Hair comes in a bewildering variety of sizes, shapes and colors, which leads to different appearances, tactile properties and behavioral issues. This creates the desire to name or describe these various states—in large part, to aid in directing product development efforts and ultimately to help guide formulas to those with the respective hair “type.” To this end, a plethora of hair descriptors can be conceived, based on, e.g., shape, length, color, age, thickness and/or damage level.
Another descriptor commonly used is ethnicity. While this approach has been criticized in recent times, it is easy to see why it has frequently been used. Describing hair as Caucasian, Asian, African, Latino, Indian, etc., immediately conjures up specific, albeit stereotypical, images. Moreover, most will self-identify with one of these designations.
Accordingly, product developers at both small and large multinational companies are directed to develop products for a specific ethnic market. Since the U.S., Europe and Japan have historically been the largest hair care markets, Caucasian and Asian hair have received most scientific attention. In addition, the very different conformation and issues associated with African hair has made it a frequent candidate for study—and several papers can be found in the literature that compare the properties of hair from these three ethnicities. Today, the emergence of important new and developing markets around the world is fueling work in other hair types as well.
This article reviews existing knowledge relating to all hair ethnicities. It also emphasizes the considerable diversity associated with hair of any ethnicity.
Size, Shape and Color
The drastic variability in hair appearance and properties might instinctively suggest the presence of underlying differences in hair structure; but, generally, this does not appear to be the case. All hair essentially appears to be made from the same building blocks that egress out onto the scalp in different sizes, shapes and colors. It has been further argued that these simple, unexciting features can explain most of all hair issues and conditions—even though there is often a presumption that more complex explanations must exist.
By means of illustration, the historical literature describes how Asian hairpossesses relatively thick dimensions. It tends to be mainly straight in conformation; is usually heavily pigmented; and individual strands are almost spherical in cross section. These characteristics cumulatively produce the distinctive visual, tactile and manageability-related properties of this hair type, while also shaping subsequent habits and practices pertaining to styling, maintenance, etc. For example, heavy conditioning treatments are commonly employed on this hair type as it can tolerate such products without adversely weighing the hair down.
The literature similarly describes the characteristic features of African hair as being highly kinky and curly in conformation; possessing considerable variability in fiber dimensions; being heavily pigmented; and exhibiting individual fibers with the highest degree of ellipticity. This highly curly conformation tends to restrict the number of styles available to the wearer, so straightening treatments—e.g., heat or chemical relaxers—which have been historically been popular.
This hair is already highly susceptible to breakage, and the aforementioned treatments lead to further weakening. As such, very different grooming habits and practices result—yet, this breakage phenomenon can be rationalized simply based on the shape and conformation of individual strands. Also, it does not necessitate the more complex explanations that are sometimes offered up.
In comparison, Caucasian hairfibers generally possess lesser dimensions, with considerable variability in both color and curvature. Individual fibers exhibit a moderate degree of ellipticity.
A common cause of hair loss and breakage known as acquired trichorrhexis nodosa, or TN -- often more prevalent in African Americans -- can be remedied through appropriate use of cleansing products, hair care and styling practices, say researchers at Johns Hopkins.
"It's imperative that we offer dermatologists and patients alike easy tips for resolving TN, one of the few forms of hair loss that can be resolved fairly quickly with non medical options," says Crystal Aguh, M.D., assistant professor of dermatology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and co-author of Fundamentals of Ethnic Hair: The Dermatologist's Perspective. "Our recommendations are acceptable for those of all ethnic backgrounds experiencing hair breakage, and dermatologists should feel comfortable discussing these techniques with every patient seen."
Patients of African heritage (African American and Afro-Caribbean) who tend to have tightly coiled hair which are at increased risk for hair loss and damage from TN. This is because there are structural differences within the hair shaft -- African hair fibers have an asymmetric shape and curvature, resulting in points of geometric weakness in the hair shaft. Curly hair also has differences in hydration properties, causing it to be drier and more susceptible to breakage.
Cleansing is the cornerstone of any health hair regimen, says Aguh. Inadequate cleansing of the hair and scalp can result in the buildup of product residue, leading to problems such as seborrheic and irritant dermatitis.
First, choosing the appropriate shampoo based on hair types, the researchers say, is incredibly important when trying to reduce breakage and loss. Most shampoos include surfactants, which are the active ingredients that bind sebum and water. There are three types of surfactants to look for when selecting a shampoo -- anionic, amphoteric and nonionic. Anionic surfactants are damaging to the hair, Nonionic or amphoteric surfactants are recommended for those with natural black hair or dry, damaged or color-treated hair. These types of shampoos are gentler and less likely to strip the hair of moisture. It is important to note that the pH of the shampoo and conditioner used should be between 4.5 and 5.5 pH, nothing higher than 6.0 pH.
Second, the frequency at which the hair is cleansed is key in minimizing the impact of TN. Frequency varies greatly based on many factors, such as age, ethnic origin and condition of the hair. Those with tightly curled hair types should shampoo their hair less frequently, since sebum has a harder time coating this particular type of hair strand. Patients with straight hair should shampoo more frequently because sebum coats the entire strand, leading to oily hair.
Bottom line is HAIR IS HAIR!!!!!
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