woman with 3c curly hairAs curly girls, many of us have been tormented by advertising with models who have impossibly shiny, smooth hair cascading down their backs. Questions may have crossed your mind "why doesn't my hair look like that?"  and "what can I do to my hair to make it shine that way?"

But rather than despair over these open-ended questions (and quite likely, the work of Photoshop), we prefer to look at the facts. Here is what really makes your hair shine.

What makes your hair smooth and shiny?

Human hair consists largely of keratin protein, linked in long chains running the length of the hair shaft. These chains are cross-linked, like the rails of a ladder bound by the rungs. This cortex of your hair determines its strength, elasticity and texture.

The cortex is surrounded by keratin protein “plates” forming the cuticle of the hair shaft, which protects the cortex and is responsible for hair's smoothness and shine and can affect the appearance of your hair color. These plates overlap in one direction, from the root to the tip of your hair shaft.

Feel for yourself

If you extend one hair from your scalp pinch it with two fingertips in the center and slide towards the root, it will feel rough. If you slide towards the tip of the hair shaft, in the direction of the plates, it will feel smooth. Cleansing, styling, heat and chemical processes can damage the cuticle layer, which may then lead to cortex damage and hair breakage.

The secret to shinier hair is to make sure the cuticle layer stays smooth and in tact.

Want shinier hair?

You can protect hair by making sure the cuticle layer stays smooth and in tact. Reduce the effect of cuticle damage, by using oils, silicones (if you use silicones) or other lubricants which reduce pulling friction when styling. These also temporarily smooth a roughened cuticle, which makes it reflect light and transmit color better.

Moisturizers or humectants attract and retain water molecules. Using a moisturizer like the ApHogee Balancing Moisturizer is important because to be at its most elastic and strongest, hair should contain 5-6% water by weight. Hair with less loses elasticity and suppleness, and will react when exposed to outside humidity.

Trying to figure out when to use an oil, a moisturizer or a protein? Simply put:

  • Oils lubricate and shine
  • Moisturizers elasticize
  • Protein repairs structural damage

Many “one step” products combine all three of these classes of compounds in one convenient formula, at varied ratios, to achieve different results.

For the most serious breakage problems, the longest lasting treatment is a “two-step” process, where the protein alone is applied to the hair first, for maximum bonding. Then the softness and shine from the moisturizers and oils are added in a second step. Try the ApHogee Two-Step Protein Treatment if you're looking for an at-home protein treatment. It’s a little more work, but this type of treatment may last up to six weeks, as opposed to only a few shampooings. For a quick, easy option try the ApHogee Keratin 2 Minute Reconstructor.

Written by Walt Winslow, General Manager KAB Brands & R&D Chemist. This article is sponsored by Aphogee.