Human hair is made up of teeny tiny amino acids. These amino acids are the building blocks of life; they work together to form the protein molecules that all life is made of.
The amino acids in our hair are joined to one another by bonds to form proteins. Without the bonds, the amino acids are a mess of unconnected legos. With the bonds, they can be connected to form any structure imaginable.
Trouble is that these bonds are fragile and easily damaged by the various forms of abuse that we subject our hair to on a daily basis.
Dr. Andreas Flohr, cosmetic chemist and founder of pH Plex explains: "Those bonds can break chemically (during your color, bleach, or relaxer treatment), mechanically (during brushing, combing), or thermally (during blow drying, flat ironing, or with too much sun)."
So basically all of your favorite hair-related activities, be they braiding your hair or blowdrying it, put the bonds that hold your hair together in danger. Bummer, no?
This is where pH bonders come in. "A high-quality bonder comprises an active ingredient small enough to penetrate the hair effectively and reactive enough to rebuild any many broken bonds as possible," says Dr. Flohr. "Thus, the hair regains its elasticity, bounce, smoothness, and shine."
Bonders are frequently used when someone is undergoing a color service, as they can prevent and repair damaged hair fibers without affecting the hair's ability to retain the new color. This can be a game-changer for people who frequently color their hair since bleach and hair dye are both extremely harmful to the hair fiber. If left on the hair for too long a time, bleach destroys the hair fiber, causing the hair to disintegrate and break.
Ghanima Abdullah, cosmetologist at therighthairstyles.com, explains the chemistry behind pH bonders further, and how it helps with the damage caused by salon treatments like coloring and straightening: "This is an acidic product, whereas most chemical salon treatments are alkaline. The alkalinity of the chemical treatment is what allows it to open the hair cuticle and seep into the hair shaft to do its work, whether that be straightening or coloring."
"After the treatment is finished, oftentimes the hair cuticle is compromised by being still in a raised position. This causes the porosity level to be high and the hair more prone to mechanical and heat damage. The chemicals also caused inherent damage inside the hair shaft by breaking the protein bonds to reform them for the treatment. So a pH bonder reforms the bonds inside the hair shaft and closes the hair cuticle. In essence, the pH bonding treatment is a protein treatment that works really well. So it uses amino acids to help reform the bonds in the hair along with a really low pH level to help seal the hair cuticles."
Even if you aren't a person who utilizes heat styling or hair dye, you might still want to consider a pH bonder. Damage to hair isn't an "if", it's more of a "when". To illustrate: think about the oldest, most loved piece of clothing in your wardrobe.
This item is something that you've had for years. It's gone through the washing machine many, many times. We assume this item doesn't look like it did when you first got it. Maybe the color has faded. Or maybe the fabric has pulls, pills, runs, and/or loose threads. Maybe you had to mend this item of clothing multiple times, so there's some stitching on it that wasn't originally intended by the designer. Maybe there yellow stains underneath the armpits. Maybe it has a certain smell that just won't go away no matter how many times you wash it.
Now, think of your hair.
Your hair is a natural fiber that you wear every single day. It's exposed to everything that you encounter, be at sunlight or solid water. It also is exposed to things that the rest of your body isn't exposed to, like hair dye, heat styling, tight ponytails in braids, all that kind of stuff. But unlike the rest of your body, your hair can't heal itself. If you get a scratch on your skin, you know that your skin cells will regenerate. Once a section of your hair has left your head, it can only decompensate. The scalp can grow more hair, but it has no power over the hair that's already left it.
If you compare your hair and your clothes, there are a lot of similarities. Both are made of soft, dead fibers. Both experience wear and tear. Both are things that you wear and expose to the elements. But unlike your clothes, you can't take your hair on and off. There's no closet time for your hair. If your hair becomes damaged, you can't put it aside and take it to a tailor. You have to wear that hair fiber until it either breaks, falls out, or is cut, whichever comes first.
All this is to say that hair undergoes an incredible amount of stress. It can't heal itself, nor does it ever get a day off. Your hair is out there, working, every single day! It's remarkable that hair lasts as long as it does without breaking.
Unfortunately, there are not a lot of effective ways for us to repair hair that's damaged. Many products work only on the exterior of the hair, creating a shield against further damage. And while that's certainly helpful, it does not do much to fix the damage that's already occurred. Some products, particularly those that contain keratin, can knit the hair back together in the short term. And again, while that's useful, it's not permanent - to go back to our clothing metaphor, it's like trying to mend a tear in your jeans with a delicate thread. Sure, it might work for a little bit, but that thread is not going to last for long. pH bonders are one of very few products that can actually repair the hair permanently (or at least until you damage it again -remember, damage is inevitable!).
Also unfortunately, finding a bonafide pH bonder can also be tricky. Dermatologists and cosmetic chemists can tell if a product is likely to be effective based off of the list of ingredients that it contains, but the rest of us have a harder time reading that ingredient list. Unlike derms and chemists, we didn't go to school for years and years to learn the names of specific ingredients and understand how each one reacts with another.
Abdullah recommends looking for key ingredients in a pH bonder. "The product should contain a high percentage of amino acids, around 10 percent. Amino acids penetrate the hair fiber easier than do proteins, hence the ease of use and rapid working time. The product will also have a very low pH, around 3.0 or 4.0."
Dr. Flohr, meanwhile, recommends looking at reviews when selecting a pH bonder and by paying attention to your own results post-purchase. "Users of bonding products are advised to study consumer comments of trusted sources and go with their own experience. For a regular consumer, the best way to verify it is by comparing the health and look of the hair before and after the treatment. With a high-quality bonder, the hair regains its elasticity, bounce, smoothness and shine."
He also recommends checking to see if a manufacturer has gone to the trouble of patenting the technology in the pH bonder they are selling. "Typically a strong indication for a bonder to work is if the manufacturer can claim their product is "patented". Then you know they have studied this carefully and reconfirmed the reproducible benefits for their technology." If a company patents its technology, it can pursue legal action against others who attempt to replicate the technology. For consumers, this is a signal that the company has invested time and effort into creating something it believes will be effective.
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