Kim’s question: Aloha, Beauty Brains! I was laying on the beach yesterday reading a well-known women’s interest magazine, when I came across an article teaching readers how to “exfoliate hair”. It told readers to brush from the ends up to the roots in order to “open” the cuticle to “allow hair to absorb treatments better” and other strange instructions. (Doesn’t that just damage the cuticle?) My question is, does one really need to “exfoliate” their hair since it’s not skin?
The advice that Kim is referring is from stylist Oscar Blandi and is featured in the Summer/Fall 2008 issue of Cosmo (p. 33). While exfoliating your scalp can provide a skin benefit, backcombing (also known as teasing), your hair to make it absorb treatment products is simply ridiculous.
Exfoliate skin, not hair
Skin is a living organ that produces new cells in its deep, inner layers. The fresh cells are pushed upward until they reach the outer layers of your skin where they die and are sloughed off. Exfoliating means you scrape off the upper, dead layers to reveal the newer skin cells below.
Hair, on the other hand, is dead as soon as it grows out of your scalp. Unlike skin, if you scrape off the surface of your hair it is not repaired or regenerated. Scraping off the cuticle just weakens your hair and leads to more split ends. (It does give your hair more volume, but at the cost of creating more damage.) Think of it this way: Breaking the cuticles off of your hair because of product “buildup” is like scraping the shingles off the roof of your house because they’re dirty. Both approaches cause more harm than good.
Oscar says that exfoliating hair helps treatment products penetrate but this isn’t quite true either. Most treatments work on the surface of your hair to smooth the cuticle. While there are some ingredients, like coconut oil, that can penetrate into the cortex of your hair the mechanism of penetration is not enhanced by stripping off the cuticle. And even is there IS some minor improvement in penetration it’s certainly not worth the loss of cuticle protection.
The Beauty Brains bottom line
Back combing hair is damaging. Period. With all due respect to famous stylists, like Oscar Blandi, they really should stick to styling and leave advice on the chemistry and biology of hair to the scientists who understand how these products work.
What do YOU think? Do you backcomb or tease your hair? Leave a comment and tease the rest of the Beauty Brains community.