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3 ways to protect your hair from heat

Cristy’s question: Is it beneficial to use a heat protector on my hair when using a hair dryer and flat iron vs not using anything?

The Right Brain’s heated reply:

Heat protection IS important for your hair, Cristy, because heat is bad for your hair. But that’s not exactly a news flash now is it? You’ve probably read that before on a zillion other beauty blogs. But only the Beauty Brains explain WHY heat is harmful and tell you what to do about it. We’ve blogged before about heat protecting sprays, but here’s some more information for all you “hot heads” out there.

How Heat Is Harmful

Coming unglued

Each strand of your hair is covered with shingle-like structures called cuticles that protect your hair from damage. Cuticles are composed of layers of protein structures called the epicuticle and the exocuticle. You can think of them as tiny protein sandwiches. These protein structures are stuck together with a natural hair “glue” called 18-methyleicosinoic acid (or 18-MEA for short.)

Sadly, this “hair glue” can be broken down by heat. (It can also be destroyed by exposure to shampoo and UV radiation.) Without the glue that holds them together, your cuticles become weakened and loose. That means your hair is more likely to be rough and dull and more likely to be damaged by combing and brushing.

Super dry = Superbad

Heating your hair evaporates the water inside it. In fact, heat styling tools can drive off more water than your hair can reabsorb from the air. (The scientific term for that kind of moisture loss is syneresis. Try using that word the next time you want to impress your stylist.) To recover from syneresis you actually have to resubmerge your hair in water to restore its original moisture level. When the moisture level is low your hair is more brittle and will break and crack more easily. That’s not good!

Swelling is not swell

Wetting hair and rapidly drying it causes the fibers to swell and then quickly contract. This cycle of swelling and contracting causes the cuticles to lift and buckle and even crack. And cracked cuticles mean rougher feel, loss of shine, and potential breakage.

Now that you understand why heat is bad, we’ll tell you what you can do about it. Here are three heat saving tips.

3 Heat Savers

1. Don’t do drying damage

To avoid syneresis from heat drying, you can wash and dry your hair less frequently. Since that’s not always practical, when you do blow dry your hair use a diffuser to avoid over heating.

2. Guard the glue

To protect your hair from heat, you’ll need all the hair glue that you can keep! And since sunlight degrades hair glue you’d better protect your tresses from UV light. Using products with UV absorbers can help a little bit, but focus on leave in products because rinse out products aren’t very effective at depositing significant amounts of sunscreening agents. Of course, you could always wear a hat.

You might also consider sulfate free shampoos that use milder surfactants, like decyl glucose, because they are less likely to dissolve the precious 18-MEA.

3. Be cautious with cuticles

Once your cuticles have become loosened, you need to do all you can to prevent further erosion. Good conditioning is the key here – you should never let a comb or brush (or even a towel) touch your hair unitl you’ve put some kind of protective conditioner on it first. Either rinse out or leave in will work, the trick is to find But you have to find one that feels right for your hair type.

The Beauty Brains bottom line

Any time your hair goes from wet to dry you’re causing some kind of damage. And using heat to make it dry faster only speeds up the damage. Hopefully this article has helped you understand exactly what is happening to your hair and these tips will help you defend your tresses from thermal stresses. (I love it when I get to end a post with a rhyme!)

What do YOU think? Do you have a favorite heat protector to share with the rest of the Beauty Brains community? Leave a comment!