . dead and scaly and on its way out.

Each hair is alive and growing only at its base within the scalp, nestling in a well-nourished follicle, fed by a rich blood supply, surrounded by nerves and tiny muscles and lubricated by its own oil gland.

Once it emerges from the scalp, it is actually dead, no longer fed by the body or nourished from within. It is devoid of feeling. Yet it is quite tough and resilient. The exterior, or cuticle, is composed of overlapping, shingle-like, scaly cells that cover and protect the pigmented cortex and medulla, the two inner layers of the hair.

The scaly exterior cells can be lifted chemically to open imbrications, or air spaces, around the medulla, or they can be coaxed to lie flat – the difference between fluffy and silky hair.

Most of us have about 100,000 hairs on our head. Blonds have finer hairs and more of them – perhaps as many as 140,000. Redheads have fewer but slightly thicker hairs; 90,000 is average. The difference between curly and straight hair is an effect of the relative flatness or roundness of the hair shaft. A strand of naturally curly hair has several alternately flat and round sections that give the hair the tendency to wave and curl.

Sexually, give hair a great big N for neuter because it is unquestionably a unisex item. While a medical pathologist may identify a particular hair as belonging to an individual by matching characteristics of color, size and texture, no tests in use today can distinguish a male hair from a female hair.

Human hair goes through a three-stage cycle of growing, resting and shedding. Fortunately, our hair follicles are, at any given time, distributed fairly equally among the various stages, else we would all suffer periodic baldness. Nonetheless, the next time you need an excuse to escape a social engagement, you can factually claim, “I’m sorry. I’m molting,” because you do shed between 100 and 200 hairs a day. Unlike our furry friends, we grow hair faster in warm weather and shed more in cold weather.

When an individual hair is in the growth phase, the follicle is an active little factory, producing the protein substance keratin. (Fingernails are made of the same stuff.) The keratin pushes up through the surface opening and lengthens the hair shaft: The hair grows. And it continues to grow as long as the follicle is actively producing keratin. That could be anywhere from two to six years.

The growth rate of hair is at its peak when a person is between 15 and 30 years of age. (After that it joins some other things in slowing down.) It grows fastest in females from age 16 to 24 – as much as seven inches a year. The average length of an uncut hair will be approximately 27 inches.

Eventually, every hair follicle will enter the rest phase, and growth will stop. After a time, the shedding phase will follow; the follicle will release the hair and for a time not begin new activity.

Not to be confused with the normal rest phase is “male pattern baldness,” in which the follicles remain alive. There is no way known to scientists today to cause them to resume activity once this kind of baldness (believed due to buildup of the male hormone androgen) has set in. The process also affects women, but is offset to some degree by female sex hormones.

The normal rate of hair loss may be accelerated by pregnancy, illness, an accident or surgery – even by stress. A diet that drastically alters the nutrients provided to the body can also cause abnormal shedding, as can beginning or ending a course of birth control pills. But shedding at the usual rate of 100 to 200 hairs a day is perfectly normal.

Knowledge of the basic structure and behavior of hair provides an understanding of what hair-care products can do to help and what they cannot do. Since hair is dead, nothing applied to its surface can “nourish” or “moisturize” it. You can’t feed hair with any product you put on it.

But hair does grow as an integral part of our body. It does not exist as a separate entity like moss growing on a live oak tree. Hair is as much a part of us as our skin – it is, in fact, an extension of our skin – and is linked to our blood supply. It clearly reflects our general state of health.

The only track to healthy hair is the same one that leads to a healthy body – good nutrition, exercise, plenty of sleep and cleanliness.

That simple prescription would probably be enough, were it not for the environmental elements that harm our hair and the other damage done as a matter of choice by chemical processing, coloring, perming and straightening.

The chief enemy of healthy hair is overexposure to the sun, wind, smoke and some kinds of artificial lighting. Excessive heat – whether from superhot blow-dryers, curling irons or hair curlers – can almost “fry” the cuticle of the hair, damaging the little cells beyond repair. Some hair-care experts fault alcohol and tobacco because of their effect in depleting the body’s vitamin reserves, which are critical to the healthy growth of all body tissues.

The question, then, is how to compensate for the unavoidable ravages of everyday life – how to best clean and condition. Here again, with a basic understanding of the hair, there is no mystery and no need for extravagant expense.

On the other hand, if you should ask, “Will I get my money’s worth?,” the answer would have to be equivocal. It is common knowledge that the cost of ingredients in most hair-care products is quite small, the cost of packaging usually somewhat more than the cost of the ingredients and the big cost is for promotion. Many products are actually priced “up” because they sell better to consumers who think more expensive means better.

A crusader for the consumer’s right to know such facts about all sorts of beauty and body products is Dr. Jonathan Ziz-mor, a dermatologist. His book, Dr. Ziz-mor’s Brand-Name Guide to Beauty Aids, published by Harper and Row, is a guidebook that identifies the active ingredients in the products discussed and suggests the brands that “give you the most action for the least money.”

Since 1977, manufacturers of beauty aids – including shampoo, cream rinse and conditioner – have been required to list the ingredients of their products, in the order of their concentration, on the label. But without some expert help, such lists can lull the average consumer into apathy with their multisyllabic chemical compounds. Cocamidopropyl betaine? That’s coconut oil, but the only way to know such things (apart from a degree in chemistry) is to pick up a paperback like Ruth Winter’s A Consumer’s Dictionary of Cosmetic Ingredients. It won’t make you a sudden conversational success your next evening out, but you will learn some mighty interesting things.

Consider the ingredients of a popular moderately high-priced shampoo:

Water- well, that needs little explanation, except what’s it doing here at the top of the list? It’s here because it is the major ingredient you are paying for. It could be 75 to 80 percent of the total volume.

Sodium C-12-15 – a wetting agent that promotes the penetration of the shampoo into the cuticle of the hair.

Alcohols sulfate – an emulsifier; it makes the various ingredients stay together in solution and not separate out.

DEA lauryl sulfate – a “quaternary ammonium compound.” There are a lot of these; they serve as wetting agents, preservatives and germicides. A detergent, basically.

Hydrolyzed animal protein – “Proteins” you already know about. They’re the stuff of every living cell – remember amino acids? “Hydrolyzed” simply means this kind will mix with water. “Animal”? Not plant. It’s intended to lubricate, but the catch is that it gets rinsed out with the suds.

Lauramide DEA – or lauric acid die-thanolamide, if you prefer. It foams.

Cocamidopropyl betaine – remember? That’s coconut oil, the highly saturated fat from the kernels. It lathers readily and is a good cleanser.

Propylene glycol – another wetting agent, solvent.

Quaternium 15 – basically, it’s an antiseptic and detergent.

Citric acid – as in lemons and oranges. A “sequestering agent,” which simply means a preservative. With hydrolyzed animal protein in the brew, you need it! It is also a foam inhibitor and is often included to adjust the pH balance (more on that later).

Sodium chloride – salt. It’s antiseptic.

Methylparaben – another preservative, plus it’s “antimicrobial.”

Propylparaben – another preservative; a bacteria- and fungus-killer.

Fragrance – ah, yes. And a nice one, you may be sure. The manufacturers know how important it is in influencing your choice of shampoo.

The above is a fairly typical blend. You may find your current brand contains stearyl and cetyl alcohol to make it creamy looking, mineral oil or lanolin to make hair lustrous, water-absorbing materials such as glycerin and sorbitol, special ingredients such as herbs or dehydrated egg powder.

If you find you have urea or spermaceti in your hair care products, don’t be dismayed. The urea, which has its largest use as a fertilizer, is an inoffensive product of protein metabolism. The spermaceti is a wax-like product derived from the head of a sperm whale.

Remember (and sometimes it’s hard, amid the flowery claims), the purpose of shampoo is simply to clean the hair. Most shampoos today are detergents rather than soaps because soap leaves a dulling film. Detergents do a good job of removing dirt and oil – and their own lubricants – from the hair and scalp. In fact, it’s almost impossible to find a shampoo on the market today that doesn’t do a good job of cleaning the hair.

In order to clean, shampoos must be slightly alkaline. They open the scales of the cuticle because they are alkaline, but they do this temporarily and to a very limited degree which causes no damage. The big noise about pH – and it’s just that – would suggest that slight alkalinity is bad, when actually it is absolutely essential for cleaning.

Some manufacturers “balance” their pH by simply adding enough acid – like citrus acid – to cause the shampoo to register midway between acid and alkaline on a pH scale. However, Zizmor says a test of the lather of any of the “pH-balanced” shampoos will always register as alkaline. If it did not, the shampoo simply would not clean the hair.

Actually, the choice of a shampoo can be made just as effectively on the basis of fragrance or cost. Just pick one you like and feel like paying for.

Conditioners, on the other hand, require a little more thought. You have a choice of cream rinses, protein conditioners and the so-called penetrating conditioners that call for a longer period of application, as much as 20 to 30 minutes. They differ mainly in the concentration of ingredients.

When you buy any kind of conditioner, you are really buying a fairly simple combination of acid, protein and oil, mixed together in a pleasant-smelling liquid or cream.

You probably need some conditioning unless you have unusually healthy and undamaged hair. But if you use a blow-dryer and/or hot curling devices, expose your hair to much wind and sunshine or have dry hair or problems with manageability, conditioning will help to some extent. (Long hair is inevitably old hair, and it almost always needs help.)

What your conditioner will not do is penetrate the hair shaft. What it will do is flatten the scales of the cuticle with its acid content and stick them down with the protein and oil. It will also increase manageability by reducing the static electricity caused by the friction of the cuticles of one hair shaft on another.

The more protein the conditioner contains, the more it will coat the individual shafts, causing them to slide better against one another and shine. Hair will absorb according to its dryness, so in a sense all conditioners are “self-adjusting” and go where they are needed most.

If a certain brand of conditioner does what you want it to do, is pleasant to use and has an agreeable price, then it’s for you. Trial and error will tell you a lot more than most advertising.

In essence (a popular hair term), we’ve concluded that what’s great in your shampoo-be it beer or milk or, can you believe it, placenta – is more likely to do more for what’s under your hair – your mind -than it will for all that flowing dead protein. You probably suspected the truth allalong. But why fight vanity? If you feelmore like a winner with some whale gooon your hair (perhaps ambergris, a substance from the intestinal canal of thesperm whale, sometimes used to sustainthe fragrance) then why not splurge andspend the extra $1.79?

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