Two Steps to Effectively Moisturize Natural Hair

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By Jc of The Natural Haven

Many naturals emphasise the need to apply water to hair in order to moisturise but the real key to having moisturised hair is not constantly reapplying water. The real key lies in preventing water that you have added from evaporating. There are two key principles that you need to be aware of to successfully manage hair moisture. Do remember that you can do all of the following things at the same time or pick and choose what suits you best.

1. Repair damage to your hair cuticle

Why : The hair cuticle is the key surface which protects the inner cortex of hair. Without it, water can flow freely into and out of hair. Cuticle damage is inevitable and applies to hair which is not traditionally damaged (i.e not bleached or colour treated). You can reduce damage by being gentle with your hair at all times and especially when combing and drying (even when towel drying).  However, all manipulation, washing and even exposure to the sun eventually affect the cuticle.

How: You can temporarily repair the cuticle, essentially patch it up using hair conditioner. The effect lasts for one wash only, the next shampoo is designed to clean off hair and the conditoner effect goes with it.

The Science: Hair conditioner contains particles known as surfactants (which is geek speak for surface active agent). These surfactants (the agents) make their way to the hair cuticle (surface) and then stick on to the hair (the action!) and the best part of it is that the surfactants are naturally drawn to gaps in hair. Often conditioners will contain more than one surfactant. Common surfactants include behentrimonium chloride/methosulfate and stearalkonium chloride

The second ingredient to help repair damaged hair is to use a good protein conditioner. A good protein conditioner will have hydrolysed/hydrolised (also with a z instead of s) protein. This type of protein has been chopped up and can therefore fit nicely into small gaps in the hair. Some of it can even enter into hair and carry with it ome water.

2. Create an artificial humidity barrier around your hair

Why: Water evaporates from the surface of hair and the amount of water in your hair is related to the humidity of the surrounding air. Very dry air leads water to be expelled from hair while more humid air leads water to be retained.
How: You can create your very own artificial humidity barrier aound your hair by either delaying water loss from the hair using oil or increasing the water surrounding your hair using humectants such as glycerin, aloe vera or honey.

The Science: All oils (coconut, olive, castor, mineral, silicones) form a barrier around hair. The barrier is always permeable, meaning even if you coated your hair with an entire bottle of oil, you can still stand under the shower and your hair will get wet as water will find its way through past the oil. Oils do slow down the passage of water both into and out of hair. As I discussed previously, the best oil scientifically for slowing down the exit of water is mineral oil. However using any oil after wetting your hair is a key step to slowing down water evaporation from the cortex.

Humectants such as glycerin are special because they ‘hold’ water. The key step to successful use of a humectant is to first combine it with water so that it can perform ‘the hold’. The next important step is to use the humectant as a leave in and not as part of the hair conditioner. Most humectants are very soluble in water which means a rinse cycle (or rain) can easily wash them off hair. Humectants are tricky to use because they will be affected by weather and often temperature. Too little will have no effect and too much will create a sticky feeling. There is a lot of trial and error to finding the right balance, just be patient.

Ladies, have you tried these tips? How do you ensure that moisture stays locked in your hair?

For more hair science from Jc check out The Natural Haven.

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34 thoughts on “Two Steps to Effectively Moisturize Natural Hair

  1. Alright…i’ve decided. I’m going back to mineral oil…lol for real. I will just have to sulfate it up every once in a while and keep it from my scalp

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    • That’s exactly what I ended up doing when I decided I wanted to wear a BAA in the humid summertime. And the only mineral oil I had in the house was straight Vaseline…and it WORKED. A good sulfate shampoo wash got it all out several days later. Next summer I definitely plan to plait my damp hair with some mineral oil-based hair grease if I want to wear a BAA. My hair stayed soft AND big…which is something I could never say when using any of the “classic natural” ingredients (oils, butters, etc.).

      Jc, so glad you’re a BGLH contributor! :)

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  2. Blackonyxx as well as All Things O’Natural has great tutorials that demonstrates what this information article is explaining.

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  3. I use straight drugstore mineral oil from the bottle while hair is damp after conditioning. It’s changed my life. Detangling is so easy and my hair stays moist and soft for days. i have extremely kinky coiled texture, and nothing was keeping it moist.

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    • for those that are still in doubt about mineral oils~~ do tell are you witnessing any hair breakage/ loss. I know the answer is NO, but for others who are still on the fence~~~

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      • I notice less breakage. My hair was so dry it would snap and tangle easily. I still use castor oil, Shea butter, and a leave in like I always did. I just use a small amount of mineral oil absolutely last while wet to kind of lock everything in. My hair is really oily the first day but it’s a small price to pay for the moisture retention and easier detangling. I only wash every 2 weeks with non sls shampoo and I haven’t had buildup issues. But my hair is porous it doesnt hold onto anything very long.

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        • I thought that mineral oil & castor oil would serve the same purpose. Is that true? Also, after you put in the mineral oil, do you let it dry naturally? I only ask b/c I severly damaged my hair w/ color.

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        • I thought that mineral oil & castor oil would serve the same purpose. Is that true? Also, after you put in the mineral oil, do you let it dry naturally? I only ask b/c I severly damaged my hair w/ color.

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  4. Thanks for this post. You’ve provided some great advice which I really need down here in Florida. Keeping moisture in my hair has been impossible!

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    • Do you mean that you leave the honey in your hair? I imagine that it would attract bugs. How do you go about this — I’d love to try it!

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      • I’ll tell you how I use honey: I sometimes put a little bit of it (like a teaspoon per 100 milliliters) in my homemade leave-ins. Not too much or your hair will get sticky (but no bugs will be present :P) Combined with the olive and castor oil it makes my hair look so shiny. And I always rinse my hair with ACV after washing, thanks to a forum I now also add a big spoon of honey. Hope this helped :)

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  5. May I make a request for a future BGLH post? This is based on some other comments I’ve seen on other posts…

    Can you discuss what “moisturized” means? I keep hearing people talking about their hair being “moist” and it’s not the same thing. Afro hair isn’t supposed to be treated like a Jheri Curl…your hair is going to dry at some point and it’s how that dry hair feels that determines whether it’s moisturized. At least that’s how I feel about it…would love to hear it from the experts!

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  6. Pingback: From Black Girl Long Hair: Two Steps to Effectively Moisturize Your Hair « The Fashion Bomb Blog /// All Urban Fashion… All the Time - All Urban Fashion // All the Time

  7. Pingback: From Black Girl Long Hair: Two Steps to Effectively Moisturize Your Hair - Bull City Billionaires

  8. The name moisturizing is actually not good, because fatty acids from oils are more important.
    To keep the hair anti dry you do this from the inside and the outside.
    From the inside with food and the outside through two main treatments.

    1. Ingredients insertion in the cortex of the hair, with amino acids of the hair.

    2 Keeping the cuticle slightly open. To keep the cuticle slightly open from the always standing open haircuticle of kinky and curly hair you use oils with the same fatty acids and a pH value slightly higher than the hair. The products you apply with movements from top to downwards.

    This treatment will not dry your hair and keep it healthy and shining.

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    • I have never subscribed to that line of thinking. Mineral oil was deemed as bad because it comes from fossil fuel (which by the way is natural) and because it is supposed to ‘choke hair’ – i.e forms a water tight barrier which prevents water getting in and requires a harsh shampoo to wash it off.

      There are partial truths to these ideas. Mineral oil does form a really good barrier making it a very good sealant if you have already moisturised your hair. Most ladies also find it easy to wash off with mild shampoos or soap.

      I actually do not use mineral oil products for hair since they do not work well for my hair but there are many women who do use them with no problems and great results actually. Many women can recall that as children all that was used on their hair was water and some mineral oil product (vaseline/ultra sheen) and they had great hair. Others like me had the same routine with poor results.

      In short, do what works for you!

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  9. I have extremely thick, extremely kinky and annoyingly dry hair and trying to get the best advise possible. I have read all and still a bit confused.
    1. Is it that you are to use a humectant OR an oil? If both can be used then in what order: wet hair, honey, then oils or vice versa?
    2. Can the honey be used as part of a pre-poo treatment or DC treatment? If so when I rinse, do I then add more honey and water in a spray bottle?
    3. Where in the line-up does the much acclaimed shea butter fall?
    Many thanks to all replies

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    • And 4. why are some sites warning you that produdcts A or B has protein in it…I thought proteins were a good thing? confused!!!

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