Dry Hair Solutions: How Moisturizers Work

The question – ‘I have very dry hair, will a moisturiser fix that?’

The answer to this question is yes and no. The effectiveness of the moisturiser depends on the amount of product already on your hair, the ingredients of the moisturiser and your hair’s response.

Q: How much ‘dirt’ is on your hair?

If you have a routine where you dampen and oil your hair on a daily basis, whether you see it or not, your hair is likely to be very oily. This oil layer coats the outside of your hair and prevents water from accessing the strand fully. If you find that your hair is dry while following this routine, a moisturiser may not work effectively simply because water in the product will remain outside the hair blocked by the oil layer. In order to make the moisturiser effective, you should clean off the hair with a gentle shampoo or if co-washing is effective for you then it can also help.

Q: What is in the moisturiser?

Different moisturisers have different ingredients but they can broadly be grouped into these main categories for the purpose of moisturising

1. Water for moisture

2. Emollients to soften hair e.g cetyl alcohol, stearyl alcohol and certain oils like shea butter

3. Humectants to increase the humidity at the hair surface e.g glycerin, aloe vera, honey

4. Oils to lubricate the strand and to help seal in the moisture e.g coconut oil, shea butter, mineral oil and silicones

5. Amino acids and proteins – These also help hair to hold on to water and therefore play a role in moisture e.g glutamic acid, hydroylsed silk and wheat protein

6. Acidifiers which help the product pH to a range between 4-6 e.g citric acid and some fruit extracts.

Many commercial moisturisers will contain all of these ingredients. The appearance of the product and the ingredient order (if correctly labelled) will however give you an indication of the quantities.

Water based moisturisers will tend to be clear and come in a spray bottle (e.g homemade mixes of water and oil or diluted conditioner, carol’s daughter tui leave in) .

Emollient rich products tend to be creamy and come in a pump action or pour out type bottle (e.g giovanni direct leave in, herbal essences long term relationship).

Humectant rich products will tend to have a jelly like consistency in appearance or if in creamy form may feel sticky if you do not add water (e.g curl activator, kinky curly curling custard, eco styler gel) .

Oil rich products also tend to be creamy but will tend to come in a scoop up containers (e.g shea moisture curl enhancing smoothie).

Q: How does your hair respond to the moisturiser?

The key to finding a good moisturiser lies in knowing which products have most effect on your hair and its environment. If your hair does not tend to care for deep conditioning (there is little/no difference whether you use heat or not and whether you leave the conditioner on for 20 minutes or  2 hours), you may find that your hair will respond better to humectant heavy conditioners which create humidity around your hair shaft (examples curl activator, non drying gels such as ecostyler). This is as opposed to conditioners that attempt to soften hair (emollient rich) or drive moisture into your hair (water rich). Your hair may be less responsive to these type of moisturisers. However, if you live in an area with dry air (low humidity), you may need to use a water rich moisturiser in addition to make sure the humectant can work.

If you find that your hair has a tendency to become soft very quickly when you leave hair conditioner on it and also maintain that softness for a few days, then you may find water based, emollient and oil rich moisturiser may work for you (examples homemade water oil mixes, giovanni direct, herbal essences long term relationship). You may want to avoid humectant rich conditioners as they may make your hair feel mushy or sticky especially if you live somewhere humid.

Ladies, which moisturizers work best for you?

Black Girl With Long Hair

Black Girl With Long Hair

Leila, founder of Black Girl with Long Hair (April 2008). Social media, pop culture and black beauty enthusiast. bell hooks' hair twin...


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