Why Your Hair Acts Differently When Wet

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Published: 20th September 2012
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When your hair gets wet, your tighter curls might seem to relax and your hair seems longer. Hair that is set when wet takes and holds its set much better than the same hair that is set when dry. Your hair is also more vulnerable at this time. What does water do to your hair to make it change, and why is it that water can undo the very style that it helped set? Let me explain

Wet Hair
I used to find it so frustrating when I was younger and wore my hair texturized. I believed it looked so much better when it was wet because my curls were defined then. It looked longer, it hung with a nice weight, it swung around when I moved my head, and the curls seemed like they were taking it easy instead of being their usual lenched selves (at that time I wished for looser curls). I spent many years trying to figure out a way to get my hair to act like it was wet when it was dry. Perhaps this was the big appeal of the unfortunate Jheri curl. All that oil made hair seem permanently wet—which in a way it was, but with oil. I’ve since discovered that using a conditioner as described later in this book actually makes dry hair act more like it does when it’s wet. The great part about it is that your hair will look dry, but, unlike with the Jheri curl, it’s touchable.

When your hair gets wet, water molecules break the hydrogen bonds in your hair by inserting themselves between the bonds. With water inserted between the hydrogen bonds, hair loosens and extends. Your hair is weaker when wet because the hydrogen bonds that reinforced it have been broken. With less reinforcement in the hair fiber, your hair needs to be handled even more carefully when wet. Your hair can absorb 30 percent of its weight in water, so it’s now heavier as well.

With the additional water weight added to it and with the hydrogen bonds temporarily broken, curly wet hair hangs longer and has looser curls than when dry. When you wet-set your hair, your hair is held in this extended position while it dries and the hydrogen bonds return. The hydrogen bonds reform with your hair in the new, stretched-out position. The re-formed hydrogen atoms will hold in their new extended positions until water is introduced again, either in the shower, in the rain, or in high humidity. The hydrogen atoms will then break apart again, and when they break apart, they’ll settle back either to their default positions of your natural curl pattern (determined by the disulfide bonds) or into the positions determined by a new set. In this way, hydrogen atoms behave much like a swarm of flies. They can be shooed away by water but will return and land on whatever attractive surfaces they can find.

Even small amounts of water can create a big change in the appearance of your hair. Humid air can make your curls lose definition and expand as if they were filled with helium. How does humid air tighten up your curls without a drop of water touching them?

Humidity and You
Humidity brings out the cloudlike qualities of our hair. Although humidity affects many people’s hair enough to give them “fly-aways” or make their ends fluffier, humidity can make our hair expand to the point that it might take up an entire doorway. Our curls seem to explode apart, in slow motion, enough to startle passersby. Many times we may want to play up our hair’s spectacular expansive nature, but at other times you may want to simply get through the day with predictable hair. If this is the case, it’s good to understand what humidity does with your hair.

You might be able to shield your hair from rain, but humidity is present everywhere that air is present. When it’s extremely humid, there is a high percentage of water in the air, which means there is a reservoir of hydrogen available. If your hair has been flattened or set while wet, hydrogen atoms were removed and re-formed in new positions as the hair dried. When hydrogen atoms are absorbed back into your hair from the humidity, they return to all of the old positions they’d been removed from when your hair was set. As the hydrogen atoms return, they reinforce and tighten each twist and curl. As strands of hair take in hydrogen, the curls draw up at slightly different rates or in varying amounts. Sometimes hair that’s closer to the outside is exposed to the humidity before hair near our scalp is. As the hairs spread apart, your curls no longer lie perfectly in sync with one another. Now, with each strand’s natural curl returning, it’s happily doing its own thing. With each strand behaving independently, your entire head of hair blows up.

Note: Feel free to republish this article on your own blog or website but please copy paste the below ‘Author Credits’ and include it at the bottom of your post or page. Thank you.
Skin Specialist Botox Doctor Andheri Malad JuhuDr. Sunita Banerji received her MBBS degree from The Armed Forces Medical College, Pune, one of India’s leading Medical Institutes and received her DGO credentials in Obstetrics and Gynecology in 1982. She started her successful Aesthetic Medicine practice in Lokhandwala, in 1989 after undergoing extensive training in London. She was far ahead of her time in starting this type of practice in India. Eternesse –  the Best Nutritionist Skin and Fat Specialist Mumbai - her brainchild helps treat major medical problems related to lifestyle, aging and cosmetic treatments and surgery.

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