HAIR ELASTICITY: The fight for our hair to bounce back.

Okay, so I’ve talked about hair damage and what elements cause hair damage in my blog post Root Cause of Damaged Hair.  Now, it’s only fair I talk about healthy hair.  We hear the words healthy hair a lot.  We see pictures of healthy hair, we touch hair we think is healthy, we may even smell hair we think is healthy (although, I hope not).  However, what is healthy hair?  Well, this is a loaded question because healthy hair involves many factors.  I believe a simple answer to the question is great hair elasticity.  Let’s try this again so that the answer is clear.  Healthy hair is hair that has great elasticity (in my opinion).  NOW, I know I just answered this question with an answer that is just as loaded as the question. Therefore, let’s talk about hair elasticity.

The strength of our hair strands is determined by how elastic our hair is.  Hair elasticity is the measure of how far one’s hair strand can stretch and bounce back to its normal state.  Great hair elasticity is when the hair can be stretched out fully and return to its normal state right before it was stretched.  Our hair should always bounce back.  Whenever we start to see signs of our hair not bouncing back to its normal state, our hair may be suffering damage.

Based on the average person’s hair, our hair strands are strong even when the elasticity isn’t great.  The average head of hair can tolerate up to 12 tons if our scalp could handle the weight, according to article “Unexpected Properties of Hair” by L’Oreal.  Holy ish, right!  This blew my mind when I first learned about it.  Because our hair strands are so strong, the strands can take the shape of anything if manipulated.  It all makes sense of why we can straighten, curl, twist, and braid our hair without the hair snapping in half instantly.  However, the more we manipulate our hair the weaker our hair becomes or the less elastic our hair becomes.  Inelastic (or less elastic) hair causes breakage.  The chance of breakage is especially high when our hair is wet.

Water is a wonderful and terrible element for our hair.  I know these two words contradict each other but hear me out.  Water is wonderful because it brings moisture back into the cortex layer of our hair.  The hair cortex basically holds the health of our hair in the palm of its hands.  However, our hair is most vulnerable to damage when it’s wet.  This is because our hair strands expands (because the hair cuticles open up) when it’s wet causing it to weigh up to 40% of its own weight.  I’m sure you’ve noticed your hair feels heavier when it’s wet compared to dry.  But why is our hair more prone to breakage when it’s wet?  Let’s think about the hair strand like a water balloon for those of you who had water balloon fights as a kid.  Before you fill up the balloon with water you can do many things to the balloon and it will not burst.  However, when the balloon is filled up with water, you have to be extremely careful with the balloon because now it can easily burst.  When the hair is wet our hair cuticles open up, which mean the cortex is not protected.  What does this have to do with elasticity?  Well, remember I just said that healthy hair is hair that has great elasticity.  If the cortex layer of the hair is not protected it can be damage.  This damage leads to weak inelastic hair strands and then hair breakage.

I’m taking a bit of a detour to talk specifically about textured hair.  I just stated that our hair was most vulnerable when it’s wet.  However, we textured girls know it is easier to manage our hair when it is soaking wet.  Weird, huh?  While doing research I was trying to figure out how to make logical sense about wet hair in regards to improving our hair elasticity.  After reading through the book “The Science of Black Hair: A Comprehensive Guide to Textured Hair,” I realize that the topic of hair elasticity illustrates a difference between textured and non-textured hair.  Most people with textured hair is less prone to breakage when working (or detangling) hair while wet because our hair can stretch to around twice the size of its normal textured state. Another thing the book stated was that manipulating damp hair is much better because it will bounce back to its original state faster than if the hair was manipulated the same way while dry.  This makes perfect sense to people who love to detangle and perform their natural hairstyle while the hair is soaking wet.  I’m one of those people.  The more wet my hair is the easier it is for me to move through my hair.

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Here is a picture of me stretching out my hair.  Please excuse the quality of my picture.  As you can see, my hair stretch to around double its length

I still believe we all have to be extremely careful with our hair when it’s wet.  Although, it may be easier to work with our hair while wet, it doesn’t mean our hair will not suffer extreme damage if we’re too rough.  If you are someone suffering from poor elasticity or breakage, there are a few things you can do.

  1. Minimize your heat. Cut back on how much you are applying heat to you hair unless you’re deep conditioning.
  2. Invest in a deep conditioner that is specifically for hair elasticity repair. I believe the hair brand Ouidad has an elasticity repair conditioner.
  3. Use products that contains ingredients that will protect your hair from the sun. Our hair is permeable to water.  When our hair experience moisture the hair strand swells, the hair cuticles are visible, and the cortex is not protected.  This means our hair cortex is not protected from the hot sun. Our hair can suffer bad damage from the sun just like our skin.  Look for products that include ingredients that have vitamin C and vitamin E.  For an example, shea butter contains vitamin C and E.  Also, raspberry seed oil contains vitamin E and is one of the best natural sun protectant.
  4. Style your hair in a less stressful style. Cut back on the box braids and silk press and incorporate more twists and buns styles into your routine.

I hope this blog post was helpful or at least informative.  Thank you for reading!