All Curls Are Not Created Equal- Part 4

Wednesday, July 22, 2009 Posted by Karen


Hair elasticity is the measure of how much a hair strand will stretch before breaking, or how much it will stretch and still be able to return to its original state.

When healthy hair is dry, it will only stretch about 20%. But when wet, it can stretch up to 50% (Tightly curled hair can appear to stretch further).

Hair that has high or normal elasticity will provide the greatest ease in styling. Hair with low elasticity however, won't hold a curl very well, whether by roller set or curling iron, and won't respond favorably to chemical styling.

Ionic (or "salt") bonds and hydrogen bonds are the chemical bonds that contribute the most towards hair flexibility and elasticity.

Ionic bonds are most easily affected by pH levels, but hydrogen bonds are most easily affected by moisture and heat.

When you wet your hair, your hair appearance changes because the hydrogen bonds have temporarily broken. If you let it air dry, the bonds will reform as is- poofy, poofy for us curly knotted folks.

If you set your hair on rollers, or wrap it under a dryer, however, your hair will reform hydrogen bonds in its new shape. And until moisture is reintroduced, it will maintain that new shape.

So when you're rocking your twist out or roller set in the a.m., and find that it's reverted to an afro by the p.m., try to see the glass as being half-full. At least your hair is doing what it's supposed to do-- responding to moisture, and reforming the hydrogen bonds that were temporarily broken.

Sometimes, when excessive heat is used, disulfide bonds are also broken. These are the bonds that give hair its tensile strength and curl pattern, and typically don't break unless chemicals are introduced. But beyond a certain heat index (which is different for each person), disulfide bonds can be broken, and the hair will not revert to its prior state.

So for those of you who have found that after months of using the hot comb or flat iron, you have some straight ends or strands that won't curl anymore, now you know why!


If you're like me, you've probably wondered at times why it is that some people's hair seems to grow like weeds, while other people's hair seems to be on strike. The hair growth cycle has 3 phases:

Anagen- The Active Growing Phase

This phase can last between 2-6 years. 85-90% of the scalp hair is in the growing phase at any given time. The length of the growing phase is genetically determined, varies between different people, sexes, and ethnicities, and is the basis behind a hair’s growth potential.

Scalp hair grows at an average rate of about 1 cm per month (or 28 days), but growth rates can also vary slightly amongst different people of different backgrounds. Some studies have already shown that African hair grows for less time and at a slower rate than Caucasian hair.

Catagen- The Intermediate Phase

This phase lasts between 2-4 weeks. In this phase, the follicle detaches from the dermal papilla, and starts moving toward the surface of the scalp.

Telogen- The Resting/Shedding Phase

This phase lasts between 2-4 months. 10 – 15% of all hairs are in this phase at any given time. This is when the hair follicle rejoins the dermal papilla, and a new hair is formed. Once the next anagen phase begins, the new hair will push the original hair out of the way, if it hasn’t already been shed.


As a whole, people of African descent have thinner hair strands, with less thermal stability, that are more prone to breakage, and grow at a slower rate, for less time, than people of Asian and Caucasian descent.

At first glance, you may be tempted to think that the Africans have gotten the short end of the stick. But that's not true at all!

What this information shows us is that our African hair is its own unique entity, and needs to be catered to and tended to like the precious delicate gift that it is.

And because most of us don't have pure African heritage, our hair can be expressing any number of ethnic tendencies at one time, even if we don't realize it at first glance.

Maybe this is the reason why your 3C hair operates a little differently than your friend's 3C hair.
Your 3C hair could have the thinness of your blond Caucasian ancestors, but the growth phase of your African ones. Your friend's 3C hair could have the thickness and strength of her Asian ancestors, and the growth phase of her European ones. But since both of your curl patterns look the same to the naked eye, you thought that your hair could be treated exactly the same.

Knowing about these underlying differences should be a source of EMPOWERMENT.

If your hair never grows past your shoulders, maybe now you know why! And instead of trying to beat it and grease it into submission, maybe now you can love it for the spiraled free spirit that it is, and start getting to know it intimately again.

Experiment with products that are meant for African textures. Experiment with natural hair styles. Figure out what styles you can wear in dryer seasons/climates, but might not be able to wear in more humid seasons/climates (hmm... a press and curl comes to mind).

Sometimes your hair doesn't cooperate because you haven't been taking care of it, and you need to nurse it back to health. But sometimes it doesn't cooperate because it just isn't meant to, man! It just may be your attitude about your hair that needs the fixin'.

I hope that the "All Curls Are Not Created Equal" series has been helpful to you! It's been fun writing it. I'm going to kiss my 'fro goodnight, now.

Happy Hair Lovin'!!!!



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