A Chemist’s Hair

Check this out: Exploratorium Magazine’s Better Hair through Chemistry by Pat Murphy

You see, my mom recently had her hair cut and recoloured. A friend of mine recently colored some of his hair to look like a raccoon’s tail, and on a band trip to West Point I befriended a girl who regularly recolors her hair to make sure it retains its vibrant and very pink color.

What with all the hair trends going around, people are throwing bleach, dye and all sorts of intimidating chemical products onto their heads, I got very curious about the chemistry of our hair!

The website above has a ton of awesome information, but here’s some of the coolest things I got out of it;

  • The cuticle is the outermost layer of cells on each strand of your hair.
  • The cuticle cells overlap like roof shingles; this is why it feels so much less smooth to run your hand up your hair as opposed to from root to tip. You’re running against the direction of the cuticle cells.
  • In an acid solution, the cuticle cells shrink and harden. This makes the hair feel smoother, which is why some shampoos will be acidic.
  • In an alkaline solution, the cuticle cells swell up and soften. This makes the hair rougher and duller. Don’t use alkaline soaps on your hair!
  • Underneath the cuticle is the cortex made of long coiling proteins that give hair it’s elasticity.
  • Glands near your hair follicle produce sebum, an oil that acts as a natural hair conditioner, but also makes your hair pick up more dirt. (This explains why my hair gets super shiny when I need to wash it)
  • Conditioners strengthen the cuticle with a waxy coating, but don’t overcondition!
  • Chemical bonds, including hydrogen bonds, keep your hair in its straight or curly or wavy structure.
  • Wetting your hair adds water to those hydrogen bonds, causing them to swell and weaken. (This will take any temporary styling in your hair out, but it’s also a great time to curl/straighten your hair!)
  • Pretty interesting stuff, right? The coolest part is that it’s information I can apply on a daily basis. There’s way more research out there still to be done, too!

    -Sarah

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