Colours, curls & cuticular damage – the myth of the deep conditioning treatment (part 2)

Reading Time: 10 minutes

“Dear Preethi,

My hair stylist has told me that my hair is extremely rough and damaged. He is recommending I go in for a weekly “hair spa” treatment, or go in for a much more expensive deep conditioning cysteine treatment. He tells me that these are treatments that will repair my damaged hair.  I am not sure of either treatment as both seem to be full of synthetic chemicals. Please advise.”

I often come across the “hair spa” and deep conditioning miracle myth. Deep conditioning treatments are extremely popular in salons now, and they would be because of the high growth of certain sub segments like hair colours, hair straightening devices and hair straightening treatments and products.

This blog post continues where the last one left, on the lasting nature of the damage done to hair that is “beautified” or “treated” with synthetic hair treatments. Severely chemically treated hair becomes extremely porous because of multiple injuries to the hair cuticle. As the cuticle is damaged, the hair loses its shine and texture, becoming rough and lifeless and tangles easily.

When tested in water, this kind of hair will absorb water and sink to the bottom as its porosity allows water to invade the hair. In this state, hair is vulnerable to the many chemicals that are applied on it and will absorb all of them increasing damage.

Because of this porosity, the hair tends to get much more damaged with the application of synthetic shampoos, conditioners, gels, serums and other hair products.

The normal structure of hair:

Hair is mainly made up of a protein called keratin (the same compound your nails are made up of).  The keratin proteins contain a natural amino acid called cysteine which contains sulphur atoms. Each strand of hair is formed by a natural “bridge” where the sulphur atom of 1 cysteine particle is bonded to the sulphur atom of the next cysteine particle. This bond is called the “di sulphide bond” and it is this series of Di sulphide bonds throughout hair that give it its shape, strength , elasticity and texture.

hair strand

Healthy hair under 200X magnification – see the aligned cuticular structure which helps reflect light evenly

Keratin, because of the disulphide bonds, is extremely strong. A healthy hair strand does not break with twisting, pulling, rubbing or even applying a hammer force to hair. It is this very strength of the di sulphide bonds that stands in your way when you want to alter the texture of your hair.

Hydrogen bonds:

The hair also consists of numerous hydrogen bonds along the length of the fibre. These interchain bonds are responsible for the stability of the structure of keratin in the hair.

Hair ironing:

A temporary way of achieving straight hair is by breaking the di sulphide bonds in your hair by using heat. Flat irons use a temperature of 300 – 500 degrees Farenheit – when hair is passed through this temperature quickly while being held tight and straight, the disulphide bonds break. As the hair cools, the disulphide bonds are reformed at different positions in the keratin molecules, leaving the hair shape straight for sometime.

However, this change is not permanent. When ironed hair is exposed to moisture, it goes back to its original shape.

The Chemistry behind hair perming and straightening :

Chemical straightening and perming works by breaking the existing di sulphide bonds in your hair, bend the hair into the new desired shape, and then re-attach the broken bonds.

Strong alkaline solutions (pH of 13+) like Lye, Guanidine hydroxide and Ammonium thioglycolate are applied to hair. These chemical compounds break the disulphide bonds even more efficiently compared to heat. In fact these solutions are so efficient at breaking the hair bonds, that if hair is allowed to stay a little longer, it will dissolve its structure permanently and cause it to break and fall off.

Once the alkaline breaking solution is applied, the hair can now be re-shaped. If you want curly hair, at this stage, curlers will be put on hair, and if you want straight hair, the hair will be pressed between a flat irons. Once the hair has been re-shaped,  an acidic solution like sodium peroxide or hair bleach is then applied to it. The acid neutralizes the alkali, stopping the disodium bond breakage. After this, the solutions are washed off, allowing the disodium bonds to reform, now in slightly altered positions to conform to the new shape of the hair strands.

perming blog image 3 (1)

The alkaline solutions are so harsh, that the hair texture altering process usually starts with a cream treatment to protect it from the damaging effects of the chemicals that will be applied at a later stage.

Hair smoothening treatments  now in vogue:

I am alarmed at the proliferation of unscientific and adulatory reports on hair smoothening and rebonding treatments in popular blogs and the media lately. Appallingly , hair smoothening and re-bonding services are now being repackaged as “damage repair” and treatment services by untrained stylists and unscrupulous brands.

Many popular bloggers have embraced the lure of re-bonding treatments and have gone as far to endorse the untrained view of hair stylists that traditional products like hair oils are a waste of time – instead, apparently, all of us should be opting for chemical re-bonding services like a keratin treatment or a cysteine treatment to make our hair look good !

The Brazilian Keratin treatment / Brazilian Blowout / Keratin straightening treatment:

Brazilian stylists started this process in 2003 as an attempt to semi permanently straighten hair. A lotion containing formaldehyde (1.5 % – 5%) as the active ingredient along with silicones, mild amounts of keratin protein and other additives is first applied to hair. Formaldehyde breaks the disulphide bonds in hair and has been traditionally used in the wool and textile industry for similar reasons (to alter fibre texture or to finish fibre). After formaldehyde application, the hair is then progressively blowdried at a very high heat of about 450 deg F (at which paper burns) and then flat ironed. After the chemical treatment, heat treatment and ironing, the hair’s texture is semi permanently straightened, and the solution is then neutralized with hydrogen peroxide and then washed out of the hair.


A before and after picture of hair after a chemical straightening treatment – see the unnatural transformation that has been achieved

As formaldehyde is such a harsh and strong chemical (it is commonly used to embalm bodies and cadavers) with such aggressive effects, the silicones and keratin that is added along with it fill the broken gaps in the hair’s cuticular structure, giving the illusion of gloss, shine and smoothness. The high temperature and hair ironing, cement the silicones and keratin on the hair’s surface forming an artificial coating on hair. It is this coating which gives the illusion of gloss strength, and health to hair that has been damaged in this “treatment”.

Special problems with the Brazilian keratin treatment:

Many countries do not allow a formaldehyde level of more than 0.2% in skin and hair care products. The exposure to such high formaldehyde levels in the Brazilian keratin treatment can cause dermatitis, contact irritation. The formaldehyde fumes released during the process irritate the eyes, respiratory tract and can trigger cluster headaches, grogginess and dry mouth. And Formaldehyde is a known carcinogen.

Cysteine hair “smoothening” treatment:

A global report on hair trends tells me that the “hottest thing” in Indian hair trends this year is the Cysteine treatment.  A quick online search threw up dozens of beauty brands and salons offering their own version of this treatment.

Funnily, the cysteine treatment is marketed as a “natural”, “safe” and “organic” replacement to the Brazilian keratin treatment which itself was marketed a few year back as the best thing to happen to hair.

I spoke about the strength of hair earlier – and how a hammer force cannot break the di sulphide bonds of hair. It therefore stands to reason, that any treatment that alters texture of such strong hair, MUST contain a series of chemicals or use high temperatures to get hair to change.

Here’s a snip from the marketing piece from a salon that advertises its cysteine “treatment”: I’ve highlighted some of its more incredulous claims, although most of it reads like the description of a unicorn sighting.

“The Cysteine hair treatment is not keratin based. Instead it uses an essential amino acid cysteine and works more like an intensive deep conditioning and smoothening treatment for your hair. This hair therapy uses natural ingredients such as hydrolyzed wheat protein, cocoa butter and Dendrobium Orchid. It also absorbs and removes free radicals.

Its sulfite/urea complex coupled with heat restructures the proteins. They work on the disulfide bonds of the hair and bring about a straightening effect by gently relaxing the hair fibers. Under heat, the cysteine cross-links with hair fibers and thereby creates a protective shield around the hair surface. There is only a temporary change in the hair fibers.
The hydrolyzed wheat protein goes to replenish lost proteins in the hair. The lost moisture is restored by the shea butter as it is also a powerful antioxidant. Dendrobium Orchid prevents the hair from getting oxidized and allows the treatment to last longer.”

One might be excused for thinking that the cysteine treatment being talked about above sounds like eating fortified vitamins and minerals.

Due to the health hazards presented by the use of formaldehyde, and glutaraldehyde in hair straightening treatments, in 2011, carbocysteine (S-carboxymethyl-1cysteine) was developed. This is now being rebranded as the “natural”, “safe” cysteine treatment.

However, there is nothing natural about carbocysteine.  Carbocysteine is a manufactured chemical compound. It is not the same as cysteine, the amino acid that is a natural part of your hair. By shortening S-carboxymethyl-1-cysteine to “Cysteine” a company is attempting to defraud you into believing that they are putting the same amino acid that is naturally found in your hair into this chemical treatment.

Carbocysteine works in a similar fashion as regular hair straighters do. This compound alters hair pH and breaks the disulphide bonds. High heat is then used to iron the hair and pull it into the desired shape. Glycoxylic acid is then applied to neutralize carbocysteine and then rinsed off to leave the hair in a new shape.

This treatment is now re-branded and sold as a “deep hydration”, “shielding”, “deep conditioning” and “deep repair” treatment, when in fact it should be logically called a “deep damaging system”.


Permanent weakening of hair fibre – chemical smoothening and altering treatments

During the chemical reaction to alter hair texture, all chemical straightening treatments convert 35% of the natural cysteine amino acid in hair to lanthionine, along with minor hydrolysis of the hair’s peptide bonds. Lanthionine contains one sulphur atom less than the cysteine molecule – the loss of this one sulphur atom per lanthionine molecule weakens the hair fibres permanently.


Weakened chemically damaged hair – observe the frizz, dullness, and uneven light reflection

The other main damage that occurs is the removal of the monomolecular layer of fatty acids that is bound naturally to your hair cuticle. This fatty acid layer is a water repelling layer. It stops water from penetrating your hair shaft, making your hair swell unnaturally and helps retain elasticity and shape of hair.

When this layer is removed by chemical straightening and smoothening treatments, your hair  becomes dull, frizzier and is more susceptible to static electricity.


The myth of the synthetic “Hair Spa” :

Even if you are able to escape the lure of the Brazilian blowout, or the Cysteine treatment, a synthetic hairspa treatment / product might still ensnare you. Synthetic hair spa products are extremely popular on many beauty related ecommerce sites.  A salon would usually package it as a relaxing, deep conditioning treatment that would “nourish” and “repair” damaged hair.

After many queries on the ingredients that go into these products, we decided to research these formulations. And here’s what our study threw up.

What makes a hair spa product give you the effect of smooth hair:

  1. Ceataryl Alcohol
  2. A synthetic silicone like Dimethicone or Amodimethicone
  3. Cetyl Esters

Ceataryl Alcohol and Cetyl alcohol are thickeners and emulsifiers found in many thick cream based products sold for the skin and hair. Both are usually derivatives of petroleum, although they can be extracted from vegetable sources – however this extraction is not common as petroleum derivatives are much cheaper.  Apart from thickening the product, ceataryly alcohol and cetyl alcohol add an “emollient feel” to skin and hair when applied.

Silicones are the main ingredient in synthetic conditioners, detangling sprays and leave on hair serums. They form a waxy coating on hair strands and fill in the gaps in the damaged cuticle. As a result, hair looks healthy and glossy temporarily. I stress the word temporarily as consistent use of silicone based products masks underlying hair damage. So if your hair “needs” a conditioner, then it is probably extremely fragile or severely damaged already.

Cetyl Esters are a synthetic wax. The main reason it is used in synthetic skin moisturizers, skin cleansing products , makeup, hair colours and hair conditioners is to thicken synthetic creams and butters. It also gives what the cosmetics industry terms as a “cushiony glide” in products during application – so you feel you are applying something very luxurious and expensive. Just like ceataryl and cetyly alcohol, cetyl esters increases the “feeling of moisturization”.

A hair spa product therefore is simply a concentrated synthetic hair conditioner with better fragrance and a thicker format because of the uses of synthetic waxes. By their very nature, these ingredients cannot “nourish” or “repair” hair – they can only give you the illusion of health and mask damage.


The real key to damaged hair

I cannot emphasise this enough – a synthetic product cannot restore or repair damage. As I have explained earlier, the structure of hair is both a complex and beautifully thought out design. The design exists to both protect precious areas of the body like the scalp and reproductive organs and provide aesthetic appeal.

By continuously assaulting our hair with extremely harsh chemicals , we are subjecting our entire system to chemical damage. Adding on another chemical treatment simply masks the damage. In addition, it subjects weak hair to another barrage of toxic chemicals.

As always, there are no shortcuts to good health and real beauty. Good food, real rest, toxin removal , improved circulation in the body and the access to hair restoring and health giving herbs and cold pressed, toxin free vegetable oils helps restore life back to hair.


The Krya Hair Damage Repair system:

The Krya Hair Damage Repair System consists of an Oil, a Hair Wash and a Hair Mask for chemically damaged hair, of which the Hair Oil has now been pre-launched.

Severely chemically treated hair becomes extremely porous because of multiple injuries to the hair cuticle. Chemically damaged hair also contains a layer of toxins on the scalp as this kind of hair is regularly coated with synthetic conditioners and treatments to artificially smoothen it and “condition” it externally.

Because of the permanent nature of the damage wrought by chemical treatments, we have to ensure that the existing hair is conditioned and boosted with moisture so that it is more manageable and new growth is stimulated with better nourishment being given to new hair growth to ensure the hair is stronger. The regenerative capacity of hair of course depends upon the body’s state of health and the food being eaten.

Our Hair oil for severely damaged hair uses a whole host of powerful herbs. Some of them like Liquorice and Bhringaraj (Eclipta alba) work on the cuticular structure and provide moisture and nourishment to smoothen and condition hair. Others like parsley , marigold and thyme contain anti oxidants that stimulate collagen production to promote the growth of stronger hair. Flaxseed’s fatty acids and anti oxidants remove dead cells and toxins from the scalp, and lemongrass balances sebum production ensuring the scalp produces the right amount of oil for the hair.

Explore and pre-order here .



Hair hara-kiri – throw away that shampoo Part 1

Reading Time: 6 minutes

My biggest hair problem as a teenager was hair that wouldn’t dry fast. I had waist length hair back then which was as thick as my palm. My hair literally took hours to dry, and before I started using shampoo, I would sometimes have to comb out clumps of shikakai from my home made hair wash after it dried.

Yup, pretty much a case of my diamond shoes being too tight.

Of course, I grew up. Started to use synthetic shampoos, and then of course, all hell broke loose. Because just a few years later, my biggest hair problem, was that my hair, simply would not grow.

Instead, I grappled with hair that broke easily, was thinning everywhere, and just didn’t grow as fast as it used to. So to keep the focus off my non growing hair, I kept cutting it shorter, until at one point, I sported a pageboy cut.

The reasons for my hair’s state are now quite apparent – I committed every single one of those 5 hair mistakes we wrote about last time on the Blog. If there was a treatment or a new hair product out, you could be sure I was right there, asking for it.

But today I want to focus on the single hair mistake almost all of us are committing – and this one is a hara kiri (a hair-a-kiri?) – using a synthetic shampoo.

A dated report I’m reading tells me that the world spends close to 60 billion dollars every year buying shampoo. Yes, you read that right. We are as a race, spending collectively the equivalent of the GDP of Zambia,or Slovenia, on just Shampoo!

The modern shampoo was “invented” in the 1920s. Of course, this news was not as exciting for people in general because all of us had been washing our hair with herbs, clays and water for time immemorial. Shampoos therefore cleverly position themselves as modern, scientific products that provided a great experience and gave us what we did not have with herbs – Lots & Lots & Lots of Copious lather.

Today’s shampoo formulation has evolved, dangerously from its 1920s version. Besides being actually harmful for your hair, a shampoo today contains ingredients that are extreme irritants, environmental toxins and are even carcinogenic.

 What’s in that foaming, coloured, scented mess?

1. Detergent

The most important ingredient in a shampoo is the part that cleans. And this comes ingredients like SLS, SLES or even ALS (Ammonium lauryl sulphate) and its ethoxylated cousin ALES (ammonium Laureth sulphate).

We are extremely concerned about the all pervasive and toxic nature of SLS and SLES – you will find SLS / SLES in almost everything that foams and is a cleanser of some sort from your laundry detergent to your baby wash and of course your shampoo. We actually spent a whole post talking about the dangers of SLS and SLES .

Sulphates were initially used as cheap detergents – typically in car washes and mechanic workshops to easily cut through axle grease. They are today widely used to lift off grease from hair and to clean your body, face and even your clothes.

We have 3 major concerns over the almost obsessive use of SLS and SLES by the consumer product industry:

Sebum stripping ability

The first is that both these Lauryl Sulfates  are almost too effective at stripping hair (and skin)  of its protective layer of oil – the result, all the vital and necessary sebum in your hair which protects the cuticles and its integrity is stripped out, leaving it dull and lifeless.

Irritant nature

The Journal of the American college of Toxicology notes that concentrations of SLS that are as low as 0.5% (and upto 10%) cause slight to moderate skin irritation, while 10% – 30% routinely causes skin corrosion and severe irritation. Ironically, in lab testing of skin care products like healing creams or lotions, skin is first irritated using SLS before it can be healed with the test product! SLS also causes severe eye irritation which is a point of note if you want to use it in a shampoo that is definitely going to reach your eyes.

Role in cell destruction and premature aging

This should get your interest right now. SLS is described as a protein de-naturing compound. So with consistent use, it will break down the protein matrix of your hair, effectively stopping hair regeneration and impeding its health.On skin, SLS will disrupt the protein structures in it and could hasten skin aging.

2. Silicones

Silicones like dimethicone or PEG-12 dimethicone are often described as “conditioning agents”. Silicones are an interesting addition to shampoos. They were added precisely because of the detergents in shampoos – because the detergents are harsh , strip sebum and break your cuticular scales, the silicones are added to coat hair.

Silicones are laboratory made chemicals which are made from combinations of silicon, carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. They are flexible and plastic like with a rubbery feel and are used in adhesives, sealants, lubricants, cooking utensils, insulation AND personal care products.

It is important to note here that silicone should be accurately described as a “coating agent” and not a “conditioning agent”. So a silicon cannot “penetrate” or “deep condition” your hair. But what it can do is form a layer on top of your hair, hiding the damage caused by the detergent in the shampoo – and this coating is precisely why it takes so long for you to find out that your hair is damaged (hint: its because your shampoo is doing a darn good cover up job after damaging your hair).

Silicones are found both in hair care products and skin care products. It is the primary ingredient in hair conditioners and is also used in make up products like foundations and primers, because it does the same job of coating over the damage on your skin and helps the rest of the product glide smoother.

Because silicone covers the damaged cuticular scales of your hair, it produces a kind of gloss/ shine – which deceives you into thinking your hair is healthier than it is.

And because it coats your hair, it also decreases the ability of natural oils to penetrate your hair or skin – so if you are regularly using a conditioning shampoo or a conditioner, and trying to oil and restore your hair to health, then chances are that your oiling is not going to be very effective.

If you apply a silicone containing product on your skin, you can have similar bad results – because the silicone coats your skin, it prevents healthy skin functions like sweating, and sloughing off dead cells. You are also probably keeping in dirt, dead cells and bacteria much longer leaving them to linger on your skin. This is probably why people with sensitive or acne prone skin suffer greater breakouts when using silicone containing products (which is almost all synthetic skincare products).

We are still not sure about the toxicity of commonly used silicones like dimethicone. Environment Canada have put this ingredient on their toxics watchlist – what we do know is that in the very least it could be a persistent (lingers on for a very long time), bio-accumulative (stays and builds up within the bodies of fishes and organisms that eat it) environmental toxin.

Here are some possible silicone agents you could find in your shampoo / conditioner: Methicone, Phenyl trimethicone, Dimethicone, Cyclomethicone, Dimethiconol, Dimethicone copolyol.


blog post graphic sept 4

This isn’t over – far from it. Look out for our next post on Monday for more straight dope on what goes into your synthetic shampoo.

A happy hair month to you!

This article is a part of Krya’s series on healthy and happy hair, which we are writing all this September. Through the Krya healthy hair series, we hope to inform, educate and inspire you to restore your hair to its natural state of great health. Synthetic shampoos and hair products contain a huge host of suspect industrial chemicals that are not just toxic for us to use, but are polluting and toxic to the planet as well. The natural world is full of safe, environmentally sustainable, cruelty free options to care for your hair, and our series will try to present atleast a small part of this exciting world to you. 

 Consumers love our all natural, synthetic free, gentle hair washes- explore more here.

If you would like to explore our series further, here’s what We’ve written about hair health before this piece:

  1. What’s the deal with SLS and SLES – and why it shouldn’t come anywhere near you or your hair
  2. What is your hair supposed to be? A trial? A challenge? Or simply, your best friend
  3. Is beauty external? We think not
  4. What should you be looking for on that product label?  
  5. What are the 5 beauty mistakes you are probably committing right now on your hair