G’on Brush Your Brushes Off

Shocking but true:

What’s trapped in YOUR bristles?

Your brush needs attention similar to what you give your hair. No matter what kind of brush you use, whether it be one with synthetic, metal, or boar bristles, it’s important to clean it on a regular basis.

You spend hours and hours deep conditioning your hair, co-washing it, clarifying it. You use essential oils like peppermint and tea tree to cleanse the scalp and stimulate blood flow. You understand that clean hair means growth. You do these things on a strict schedule to prevent unsightly buildup.

So why would you undo all of your effort by using a dirty brush?

Continue reading


This Is Not a New Year’s Resolution

Happy 2013!

With a new year come new aspirations, new bucket list items, new hopes, new dreams. I won’t use the word resolution, because we all know what tends to happen with those!  However, knowing about the importance of goal-setting and focus, I’m looking forward to the new challenges in store for me in the coming year. Continue reading

Is Eight Really Enough?

A short time ago, I saw a news report on CTV that claims that the “eight by eight” rule (eight 8 oz glasses of water per day) is too much for the average person. According to the report, this recommendation is based on guidelines, set out in the 1940s, that failed to communicate that this daily intake was actually for all fluids, including fruits, juices, and other foods containing liquids.


This report made me start wondering. Is there really such a thing as too much water? What happens if you drink too much? How do you know how much to drink?

Water Intoxication

This happens when too much water is absorbed by the body’s cells. The cells swell, throwing off the electrolyte balance between the inside and the outside of the cell. The swelling can cause the cell to burst. Other effects of the swelling include irregular heartbeat, excess fluid in the lungs, and seizures. Behaviour similar to alcoholic intoxication and even death may occur.

I remember having to go for an ultrasound once and being told to drink something like 40 oz of water. I was warned to make sure to start drinking at least eight hours before the appointment and to spread it out over as long a period as possible. Of course, I ignored the advice and waited till a couple of hours before to drink the water. Well, by the time I got to the doctor’s office, I was feeling so sick that I actually threw up! I had to reschedule the appointment and the nurse was non-too-impressed with me.

The moral of that story is that it’s not how much you drink, but how fast you drink that could cause a problem.

While it is possible to drink too much water, it is very rare that the body is unable to process the amount taken in. As long as the water consumed is spread out over a reasonable period of time, even in large quantities, a normally functioning set of kidneys will be able to process it without a problem. As a matter of fact, kidneys in good working order can handle as much as fifteen liters per day.

And who would drink fifteen litres per day, let alone MORE than fifteen liters?

How Much Then?

The average daily intake – according to the Mayo Clinic – for a man is 13 cups, or about 3 litres, and 9 cups , or 2.2 litres, for a woman.

Alternatively, there are a few ways to calculate daily water intake.  Simply multiply body weight by 0.5, which works out to one ounce per two pounds body weight. Or choose an appropriate multiplier (0.5, 0.6, or 0.7), according to the level of activity.

Here’s an example:

 Body Weight: 120 lb
Fitness/Activity Level: Low
0 to 30 minutes per day, 2 to 3 times per week – walking, yoga, stretching
30 to 60 minutes per day, 3 to 5 times per week – brisk walking, low-impact aerobics, light weight-lifting
60 minutes or more, more than 5 times per week – marathons, martial  arts, body building
Equation: 120 lb * 0.5 120 lb * 0.6 120 lb * 0.7
Amount to Drink: 60 oz 72 oz 84 oz

So what’s the right answer?  How much water should we be drinking?

My internet findings confirmed one thing: there is no right answer to this question.  Depending on what site you are on, the answer might be different.  Are you active?  What kind of activity are you doing?  How much do you weigh?  Are you a man or a woman?  Are you pregnant? Are you suffering from an illness or a disease?  What altitude do you live at?

The conditions and criteria are varied and numerous.

The Bottom Line

At the end of the day,  the best thing to do is to listen to your body.  Adjust the intake with the level of physical activity or changes in the weather.  Most importantly, drink!

That was actually the conclusion of that news report I mentioned at the beginning of this post.

Tips & Tricks

If you are like me, you don’t have a problem drinking water.  In my To Do (or Not Do) List for Retention post, I stated that I take in an adequate amount of water per day.  I no longer have to make a conscious effort to do so.  It just seems to happen on its own.

But for people who have more trouble doing that, there are a few little things you can try:

  • keep water handy by carrying it around or keeping it on your desk in a bpa-free bottle (personally, I use a glass bottle)
  • improve taste by adding lemon or lime, filtering to eliminate “metal” taste, or diluting fruit juice (1 part juice, 3 parts water)
  • avoid or minimize caffeinated drinks, as they can contribute to dehydration
  • eat foods with high water content, such as watermelon, cucumbers, and tomatoes
  • learn to recognize signs of thirst and drink BEFORE feeling thirsty, because thirst means dehydration has already occurred

What’s Hair Got to Do with It?

When we get the proper daily intake of water that our bodies need, we improve and maintain our hydration level.  This, in turn, means that our bodies are better able to metabolize the food we are taking in and to properly absorb the nutrients needed for healthy, long, shiny hair.  Water also flushes out the toxins our body doesn’t need, and helps with elasticity.

The healthier the body is from the inside, the healthier it looks from the outside.

I’ll drink to that!

How much do you drink? What do you do to make sure your properly hydrated?

To Do (or Not Do) List for Retention

A few posts ago, I explored the question: What is Hair Anyway? I won’t rehash the deets, so if you wanna know, you can read up on that here. To tie up, nice and neat, the tail-end of that post, I thought I’d expand on the To Do (and Not Do) List I created. Check it out…

DO eat a balanced diet

Fairly obvious. A diet that includes a variety of fruits, veggies and proteins will keep your hair and nails in tip-top shape; protein is very key, since it accounts for 90% of what your hair is made of.

I personally struggle with the healthy diet thing because I hate cooking, especially for one. You know those bachelor(ette) types whose kitchen looks strangely clean… almost unused, even? The types who are known by name and/or order preference to all the restaurants and delivery boys in the neighbourhood? That’s me! So, more often than anyone should admit to doing, I fall prey to the dreaded take-out menu. Pray for me, my waistline, and my hairline!

DO drink plenty of water

Also obvious. Keeping your body properly hydrated goes a long way for optimizing elasticity of the skin and hair. Make sure to drink as much actual water, as opposed to juice, soda, and other sugary/sweet beverages, to get the most benefit. I keep a reusable glass bottle (don’t know how much it holds, but I’d guess about 750 ml) on my desk at work and refill it a couple of times throughout the day. I have another bottle at home that I use the same way.

Oh yeah, and try to eliminate fluids that can be dehydrating. Things like coffee and alcohol will do that to you. Sigh… again, I struggle. Let’s just say, I am not useful to very many without my morning cup-a-joe. And I certainly like my regular G&T (gin and tonic) or glass of wine… REGULARLY…

I have zero trouble drinking water and limiting my consumption of soda/juice. Easy-peasy!

The coffee is getting better.

But the booze… not so much…

DO keep the scalp clean

As a nappy head, I know that the sebum (remember that waxy, oily goodness?) has more difficulty travelling down a curly, kinky, or coily shaft, which results in hair that is more dry than its straighter counterpart. Too much shampooing, especially with products containing harsh chemicals, will further strip already dry hair. Not a good thing. About once a week with a gentle cleansing shampoo is enough… for me, anyway. The frequency varies depending on the condition of the hair, so listen to your hair’s needs and do you! And a clarifying or chelating shampoo once in a while will remove buildup that a regular shampoo might miss. I do that about once every three to four weeks, or when my hair feels tacky.

DO keep the hair moisturized and sealed

In between shampoos, wash as needed with conditioner (co-washing). This method replenishes moisture and removes product without stripping the hair. Similar to shampooing, the frequency varies from one person to another. Adopt a regimen that includes regular post-wash moisturizing of the cuticles, followed by sealing in of that moisture. Sound familiar? It’s kinda like what the sebaceous glands are trying (with a lot of difficulty) to do naturally, isn’t it? And while we’re at it, we might as well protect the ends of the hair, at least while sleeping.

Now I lay me down to sleep
I pray my hair my bonnet to keep (from rubbing on cotton and drying out)
If they should dry before I wake
Reapply moisture to my ends so they won’t break!

Even though this doesn’t explicitly improve retention, we might as well avoid breakage too.

DO be gentle with the hair

This one is particularly important to me. Back in the day, braiding my extensions too tightly and leaving them in too long wreaked havoc on my edges; they still show signs of trauma, even though I haven’t worn extensions in years! And I must confess… I’m (still) addicted to my brush! In the past, I haven’t been kind to my hair.

When detangling, hold the hair close to the end and gently loosen tangles with the fingers or a wide-tooth comb. For especially stubborn knots, spray the hair with water or apply oil to soften it. Never rip the comb from root to tip! In fact, avoiding combs or brushes altogether would be ideal.

Dry using a microfibre shammy or even an old tee shirt to blot; never rub. Both microfibre and jersey are quite absorbant but will not snag hair the way terry cloth can. Some people don’t even blot; they simply squeeze out the excess water with their hands and let the air do its magic!

Protective styling, when used appropriately, can go a long way. By rolling, twisting, or braiding once and keeping that style for a few days or even weeks, the hair is not in danger or being handled too much or too roughly. But be smarter about how long to keep it in than I was! And if braids or twists ain’t your thing, try wigs. There are endless choices in terms of colours and styles. Have fun with it!

A popular method that limits manipulation is the Curly Girl Method. There are numerous variations on the technique originated by salon owner, and fellow curly girl, Lorraine Massey. Hit up your friendly neighbourhood search engine to find out more.

DO NOT use heat or harsh chemicals

The sebaceous glands work so hard, so why counteract that by using products that suck moisture out? Things like mineral oil, petroleum, chlorine, and isopropyl alcohol are present in most drugstore and even salon products. Read labels and learn what each ingredient is for. When purchasing ready-to-use products, make informed decisions.

Excessive use of heat styling tools can also be damaging. Try using tension methods instead of using hair dryers, flat irons or pressing combs for stretching the hair. Yes, it’s true that you probably won’t get that bone straight, Asian look, but your hair will be much healthier in the long run.

DO monitor and distinguish shedding vs. breakage

Shed hair looks very different from broken hair. Here are the signs:

  • Broken hairs are short
  • Shed hairs are longer and still have the root attached
  • Broken hairs often have split ends (I’ve even seen weird loops in the middle of the hair – how odd!)
  • Shed hairs don’t fall out in large clumps – that could be breakage or even hair-loss

Shedding happens in the third phase of the hair’s growth cycle, when old hairs fall out, making room for new ones to take their place. There is a normal amount of shedding that occurs every day. On average, a person can expect to lose somewhere between 50 and 100 hairs per day.

So when you see hairs in the sink or caught in the teeth of your comb, don’t panic. Take a closer look. If you see breakage, go back to the top of this list and follow the advice!

What Dos/Don’ts can you add to this list? What advice would you give to a Natural Newbie about retention?

The Soul Glo Effect

Remember that scene from “Coming to America,” the one where Darryl’s family is seated on the McDowells’ couch?  And then they get up…

Soul Glo Aftermath
photo credit

Yeah… Sigh… I call this the “Soul Glo” effect…

I recently went on vacation to visit a couple of family members. Like any good little natural, I was very conscientious about packing travel-sized bottles and vials of my favorite hair potions and concoctions. And, of course, I brought along my satin bonnet for sleeping. Hand-claps for the girl whose regimen travels well!

So when I arrived at the first stop on my trip, I whipped out my trusty bonnet (which “stays on all night so you wake up right”). The next morning, I was mortified to find that the oil from my hair had stained the pillowcase and a corner of the sheet! GASP! Same thing happened at my second stop…

SMH… Yup. This was now officially a problem.

So what do you do when your soul is glowing all over the sheets and upholstery?

It’s After the Fact… Now What?

Once the damage has been done, the best thing to do is act quickly. As soon as you notice the stain, you should wash the bed linens before the oil has a chance to set into the fabric. It is recommended to apply a heavy-duty detergent or prewash treatment, let it sit on the linen for about 3 minutes, and then rub the spot vigorously before putting it into the washer. You should use bleach (or bleach for non-whites) too.

eHow has a very basic set of instructions for how to do this. Check out their post here.

It is also recommended to repeat the steps until the stain comes out. You don’t want to put the linen into the dryer before the stain has been removed. Otherwise, the heat will set the stain and you will never be able to get it out after that happens.

An Ounce of Prevention…

You can always take steps before the stain happens too.

In addition to covering your head with a bonnet, put a towel over the pillowcase. This way, your hair remains covered, and any oil that seeps through the bonnet will be sucked up by the towel.

Another possibility is to put a layer of plastic between your head and the bonnet.  You can put on a plastic shower cap, or even just use a plastic bag.  You can even wrap your head in cling wrap.

(Vee just suggested that you can also bring your own, stained-up, soul-glo’d pillowcase.  If you’re going to mess it up, it’s yours to mess up.  Good suggestion, Vee!)

Doing any of the above will prevent the necessity to presoak and treat unsightly and embarrassing stains while still allowing you to protect your hair overnight.  You could be all the things you always wanted to be… beautiful… sexy… easy as 1,2,3… Can you hear the 80’s sax music yet?

Oh, and a travel-sized bottle of stain remover never hurts… that, and a gift-wrapped set of sheets…


What is Hair Anyway?

With retention set as my immediate goal, I’m ready to start doing all the right things to keep as much hair as possible on my head and not in the drain of my sink and shower.  But what are the “right” things?  What are the “wrong” things, for that matter?  What does my hair need?

Before we figure that out, let’s ask Professor Google just what the heck hair is anyway…

Hair is basically made up of two (rather complex) components:

The Follicle

Hair Follicle
image credit

A sleeve of tissue covers the hair beneath the skin’s surface.   While it is protected by this sleeve and until it comes up above the surface, the hair is actually alive.  At the base of the follicle is the papilla. Capillaries carry blood and nutrients through the papilla to the hair’s root that help to produce new, healthy hair. Surrounding the follicle are the sebaceous glands. These glands secrete a waxy oil called sebum, which acts as a protective film on the skin’s surface and along the length of the hair, locking in moisture.  If the sebaceous glands become unbalanced as a result of undernourished roots, the glands can either overproduce or underproduce oil, causing permanent hair loss.  Seems that as women age, the sebum’s production diminishes. That’s why gray hair tends to be more brittle.

The Shaft

Hair Shaft
image credit

The shaft is the part of the hair that protrudes from the skin, made up mainly of a protein called keratin. It is the oldest part of the hair. It consists of three layers:

  • The innermost layer, called the medulla, is open and unstructured (whatever that means). I tried to find out what the purpose of the medulla was, but couldn’t find anything. If I had to guess, I would say that it might have something to do with thickness. I did read somewhere that the medulla is often absent from blonde or fine hair. Sounds like I might be right.
  • The middle layer is the cortex. The cortex is what determines the hair’s strength and porosity. This layer contains melanin, which is responsible for colour and texture.
  • The outer layer is the cuticle and is comprised of overlapping shingle-like cells. The cuticle’s job is to protect the two layers underneath. If the cuticle is open, its effectiveness as a protectant is reduced.

Each hair is a bundle of long polypeptide bonds, linked together in chains of carbon, oxygen, hydrogen, nitrogen and sulfur. These chains are bonded by salt, hydrogen and disulfide. Heat and excessive moisture can cause damage to the salt and hydrogen bonds – aka frizz. The breaking and reforming of disulfide bonds permanently alters the hair’s curl pattern – aka permanent wave/relaxer.  Damage to the hair can manifest itself in its anatomy (i.e., cuticle damage) or in its chemistry (i.e., heat damage).  Some damage is temporary, and some can be permanent.

So What’s the Upshot?

The name of the game is avoiding hair loss from the root.

I’ve already learned that the “live” portion of the hair exists beneath the skin’s surface, so it follows that the nutrients would need to be focused at the root and not so much on the shaft itself.  To maintain the capillary and sebaceous gland activity at a healthy level, I need to feed the hair as much as possible. There are tons of products out there, including shampoos, conditioners, and serums that claim to be uber-nourishing and ultra-super-duper good for hair.  However, it seems that little else is as good as the nutrients ingested from food.  As the saying goes, you are what you eat.  A healthy diet, including protein and water, will show in the hair’s condition… so I hear…

Ok ok… it’s list time… Here’s my To Do (or Not Do) List for improved retention:

  • DO eat a balanced diet
  • DO drink plenty of water
  • DO keep the scalp clean
  • DO keep the hair moisturized and sealed
  • DO be gentle with the hair
  • DO NOT overhandle or overmanipulate the hair
  • DO NOT use excessive heat
  • DO NOT use products containing harsh chemicals
  • DO monitor and distinguish shedding vs. breakage

What other important facts do I need to know about hair?  Anything else I should do, or not do?  What’s your retention advice?