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Everything You Need to Know About Hair Bonds

Written by Ross Goodhart
Everything You Need to Know About Hair Bonds

The hair strands that don your crown are of intricate design. Sometimes that bad hair day means much more than unruly tendrils; your hair may be damaged. 

You’ve probably seen hair products that claim to help restore dull, damaged hair. These products aim to repair the bonds that hold hair strands together, but do you actually know what hair bonds are? 

If you aim to achieve the healthiest hair possible, healthy hair bonds are essential for strong, shiny hair. So, allow us to explain the science behind hair bonds, what they are, and what you can do to help gain lustrous locks.

The Structure of Hair

It’s important to understand the structure of the human hair strand before discussing the three hair bonds. Two structures make up your hair: the hair follicle and the hair shaft. 

The follicle is attached to the follicle bulb underneath the skin on the scalp. This living part of your hair receives nutrients that support hair growth and health. 

The hair shaft is the part of your hair that you see above the scalp. It is made of non-living keratin (protein). The hair shaft comprises three cellular layers of keratin that are held together by chemical bonds. 

The three keratinous layers include:

  • Cuticle: The cuticle is the protective outer layer of each hair strand. This visible layer consists of flat, overlapping cells that react to temperature, pH, and humidity. The cuticle protects the fragile inner layers of the hair from damage. When the cells are closed and flat, the hair is shiny, and the medulla and cortex are protected. Disruption in the balance of these cells causes brittle, frizzy hair. Chemical processes, such as hair color and bleach, disrupt the cuticle and can damage hair strands.

  • Cortex: The cortex lies underneath the cuticle and contains long, twisted protein fibers held together by hydrogen bonds. This layer includes the hair’s melanin, or pigment, elasticity, and strength. When the cuticle is damaged, it leaves the cortex vulnerable, resulting in split ends. Since the cortex cannot repair itself, split ends must be trimmed to be removed.

  • Medulla: The medulla is the soft, thin inner core of transparent round cells. The medulla is found in thick and coarse hair. Naturally blonde and fine hair types usually do not contain a medulla layer of cells. Whether your hair strands include a medulla or not holds no bearing on how your strands react to styling.

What Are Hair Bonds?

The cuticle, medulla, and cortex rely on chemical bonds to hold them together. Repeated use of hot tools, hair color, or other chemical processes can cause weakening in these bonds. Damage to the hair’s bonds results in brittle, damaged hair with a loss in cuticle elasticity. 

It is crucial to treat those damaged areas of concern at their first sign to prevent further breakage. Let’s discuss the magical bonds that bind your strands together.

What Are the Three Types of Hair Bonds?

Three distinct chemical bonds link the hair’s keratin chain: covalent, ionic, and hydrogen bonds. When these types of bonds are strong and unbroken, they create shiny, healthy hair strands. 

When the bonds are weakened and broken, hair appears dry, brittle, frizzy, and damaged. 

Covalent Bonds (Disulphide Bonds)

Covalent bonds, also known as disulfide bonds, are strong, permanent bonds that determine the hair’s texture and shape. The number of disulfide bonds and their distribution is important for determining how curly the hair appears. 

These bonds are also responsible for your hair’s strength. Brittle hair results from damage to the covalent bond, making hair more prone to breakage. 

Ionic Bonds (Salt Bonds)

Ionic bonds, also known as salt bonds, are temporary, stronger bonds created between positive and negative ends of the amino acid chain. One-third of your hair’s strength depends on these bond types. 

PH imbalances damage salt bonds, so it’s crucial to use haircare products designed for your hair type. Some haircare products are well formulated for use on all hair types.

Hydrogen Bonds

Hydrogen bonds are temporary, much weaker than disulfide and salt bonds, and can be changed by heat and water. These bonds are responsible for your hair’s elasticity and ability to change shape. 

Hydrogen bonds are primarily accountable for frizzy hair due to their ability to be damaged by both heat and moisture. Have you ever wondered why humid weather causes frizzy hair or why your strands quickly take shape with a curling iron? Those are great examples of change within the hydrogen bonds.

What Damages Hair Bonds?

Damage occurs when you may least expect it. Don’t rely on a bottle of conditioner to “fix” the problem. To help prevent damaged hair bonds, lessen or avoid the following activities:

Heat Styling

Heat styling using curling irons, flat irons, and other heated hair tools causes damage to the hair cuticle and inner layers. High heat changes the shape of the keratin structure, lessening its elasticity and strength. 

To prevent heat damage to the hair’s cuticle, use a leave-in heat protectant on your strands before styling. Leave-in conditioner and oil also help support your strands by adding a layer of moisture to the cuticle layer.

Harsh Hair Styles

Pulled-back hairstyles such as tight braids, buns, ponytails, and hair extensions may cause damage to the hair strands and follicles. Brushing and combing wet hair also results in damage. The stress can cause irreversible hair loss, known as traction alopecia.

Chemical Hair Processes

Chemical hair treatments can cause damage to hair bonds, especially when applied by a non-professional. 

These damaging processes include:

  • Bleach 

  • Hair color 

  • Perms 

  • Relaxers 

  • Hair straighteners and smoothing salon treatments

Even seasoned hairstylists make mistakes, so do your research before selecting a salon professional. It is crucial to visit an experienced stylist to help prevent hair damage.

Damage to the hair’s bonds results in brittle, damaged hair with a loss in cuticle elasticity.

What Does Damaged Hair Look Like?

Polypeptide chains (keratin chains) are responsible for your hair’s structure and strength. When these peptide chains are broken or weakened, hair loses its resiliency and healthy appearance. 

Damaged hair presents itself as:

  • Dry 

  • Brittle

  • Frizzy

  • Flyaways

  • Split ends

Damage to the cuticle layer causes the cells to rise, resulting in hair frizz and dullness. As a result, the inner two layers are left vulnerable and exposed to further damage. Injury to the medulla’s hydrogen bonds also weakens and breaks the hair shaft. 

This results in split ends and structural weakness. 

What Is Age-Related Hair Damage?

Hair changes with age. It turns gray, and some may even notice thinning, dryness, and balding. These age-related occurrences most often result from hormonal changes and genetics. Nutritional deficiencies and illness may also be a factor. 

Age-related hair changes include:

  • Loss of elasticity: As you age, the hair shaft loses elasticity and bends and stretches less with styling. This may result in hair breakage or split ends.

  • Dryness: Age-related hormonal changes affect the sebaceous glands, reducing sebum, or oil, production. Sebum is necessary for moisturizing the scalp and hair. A lessening of oil leads to brittle, dry, and dull strands.

  • Hair shaft narrowing: Hair follicles shrink with age, producing a narrower hair shaft. Narrow hair shafts are more likely to experience breakage due to their vulnerability to heat styling and environmental temperature changes. 

How Long Does It Take to Repair Damaged Hair?

Hair damage can be minimized and repaired with the right hair care products. If your hair looks haggard, it may be time to amp up treatments to regain your hair game. However, damaged hair isn’t easily repaired. 

There’s no particular timeline for how long it can take to repair the damage. Rehabbing your hair requires time and patience to bring your luscious locks back to full health.

Keep your hair regime consistent, opt for lowkey hair color, get frequent trims, and dial down the heat. Extensive hair repair could take six months to a year for visible results. And most importantly, healthy hair always begins with a healthy scalp. 

How Can You Strengthen Hair?

It’s essential to prevent damage from occurring in the first place. Similar to how we use skincare products to maintain healthy skin, rather than just treat blemished or irritated skin, scalp care care is equally important to preventing hair damage.

There are a few ways to help potentially prevent damage and maintain strong, healthy hair.

Use a Repairing Shampoo

Repairing shampoo is formulated to help strengthen and encourage bond repair. Leave-in conditioners, heat protectants, and professional hair treatments can also help to repair hair bond damage. 

Eat More Protein

A high-protein diet ensures that your strands receive the nutrients necessary for strength and resilience. Your hair continuously grows and replaces itself, so a healthy diet is crucial for creating a healthy body that can better support healthy hair. 

A varying nutrient-rich diet works to strengthen the cells in your skin, hair, and nails. 

Foods containing key nutrients for strong, healthy hair growth include:

  • Eggs: contain biotin

  • Brazil nuts: contain selenium

  • Fatty fish (tuna, salmon, mackerel):  contains omega-3 fatty acids

Take Your Vitamins

The following vitamins and minerals are believed to help support hair growth. These essential vitamins and minerals can be found in nutritious foods and even in some scalp health supplements.

These include:

  • Iron

  • Zinc

  • Vitamin A, C, D

  • L-lysine

  • Niacin

  • Folic acid

Avoid Heat

The daily use of heated styling tools takes its toll on your tendrils. Give your hair a break by allowing your strands to air dry rather than blow dry. Experiment with different hairstyles that don’t require the use of heated tools. 

To create wavy locks without a curling iron, wrap your slightly damp hair into a loose bun and keep it up overnight. In the morning, unwrap your hair and spritz with a texturizing product to define the loose waves. 

If using heated hair tools is a must, spray a leave-in heat protectant into your hair before using them. This product ensures your mane is protected from high temperatures. 

Keratin Treatments

Keratin treatments work by smoothing the hair fiber and temporarily rebonding the strands. These chemical treatments can add shine, reduce frizz, and can help smooth hair strands. 

While keratin treatments temporarily support the appearance of healthier hair, many chemicals are used to create the “keratin” solution. Talk to your stylist about the benefits and risks of keratin treatments beforehand to decide if the process is right for you.

Bond-Building Treatments

Professional bond-building processes help to prevent hair damage during chemical processes. These treatments support the integrity of the hair by creating solid and new bonds. 

These newer bonds sweep into rescue hair by reconnecting the damaged portions, making the hair stronger than before the chemical process. Fans of hot tools and hair dye could consider bond-builder treatments.

Leave-In Treatments

Leave-in hair breakage treatments such as deep moisturizing masks and oils help to rebuild bonds, moisturize the strands, smooth, and prevent further damage. Every hair type can benefit from these ultra-rich moisturizing treatments. 

Alternate between hydrogen-based treatments, which can be used daily, and protein-based treatments for the best results. Protein-based treatments contain keratin-building ingredients that can make hair dry if used too often. These treatments should be used sparingly.

The Bottom Line

Healthy hair bonds result in healthy, shiny hair; keeping them strong is important. While it’s impossible to completely prevent hair damage, you can lessen the damage and even prevent it by using the right products and paying attention to how you style your hair and treat your scalp. 

Hair-strengthening shampoo, conditioner, and leave-in treatments can help protect hair from harsh chemicals and too-tight hairstyles, and professionally formulated scalp care products will ensure your hair strands have the foundation necessary to grow strong and healthy.

The “Whole Darn Set” Set
The “Whole Darn Set” Set

Built for those looking to address constant or severe flaking, redness, or irritation and want their mane left looking refreshed and silky smooth.

The information contained in this article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice, nor is it a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician with any questions you may have about the information contained herein, as well as the risks or benefits of any treatment.