Sunday, 30 June 2013

Tiny Wisps of Hair: Is Kinky Hair Weak?

Flashback Sunday: This article was originally posted on 03/06/2011

Earlier this week, I showed the difference between a kink and a curl (If you missed it see here). This was the beginning of an explanation for reader Ehizele who wanted to know why some hair breaks much more easily.

Kinky Hair = High Breakage Potential

Essentially, the more kinks you have in your hair, the more spots you have where hair can break. As a demonstration, I ran my hands down my hair (which is braided up - no extensions) and came up with tiny wisps of hair. I have never ever failed to see a few wisps because my hair is very kinky.

Yep the tiny hair at the bottom is just some of my superfine hair!
Where do these tiny wisps come from?

Kinks as explained in the previous post are areas where the hair fibre has twisted around itself. This torsion results in an area of weakness or as it is called in science, 'a flaw'.



But..isn't hair quite strong?

Yes hair is quite strong and I have illustrated it in the how strong is your hair post (here) as well as the general tests which show that African hair is just as strong as Asian or Caucasian hair (Experimental Dermatology, Volume 14, Issue 4, pages 311–314, 2005.

However taking a full strand and showing it is strong is not an accurate way to measure what happens when you comb or brush hair. 

What happens when you comb or brush hair then?

The action of combing or brushing does not necessarily involve a lot of strength but it does involve impact (i.e pushing the tool through the hair) and repetitive motion (i.e it is unlikely that one stroke will do the job, you may need to go through 4-5 times to get the hair detangled).

Ok........so what?

The reason why hair breaks when combing is related to how well it can resist repeated force, not necessarily high force  (J Cosmet Sci,  pp 599-616, 2009). Kinky hair is just less able to resist small repeated force and this is why it breaks during handling.

So kinky hair cannot gain length?

No, this is not true. Kinky hair can gain length, it is just necessary to treat it very gently to avoid breaking it off.

On a side note: Please note that this is a personal opinion - I think that the kinkier the hair, the more you need to have regular trims - i.e quarter to half an inch off every 4 months or so. The normal hair breakage (those tiny wisps) can give you split ends and make your hair growth appear to stagnate when in truth it is the split ends that are preventing your true length from appearing.

23 comments:

  1. I don't even own a comb or brush for my own hair. Once I made the decision to work with fingers only and figured out gentle ways to detangle, I stopped suffering so much breakage and started retaining significant length. It's funny to look back on it because what seemed so counter-intuitive at the time, to stop raking through my hair, now seems like brutality towards my hair. I do not have straight, oily hair and needed to stop treating it like I did. No wonder it broke off!

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  2. Carol- that was the story of my life!! I really did not get it for so many years!! I thought that 'Of course I have to comb my hair!' I persisted with all types of experiments from wide tooth combs to seamless combs to brushes to bone combs. I did recognize that the more wisps I saw the worse it was for my hair but I really didn't get it because I thought perhaps if I deep conditioned with a better product or perhaps if I used heat with the deep condition or perhaps if I tried 45 minutes instead of 30. I really did think for the longest time that a product could solve the breakage issue and boy did I buy a bunch of conditioners. None of them solved the issue!

    Finally two years ago, I decided to be 'radical' and try finger combing only. It was the best decision ever!

    I tried that evil tangle teezer and it rightfully punished me.

    I finally got it - my hair is kinky, it cannot withstand pulling and tugging. My hair is finally at peace.

    ** As a subtext, if your texture is not particularly kinky, combs and brushes will work wonderfully for you. Remember 'kinky' is not a hair type - You can be type 1 with straight kinky hair or you can be type 4 with curly but not kinky hair.

    If you do never ever get these tiny little wisps, you have a great method working for you - stick with it!!**

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  3. @ Jc - thanks for this post, we kinky haired girls still need reminders about what our hair can and cannot stand! I know I have the small wisps, and I also see split ends often too...

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  4. Jc- your posts are always so timely. Yesterday I spent a whole hour and half detangling my hair with my finger and a wide tooth comb only to realize that part of the reason I had so much trouble was because my end needed trimming. So I self-trimmed and my hair feels much better.

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  5. after reading this post, and many posts like this about kinkier hair and the need to trim more often, I made an appointment with a hair dresser. I haven't trimmed my hair since my bc on dec 21 2010...yeah..well I self trimmed but it didn't do anything at all. So that's why I am going to a natural hair stylist.

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  6. I think the most valuable part of this post was your opinion on getting trims. i have avoided getting trims for longer than I care to admit (i have no memory of getting a trim, my mom might have snuck one in when she did my hair for prom, three years ago) but this seems like the first valid reason for me to get a trim. I have 4a hair and have been seeing a lot of splits lately. Question, is it possible to have 4a hair that is curly but not kinky? because I don't really see torsion in my hair, although I fully understand that it could be there, but I'm just wondering if that is a possibility.

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  7. Thanks all for the lovely comments!

    LovintheBlessin - Yep it is possible to be 4a curly. Kinks are really easy to spot so if you do not see them, it means you do not have them :)

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  8. I have 4a/b, and I've got kinks here and there as well. I've never seen hair wisps (maybe I don't have superfine hair) or much breakage from combing and finger combing. If I'm too rough it will break, but I've learned to be more patient. I haven't gotten any trims since I BC my hair. My hair is about 5 inches now so this may be a different story when it grows longer.

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  9. Great post! I decided to stop combing this past February because I noticed a lot of damaged strands and I thought that the comb may have been the cause since I use natural products and avoid heat. I also did a good trim at that time and so far, my hair is looking better. I never thought I would finger-detangle because it takes so long, but I realize my hair type requires me to be extremely gentle if I want to retain length.

    http://loveme-naturally.blogspot.com/

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  10. Yes, i have noticed this tiny wisps of hair as well. Very frustrating as i believe am very gentle with my hair. Been stressing a lot as i do try my best to condition etc. Also very tiny coils of hair - a single circle which if you stretch is 7 inches!I think having read this blog i should try to finger detangle when i can instead of using the comb.
    JC, (other readers please chip in as well), do you find that your hair coils only at the ends - heavily. When my hair is wet - still short to wash in sections - it has this very samll cirles at the tips which cause serious tangling.
    Other question -is your hair density the same all over your head. My hair seems to be less dense in my crown area and i suffer more breakage in this area? Texture is also different.

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  11. This post couldnt have come at a better time!! I thought I was doing something wrong but now I realise its quite normal. I was noticing the wisps and starting to get worried as I take very good care of my hair but I realised that by combing to detangle every day was the culprit.
    (I like to keep my hair detangled during the week as i lose less hair then if I wait till wash day)
    So as of last Friday decided to only use combs on wash days to detangle ONLY when its saturated with my leave in condish. Thanks JC, brilliant as always :-)

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  12. @ C: DOesn't curly also have the same / similar weak points because they also have a bend in it?

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  13. Lela you need to look at the previous post (where the difference between curly and kinky is explained).

    I am not talking about bends due to a simple curl, I am talking about torsion. There is a big difference between the two.

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  14. I read the previous posts, but I thought it was the bend and the torsion that caused the problem - so doesn't the bend affect curly hair as well?

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  15. Lela - Curly hair is generally more able to break during handling especially when hair is fine or has a very small curl.

    However if you have two strands of hair of the same thickness and one is curly and the other is kinky curly, the kinky curly strand has torsion twists in it which make it more liable to break compared to the curly strand.

    I guess I am saying be gentle to your hair especially if it is curly but even more so if it has kinks.

    Straight hair can be kinky too and it also has a tendency to break.

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  16. So these tiny little wisps are normal? I see them every now and then when I detangle and I would always get worried.

    @ beatrice
    my hair coils mostly at the ends as well (one of the main reasons I stop combing)

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  17. Beatrice my hair is coily all over not just the ends. The ends tend to form little tiny spirals (but not really orderly. My hair is very thick in the centre (still fine strands but a lot of hair). The perimeter is not that thick.

    Anon - For me, these wisps are normal. There is no way to eliminate them. Some people see a decrease or elimation of wisps by trimming their hair or by improving their methods and techniques (deep conditioning, moisurising etc)

    I have never seen an improvement except by going to exclusive finger combing. I still however get wisps no matter what.

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    Replies
    1. hi JC, since breakage is inevitable, do you think one can eliminate the wisps even with proper haircare practices? from my understanding, hair on ends are very old hair which WILL break off eventually due to reduced cuticle layers. The rate at which they break off can be controlled and managed with improved haircare practices, but I don't see how you can eliminate this natural occurrence from happening. Please feel free to prove me wrong.

      themanecaptain.blogspot.ca

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  18. Thanks JC and others for your replies.
    We worry about many things not knowing what is normal/not normal. The support is very much appreciated.

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  19. I have been experiencing wisp! didn't know they were called that, and some very small broken pieces after detangling, and I had no idea how to stop this from happening, because I would finger detangle until I couldn't anymore, and then follow with a detangling shower comb or denman because it seemed my fingers alone was not getting all the tangles and shead hair out. My hair of course was wet with tons oils and of conditioner...but even with, I'd still see some small broken pieces.. I'll be natural 2 years on this month and I"m so glad that I decided to research this, and found a "Dry" detangling finger combing method that I will be using from here on out. I didn't think it was normal to here crackling noises while detangling but honestly no matter how gentle and patient I am, in my 4a/4b areas I hear it, and being super gentle wouldn't get the tangles out. But I think this dry detangle w/oils and my fingers should do the trick. I don't see split ends often though, maybe 1 or 2 a month? So maybe my short broken peices are peices of my ends? I do tend to get very small single strand knots, close to the ends of my hair.

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  20. this is such a great explanation of kinky hair! i knew I'd seen it before! Glad to see it again. But since I first saw it, I had a small revelation about my kinky texture: that some of my kinks weren't "natural" I had caused them by constantly relying on braiding, sretching, and mini-twist. The constant manipulation furtherr twisted my strands adding to the torsion (? am i using that term right?) cause more kinks or existing kinks to bend further. Even when I completely eliminated heat, I was still wondering why my hair was still breaking off? Now I balance out stretching styles with wash n' goes (for half the year in the warm months, despite what all the other 4a/b naturals say that has really help my hair) and jumbo twists and braidsthat still allow my hair to shrink up a little more. I've noticed that the roots of my hair are growing with less kinks and stronger, and my ends stay on longer and hair healthier. Also my wash-n-goes got better with time as my hair found its own curl pattern, it began to clump better.

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  21. I continue to be amazed at my lack of knowledge: The first time I decided to grow my mostly-4b (coily, kinky, AND coily-kinky) hair out for real, it took me 5 years to reach 9 inches. Now if I didn't know better I'd say it was because I was a slow grower, but I wasn't: I was a habitual tool abuser! :) Never mind combs and brushes...at one point I was blow-drying every week (with the comb attachment!) and doing every natural hairstyle known to woman. Ironically, the summer before I started locking, I wore two-strand twists exclusively. By the time September rolled around I'd gained at least an inch...but it didn't click then either. :) That was in 2003...and it's literally only been in the last couple of years that I've finally figured out that if I want to see length, I absolutely have to leave my hair alone as much as possible. That means finger-combing exclusively and drastically limiting the number of styles I wear.

    On the subject of trims: I haven't taken scissors to my hair since October. However, I did use a comb this past April when I was transitioning from a coily style (WNG) to a less-coily style (braidout). I saw wisps (broken ends) galore? Can't that count as a self-trim? lol j/k

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  22. What a wonderful article on the science of kinky hair! This blog has be oh so useful to me over the years learning to take care of my kinky hair.

    To avoid breakage, I finger-detangle (on dry, stretched hair; before shampooing) and shampoo in 10 twisted sections. To avoid split ends, I trim ~1/4 to 1/2 and inch ever 4 months.

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