Healthy Hair Care From A Professional Hairstylist

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Structure of the Hair


We all know what our hair looks like when we look in the mirror, comb, or brush it.  But the hair is much more than the strands that appear to the naked eye.  Inside one strand of hair are three additional layers, the cuticle, cortex, and medulla.  I'm going to explain each of these and what role they play to our hair.

Cuticle:  The cuticle of the hair is the outermost part of the hair shaft. The cuticle is made of overlapping scales that resemble the tiles on a roof.  The edges of these scales lie away from the head.  The scales are semi-transparent, allowing us to see our hair color through them.  The cuticle is the first line of defense for all forms of damage to the hair and is responsible for much of the strength of the hair fiber.  If the scales are intact and folded closely, that means the hair looks very healthy, shiny, and lustrous.  On the other hand, if the scales have been unfolded and broken, the hair appears rough, lifeless, and fragile.  Things that can contribute to damaging the cuticle are environmental elements such as excessive exposure to the sun and wind, and things such as excessive brushing and abusing heat tools (flat irons, curling irons, blow dryers).  Also, chemical processing like relaxers and perms can damage the cuticle if not used properly.  Bottom line: healthy cuticle = healthy hair.
Healthy Cuticle
Damaged Cuticle

Cortex:  The cortex is the center part of the hair and makes up most of the hair shaft.  It accounts for 90% of the hair's weight. The cortex also contains keratin and sulphured protein, which determines the hair's elasticity (ability to stretch) and resistance (ability to take chemicals).  The cortex is basically where all the action happens.  This is where all the chemical services such as relaxers, perms, and color take place.  In order for color services and chemicals to work properly, the cuticle has to be slightly raised in order to get to the cortex. After these services has been performed, the cuticle has to be sealed back again, or the result will be color that fades quickly, or hair that looks dry and dull.
If you peeled back the cuticle, what is directly underneath is the cortex

Medulla:  The medulla is the innermost part of the hair shaft.  It is probably the least important part of the hair.  Some people, like people with fine hair and blondes don't even have a medulla in their hair.  The actual purpose of the medulla has not been determined.

Here we see all three layers

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