Let’s learn about hair!
So you’re either nappy or you wanna be a nappy? But now you’re asking yourself, “What the heck do I know about taking care of or styling nappy hair? If you’re like I was at the beginning of my quest to free myself from chemicals, the answer is absolutely NOTHING! When I stopped relaxing, I wore micro-braids for three-and-a-half years without a break. Once I took the braids out for good, I had about 7-9 inches of dry, nappy hair that I didn’t know what to do with. Without the proper resources and a good support system, I, like other aspiring nappies was left to my own devices of trial and error…sometimes thinking it was just to hard to be a nappy. Unfortunately for some folks, the learning curve and the lack of support is just too overwhelming and the going back to a relaxer seems like the only solution. Well, it’s not. That’s why Nappturology is here; to help you learn about nappy hair, its structure, its likes, dislikes and ultimately dispel the misinformation, mythology, and straight up lies that persist about taking care of nappy hair. If you understand the basics of nappy hair science, you’re on the right path to understanding how to properly care for your hair. So let’s start learning.
Did you know that everyone’s hair has the same structure no matter whose head it’s on? That’s right, all human hair consists of three main layers which include the cuticle, the cortex and the medulla.
The outer layer of your hair is called the cuticle. Designed to protect the inner layers of your hair shaft, your cuticles can be likened to shingles on a roof. Cuticles that lay flat against the hair shaft do the best job of providing protection. Cuticles are often damaged by excessive mechanical manipulation such as brushing and/or using heat or chemical processing. Also every day elements, such as the sun or wind can cause wear and tear on your hair and damage your cuticles as well.
The second layer of hair is called the cortex, which is made up of long proteins that twist like a curly telephone cord. This is also the part of your hair that’s most responsible for its overall strength, elasticity, and color. Try stretching a strand of your hair. If it’s in good condition, it will stretch. When you stop stretching it, your hair will return to its original length. Hair that’s dry and brittle does not hold good moisture content in its cortex. As a result, it will not be elastic enough to withstand the rigors of mechanical and chemical manipulation and will break very easily.
When you get split ends, or damage in midshaft, you’re seeing your cortex at its worse. The protective cuticle has been worn away and is now exposing your cortex. Once your cortex is exposed, the hair is damaged beyond repair. Since hair isn’t living tissue, it doesn’t have the healing properties that your skin does, hence, it cannot regenerate itself. Damaged hair can be patched up at best using various products, however, it can never be fixed. Damaged hair will either break on its own, or in the case of split ends, trimming them is ultimately your only choice.
The innermost or center portion of the hair shaft is called the medulla. It is composed of round cells, two to five rows across. Thick or coarse hair usually contains a medulla. Fine hair for the most part lacks a medulla, as does naturally blond hair. The purpose of the medulla has not yet been determined.
The Shape of Hair
Hair science recognizes three categories of hair: African, Caucasoid and Asian.
Our nappy African hair is almost flat or ribbon like in shape, twisting, turning, bending and zig zagging as it grows. At every twist and turn, the hair tends to be thinner and therefore susceptible to breakage at each of these points along the hair shaft. Because of its shape, the cuticles on nappy hair tend to be raised, and do not lay flat against the hair shaft. As a result, nappy hair absorbs light and does not reflect it. Hence, nappy hair does not shine. Raised cuticles also act like opened doors, causing nappy hair to be very porous. It will suck up moisture like a sponge but will also have a hard time retaining it; hence, nappy hair is inherently dry. Raised cuticles also causes nappy hair to feel coarse to the touch, rub and catch easily on one another leading tangles, knots and even more susceptible to damage and breakage if it isn’t cared for properly.
White folks’ hair is more oval in shape. The more oval the hair, the more likely it is to be wavy. The more round the hair, the more likely it is to be straight. The cuticles on caucasoid hair tend to lay flat, allowing the hair to retain moisture, reflect light and shine.
The hair of Asians is almost perfectly round resulting in bone straight hair. The cuticles lay flat, reflects light, is very strong and holds moisture.
I’m not going to go into a lot more specifics of these other hair types, and the only reason I bring them up is so you can be aware of the differences between their hair and ours. It’s not better than nappy hair…it’s just different. Learning about these differences can help you make better choices when it comes to taking care of and styling your nappy hair without the expectations that you can make your hair do something that it’s not designed to do. If you’re going to be a happy nappy, the best thing you can do for yourself is to accept what your hair can do and what it cannot do based on its structure and characteristics.