Crown of Glory … or Thorns?

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Tips & Tricks: Number Nine

I often hear and read many naturals complaining about the hair at the crown of their head. “It’s dry, it’s brittle, it’s dull, it’s coarse, it breaks easily, it’s the kinkiest hair on my head, it’s the hardest to handle!” And, I’m no different. The hair on the left side of my crown is always shorter and more prone to damage than the rest of my hair, always seeming to exhibit breakage and straggily (yes, straggily, it’s a word! ;)) and raggedy ends. Now, I’ve come to learn over the years that this is most likely due to the fact that the hair at one’s crown is usually taking the brunt of the elements, you know: sun, wind, rain, cruddy air and free radicals;). I also always just thought that this exposure simply resulted in a raised cuticle and more porous strands, whereas the hair protected by the crown hair is smoother and far more cooperative.

So, when I started reading hair guru Chicoro’s Grow It! and came to the section on “Damage from the Environment,” I was fascinated to learn that the damage caused by exposure to the elements is a lot deeper than a simple mechanical reaction. You see, Chicoro breaks down that hair exposed to sun without protection actually undergoes a chemical and irreversible change! As you know, the sun can be damaging to the skin due to Ultraviolet rays, UVA and UVB. Well, these same UV rays can be damaging to hair and Naturallycurly.com provided an informative post on this topic several years ago.

via NaturallyCurly.com

Most of us are familiar with the lightening of our hair that occurs when we spend hours in the sun in the summer. To many people this is even a desirable side effect of sunbathing. However, this effect is evidence of the destruction of pigment in the hair as a direct result of UV-induced oxidation of melanin particles in the cortex. …UV radiation also can cause cleavage of molecular bonds in the hair, ultimately leading to fracture of the cuticle and the cortex. This can lead to dry, brittle hair, rough texture from damaged cuticles, split ends, and breakage.

However, in my opinion, Chicoro takes the information provided here one step further and actually discusses how the effects of the sun are very similar to those caused by bleaching the hair. She states, “Like bleach, the oxidizing rays from the sun can break down, or change the chemical composition and the components of the hair.” She goes on to indicate that hair contains a chemical group called a thiol group and these groups stabilize the hair by forming disulfide bonds, which contribute greatly to the strength of the hair (Google “hair and disulfide bonds,” you’ll see many articles about the manipulation of disulfide bonds in chemical processes like body waves and relaxers). These thiol groups also make hair slippery … and we know how important slip is. However, once the hair is oxidized by the sun, these bonds actually turn into compounds called sulfonic acids. These acids are sticky and hair with them will tangle more readily. And, that’s never fun. Finally, she drives the nail home with the fact that this change from disulfide bonds to sulfonic acids is permanent.

So, what does all this mean to those of us challenged by recalcitrant crown hair? The simple answer? Prevention and remediation. For “new” hair that hasn’t been excessively exposed to the elements, we need to proactively protect it before damage happens. For older hair that has already undergone this chemical change, we need to take remedial actions to reduce and/or eliminate the resultant effects of damage. In practical terms, this means employing some combination or all of the following techniques:

  • Condition, condition, condition … did I mention condition ;)? Deep condition with moisturizing treatments, as well as effective protein treatments that support the keratin in the hair, based upon your hair’s needs.
  • Moisturize to protect the hair from the sun and combat dryness.
  • Use leave-in products, such as conditioners, stylers and/or sealants, with UV protection (the NaturallyCurly.com article linked above provides a great list of ingredients that are UVA absorbers).
  • Seal with butters and/or oils that offer natural UV protection, such as shea butter or hemp seed oil (I haven’t vetted this info, but found two articles that provide lists of oils that offer sun protection and their corresponding SPF levels. See here and here).
  • Use protective hair coverings like hats and scarfs.
  • Employ protective styling techniques which reduce the amount of hair exposed directly to the sun.
  • Don’t use peroxide or products with drying (non-fatty) alcohols. And please, whatever you do, don’t use lemon or other “sun activated” lightening products on your hair (flashing back on my “Sun In” days!! *shuddering*).

And, don’t forget, just because you can’t see the sun, doesn’t mean you are not being exposed to damaging UV rays. Though the days may be darker as winter approaches in many areas, we must remain vigilant nonetheless (the suggestions above are for cold and windy weather too!). As the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

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What is the state of your crown?

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17 responses »

  1. It’s funny, when I was younger I told myself that the hair in that area was more coarse because that was the part of our head that needed the most protection from the sun. So even if that was true, it explains why that portion of hair needs more care. It’s the most exposed. I LOVE that style in the picture. Another banana clip trick, I’m assuming?? Love it.

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  2. Why yes it is Valencia;). And, Wei picked up a tripod for me yesterday and I got an 8G memory card last week. So, I think we’re back in business and I’m hoping to film a video tutorial for it this week:). I haven’t posted a YouTube video since early September I think!! And, that’s where I have the most subscribers!!

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  3. I can’t tell you how timely this article is for me Shelli! I just discovered some breakage in that very area this week and have been racking my brains trying to figure out the why’s and hows. My crown area is more difficult to detangle, more sensitive and the hair seems finer there. It’s also significantly shorter than all of the other hairs.

    I thought the breakage was due to the water beating down in that area when I shampoo, and also my detangling method. Yesterday I purchased a spray leave in with protein to help strengthen that area, and started applying a bit more of my hair creams to keep it moisturized. I’m also sectioning it off separately to deyangle SUPER gently.

    Sorry this is so long but I seriously wanted to cry this past weekend. It never occurred to me it was environmental! I think I need to pick her book up… Thank you, Thank you, Thank you!

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      • Auto correct is both a blessing & a curse. I wish “deyangle” was a word, b/c I like the sound of it, LOL! Maybe we should come up with a definition for it. I guess we’d have to make one for “yangle” first ;)

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          • LOL @ defining “yangle” first and then adding deyangle to the dictionary! LOL!

            So glad this may be helpful to you Viv!! And never apologize for long comments! I love those:)!! Makes me feel like the post was worthwhile to someone;)!!

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  4. WOW! Color me ENLIGHTENED. The hair in the crown of my head looks like a rat’s nest about 75% of the time, LOL! It’s frizzy, with little to no curl definition. I can put loads of oils/butters/lotions in it, but that patch always soaks it up & begs for more. At least I know I’m not alone.

    And Shelli! I’m loving the double buns… SUPER CUTE!!!

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    • Oh yeah, you are definitely not alone. I’m retaining length on that area, but it still remains shorter than the rest and I have to be extra careful with it!

      And thank you Sham:)!! I’m hoping to film a tutorial of it tonight … but first, the SO wants to go out for dinner:).

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  5. Shelli, great informational post. I am a technical person by background (engineering, mathematics and MBA), so I love your research skills! Keep’em coming. I just saw your article on CurlyNik so I wont belabor here other than to say, “I love your buns” – HAHAHA!

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  6. Pingback: Two Bun Banana Clip Updo Tutorial (Video) « hairscapades

  7. Pingback: The Link Between Crown Breakage and Porosity in Natural Hair | Black Girl with Long Hair

  8. Pingback: The Link Between Crown Breakage and Porosity in Natural Hair | Blog

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