Hair – A microscopic view

I have heard several people complain that there are way too many rules for gaining and maintaining healthy hair. Don't use 'cones, don't use heat, don't use sulfate shampoos, don't comb your hair without conditioner in it, don't touch your hair and dance to a song (you caught me, I just threw that in there. Just checking to see that you are paying attention :)).

I have found that some of those rules are well meaning guidelines to healthy hair and that they are not unfounded. A lot of them are based on scientific research as well as tried and tested method. As with everything - we have free will and will ultimately decide what path we wish to follow.

In this post I wanted to share a few pictures of strands of hair up close. Perhaps they will help us decide if we need to re-evaluate our methods of hair care. 

Let's dive in shall we?

Here we see a healthy strand of hair. How can we tell it is healthy? The cuticles (those pattern like things you see) are all lying flat. There is no tearing or exposure of anything that is underneath the cuticle and the hair doesn't look distressed in any way.

Healthy Hair as seen under a Scanning Electron Microscope

Let's compare it with this picture of an unhealthy hair strand.

Damaged hair - cuticles are raised and there is some tearing.

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This is an even more damaged strand of hair. The fact that the cuticle is raised means that things can get into the hair shaft or out. That is called...porosity (there are two types). 

 Source

Damaged hair shaft. Here the cuticle is completely torn off and the bits it is supposed to be protecting underneath (cortex et al) are exposed. There is no way to redeem this hair strand.

Source

You know how they say detangle, detangle? Stretch your hair and stretch your hair some more? That is so that we can avoid knots like these. 

Single Strand Knot. Imagine trying to undo that on your hair. Actually several of them as they pop up all over the place on tangled (and even stretched hair). You have better chances of not getting them when your hair is stretched.

 Source

A split hair up close. It can go from the tip and tear all the way up to the root of the hair.

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Another view of split ends

Split ends on a strand of hair. You can see how easy it will be for that to go all the way down to the roots. 

Source

And as a bonus, I am throwing in this one. 

Head louse on a strand of hair. See how tenaciously it is holding on? A pain to get rid of. It isn't naturally green by the way, the picture has been enhanced using false color scanning.

Source

So what caused the majority of these damaged hair strands? Rather than use my own words, I will lift right off the Science Photo Web page:

"Damaged human hair shaft.... This can be caused by overheating the hair using curling tongs or hair straigheners, as well as chemical dyes, back combing and over brushing. Hair straighteners can get so hot that the moisture inside the hair shaft can reach boiling temperatures, leaving the hair seriously damaged. The cuticle or scales which cover the outside of each hair shaft can be stripped off. The hair will become brittle, dry and frizzy causing breakages along the shaft."

Makes you wonder about the wisdom of brushing some of these hair rules aside (forgive the pun). Now that the over 100,000 strands of your hair were affected in some way or form like the damaged hair strands we've seen here....

Next post, I will be talking about some guidelines (I don't like the word "rules") for healthy hair. 

28 thoughts on “Hair – A microscopic view

  1. Funmi

    I was physically cringing looking at these pictures, my bf thought i was looking at pictures of dead kittens (totally cringe worthy)
    on a less gloomy note, love,love,love your website. just found it today and i’ve been reading every single post

    Reply
    1. Funmi

      Also have you heard of this product First Class Lady Hair Booster. my mom got it from Nigeria, its produced by Authentic natural Products Lagos. the ingredients are natural essential oils herbs/roots, peppermint extract, fragrance. its very greasy and looks like mud, i thought i might try using it as a hot oil treatment with some of my carrier oils. do you know if anyone has used it with positive result? Thanks for your website x

      Reply
      1. Natural Nigerian

        Post author

        I have never heard about it. I did a quick search and found that they have a website. I would like to see a list of ingredients so that I can decide if it is a line I feel comfortable about using.

        Reply
      1. Funmi

        Hi NaturalNigerian, thanks for your reply. unfortunately there are no list of ingredients just “natural oils/herbs” no idea which ones which is why i’m skeptical about it but i guess one try couldn’t hurt. thanks again for your web. very informative.

        Reply
  2. Barbara

    So I must say that these pictures were not very encouraging especially as I am still in the transition phase, lol. But i do appreciate the knowledge.
    I am having a hell of a time finding good products for my natural hair in normal supermarkets, please can you help?
    Thank you so much

    Reply
  3. Zee

    P.S. I wanted to send an email but I did not find any email address so I resorted to this medium :)

    Hi, I just stumbled across your blog and I must say its beautiful. I gave up relaxing my hair last year september so in essence one can say am in the transitioning stage. I gave it up for two reasons but the main reason is because i have NEVER (see the way never is highlighted, thats how desperate I am) had edges and every time I relaxed my hair it was worse. P.s.s am not bald at the edges but the hair is very scanty. I decided to stop and secondly I like the way natural hair looks, so healthy and full of life :). I have read soooooooo many blogs and natura hair forums that to be honest its very overwhelming, so i have decided to take it one step at a time (hope that by the time i try all the products i wont eventually go bald. lol). So my first question please how can I get my edges back? A friend of mine who is natural said it might be hereditary but deep down I still feel that I can get it back. Thanks
    P.s.s. Am sorry for the long post. Can I have an email address so I wont subject your readers to my cry of help.

    Reply
    1. Natural Nigerian

      Post author

      Hello Zee, I may have to side with your friend. You can do a few things – avoid hairstyles that stress your edges, keep your edges moisturized and lubricated to hinder dryness since this leads to breakage, eat healthy and dump junk food, regularly massage your scalp to stimulate growth and keep your scalp clean. Consider using herbs and essential oils that stimulate the scalp as this will help with growth.

      The email address is info@naturalnigerian.com

      Reply
  4. aloted

    these pictures look eew! is that how our hair really looks??

    that last picture is just gross… looks like an alien…

    clearly i am missing the point of your point…

    looking forward to part 2

    Reply
  5. curiouskinks

    lol, some of those pictures look like a stick! And shall I say, the headlouse photo is gross! I thought they are only found on scalp? Also, i’d like to add that single strand knots (ssks) are inevitable. I “magically” got mine after taking out a braid, which kept my hair stretched for 8weeks, and 8months later, a good portion of them are “magically” gone. (well, they broke off) after taking out a 3weeks cornrow with no extensions. I guess they’re called fairy knots for a reason.
    curiouskinks.blogspot.com

    Reply
  6. Brigitte

    No! Not my hair turns to dry, however, too late, I already have some frizzy so far since stopping to use often a conditioner for the Curly Girl Method (which, that I found out, is for dry hair girls). The reason was my age is changed, but now, I realized that my hair is not yet changed.

    Natural Nigerian, I thank you so much for showing the real pictures. Thank you. :D

    Reply

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