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Could we be doing our cuticles harm under the guise of deep conditioning? What exactly is deep conditioning? After many years of researching natural hair care remedies, I would define deep conditioning as the process of attempting to penetrate and infuse the strands with conditioning agents. The purpose of deep conditioning is to fortify the strands; to repair and impart renewed strength to dry, brittle, breaking hair. Or perhaps for some, a preventative measure to ensure that “treating” dry, brittle, breaking hair is not placed on their to-do list!
A deep-treatment usually involves the application of heat, as a softer texture/feeling to the hair is a usual end-result. However, you may be causing more harm than good. That softer feeling may just be a result of the hair being in a weakened state. That weakened state, though soft to the touch, may be irreversible.
A closer look at the mechanics of the strand will reveal that some degree of heat is useful in a deep treatment. The oils and conditioners adhere to and/or are absorbed by the cuticle at a faster rate. Due to the slight lifting of the cuticle, smaller compounds are allowed to penetrate the strands. These are all beneficial to enhancing hair health and achieving overall growth. However, your method and length (in time) of heat application could render the benefits of your deep treatment null and void.
Some of the common methods of heat application may include:
Keep in mind, whatever method you use, the most important step of a deep treatment is to ensure the cuticle can be re-sealed.
Using dry heat ,via a hooded dryer or heating cap, is not the best option. A hair dryer’s purpose is to dry hair and it does just that even when being used for a deep treatment, regardless of a conditioning cap. Dry heat evaporates any water molecules bound to the strands. Dry heat also causes the components of conditioners to breakdown and get trapped in the opening of the cuticle. This effect also occurs when leaving conditioners in the hair for an extended period. Once the cuticle is raised the hair will have a dull effect. Raised cuticles expose the inner components of the strands. This can result in dry, brittle hair. Alas! the very thing you were trying to correct and/or avoid.
As far as oil treatments go, in the presence of dry heat, oils cause the temperature under your conditioning cap to increase beyond the temperature setting of your heat appliance. As a result, the hot oil heats any water within the strands. Although the cuticle might be lifted, the oils are unable to penetrate the strands because the heated water inside repels the oils. Sounds like a recipe for an explosion right? Well it’s a recipe alright, for tragic split ends!!
In order to achieve a successful deep treatment, the cuticle must swell to allow for the penetration of smaller compounds. This is achieved via an abundance of water, in the presence of oils and/or conditioners. Hair can absorb up to 30% of its own weight in water. Therefore, the best heat application method is that which imparts moist heat to the strands. Such as placing a warm, damp towel on your head.
When applying heat for deep treatments, be sure to use bearably warm water. The effects of moderate heat on the cuticle are reversible. Temperatures excessive of 60 C/140 F can wreck irreversible havoc on your hair via degradation of your cuticles! As for the length of application. Studies have shown that after a 10 minute application, there is no further absorption of conditioning agents. So in a nutshell less time, less heat when you deep treat. I guess the old saying is true, less is more!