So what exactly is hair?

7 Jan
The structure of the hair

Many people may be surprised to know that African hair is made of the same biological substances as all other types of hair.  The difference is in the way that it is chemically arranged.  Keratin is the chief component of hair fiber (constituting about 80%).  It is the sulfur-rich protein that gives hair the strength to withstand harsh styling techniques (combing, brushing, hair dryers, curling irons, flat irons, chemicals, etc).

The structure of our hair can cause it to be more prone to breakage and dryness.  Because of this, African hair care needs are different from those for other types of hair.  Our hair is kinkier which makes it more difficult for the oil secreted from our scalps to reach the ends of the hair.  You need to remember though that there are many different types of hair even among African people.

Intuitively, you might think African hair is “tougher” than Caucasian hair and can handle more stress or abuse.  After all, it is coarser and thicker.  Actually, African hair is more fragile than Caucasian hair.  It is far more vulnerable to breakage and will damage easily.  This is why we need to use products made especially for our hair or products that address our hair needs.  Moisture is the most important key to maintaining African hair.  Every time we use chemicals, heat, or harsh techniques, we lose some of that moisture (I will write a post on African hair and its need for moisture).

Our hair is structured as follows:

The cuticle – the outer layer which protects the hair shaft.  It is coated with sebum, which gives the hair its shine.  The cuticle is made of scale like cells that resemble the shingles on a roof.

The cortex – the middle layer.  It gives hair its strength, elasticity, and texture.

The hair follicle – the part of the skin that grows the hair.

Sebaceous glands –  produce the sebum that coats the cuticle.

Melanin – the pigment in the cortex which gives hair its colour.


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