So, how is the cuticle damaged?
Unfortunately, many things will damage the cuticle: like brushing, blow drying, heat styling, colouring, or any other chemical treatment. The best way to prevent damage is to minimise these as much as possible, but today this is not realistic for most people. The next best thing is to treat the hair as often as possible to keep it strong so that the cuticle is not easily damaged and to use good products for protection.
Protection products are not only heat and styling aids, but are also incorporated into your shampoo and conditioner. Conditioners detangle your hair so that it easier to comb and does not get knotted as much.
pH is critical, especially higher pH. If you use a product on your hair with a slighter higher pH, the cuticles start to lift. The higher the pH, the more the cuticle lifts until it fully opens. If your shampoo has a pH of 7, it will lift the cuticle. When you get to products like relaxers, or perms, these will have an extremely high pH and completely lift the cuticle. In order for these products to work, they need to get into the cortex as they change the texture of the hair. Each of these types of product come with neutralising products that must be used along with them to seal the new hair texture but also to close the cuticle again.
One thing that I have come across a few times is natural bloggers recommending the use of baking soda, sodium bicarbonate, as a natural shampoo. I couldn’t believe it, but this is where a lack of understanding and knowledge cause people to share bad advice.
Sodium bicarbonate has a pH of between 8 and 9. This will open the cuticle and make your hair very rough. If you do not use a strong conditioner after that, you will have damaged hair. Conditioners have a very low pH of around 4.5, so using a conditioner afterwards restores the cuticle. To undo that damage will require more than just using apple cider vinegar as a rinse.
Commercial shampoos and conditioners have different ingredients in them to assist in coating the hair. These are ingredients that have been designed to wrap around each hair shaft to make sure the cuticle is flat and smooth. This is not achieved by pH alone, but needs the lower pH to work most effectively.