Hair care is an overall term for parts of hygiene and cosmetology c involving the hair on the human head. Hair care will differ according to one’s hair type and according to various processes that can be applied to hair. All hair is not the same; indeed, hair is a manifestation of human diversity.
In this article, ‘Hair care’ is taken to mean care of hair on the human head, but mention should be made of process and services which impact hair on other parts of the body. This includes men‘s and women’s facial, pubic, and other body hair, which may be colored, trimmed, shaved, plucked, or otherwise removed with treatments such as waxing, sugaring, and threading. These services are offered in salons, barbershops, and day spas, and products are available commercially for home use. Laser hair removal and electrolysis are also available, though these are provided (in the US) by licensed professionals in medical offices or speciality spas.
Biological processes and hygiene
Care of the hair and care of the scalp skin may appear separate, but are actually intertwined because hair grows from beneath the skin. The living parts of hair (hair follicle, hair root, root sheath, and sebaceous gland) are beneath the skin, while the actual hair shaft which emerges (the cuticle which covers the cortex and medulla) has no living processes. Damage or changes made to the visible hair shaft cannot be repaired by a biological process, though much can be done to manage hair and ensure that the cuticle remains intact.
Scalp skin, just like any other skin on the body, must be kept healthy to ensure a healthy body and healthy hair production. If the scalp is not cleaned regularly, by the removal of dead skin cells, toxins released through the skin or external hazards (such as bacteria, viruses, and chemicals) may create a breeding ground for infection. However, not all scalp disorders are a result of bacterial infections. Some arise inexplicably, and often only the symptoms can be treated for management of the condition (example: dandruff). There are also bacteria that can affect the hair itself. Head lice is probably the most common hair and scalp ailment worldwide. Head lice can be removed with great attention to detail, and studies show it is not necessarily associated with poor hygiene. More recent studies reveal that head lice actually thrive in clean hair. In this way, hair washing as a term may be a bit misleading, as what is necessary in healthy hair production and maintenance is often simply cleaning the surface of the scalp skin, the way the skin all over the body requires cleaning for good hygiene.
The sebaceous glands in human skin produce sebum, which is composed primarily of fatty acids. Sebum acts to protect hair and skin, and can inhibit the growth of microorganisms on the skin. Sebum contributes to the skin’s slightly acidic natural pH somewhere between 5 and 6.8 on the pH spectrum. This oily substance gives hair moisture and shine as it travels naturally down the hair shaft, and serves as a protective substance preventing the hair from drying out or absorbing excessive amounts of external substances. Sebum is also distributed down the hair shaft “mechanically” by brushing and combing. When sebum is present in excess, the roots of the hair can appear oily, greasy, and darker than normal, and the hair may stick together.
One way to distribute the hair’s natural oils through the hair is by brushing with a natural bristle brush. The natural bristles effectively move the oil from the scalp through to the hair’s mid-lengths and ends, nourishing these parts of the hair. Brushing the scalp also stimulates the sebaceous gland, which in turn produces more sebum. When sebum and sweat combine on the scalp surface, they help to create the acid mantle, which is the skin’s own protective layer.
Washing hair removes excess sweat and oil, as well as unwanted products from the hair and scalp. Often hair is washed as part of a shower or bathing with shampoo, a specialized surfactant. Shampoos work by applying water and shampoo to the hair. The shampoo breaks the surface tension of the water, allowing the hair to become soaked. This is known as the wetting action. The wetting action is caused by the head of the shampoo molecule attracting the water to the hair shaft. Conversely, the tail of the shampoo molecule is attracted to the grease, dirt and oil on the hair shaft. The physical action of shampooing makes the grease and dirt become an emulsion that is then rinsed away with the water. This is known as the emulsifying action.
Shampoos have a pH of between 4 and 6 and do not contain soap. Soapless shampoos are acidic and therefore closer to the natural pH of hair. Acidic shampoos are the most common type used and maintain or improve the condition of the hair as they don’t swell the hairshaft and don’t strip the natural oils. Conditioners are often used after shampooing to smooth down the cuticle layer of the hair, which can become roughened during the physical process of shampooing. There are three main types of conditioners: anti-oxidant conditioners, which are mainly used in salons after chemical services and prevent creeping oxidation; internal conditioners, which enter into the cortex of the hair and help improve the hair’s internal condition (also known as treatments); and external conditioners, or everyday conditioners, which smooth down the cuticle layer, making the hair shiny, combable and smooth. Conditioners can also provide a physical layer of protection for the hair against physical and environmental damage.