Love your locks

December 08, 2003|by ANDREA ROWLAND

We shampoo it, dry it, perm it, iron it, straighten it, color it, and add extensions to it. We drag brushes through it, roll it and twist it into a variety of styles. Oh, the things we do to our hair.

We wear it every day - but people often skimp on their hair by buying cheaper shampoo, conditioner and styling products, and opting for do-it-yourself rather than salon services, said Marie Bikle, cosmetology instructor at Washington County Technical High School in Hagerstown.

It does make a difference, beauty experts said.

Using too much of the wrong kinds of hair products and not enough of the products that keep hair healthy, styling hair in ways that damage it, and over-treating hair with chemicals also are actions which can harm the health of your hair, said Bikle and a handful of her top senior cosmetology students.

First goal: Do no harm

"If your hair is fried and damaged and broken apart, you can style it all you want and it's not going to make any difference," said student Sally Hawbaker, 17, of Cearfoss.

Style is often placed above safety, agreed Lisa Akbari, a trichologist - person who specializes in the study of hair and its disorders - who founded Hair Nutrition and Research in Memphis, Tenn.

"What motivates us is what we see in the mirror. We often place style first and care second," Akbari said. "Think of the style you want, and find the safest way to do it. Think care, style, maintenance and prevention."

At its worst, improper hair care can cause hair loss, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians at on the Web.

Traction alopecia is the type of hair loss usually caused by such grooming methods as tight curling and braiding, Hagerstown dermatologist Paul C. Waldman said. Vigorous combing and chemical bleaches and styling products also can irritate the scalp and cause further hair loss, he said.

"The scalp is the foundation; the hair doesn't float above it," Akbari said.

In many cases, hair shafts that have broken due to such styling practices as braiding hair into tight corn rows will grow back if the practices are discontinued. Permanent hair loss can occur, however, if hair roots are severely damaged due to long-term stress from traction, Waldman said.

Hair extensions attached to hair not closely braided to the scalp and adornments such as the beads often affixed to the end of corn rows also can pull on hair roots, said senior cosmetology student Rontraya Hardy, 17, of Fort Ritchie. The safest hair extensions are those sewn onto braids evenly distributed across the scalp, she said.

The Web site at gives the following suggestions for reducing tension on the scalp and hair:

- Use looser and larger wrapping and braids.

- Apply chemicals only to the hair and not the scalp directly.

- Unbraid hair at least every two weeks.

Lather: more is not better

All hair-care products are not created equally - and less-than-ideal products can damage hair. Unlike more expensive salon shampoos and conditioners, many over-the-counter products coat rather than penetrate the hair shaft for a deep clean and conditioning - building up over time to make hair heavy, limp and dull, Sally Hawbaker said.

"The molecular structure of the product is the secret," Bikle added, citing the smaller molecular structure of most salon shampoos and conditioners.

Many people judge a shampoo by the amount of its lather, but shampoos with too much cleansing agent - which removes oil, dirt, sweat and dead skin cells from the hair - will dry hair out, strip its color, relax permanent waves, and reverse the effects of chemical relaxers, Bikle said. It's best to use acid-balanced shampoos - which have a pH level equivalent to that of human hair and the scalp, between 4.5 and 5.5, Akbari added. The pH level is the degree of acidity or alkalinity of a solution.

If the shampoo's pH level is not listed on the back of the bottle, Akbari recommends calling the manufacturer to request the information. Litmus paper, which is available at most drugstores, also can be used to test shampoo's acidity. You can even taste shampoo to test for the strength of the cleansing agent, Bikle said. If the shampoo tastes salty, it contains too much detergent, she said. And if sodium is listed high on a shampoo's ingredient list, don't buy it, Bikle said.

Many people use too much of their ineffective hair-care products to compensate for the lack of results, and shampoo too often - removing essential scalp oils that keep hair moist and shiny.

"You don't need to shampoo every day if your hair is not oily," said student Nichole Mills, 17, of Clear Spring. Simply shampoo on an as-needed basis - such as after an exercise work-out or time spent in the midst of dust and other air pollutants, Akbari added.

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