For as long as I can remember, I’ve had this stubborn under-layer of my hair that’s permanently frizzy and damaged and shorter than the rest of my hair. I have curly hair, but the rest of it is pretty manageable, it's just the underneath layer. What can I do to smooth it?
Despite what shampoo ads (and bottles, for that matter) might tell you, the hair on your head is not all uniform. You'll have, say, predominantly straight/curly/kinky/wavy hair but within that, there are always a few strands that won’t play ball. "If you take any random six hairs from somebody’s head, not all of them will look the same; some might be coarser than others, or straighter," explained trichologist Anabel Kingsley. It’s more common for these discrepancies to be dispersed throughout your hair more or less evenly, but it’s not unheard of to have an unruly chunk. "I’ve definitely had clients who have a random section of hair that’s a different texture," confirmed Scott Ade, stylist at Larry King.
Before we can move on to treatment, it’s time to examine the causes. Both Anabel and Scott said it was possible you’re one of the unlucky few who have mish-mash textures genetically, but there are possible nurture, rather than natural, causes. For example – do you wear your hair up a lot? "If you love tight ponytails, and you’re using a hair elastic to secure it, you could be suffering from traction alopecia", suggested Scott. Obviously, all kinds of hairstyling can lead to damage, but super tight ponytails, high up on the head, secured with elastic can pull at the hairs on the nape of the neck, making them break and leaving them coarse.
Then there’s the positioning of it to think about. The back of your neck and your back itself will sweat when you get hot, and this stickiness and humidity can only lead to frizz. When I’ve had keratin treatments in the past (more on that in a sec), I’ve requested that they only apply it to those little baby hairs around my neck, as that’s where I get the most puffiness. "Your hair has two kinds of bonds: disulfide and hydrogen," explained Anabel. "Disulfide bonds can only be broken by chemical treatments, but hydrogen bonds are broken by water, hence when there’s water in the air, through humidity or sweat, it breaks down those hydrogen bonds, and returns your hair to a puffier state."
It could also be a question of haphazard styling or absentminded fiddling. "Lots of women twiddle their hair as a nervous tic, and it is usually those longer, underneath layers that end up between your fingertips," warned Anabel. The other consideration is that the very nature of an underneath layer makes it harder to style, meaning the cumulative effects of slapdash brushing could be making the issue worse. "If you’re brushing too hard or roughly, it leads to cuticle damage, which makes the hair much more prone to frizz," added Anabel.
Now that’s out of the way, if you did simply pull the genetic short straw, help is at hand. Firstly, the aforementioned keratin blow-dry. Over to Scott: "A keratin treatment is a really great way to help manage hair. It’ll replenish your hair’s keratin levels, making it much more manageable, and healthier in the long run. If it’s just the underneath layer that’s a problem, I’d only apply to that section – no need to smooth the whole head, and besides, you might want to keep a bit of volume up top."
I swear by a hairline and nape of the neck keratin blow-dry in the summer to keep puffiness at bay, but this is something that could work for you year-round, as it lasts about three months. If you’re not ready to take the plunge yet, Scott suggested another, less long-lasting treatment. "Redken Heatcure would last around 10 washes. It involves using a special beeswax-based nourishing treatment and helps repair the surface damage on your hair."
As for home styling, Scott suggested Redken One United, £12.75, saying that he uses it on "practically all" of his clients, and noted the repairing benefits and lightweight texture. Anabel suggested a smoothing serum through the bottom layers of your hair to help counteract the effects of the humidity, and my personal recommendation is Color Wow Dream Coat, £24, which makes such bold claims that I was ready to be disappointed, but I loved it. You apply to damp hair and blow-dry it in; it lasts about three washes and gives you the most effective protection against humidity I’ve seen in a while. It uses a special polymer blend to essentially ‘waterproof’ the hair, without weighing it down – but it does have to be heat-activated, so not good if you like to air-dry.
Whatever you choose Sarah, bear in mind Anabel’s closing words: "Be mindful of the fact that colour and heat damage only serves to reduce the elasticity of the hair, which will make things worse. You’ll then have to put more heat on in order to flatten it down, and get into quite the vicious cycle."
However you got in this position, there’s a way out. If I were you, a spot-treated keratin blow-dry would be my first port of call, and investing in a handful of kind-to-hair Invisibobbles. Good luck!
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