No Pills for Curlier Hair yet
Recently, I was asked if there are any pills that can help make the hair kinkier or more curled.
In short, there is no internal method to change follicle shape in the present day. Follicle shape is complex. It can be altered temporarily with chemical and thermal (heat) relaxers and other chemicals (see below). The shape itself is largely determined by one's genetics and the proteins that are produced by the internal root sheath. Is it easy to change one's genetics or the proteins in the internal root sheath? No.Someday there could be a pill to make hair curler. But it should not be assumed that a pill, tablet or oral medication that would alter hair follicle shape could not have side effects on other systems in the body. Changing follicle shape permanently is not easy!
Making hair curlier: Chemcials vs Heat
Fortunateley if one wants to make their hair curlier or make their hair straighter they can with use of chemicals or heat. To curl hair, one can use alkali (high pH) or acid (low pH) solutions. Alkali perms give a firmer hold. In a traditional alkaline 'cold' perm, the hair is put in curlers or in the shape one wishes. Then "reducing" agents like ammonium thioglycate (pH between 9 and 10) are added to break disulphide bonds in the strands. This allows the hair to finally be free to take on a new shape. If the hair is kept in curls during this time, it will more easily adopt the shape of the curls. The final step involves adding a "neutralizing" agent (like hydrogen peroxide) to stop the reaction and keep the new curls in place. Cold waves with ammonium thyioglycate are great for course or thick hair as well as hair that has never been curled before.
There is another way of perming hair which is more gentle - and that's called an acid perm. These types of perms use a different ingredient typically glyceryl monothioglycate and the pH is much lower (4.5-7) and closer to the pH of hair (which is around 5). Because the pH is lower it's a bit less damaging to hair and is great for those with fine hair or those whose hair has been really badly damaged by previous chemicals and over processing of hair. These acidic perms do require heat of a dryer to speed up the rate of processing. The curl that gets produced with acidic perms is not as firm as with alkaline waves.
If one wants to keep their curlier or kinkier hair, they need to keep repeating this, because the new hair that grows out has not been treated.
Finally, I'll leave you with another important tip regarding perming of hair. And that is that one should never chemically alter their hair (straighten or relax) and then dye hair the same day. This can be extremely damaging. There should be many weeks in between.
Dr. Jeff Donovan is a Canadian and US board certified dermatologist specializing exclusively in hair loss. To schedule a consultation, please call the Vancouver office at 604.283.9299