To explain why professional stylists promote the use of salon products and hair care, I offer here a brief Hair 101 class. Let’s start with the hair itself.

A strand of hair is primarily protein. Despite its smooth, shiny appearance, it is comprised of layers running from the root to the end. If the hair is healthy and well cared for, those layers will stay sealed down, giving the appearance of one strand.

If, however the hair is damaged, the layers open up and stay lifted. There is no shine or reflection because the lifted layers prevent that from happening.

If your hair is colored, the layers lift to accept the color. If you are in the sun or use hot tools constantly, the layers open from the heat and rays. If you perm your hair, layers open to let the solution into the hair shaft. If you brush your hair when wet, the layers are roughened.

All of these things cause hair to be dull and not healthy. Once the layers lift up and do not seal back down, the ends look “split” and the hair is permanently damaged.

No amount of any product will repair this. Yes, some will help mask the dullness but the only true repair is cutting off all of the damage. This often involves cutting more length than most people are willing to part with.

Hair has a pH of 5 to 6, which is acidic. Natural balance is 7, the pH of water. If products used are highly alkaline, this is extremely damaging. The layers open and never close.

Many over-the-counter hair products are extremely alkaline. Your hair can feel slippery and “conditioned” – but, hey, lye is slippery too.

Gray hair has many more layers than any other naturally occurring hair color. This makes it much more difficult to penetrate and lift, and thus harder to color.

To maintain healthy hair, it’s important to use shampoo, conditioner and styling products with low pH. There is absolutely a difference between salon products and over-the-counter ones. I would suggest using less of a good product versus lots of something inferior. A cheap shampoo, conditioner or styling product might work fine for a while, but your hair won’t have long-term integrity and health if it’s not cared for properly.

There is chemistry involved in what we do. So it’s imperative that you have a professional take care of your hair’s processes to ensure its health.

Joy Ross is owner of Style It Salon in Old Town Bluffton.