Every day, countless people tackle their natural curls with a flat iron—then tackle their own frustration with hair that’s been irreparably fried in the process. Tahira Reid wants to fix that. She’s a mechanical engineer on a mission to find out exactly how much heat curly hair can sustain before damage sets in.
“However a woman chooses to wear her hair is her own personal expression of beauty,” she says. “This research is not to tell women to have straight hair—it’s for women who choose to wear their hair straight but face heat damage if they do.”
In their initial literature search, Reid and her colleagues at Purdue University found plenty of word-of-mouth advice and hundreds of thousands of YouTube videos. They didn’t find much hard scientific data on which temperatures might damage curls. Even worse, traditional sources like cosmetology books were outdated, sorting hair into three catchall categories: Caucasian, Asian and African.
For their latest study, Reid’s team used an automated flat-ironing device of their own design to test different temperature settings across all eight hair types. The team mounted each hair sample, straightened it and used an infrared microscope to study how it reacted. Reid presented their preliminary results this week to an international design engineering conference hosted by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.
In upcoming work, the team expects to be able to use their new method of hair study to determine heat tolerance thresholds for each variety of curly hair—thresholds that could be used by professional and everyday stylists to help straighten hair without damaging it. Future experiments will focus on the role of humidity, curl density and more refined methods of automatic straightening.
Reid acknowledges that the subject of hair straightening has been a hot-button issue in the United States, which has a checkered past when it comes to perceptions of race and hair. Comments about naturally curly hair still accompany racial slurs, and women of color in particular have long faced social pressure to conform to white-centric beauty standards.
Some influential African-Americans, like Madame C.J. Walker and Garrett Morgan, popularized straightening techniques like the hot comb and invented chemical relaxers to change the structure of the hair shaft. While these treatments and procedures gave curly-haired women the option to wear their hair straight, they were time-consuming and damaging, and many people felt their use wasn’t optional. To this day, many styling products developed specifically for curly hair are still only available in the so-called ethnic aisle, which features hair-care products marketed directly to people of color.
In addition to helping would-be straighteners personalize their hair care, Reid hopes her work will prompt modern-day researchers to move away from such old-fashioned stereotypes about curly hair.
Why’s curly hair so complicated? Pedro Miguel Reis, a mechanical engineer at MIT who has published work on the physics of curls, chalks it up to the nature of shapes themselves. “Curls have a nonlinear geometry,” he notes, meaning they are more challenging to model mathematically. But he’s quick to add that just because they’re tricky doesn’t mean they’re not worth studying.
Reid agrees. Then again, she’s made a career studying things others might overlook. In 2002, Reid received a patent for a device she developed as a student at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute: a double-dutch machine she exhibited at the National Museum of American History and on the TODAY Show. Though she used to minimize the ways in which her work draws on her daily experiences, now she’s more confident. “After all,” she says, “hair is a mechanical system, too.”
Today, most individuals arm themselves with multiple hair supplies like high-end shampoos, conditioners, treatments, and creams, much of which lay on top of the hair and help only temporarily, if at all. Alcohol-based sprays, gels, and mousses dry, damage, and split the ends of hair we so desperately try to grow.
Daily washing strips our scalps of natural oils and we attempt to replace them with unnatural chemicals. These chemicals go down our drains and pollute the earth, the very water we would drink. The entire process is backwards and harmful to our hair, our health and the Earth.
Hair loses essential oils as we age
Oil glands shrink over time. Youthful chemistry allows oil to easily move down the hair follicle, but as we age, we simply don’t produce as much oil. The older we get, the more important it is for us to add oils to return that necessary moisture and maintain healthy hair; the key is to know which oils are helpful, not harmful.
There is, however, an alternative – one found in an age-old tradition celebrated for thousands of years. Ancient women traditionally treasured their hair and in doing so they didn’t strip their stands with chemicals but rather pampered them by oiling, unlike today’s routine of only washing and then conditioning.
Myth or Miracle
MYTH: Wait – Aren’t oils bad for the hair? I don’t want my hair to be greasy!
MIRACLE: Oil is absolutely vital for healthy hair and skin – it cleans dust from our scalps to prevent dandruff, infections, irritations, and even hair loss and contains antioxidants for follicle health and repair. It’s an overabundance of oils that causes that greasy feeling we dislike. Rejuveniqe™ oils contain the important ones that our bodies naturally produce to protect the hair. Even if your hair tends to be “oily” in the shampoo-commercial sense, using MONAT® products will help because it’s restoring just the right amount of natural oils it needs.
MYTH: Will using oil on my skin make it appear shiny and greasy?
MIRACLE: Pure oils are lightweight, absorb quickly and leave the skin and hair with a natural healthy glow.
MYTH: Won’t using oil make my skin breakout?
MIRACLE: Many factors contribute to facial breakouts, including hormonal imbalances, bacteria, and sometimes even the food we eat. Pure oils are non-comedogenic (which means they won’t clog pores) so they won’t cause breakouts. In fact, using oils will help to balance out the body’s own oil production and bring it back to a normal healthy level.
MYTH: If I use oil on my scalp won’t my hair look flat and oily?
MIRACLE: Oil is actually good for the scalp and helps provide the perfect environment for hair follicle health and cellular turnover (which helps hair to grow faster and stronger).
MYTH: I heard oils weren’t that safe?
MIRACLE: Oils are packed with antioxidants which fight free radicals and help reverse the effects of sun damage. Using oils on a daily basis is good for your skin and hair and will not damage it in any way.
MYTH: Aren’t’ there better products for age prevention than oils?
MIRACLE: Oils are pure molecular powerhouses that are virtually chemical free. Due to the decrease in the body’s own oil production as we age, fine lines and wrinkles appear, and hair loses its luster and bounce. Oils help replenish what has been lost and since they are not water-based, they don’t need any type of synthetic preservative or chemical added. This makes them pure, safe and one of the best sources of hydration and repair.
Watch this video about Monat’s Magnify System: