It’s estimated that 75% of American women dye their hair; it’s a gigantic industry that ranges from supermarket aisles to high-end salons. Whether you’re just adding a few natural highlights or dramatically bleaching your brown hair to blonde, it’s undeniable that hair dyeing is a central part of American life. But when you sit down in the stylist’s chair or open that box of dye at home, what are you really doing to your hair?
In order to understand how hair coloring works, it’s important to know about the structure of the hair itself. Each hair has a root beneath the skin, and a shaft which protrudes above. Hair is dead tissue made out of a protein called keratin; it gets its pigmentation from a substance called melanin. Each hair is shaped like a tiny little tube, with three layers: the medula in the center, then the cortex in the middle which holds pigment, and finally the outer layer called the cuticle. The cuticle must be opened before any color can be applied to the strands.
In order to facilitate this process, almost all hair dyes contain two ingredients: hydrogen peroxide (also called the developer) and ammonia. The hydrogen peroxide is an oxidizing agent, which “lifts” the natural pigment from the hair; ammonia opens the hair shaft and exposes the cuticle, so that the dye will bond with it. The coloring agents in hair dye are made of molecules that vary in size; this creates hair dyes which penetrate into the hair in different ways, and fade at different rates. There are four common levels of hair dye, relating to the length of time the color will stay: permanent, demi-permanent, semi-permanent, and temporary.
Temporary hair dye sits on top of your natural hair color; the dye molecules are large and do not penetrate the cuticle layer, so they wash out with a single shampoo. There is no ammonia or hydrogen peroxide in these dyes; they’re often used for costume parties and in theater makeup kits. The next level, semi-permanent, has molecules that partially penetrate the hair. They contain very low levels of developer; it will alter the underlying pigment of natural hair, but not entirely, and will wash out in 4-5 shampoos.
Demi-permanent dye is excellent for people who are sensitive to some of the chemicals in other dyes, or for those who have fragile or damaged hair; it has no ammonia, and a lower level of developer. Without ammonia, the demi-permanent dye does not remove hair’s natural pigments and does not lighten it. Demi-permanent dyes are good at covering gray hair, and the final color is more natural-looking than permanent color.
Permanent color has dye molecules that penetrate the cortex and expand in size, making them impossible to wash out. The combination of hydrogen peroxide and ammonia causes the natural hair to lighten; bleach may also be required for dark hair, if the end goal is a light hue – a brunette becoming a blonde, for instance. Permanent dyes will remain in the hair until they grow out over time. Make sure you know you want that color for a while – it’s not coming out!
Has a client or loved one ever come to you and asked to have their hair dyed bright neon blue? For some people it’s a sign of rebellion; for others, it’s a way to confidently stand out from the crowd. Blue is not a naturally occurring human pigment; even “blue” dogs and cats are more of a gray than bright aquamarine. Nonetheless, blue hair has been quite prevalent through human history, with a variety of meanings and cosmetic uses.
Ancient people used plant and animal matter to dye their hair, but there isn’t a lot of evidence for the use of blue dye in this manner; natural indigo pigment was extremely rare. The Greek poet Homer would describe characters’ eyebrows turning dark blue when they were angry, and Egyptian gods were often depicted as having hair the same color as lapis lazuli plants. The Biblical matriarchs Eve, Leah and Rachel were also sometimes described as having sky-blue hair.
An 18th century English politician named Charles Fox became famous in his youth for his dedication to an outlandish and fancy fashion trend called “Macaroni.” Macaronis were young men who took the traditional trends over the top, with gigantic powdered wigs and red-heeled shoes. Fox made a scene at Eton College by wearing a wig dyed with blue powder, though he later settled down and became a very successful Secretary of State.
A blue hair fad rose briefly in Paris just before the first World War. The New York Times cynically reported the trend in 1913 out of London, describing “brilliant green, blue, and purple hair and bizarre combinations of different colors are the latest freak that fashion is trying to foist on the heads of those who would be smart.” Monsieur Antoine, the first celebrity hairdresser known for popularizing the women’s bob cut, dyed his pet dog’s hair bright blue in 1924; the pooch inspired a fashion designer named Lady Elsie De Wolfe Mendl to follow suit, and she made it truly famous as a statement of high fashion.
In more modern times, blue hair has been associated with the punk movement, as a way for teenagers, and some adults, to rebel against societal norms. It has also made its way into high fashion again, with stars like Lady Gaga and Katy Perry sporting bright aquamarine tresses. But this blue hue is not reserved for only the young. A “blue rinse” is a treatment for graying hair in older women; it’s a diluted dye that reduces the yellowed appearance of gray hair on a pink scalp, creating a rinse that is blue-white in appearance.
If you want to dye your hair blue, it’s good to be prepared! Blue is one of the toughest pigments to maintain, as it usually requires bleaching the original hair pigment away and it can fade fairly quickly. Blue hair can also discolor to a yellow-green if it is not maintained. But even though it does require some work, you’re sure to make a statement and turn some heads!
It’s estimated that roughly 75% of American women have dyed their hair at one time or another, and it’s not hard to understand the appeal. Our hair is a vital part of our identity, and it’s thrilling to be able to try on different colors and feel like a slightly different person with each dye job. Most hair salons work with variations of the natural human hair colors: black, brown, red, blonde, and gray/white. Some people prefer to dye their hair in a rainbow of unnatural neon hues, reflecting their colorful personalities. But one of the most popular colors requested at salons is red; blondes may have more fun, but it’s clear that lots of people dream of having fiery locks! It’s no wonder: red hair has been a rare, fascinating part of human diversity for thousands of years.
The Rare, Regal Redhead
Natural red hair is quite uncommon; it’s actually the rarest natural hair color in humans, occurring in approximately 1-2% of the population worldwide. By contrast, it’s estimated that 50% or more of the world’s humans have black hair! Natural red hair can vary in hue, from bright carrot orange or copper to dark burgundy and reddish-brown. Redheads appear due to a recessive gene expression on the 16th chromosome; they’re literally genetic mutations of the MC1R protein.
Historically, redheads are mentioned in Greek and Roman writing, and mummies with red hair have been found in the Tarim Basin in northwestern China dating back to 2000 BCE. Some Polynesian tribes have red hair as well; however, most redheads can trace their roots back to northern and western Europe, especially Irish, Celtic, Germanic, and Scottish groups. Thirteen percent of Scottish people have red hair, and 40% of them carry the recessive gene; in Ireland, 10% of the population has red hair and up to 46% of them are gene carriers. Red hair appears frequently in the Berber people of Morocco; the Princess Consort, Lalla Salma, is known for her fiery locks and radiant beauty.
The Genetics of Redheads
Human coloring is determined by a natural pigment called melanin; it determines skin, hair, and eye color. Melanin is produced by cells called melanocytes. While humans have roughly equal concentrations of melanocytes in their skin, the cells will produce more or less pigment based on genetic expression. There are two major types of melanin found in skin and hair: Eumelanin, which can be either black or brown; and pheomelanin, which has a pink or red hue. Red hair is expressed through a variation in the MC1R protein, which results in a greater amount of pheomelanin than eumelanin.
The correlation of natural red hair and fair, non-tanning skin seems to be genetic; the low concentrations of dark eumelanin throughout the body results in lighter skin, and the alleles that code for red hair are located quite close to the alleles for skin color on the chromosome. Throughout history redheads have been both beloved and reviled, but wherever they go they have always turned heads!
Nowadays, no trip to the pharmacy is complete without a walk down at least one aisle of hair products. Dozens of companies compete for shelf space, selling shampoos and sprays that promise to lift, hold, curl, straighten, hydrate, and protect. Every brand has multiple options for different types of hair: dry, oily, curly, straight, colored, damaged, flaky, or fine. You can apply mousse, waxes, serums, balms, sprays, and gels to your locks to get virtually any style you can imagine; it’s all very overwhelming! But next time you find yourself cursing out your curling iron, or frustrated that your fake bed head is just slightly too disheveled, be thankful that you don’t have to deal with some of the crazier hairstyles worn throughout history.
Last week’s blog post briefly touched on the wig phenomenon in Europe. After the decline of the Roman Empire, wigs had fallen out of public knowledge for nearly a thousand years until their revival in the 16th century; while they helped cover bald spots, wigs also had a practical use: they were much easier to de-louse than natural hair, and the unhygienic conditions of the period meant that it was sometimes easier to just shave one’s head and spare an itchy, uncomfortable infestation. Wigs really took off in the 1700s when King Louis XIV of France began to wear a long curly wig, which had a part in the middle and two very pronounced high points of hair on the forehead. Other men in the court followed suit, as they often did, and wigs became required headgear for any successful man with money. In the late 1600s, elaborate flowing wigs were in high demand, even though they were extremely heavy and uncomfortable to wear.
In the 18th century, men began to powder their wigs white. Women rarely wore full wigs during this time, but they did supplement their own hair with towering coiffure pieces that were powdered grey or light blue. A powdered white head of hair was customarily reserved for older, more distinguished gentlemen, and in 1795 the British government even imposed a tax on wig powder in order to prevent young men from powdering their natural hair in an effort to imitate their elders.
Pouf: The Updo From Hell
Very few modern women can imagine the incredible effort required to maintain a fashionable updo in the 1700s in Europe. While modern buns and fancy styles may use a whole package of bobby pins (or two!), it doesn’t hold a candle to the pouf. Although women began wearing their hair high on their heads as early as 1680, the pouf was popularized by Marie Antoinette in 1774. The highly artistic pouf was the ultimate in French extravagance, and often took hours to create. The pouf began with a base of very thin wire and padding, which sat near the forehead and created the desired height and shape on top of the head. The woman’s hair was then wound around and above the structure, intertwined with false hair, and curled into ringlets with hot clay curlers. Once the shaping was done (involving lots of pomade and powder), the pouf would be decorated with ribbons, jewels, and hundreds of different novelty items.
Antoinette reportedly wore a 6-foot high pouf, though height usually topped out at three feet; still, an impressive amount of weight to carry around on one’s head! The pouf would remain in place for roughly a week, then washed and redone. Women with a pouf had to sleep sitting upright to protect their hair, and palace doorways were lengthened to accommodate the fancy court ladies and their towering locks. Needless to say, a few hair pins and some spray is nothing compared to these outrageous masterpieces!
Our hair is a fundamental part of our social identity; we put a lot of time and effort into styling it, cutting it, and coloring it all because our hair is part of how we present ourselves to the world. Scientists think that we’re hard-wired to respond positively to healthy-looking hair, as it’s an easy indicator of overall health in a potential mate. It’s not surprising that humans have been fussing with their hair since the dawn of civilization! Hairstyles have evolved throughout the years to reflect the overall cultural trends in each society, and have ranged from very simple to overwhelmingly bizarre and complex. We couldn’t go into the full history of hair styling, but here are a few of our favorite past styles.
The Hurly-Burly, Love-Locked 1600s
17th-century France was known for its extravagance, especially during the Baroque period. Neck ruffs, wide skirts, and multiple layers were common for fashionable women, and their hair was similarly fancy. The hurly-burly style consisted of shoulder-length ringlet curls, falling dramatically over one’s head from a straight center part on the scalp. The curls were set and maintained using gum arabic, literally gluing the style in place. Women would also curl and pile their hair on top of their heads, pinning it up to be as high as possible and using hairpieces to extend the updo even more.
Men’s hairstyles underwent a dramatic transformation throughout the 17th century. Early in the period, young men would grow out small sections of hair to cascade down over the left shoulder. These sections were called lovelocks, and they were very highly prized among fashionable gentlemen. Later in the century, when French king Louis XIV began to go bald, he began to wear a thick flowing wig to cover his thinning locks. Once the king established a style, the rest of the court followed close behind; huge wigs became standard for men, and would remain so for another hundred years.
Dying to Dye
Humans have been dyeing their hair since the days of cavemen when plant fibers, ash, dirt, and flower pollen could be used to tint the hair. Before the chemical innovations of the modern era, hair dyeing was accomplished through these natural methods, but some of the ingredients used for head-turning hair may make your stomach turn instead. In the Renaissance era, women would tie tree bark, alum, apples, and leaves onto their heads, leaving the entire concoction on for up to two days. For brown hair, they’d apply a mixture of lead and sulfur; black dye came from the bodies of green lizards cooked in oil.
Blondes have historically had more fun, in part because they were genetically unique in Ice Age Europe and thus highly desirable as potential mates. Yellow hues have maintained their popularity since then, but before bleach and hydrogen peroxide there weren’t many palatable ways to achieve light hair. Early dyes would use the acidic properties of vinegar to lighten tresses, and women in the Baroque period would resort to caustic soda or potassium lye to bleach their locks! When dark grey hair became fashionable after the Victorian era, silver nitrate was used as a darkening agent. A common side effect of this treatment was the hair turning purple due to over-use. Hydrogen peroxide’s bleaching effects were discovered in the 1800s.
Keep an eye out for next week’s post, when we’ll discuss some more crazy hair styles throughout history, including the perils of a hairdo that’s taller than the woman who wears it, and how one man’s baldness can influence an entire century of hair fashion.
Everyone gets a haircut once in a while, and even the most infrequent salon visitor will observe that their stylist uses a vast arsenal of tools and techniques to shape hair as desired. It’s one of the major reasons why you just can’t get the same results using a pair of kitchen scissors at home. There are lots of different scissors, razors, and shears at a stylist’s disposal, and each will cut the hair in a different way. If you’ve ever wondered why your stylist makes certain motions when they’re snipping away, then you’re in luck; here’s a brief rundown of some common stylist techniques.
Cutting: Blunt vs. Graduated vs. Layering
A hair cut rarely involves a simple straight snip, unless the client wants to take off a lot of length; this is usually called a blunt cut. The stylist cuts the hair wet, keeping the scissor blades horizontal and keeping each section of hair lying straight down as it falls naturally. A graduated cut can result in all sorts of different looks; it evenly distributes the weight of the hair while keeping the edges soft. The stylist takes a section of hair and pulls it out from the skull at an elevated angle before cutting across. With the change in angle and elevation from the skull, the hair will fall with a rounded, layered edge instead of being blunt and straight. Graduating is very useful for creating short layered bob hairstyles.
Layering is similar to graduating, but usually applies to longer hair; it takes out weight and bulk without sacrificing the desired length. Sections are lifted high up off the scalp and cut on an angle, as opposed to horizontally parallel to the floor; this is great for thick or curly hair, as it will distribute the volume more evenly around the scalp.
Once the right length is achieved, a haircut usually needs some texture, to keep things interesting. Point cutting is one way to create basic texture, and is usually done after the basic cut is complete. Stylists use clippers or razors, which are much sharper than normal scissors. They hold a section of hair away from the head, and will use the tips of their shears to cut straight into the ends of the hair, instead of across them as you would with scissors.
The notching technique is another way to add texture to hair, and it is also very useful for thick hair; each snip literally removes half of the hair from your head. Stylists can do this in a few ways, but one simple technique involves notching scissors. One of the blades is straight, but the other has a row of teeth that will only catch a portion of the hair. Stylists take a section of hair, pull it tightly from the head, and gently snip on an angle down the length; they then comb out the section to remove the cut hair. Talented stylists can also notch freehand, using regular shears and snipping away to remove bulk in large sections for a funky, choppy look. They’ll sometimes use a straight razor, gently running it down the length of a section, to achieve a softer edge than notching scissors can provide.
Do you love curly hair? Some people born with straight locks may wish for a little more bounce to their tresses, and those with heads of curls may struggle with styling them every day. Generally it’s good to work with your hair’s natural style, but if you’re aching to have cascading ringlets then you may want to try getting a perm, or a permanent wave. Permed hair has fallen in and out of fashion over the years, but it’s still a great way to achieve the look you want without spending hours with a curling iron each day.
At its core, a perm uses chemicals to break the bonds of each hair, and reform them into new shapes. Most of the earliest hair-curling techniques used heat; wigmakers had figured out how to permanently curl their hairpieces using caustic chemicals, but these were too harsh to be used on human hair. The earliest machine meant to permanently curl the hair was invented in 1872, by Marcel Grateau. He used a specially made pair of tongs that closely resembled a modern-day curling iron; after they were heated over a flame, the metal would be combed through the hair to create a two-dimensional wave. Over the next several decades, other inventors contributed various developments to the perm as we know it today. This included the use of water and steam to help prevent overheating, the creation of multiple rollers to spiral locks of hair and curl them all at once, and the addition of alkaline reagents to speed up the process and make the results last longer.
The modern perm started in 1938, with Arnold Willatt’s cold wave technique. It did not use heat or machines; hair was wrapped around long rods, and a reduction lotion containing ammonium thioglycolate was applied to the roots. This lotion broke down the links between the main structural polypeptide bonds in the hair protein; these links, which are called disulfide bonds, are what give hair its elasticity. Once they were broken apart, hydrogen sulfide was used to halt the reduction process; it caused the disulfide bonds to re-form, this time in the shape of the round rods, producing a head full of bouncy curls. The hair would retain its shape for long periods of time because the actual chemical composition of each strand had been altered, rather than temporarily shaped with heat. Nowadays, a perm uses sodium thioglycolate instead of ammonium, reducing the time required to break the chemical bonds in the strands and increasing the pH level; it’s easier on the hair than ammonia. Some at-home perm kits use very low pH formulas, and add heat to facilitate the chemical process. A digital perm uses a digital display to program the desired shape and texture of each wave, and is very popular in Korea and Japan.
Perms are generally safe for most people, but the chemicals can still cause skin irritation and it’s important to minimize contact as much as possible. There’s also a very fine line between unlinking and reforming the disulfide bonds and breaking them completely; if this happens, then the hair will become brittle and fragile. It’s best to get a perm with a professional who is comfortable with the technique, especially if you’re new to the style.
In North America, the beauty standard seems to trend towards thick, luxurious hair. Hair products are geared towards increasing volume, shape, shine, and bounce. But anyone with really thick hair will tell you that their locks can be both a blessing and a curse. Having thick hair is like being in a relationship: while it might look easy to outsiders, those involved know that it takes a lot of work behind closed doors. While sometimes it really is a breeze, other times there’s a lot of fighting involved. Here are some tips on how to style thicker hair, so you can stop fighting with your mane.
A Dirty Secret
Thick hair holds a secret: it probably doesn’t need to be washed every day. A shampoo every two to three days is ideal for thicker tresses. Your scalp produces a fatty substance called sebum, which is what causes the oily buildup in your hair; however, daily shampoos can actually put sebum production into overdrive, as your scalp tries to replenish the natural oils in your hair that have been stripped away in the shower. So try washing your hair three or four times per week to prevent drying it out. Use a moisturizing shampoo to help battle frizziness, and a light leave-in conditioner which can do wonders to lock in moisture and prevent brittle split ends. Finally, towel-dry your hair by gently patting the excess water away, instead of rubbing.
More Product, More Problems
People with very thin hair might assume that you need to use a larger amount of product on thicker hair—after all, there are more strands to coat. Thick hair can benefit from a good curling mousse or anti-frizz balm. But thick hair can get very heavy and weighed down with too much mousse, gel or spray in it; it’s best to go easy on the product, rubbing it between your palms first and then evenly distributing it throughout your locks with your fingers. A little goes a long way, so use sparingly. Furthermore, apply the product of your choice right after you’ve washed it, while the hair is still damp; it will trap the moisture in and prevent flyaways.
If you want to avoid heat damage, try this: wash your hair in the evening, so it can dry before or while you sleep. Put your wet hair in a braid, tie a bandanna around your head, or (if you’re old-fashioned) pin it up in some soft rollers. If you don’t mind sleeping with a towel covering your pillow, you can even just go to sleep with your hair still damp. In the morning, you can undo the braid and you’ll have soft, wavy curls all day long, without having fried your strands with the blow dryer or hot iron.
Hair comes in all sorts of colors, shapes, and thicknesses; it is part of what makes it so much fun to work with! Your hair is a fundamental part of how you present yourself to the world. Many people dream of luscious, thick, shiny locks; it’s a beauty standard in North America. While you can do a lot with dyes and products to alter your hair’s natural state, there are some factors that you just can’t change—like having naturally thin or fine hair that lies flat against your head. While some people may opt for extensions to bulk up their locks, the process is expensive and time-consuming. Luckily, there are many ways to stylishly wear naturally thin hair. It’s all a matter of knowing what works, and what doesn’t.
Much hullabaloo is made about layered haircuts; for thick hair, it’s the best way to get some shape and take out excess bulk. But if your hair is fine, you don’t need to take any of it away! A blunt, straight cut is the best option for naturally thin hair. Really long locks can maybe get one or two short layers, but no more than that. Avoid using feathering razors or texturizing scissors; the process can leave your ends looking stringy and sparse. Meet with a stylist who knows thin hair; a good cut will give you some volume. Trim often to help maintain your hair’s shape and keep the ends looking healthy.
Fine hair isn’t universal; some people have baby-fine strands, but lots of them. Others have very thin hair in small volumes. Either way, experts agree: when your hair is thin, it’s best to keep it relatively short. Long styles can end up looking very stringy, which is the opposite of what you want to achieve! A shoulder-length cut is probably the longest you’ll want to go; a very (very!) light layering will give you some structure. But fine hair looks really good in shorter styles, which are easier to shape. Try a bob—short and choppy, or classically blunt. Both styles are low maintenance, but light and fun. If you’ve got the right face shape for a pixie cut, it’s hard to go wrong with it!
For thin hair, the key is volume, volume, and more volume! Use a volumizing shampoo and conditioner, and try to keep your hair really clean; oil and product buildup will weigh you down. Use these products sparingly, and make sure that all of the conditioner is washed out of your hair; if any of it is left in, it can cause droopiness. Try a luscious volumizing mousse on clean wet hair, and blow-dry your locks upside-down; it’ll increase the fullness. A diffuser attachment on your hair dryer will help give you bouncy curls, which can add fullness and movement. Try gently back-combing your hair at the crown, then pull your locks into a ponytail.
We spend a lot of time worrying about our hair, but it’s been that way for hundreds of thousands of years! Hair is a good indicator of one’s overall health; shiny, luxurious locks may have been a signal to our ancestors that a woman was capable of producing living children. Wandering down the aisle of any drug store can be overwhelming; there are dozens of brands of hair spray, shampoo, conditioner, and styling gels to choose from. The hair care industry is built on giving advice for how to get your locks to shine, bounce, straighten, and hold; you’ve probably heard millions of tips and tricks throughout your life. The following tricks are slightly off the beaten path, but they might change your entire routine! Why not give them a try?
Brush, Don’t Spray
If you’re blow-drying your hair, you’re probably used to holding your breath and closing your eyes while you spray a cloud of hair spray all around you to lock in the look. Instead of a smoke bomb, why not spray the hairspray onto a brush and run it through your hair as a final step? Your strands will get root-to-tip coverage, but you’ll avoid the shellacked look.
Enjoy a Beer
…on your hair. It might sound ridiculous, but the malt and hops in beer both contain proteins that can help repair damaged locks and replenish the moisture you need. Bring a dark beer to room temperature, and then pour it onto your hair, coating from root to tip. Let it soak for a few minutes, and then wash it out completely with cool water. Follow up with your regular conditioner, which will help neutralize the beer’s scent and lock in the softness.
Powder Your Head
This is great for the second or third day after a shampoo, when your roots may start to look a little greasy. Use a fluffy powder brush and some loose face powder; dust it lightly over your roots. The powder will absorb the oils on your scalp, giving you one more day of wear and making it easier to work with your ‘do.
Do a Ketchup Rinse
While blondes may be the envy of brunettes, they struggle with a unique problem: gross green hair caused by chlorinated water or over-exposure to the sun. While you wait for a salon appointment, you can cancel out the green hue with a unique home remedy: a ketchup rinse. The tomatoes and acidity will help cancel out the green tone. Massage the condiment onto your head; let it sit for about half an hour, and then rinse with cool water.