popular science

frizzy monster

Rain, c’mon, have mercy.
Do people from Jakarta, Singapore or London ever have a perfect hair ‘do?
Right now, I’m starting to believe that my hair is forming a life separate from my head and will eventually become a frizzy monster.
When the air is humid, hair can start to crimp, curl, or frizz *the moment you step outside*.
Yeah, I know.
Weather is not just an essential part of small talk starter pack. It helps just to take on to the weather and curse it like a true Serbian.
But according to science: frizzy hair on a heavy humid day like this (75% humidity) has the chemical structure of your hair locks a lot to thank for.
So, genetics — damn you.
When the air is humid, high levels of hydrogen are present. And your hair is the first to know it. Believe me.
Turns out, the chemical structure of human hair is extremely sensitive to hydrogen in the air.
So sensitive, in fact, that some gadgets in 1700’s used to measure humidity called hygrometers rely on a hair for their readings. The greater the humidity, the shorter the hair in the hygrometer becomes.
Every single out of your thousands of strands of hair is composed of bundles of a fibrous protein called keratin, and the shape and structure of your hair is determined by how these proteins bind together.
Now, bear with me for some basic chemistry. *Walter White voice*

So why does humidity make hair frizzy?

The short answer that means nothing to you:

When hydrogen bonds form between the proteins and water molecules in your hair, it will become curly and, potentially, frizzy.
A slightly longer (two-minute read) answer that would give you that lovable “a-ha” moment:
For this particular purpose, let’s focus on the middle layer of the hair, which comprises coiled bundles of keratin proteins. These bundles are held together by chemical bonds, created either by neighboring sulfur atoms or hydrogen atoms.
And here’s the deal.
The permanent bonds of sulfur atoms aren’t affected by humidity; they help give hair its strength.
On the other hand, hydrogen atom bonds give hair its temporary shape. Curly, waved or straight like macho Burt Reynolds. And they strongly react to humidity!
Unlike disulfide bonds, the hydrogen bonds that form between these atoms are easily broken down when wet. They dissolve and form anew each time you wash and dry your hair. Chem magic.
So, deduction time: they’re also affected by the humidity in the air.
Instead of breaking down the hydrogen bonds in hair, the right level of humidity produces these bonds in greater numbers. (Gremlins!)
More hydrogen molecules provide more opportunities for hydrogen bonds to form with keratin proteins. As more bonds form, the hair essentially doubles back in on itself at a molecular level, absorbing water, forming bonds and swelling like a Hulk, until it disrupts the cuticle, which is the smooth, outermost layer of the hair.
Magnify this occurrence by an entire head of hair and the result is a goddamn frizz.
These effects are amplified in hair that’s especially dry. Dry hair tends to soak up moisture in the air like a sponge, breaking the strand’s outer shaft and making hair look frizzy. This is why hair that’s been damaged by heat, chemical coloring, or an overuse of products is often more vulnerable to humid weather.

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