By: By: Shea Lenniger,
The Hair Society
Dr. Crystal Porter has devoted almost 20 years of her career to research and the education of other industry professionals on the specific needs of curly ethnic hair. With an educational background in biochemistry and graduate studies in chemistry, she has extensively studied the mechanical properties of biomaterials, specifically hair. Although she didn’t initially intend to go into the hair care industry, she was hired at Unilever after completing her graduate studies and found the perfect way to combine her science and engineering backgrounds. At L’Oreal, USA, she managed the Physics Laboratory and Consumer Insights team, researching biophysical aspects of hair within various ethnic groups.
After studying all types of ethnic hair, she found that there was very little information about the hair of African origin. Due to the large amount of misinformation regarding black women’s hair, Dr. Porter used her scientific approach to debunk common myths and miseducation.
The Hair Society connected with Dr. Porter to get a more in-depth look at the rapidly advancing technology within the industry, her various training modules for hair professionals, and her thoughts on popular myths and products in the market.
Advancing Technology Allows a Better Understanding of Hair Structures
We’re lucky to live in a time where technology is rapidly evolving and becoming more advanced each and every day. Various technologies are being used to measure small but important differences in hair types and morphology. Whereas back in the 70s and 80s, it was challenging to differentiate these factors, we’re now able to understand and study the size, shape, and makeup of varying hair structures.
For example, researchers were always aware that African American hair types had a higher propensity towards breakage, but it wasn’t until recently that they better understood the different types of cortical cells in the hair to cause that. Since hair is composed of various amino acids, Dr. Porter worked with other professionals at L’Oreal to learn more about the different components of those amino acids, and how they act differently among varying hair structures.
How Lifestyle Can Affect Your Hair
It’s true that genetics certainly play a role in anyone’s health, including their hair health, as we know with certain types of balding and hair loss. Studies continue to attempt to combat this and understand how to prevent these inherited traits from causing permanent hair loss.
A new field of study, called “epigenetics,” addresses this research. It refers to the study of how the expression of genes changes as a function of one’s lifestyle. A person’s lifestyle choices are becoming extremely prevalent in the hair and genetics conversation, as many practitioners have been adopting a more holistic approach when studying and treating hair loss. Although researchers are just beginning to scratch the surface of this, they know it plays a role in preventing genetic predispositions to issues such as alopecia and the body’s response to certain treatments.
A Deeper Dive into Curly Hair
It’s common knowledge that curly hair types, particularly of African descent, are weaker in comparison to other hair types. There has been a great amount of research to see how different products can be used to strengthen the hair or allow enough lubrication along the hair shaft. During these studies, the L’Oreal researchers came to an interesting conclusion. They found that curly hair is much easier to comb when wet, but naturally, straight hair is easier to comb when dry.
Unfortunately, since hair is naturally much weaker when it’s wet, curly hair is even more susceptible to breakage. Why is that? When hair is wet, the cuticle layers are weakened, therefore allowing a greater chance of them being lifted and taken off when combed. Because of this, curly hair products must be extremely good at lubricating and detangling the hair to keep those cuticle layers intact.
Though many people are convinced that the curl of the hair prevents sebum and oils from lubricating the hair, people who still use oils and moisturizers still suffer from weak strands. Why is this and what’s the real reason behind these dry, fragile strands? Further research is needed, but Dr. Porter and her team are working to better understand the intricacies of curly hair structures and their biochemical components.
Dr. Porter’s Training Modules
Industry professionals should understand the science behind hair to better critique products, treatments, and the many claims out in the market. Dr. Porter provides training programs that are tailored for professionals who want to join forces and be a part of solving the main problems within the industry. She wants practitioners to understand what research is about and go beyond their education in cosmetology or trichology courses.
Since it’s often difficult for new research knowledge to be disseminated to practitioners, she wants to be the one to close that gap. That’s exactly what she does in her online training program, The Scientific Blueprint for Licensed Hair Practitioners. The course teaches professionals to think more critically about all of the information circulating within the hair industry, decipher fact from fiction and provides advanced knowledge in hair science. The course also prepares them for CITI training, which stands for, Collaborative Institutional Training Initiative. This is for researchers who want to perform studies on human subjects to gather important data. However, before doing so, potential researchers must be approved by an ethics board to ensure government guidelines are followed to protect study participants.
Thoughts on Products Within the Market Today
With so many products, claims, and warnings circulating the market today, how can we truly know what’s safe and what should be avoided? Everyday consumers are bombarded with advertisements and commercials promising better shampoos without certain chemicals or even no chemicals at all. Parabens, sulfates, alcohols!? At times, it’s overwhelming to determine what’s safe to use. The Hair Society asked Dr. Porter to clear up the air on some of the most common misconceptions, some of which were rather surprising.
Placenta Detangling Products
Placenta products promise to help manage hair and decrease tangling. They include sources of bioactive components including growth factors and hormones, said to increase hair follicle growth and decrease hair shedding. With the idea that hair is made up of proteins and the placenta helps reconstruct protein, then it will return protein to the hair while also helping repair the hair follicle. Despite these promising results, studies have found detrimental hormonal effects, since the product is an endocrine disruptor. So despite the advertised promise of shinier, healthier hair, Dr. Porter recommends staying away from this for health reasons.
While many preach that biotin supplements can help hair grow longer, faster, that’s simply not the case. Studies have found no evidence that taking extra biotin helps hair grow. So where did this thought come from? The research found that biotin can help thicken and strengthen fingernails, so people wrongfully extrapolated and assumed since both hair and nails are made of similar components, it must do the same for hair. Unfortunately, many people who take biotin supplements also suffer from acne breakouts. It’s difficult to know what’s really in supplements since they aren’t regulated. In the US, manufacturers operate under the honor system by self-regulating to determine whether or not they’re safe to put out on the market after their own tests. While the supplements may be ok, one can never be sure of the purity of the ingredients or where they’re coming from, which could potentially explain negative side effects in some Biotin users.
So many shampoo products now boast “Silicone-free!” on their labels. Many consumers wrongfully assume silicone has detrimental effects on hair when in reality, it can actually be beneficial for most hair types. Silicone helps protect and lubricate the hair as well as fight humidity. The real downside of silicone in products is its environmental impact, especially on marine life since it’s not biodegradable.
Parabens are another dreaded ingredient due to misinformation. Studies found parabens in the breast tissue of breast cancer patients, so people assumed they were a contributing factor to cancer. However, researchers also found that parabens appeared in those without breast cancer, so parabens may potentially be something already in our bodies. While more research is needed on that, parabens are effective in preserving hair products, so you don’t need to be as careful with them as some might advertise.
Alcohols & Sulfates
While both of these ingredients are notoriously hated on for drying out skin and hair, that may not be the case. Fatty alcohols, as they’re called, actually help condition and stabilize the product formula to make it a desirable consistency. Sulfates, while they can be drying on their own, are completely fine as long as you have a product with enough conditioning agents and polymers to balance it out.
While people may think adding moisture to hair is always the way to go, it’s actually possible to add too much moisture. An excessive amount of moisturizing products can be detrimental to hair as well.
For those who frequently use heat to style their hair, having too much moisture can actually make the hair weaker overall, due to what’s called “denaturing” the hair. Think of it this way, when you heat up a raw egg, you change its internal structure or “denature” the egg. The same thing happens with your hair, but when you add water or moisture, it decreases the temperature at which the structure change occurs. If your hair changes structure due to frequent heat styling, the hair will become weaker and weaker, leading to greater breakage and damage.
In addition to greater heat damage, the use of too many moisturizing products can cause a lot of product build-up. Having too much residue from shampoos, conditioners, and other products can prevent moisture, oils, and other nutrients from penetrating your hair. Because of this, hair strands can look lifeless and dull or appear as if it has a strange coating.
To remedy this, clarifying shampoos can be used to clear out the build-up. Depending on your routine, a clarifying shampoo should be used about every 3 washes, but if thick oils and creams are applied often, then clarifying shampoos can be used as treatments every wash.
Dr. Porter defines holistic as “a multi-modality approach to healthy hair.” Implementing good practices to make sure your scalp is in the best condition, changing your techniques to how you’re manipulating your hair and changing the styling as a part of your healthy routine can help overcome hair issues. Often people just think holistic means “healthy”, which is important, but lifestyle changes in combination with changes in the styling process and maintenance have a great effect on hair health.
What do you see in the future of the industry?
Save Our Scalps is a research initiative that conducts research to provide personalized information about the hair and scalp since there is a myriad of factors that influence their health. Since lifestyle and environmental factors play a huge role in biological processes, it is essential that individualized recommendations are given.
By receiving scientific reports that consider variables that are specific to their clients’ needs, hair practitioners can implement a treatment strategy that is conducive to improving hair and scalp health. It won’t just be “Here’s a product for curly hair.” Instead, professionals will be able to consider race, climate, water hardness, and other variables to recommend the best and highly personalized products and styling modifications. As technology improves, powerful data analysis can help understand correlations between responses to different drugs, products, and environmental factors. While there is still a lot unknown, taking a more personalized approach will be beneficial for people’s health and make huge strides for our communities.
To learn more about Dr. Porter and her work, please visit http://www.maneinsights.com/.