It’s dead and any oil is on the outside of the hair as supplied by the oil secreting sebaceous glands attached to the hair follicle. When people say hair looks dry what they really mean is the hair looks dull and feels rough. This is because the outer cuticle layer of the hair fiber is broken and flaked. Healthy new cuticle looks shiny and the scales of the cuticle adhere closely to the hair shaft making it look smooth. As the hair fiber ages and gets weathered by exposure to pollution and through washing so the cuticle layer looses its shiny appearance and the cuticle scales flake away from the hair shaft. As the light hits this uneven surface it gets reflected in all directions and this makes the hair fiber look dull and “dry”.
Some people produce have hair that is more robust and with smoother and shinier cuticle than others. For example, Asians produce thick coarse hair whereas Caucasians have finer hair with a smoother cuticle. African American hair has a greater amount of low sulfur protein compared to high sulfur protein than observed in Asian or Caucasian individuals. This makes hair less robust and so this type of hair weathers and deteriorates more quickly. All these things can contribute to dull and dry looking hair.
When I wet my dull hair it looks great. Why?
Another reason for hair looking dull and dry is because the oils from the sebaceous gland are not being applied along the length of the hair fiber. This is a particular problem for African-Americans. The oils are often not evenly distributed along the length of the hair fiber because of its coiled shape. People with long straight hair also have a similar problem in that the new hair close to the scalp gets a lot of oil but hair away from the scalp gets very little or no oil on it.
Wetting the hair helps to smooth the cuticle and make it look shiny. The water also swells the hair fiber and makes it more flexible and easier to manage. It does what oil from the sebaceous gland should do. For a short time, until the water evaporates, the wet hair can look great and will be easy to manage, but it does not last.
Are there any products that will cure my damaged hair ?
There is no such thing as a cure. Once hair is damaged and the cuticle disrupted or even stripped away then there is little that can be done that will have a long lasting effect on improving the hair quality. Once damaged, the long term solution is to let the hair grow out and cut the damaged fibers off. Hot oil treatments can help in the short term but these treatments cannot replace the damaged cuticle and chemical bonds. What you can do is try to limit the damage to the new hair that is growing. Remember any change in how you manage hair will take a long time to yield results as your new hair replaces the old damaged hair.
Dull, lifeless hair may be genetic. If other members of your family have similar hair then there may be little you can do about the root cause of your problem hair as the problem is based on your genetic composition. There are some genetic causes of dull, brittle, unmanageable hair that are defined as true diseases. For example woolly or uncombable hair are syndromes that can be diagnosed by a dermatologist. If you think your hair is exceptionally problematic then a consultation with a dermatologist might be an option to consider.
Hot oil treatments and deep conditioners can help make dull hair look shiny, but for continued effect the treatments have to be applied regularly. Although many products are available over the counter, for best results a professional hair stylist with experience in applying such treatments is the best option.
How can I make my hair more shiny?
Deep conditioners can help smooth down the rough cuticle and coat the hair to make it more reflective. Ionic wands and hot rollers do the same kind of thing – smooth down the cuticle. Mineral oil, olive oil, jojoba oil, and tee tree oil containing treatments all do the same kind of thing and can be useful preparations for making hair shiny.
However, if the cuticle has been entirely removed the conditioners can make hair exceptionally soft. This is because the conditioner can easily get into the hair shaft without the protective cuticle present. When the cuticle is removed, conditioners will be less effective in making hair shiny. The hair can be much weaker and needs to be handled with care, especially when wet. Very mild shampoos are probably more appropriate such as baby shampoos. Avoiding harsh detergents in shampoos is also important.
However, once hair is damaged it cannot really be repaired. The only long term option is to wait for new improved hair regrowth and cut the old damaged hair off.