Coat 101: What is the cuticle?

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You may have seen us talk about the cuticle on our product labels, social media posts, and in answering your questions. If you know what the cuticle is, and what it does – awesome! You may want to read this anyway, just to freshen up. If you don’t, this is for you!

THE HAIR STRAND

There are three (sometimes two) layers that make up a single strand of hair: the medulla, the cortex, and the cuticle.

hair-structure

THE MEDULLA

In the center of wire and coarse textured hair is the medulla, a soft, spongy mass of tissue. The presence or absence of a medulla doesn’t have much to do with how hair behaves when you wash or style it, so it’s not necessary to worry about it.

THE CORTEX

Encasing the medulla, is the cortex, which is made up of long proteins that twist together like a strand of DNA.

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When you stretch a strand of hair, you are straightening the coiled proteins in the cortex. When you release the hair, the proteins coil up again.

The pigments that make up the color of the hair strand are packed in among these protein strands. When black fades to red, and brown to orange, it is because the cortex has lost some pigment.

THE CUTICLE

The cuticle is the outermost layer of the hair strand. Made of flattened translucent cells that overlap like the tiles on a terra-cotta roof, the cuticle protects the inside of the hair shaft from damage.

cuticle

Microscopic image of a healthy cuticle layer.

WHY IS THE CUTICLE IMPORTANT?

You may be wondering, “Why is the cuticle so important?” If you are in pursuit of championship quality, truly healthy hair, you need to worry about the cuticle.

The cuticle is what makes or breaks the hair – literally. As the outer layer, it protects the cortex from damage. When the cuticle gets damaged, it opens up, and allows the cortex to get damaged. In turn causing loss of pigment, or proteins, making the hair fragile and it breaks.

The cuticle protects the cortex from:

  • Sun damage (loss of pigment)
  • Friction (brushing & combing)
  • Chemical damage (bleaching)
  • Heat damage (drying & straightening)

SO, HOW DO I PROTECT THE CUTICLE?

  1. Always use a conditioner after bathing. Shampooing raises the cuticle layers, allowing water and soap inside to clean. Conditioner flattens the layers back down, restoring the protective layer. Every coat type needs conditioner! It’s also important to use a conditioner appropriate for your coat type – but that’s another conversation. 😉
  2. Use a leave-in conditioner. Our Ice on Ice Ready-to-Use is the perfect leave-in conditioning product for a variety of coat types. It protects from staining, sun damage, and moisturizes the coat. Win-win-win.
  3. Use a wide toothed comb or brush when combing wet hair. Our Wood Pin Brush is perfect for this!
  4. Avoid using bleach. 

For more information on the products listed, visit our website. To find a distributor near you, click here.

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