woman with afro
Photo by Alejandro Rivera -- Getty Images
We incessantly discuss curly, wavy, and coily hair for the absolute best reason. The more you know, the better you can maintain healthy and gorgeous curls. It takes work but it also takes knowledge and in a time where you can search just about anything, you can often find more information than you can process and it may be misleading or confusing. As we strive for perfect hair the best way to obtain it is knowing how to properly care for it, so for now let’s discuss the hair cuticle.

What is the hair cuticle?

The hair cuticle is the translucent outer layer of the hair shaft that has scales (similar to roof shingles) that covers the cortex. The cuticle is made of an extremely hard protein called keratin. It has great significance in the look, feel, and overall health of your hair, as it is responsible for allowing moisture to pass into the hair shaft and whether or not it stays there.

Why does the cuticle matter?

The cells in the cuticle work defensively to prevent damage to the cortex and medulla. When over-manipulation, chemical and heat applications, styling tools are used in excess, the cuticle can become chipped away or damaged, which weakens the integrity of the hair. The cuticle matters because it is your hair’s natural line of defense to protect itself. The pH scale goes from 1-14 with the perfect pH at 5.5 to 6.5. The higher the pH of a product, the wider the hair cuticles will be raised.

Does steam open the cuticle?

Moisture from the steam causes the hair shaft to swell and slightly lift the cuticle but not as much as something like an alkaline product like color or a relaxer. Those types of products raise or open the cuticle much easier than steam or wider than steam and ultimately can cause damage to the strand. Using steam therapy helps curly girls with low porosity to capture the moisture and some ingredients in deep conditioners to adsorb to the cuticle.

Does cold water close the cuticle?

Hot, warm, or steamed water may swell and slightly raise the cuticle but cold water will not close it. That’s the job of the conditioner to help smooth or close the cuticle.

Does ACV and tea rinses actually add shine?

ACV is hailed as a great tool for adding shine to your hair and many curly girls swear by it. I use tea rinses (black tea) pretty regularly for strengthening and combatting shedding. The caffeine in tea (and coffee) can stimulate hair growth for those suffering from hair loss that is repairable, according to The Natural Haven.

Read more: Caffeine for Hair Growth: Is it Better in Coffee or Shampoo?

Can your hair have too much protein?

Yes! Protein overload can cause hair to become brittle and dry because just like most anything with life, you can get too much of a good thing. Some think that overloading with protein will just make the hair stronger but all it does it throw off the protein-moisture balance, and that makes hair more prone to breakage, damage, and even frizz. Most of us do not need protein weekly or even monthly especially if you are not using permanent color, relaxers, or heat applications. I get away with using a protein treatment every couple of months but using it weekly or even bimonthly may be too much and lower the moisture in your hair making it brittle and dry. Check your products if you feel you may be suffering from protein overload as protein can be in the form of hydrolyzed wheat, silk, vegetable, collagen, or even animal.

Can you use anything with proteins?

For proteins to temporarily fill in the gaps along the cuticle they must be small enough. Coconut milk, eggs, and mayonnaise do contain proteins, but they are too large to be fill in the chipped or damaged cuticle. You’ll want to either use Greek yogurt or search for products with hydrolyzed proteins to ensure the proteins are small enough to attach.

Read more: Why Mayonnaise and Eggs Don't Work

What can penetrate the cuticle? What can't penetrate the cuticle?

Coconut oil, olive oil, and avocado oils are three oils that penetrate the hair shaft, helping to retain moisture. Coconut oil is great to apply before washing your hair, as it helps to prevent hygral fatigue.