The cuticles of hair near the roots usually have smooth unbroken scale edges. However as hair grows, it is exposed to several physical and chemical treatments that cause these cuticles to crack, fissure, chip and even get stripped completely. Once that happens, hair starts to adopt erratic behaviors. In this article we discuss the importance of maintaining healthy cuticles.
The importance of healthy cuticles
- Cuticles are the first line of defense against damage. Without these layers of protection, the core fiber would be far more vulnerable to simple things like grooming or even shampooing. Cuticles also slow down the access of harmful substances to the core fiber. It creates a longer path for such chemicals to diffuse into the cortex.
- Cuticles that are healthy contain a hydrophobic (hates water) external layer of lipid : 18-methyleicosanoic acid (or 18-MEA for short). This layer is crucial in so many ways including hair lubrication and moisture control. Unfortunately, this layer is easily lost through chemical treatments or other damaging treatments. [Read more here about the role of 18-MEA on hair.]
- Healthy cuticles will lie flat on top of each other. In so doing, they increase the shine of the hair. Note however, that if hair is not shiny, it doesn’t mean that it’s not healthy. For instance, healthy straight hair has greater shine than its curly counterpart because the hair fibers are better aligned against each other.
- Without cuticles, hair coloring would not even be possible. They behave as ‘gates’ which open at high pH and close at low pH. High pH causes swelling of the fiber causes the cuticles to ‘flare’. The hair dye precursors can thus penetrate into the cortex. As the pH is lowered, the cuticles get more aligned flat and the big dye molecules get trapped inside the hair. [Learn more about the permanent hair coloring process here.]
Factors affecting the integrity hair cuticles
Different factors have different levels of damage on the hair cuticles and combining them can augment the damaging impact further. A few common ones are listed here:
- Combing and brushing, especially frequent or aggressive combing. [More here about the right combing habits]
- Shampooing: The mechanical action itself combined with the fact that shampooing strips hair of proteins fragments and lipids.
- Heat styling. The extent depends on which tool is being used, and how it is being used.
- Sunlight. [Read here about how sunlight damages hair.]
- Chlorine from the pool [ Read here how pool water affects hair.]