In this month’s Cosmetic Conundrums column, Zoe Diana Draelos, MD, discusses solutions for ethnic and Afro-textured hair care.
Tightly coiled hair differs in important ways from straight hair and requires appropriate care to achieve its optimal appearance. In general, Afro-textured hair is more fragile than Caucasian hair and requires special care when being groomed and styled. In this month’s Cosmetic Conundrums column, learn more about solutions for ethnic hair care.
Lanthionization, the chemical straightening of hair, uses metal hydroxides of sodium, potassium, or guanidine to covert 35% of the amino acid cysteine into lanthionine. This process destroys the disulfide bonds that are the structural backbone of the hair shaft and forms lanthionine cross linkages between the protein chains. The hair is pulled straight, and the internal structure of the hair shaft is permanently rearranged.
The process takes place at a pH of between 11 and 13. Exposing the hair shaft to such an alkaline environment causes it to swell, opens up the cuticle, and allows the relaxer to penetrate the cortex. Exposure time should be as short as possible to minimize excess shaft damage and scalp irritation. Afterward, the relaxer is completely rinsed off with water and the pH is lowered with an acidic shampoo or conditioner to stop the lanthionizaton process. This acidification shrinks the cuticle back to normal and completes the formation of the lanthionine cross linkages.
The procedure results in straight but structurally weakened hair that should be manipulated as little as possible to prevent breakage. Friction-reducing styling products should also be applied.
Pomades and oil sheen sprays are excellent for preventing water loss, reducing friction, minimizing static electricity, and adding shine to chemically relaxed hair. Pomades are water-free formulations based on petrolatum, mineral oil, waxes, and vegetable oils. These thick creams are preferred by men and women with shorter straightened hair. Pomades can also be used on tightly coiled hair to improve manageability and add shine. In addition, they make hair water-resistant, which is important if the hair has been temporarily straightened with heat.
Oil sheen sprays can likewise be used to make hair water-resistant; however, these products are liquids instead of creams and based on vegetable, mineral, or silicone oils that can be sprayed from a pump bottle or aerosol can. The spray is useful on longer straightened hair in which greasiness might not be desirable, but good friction reduction is essential to some.
An edge styler is a fixative product packaged like mascara for taming and styling fine, transitional, or broken hairs around the hairline. It is a quick-drying, clear polymer similar to thickened hair spray that is withdrawn from a tube on a comb-like brush and stroked over short hairs with a comb-like brush. The edge styler can be used to comb fine hairs back into the hairline for a clean look or creatively swirled to pull fine hairs forward and create pin curls or other designs on the skin around the hairline.
Edge stylers are commonly used with lace front wigs, hairpieces in which hair is handwoven on a lace mesh and the lace extends beyond the front of the wig. The lace is glued onto the skin to fix the wig in place. The tiny hairs that poke out from the wig are then affixed to the skin with the edge styler to give the hair a more natural appearance and blend the wig with the natural hair. Edge stylers can also be used to groom the eyebrows of persons with naturally kinky hair.