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PHOTO TORI LOCKLEAR

By now you've likely encountered the hair tutorial gone wrong that resulted in unassuming YouTuber Tori Locklear losing a full section of hair. The country gasped with her when she realized what high heat had done to her hair, and many of us thought twice before touching a flat iron or curling wand to our strands again.

Temperatures encountered during blow-drying, flat-iron straightening, and hot curling processes can be high enough to cause severe trauma to the hair. Results of this can include cracks in the cuticle layer, bubbles or voids in the cortex, frayed and split ends, chipped and ragged cuticles, faded color, diminished curl and increased frizz, as well as, in Tori's case, broken strands. If avoiding high heat styling methods is not an option, it is important to take precautions to prevent or minimize damage. There are a number of products on the market advertised as heat protectant sprays, lotions, and serums which claim to prevent or repair the detrimental effects of high temperatures on hair. Are these products effective, and if so, how do they work, and which ingredients are responsible for their performance?

Heat & Hair

Flat-irons, curling, irons, and blow driers all impose extreme thermal stresses upon hair strands. With temperatures exceeding the boiling point of water (100°C) and reaching as high as 200°C or more, damage can occur by several different mechanisms.

Dehydration

One heat-induced phenomenon responsible for damage to hair is loss of moisture. Water molecules inside the cortex, both free and bound to keratin proteins, provide critical support to the structure and properties of hair. Evaporation of these molecules due to application of heat can alter the internal protein structure and change the intermolecular interactions that govern the mechanical properties of individual hair strands. This can change curl patterns, cause frizz, and result in hair that is less bouncy and more prone to breakage. The tactile feels of the hair is less pleasant too, having a straw-like texture. This sort of damage is pretty common with routine blow-drying.

Rapid Water Loss

The extremely high temperatures encountered in flat-iron straightening or even straightening using a hair dryer and round brush create intense conditions that can cause water to rapidly boil or “flash” off from sites where it resides within the interior of the hair shaft. This rapid boiling can create voids in the hair structure that can be seen via microscopy and look like strings of bubbles within the strand. These can cause ruptures that burst through the cuticle, leaving gaping spots in the hair, which inevitably lead to split ends and breakage. Cracks can form in the cuticle as well, making the hair vulnerable to further moisture loss and breakage. This type of damage is both severe and completely irreparable.

Protein Damage

Hair strands are complex biomaterials that derive the bulk of their properties from the keratin protein structures in the cuticle and cortex. Thermal degradation from styling tools can occur via softening of the keratin, disruption of the three-dimensional structures due to water loss, and conformational changes in the protein. All of these changes can adversely affect the strength, elasticity, curl, shine, and texture of the hair.

Oxidation of pigment particles

High temperatures can also cause oxidation of pigments found in hair, both naturally occurring ones and artificial hair color. This fading is particularly pronounced in reds, auburns and lighter brunette shades.

MORE: After-Party Hair Repair: Treat That Heat Damage

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