The thirst is real in these natural hair streets y’all. As a card carrying member of the highly textured hair club (known to most as 4C), it was sometimes a struggle to keep my hair completely hydrated. I would go to sleep with perfectly moisturized hair and wake up with a dry, crunchy mess.
Does this sound familiar to you? Do you struggle with moisture and hydration? Are you finding it hard to maintain properly moisturized hair?
Keep reading to find out just how to crack the code to defeat dryness and maintain moisturized, hydrated natural hair.
First and foremost, the most important thing to know about natural hair is that its nature is to be dry. The bends, curls, kinks, and waves in the hair strands of textured hair play a part in why textured hair tends to be on the dry side. Let’s take a shallow dive into some hair biology to gain a little more understanding. All hair, whether curly, straight, or in between have two major parts. These are the shaft and the follicle.
Hair follicles are the tiny pockets in our scalp that hair grows out of. The follicle is the part of our hair that resides underneath our skin (dermis) of the scalp. The shafts are the visible, flowing strands of hair that we see on our heads coming out of our scalp.
Both of these structures plays a role in determining overall hair shape and the shape of the follicle plays a major role in hair texture. If you were to look at the follicle of straight hair, you would find it is perfectly round whereas if you look at the follicle of curly hair you will see an oval shape.
The shape of the hair follicle acts like a mold for the creation of the hair fiber. The flatter the oval is, the curlier the hair will be. Very tightly coiled hair is due to the nearly flat, ribbon-like structure of the follicles. To visualize this, think about those small circular black rubber-bands, imagine taking that rubber-band between your pointer finger and thumb and applying pressure. The rubber-band gets flatter. This oval to nearly flattened shape is what produces highly coiled hair, hair that resembles more of a spring/spiral shape than a curl shape. It’s because of the wiry, springy shape that the nature natural hair is a dry one. The numerous bends in kinky, nappy(not a bad word), hair stop the sebum(oil) from spreading evenly along the hair fiber. Sebum is a light yellow, oily substance that is secreted by the sebaceous glands that help keep the skin and hair moisturized. Sebum is made up of triglycerides, free fatty acids, wax esters, squalene, cholesterol esters, and cholesterol. As a result of the many bends and curves of a textured hair strand the sebum gets "stuck" at each bend, giving way to an oilier or more moisturized scalp and drier mid-shafts-to ends. What’s interesting is that African/African American textured hair produces PLENTY of protective sebum. Actually, textured hair produces more sebum than Caucasian and Asian hair even. The difference is in the hair strands, Caucasian and Asian hair strands have no bends to stop the sebum from moisturizing the entirety of each hair strand.
First things first.
Oils do not hydrate your hair. There is a widespread misconception that carrier oils like Canola, Sunflower, Coconut, etc will hydrate your hair. Oils do not and cannot hydrate your hair. Oils can perform a variety of benefits for your hair, whether it's on the inside of your hair strand or on the outside but hydrating isn't one of them. In order for oils to penetrate your cuticle layer, the lipid molecules (whoa science) need to be teeny-tiny enough for them to penetrate your cuticle layer to feed from the inside out. Otherwise the oil will remain outside on top of your hair strand coating it with a protective barrier. (This isn't all bad, it's just important to know.)
Remember when I leveled up your LOC game ? If you're not an LOCer, that's cool too. LOCing is one method that is beginning to become less relevant due to higher performing products for natural hair. Regardless, the information is still necessary. Check it out here. It's important to note that if your hair still feels dry after conditioning or deep conditioning you may need to reevaluate your product choices.
To summarize the LOC post, oils can have moisturizing, penetrating and nourishing properties, but they cannot and do not hydrate your hair like water or water based products will.
Did you know that there is a difference between Hydration and Moisture?
Yes girl, they are not the same. Think of them more as sisters and not twins. Hydrating products are formulated to increase the moisture or water content in your hair. Moisturizing products are formulated to smooth your hair cuticle by forming a sealing barrier on the hair fiber. This is where the difference between the two can get confusing because sometimes the terms are used interchangeably and quite honestly incorrectly.
Hydrated, well-moisturized hair are key components for optimal healthy hair. Hydration should start from the inside and work it's way outwards. Meaning that you need to incorporate drinking water into your diet and eating hair healthy foods alongside with using products that properly hydrate your hair. Your diet plays a major role into the health of your body. How you treat your body will show up in your skin, your hair and your nails, but we will talk about eating for healthy hair in a separate post.
The main purpose of hydration products is to increase the moisture content in the hair strands and to reduce the moisture loss. Hygroscopic substances also known ashumectants allow products to perform this way by absorbing water from surroundings.
Moisturizers on the other hand are considered to be substances that actively impair the evaporation of water. They are formulated to smooth hair cuticles which leads to a softer texture achieved by forming a barrier on the hair strand. Doesn't this remind you of a little something called Sealing ? Moisturizing the hair often involves the use of emollients such as butters, heavy creams and or oils to lock water content into the hair strands. Moisturizers and hydration products both aid in making sure that your hair gets all the necessary components to fight dryness, dehydration, signs of aging and environmental damage. By achieving and retaining optimal hydration alongside proper moisture you will be on a path towards healthier hair.
Let's talk about Hygral Fatigue, Moisture Overload and Excessive Hydration. yes, sometimes too much of a good thing can be bad.
We are all friends here right? So this means we can be honest with each other. In this spirit of honesty I want you to answer these questions for me before we move forward.
Do you deep condition your hair for 1 or more hours?
Do you deep condition overnight?
How many times a week are you co-washing?
Do you wet your hair every day because your hair or scalp feels dry?
Are you wetting or co-washing frequently because you maintain an active lifestyle?
Do you wet or co-wash when your scalp feels dry?
Is your hair completely dry before you re-wet it again?
Do you deep condition with only moisture/hydration based products?
Do you deep condition with only protein/strengthening based products?
Do you over-use conditioners, leave-ins, butters or creams?
Do you truly know how your hair looks and feels when it is properly moisturized?
If you answered yes to any and or multiple questions the first thing you need to do is STOP! Next, pay close attention to this next section. It's time to become more purposeful in your hair care.
The Lowdown on moisture Overload
With hydrated, moisturized hair being the all-consuming goal for natural hair,it is easy to fall into a pattern of hair habits that are unhealthy and not as beneficial. It's so easy to think "Hey, my hair feels dry, so I clearly need more hydration and moisture" or "My hair and scalp are constantly dry, so I need to re-wet, co-wash, etc to fix that issue."
In most cases, it is not a hydration issue, it is a retention issue. Water is being lost at a rate that is the same or higher than the rate that it is being replaced or re-hydrated. This moisture loss issue leads a constant cycle of hydrate->moisturize->dehydrated hair->re-wet or worse, breakage because you let your hair or scalp stay dry and dehydrated. This constant cycle of re-wetting your hair because of "dryness" is where you can fall prey to moisture overload and excessive hydration. Over-conditioning and over-moisturizing can make you feel like you are experiencing Hygral Fatigue because the symptoms can present themselves in similar ways.
Moisture overload is described as continuously using products that are moisture rich or focus on relieving dry hair without using any type of protein treatment for balance. These come in the form of rinse-off conditioners, co-washes, masks, and/or deep conditioners. When you factor in the daily overuse of D.I.Y mists, leave-in creams, lotions, sprays, and butters with the treatment products mentioned above, you may begin to notice how easy it is to fall into a trap of moisture overload. Even i by accident. As a result of continuously overloading moisture, your hair will become a soggy, mushy mess and it can begin to lose elasticity. Having a protein/moisture balance is important in hair care but with so much emphasis put on avoiding protein overload, it can be easy to over-compensate becoming hung up on moisture.
This over-moisturizing issue is so prevalent in the natural hair community. Conditioning and deep conditioning are deemed as one of the most important steps in any healthy hair regimen. This laser focus has led to some pretty extremely unnecessary hair care practices. Naturals are slathering on leave-in conditioners, spray-on conditioners, hair butters, hair lotions, hair creams, and hair oils all for the sake of hydrated, super soft hair. Adding to the overuse of products is using rinse-off conditioners in combination with deep conditioners during the same wash session; or using deep conditioners and leaving them on for hours on end or even overnight. This stops today.
Conditioners, Deep Conditioners and Hair Masques/Treatments are formulated to work within a certain time-frame and after that time-frame has passed there is nothing else beneficial taking place. Hair that is being repeatedly treated with moisture boosting ingredients on a regular basis tends to feel really soft and nice, but can lead to gummy, mushy, hair that offers no hold, has little strength and is lacking elasticity.
Excessive Hydration Syndrome AKA Doing the Absolute Most
Excessive Hydration stems from the overuse of water or water based products generally used because your hair or scalp feels dry, brittle, or crunchy. I can't count the number of times I've seen people on social media tell other people to spray their hair with a D.I.Y mix of oils and water to re-hydrate/moisturize, or to wet their hair everyday to get rid of dry hair. That is not the way to hydrated hair! It's actually a fast track to overly hydrated hair and that sis, is not a good thing.
Let's say you have been co-washing daily or every other day, doing a nighttime routine, where you are adding more moisture by heavily misting, then refreshing the next day or every two days and never allowing your hair to simply be dry or to dry completely. You're on the way to Excessive Hydration and Hygral Fatigue. You probably aren't familiar with the term Excessive Hydration because you've heard it being described as Hygral Fatigue. There is no Webster definition for Hygral Fatigue (yet at least), but let's break it down to give you a better understanding.
I think of the term hygroscopic when I see the word hygral. A hygroscopic substance is one that readily attracts water from its surroundings, through either absorption or adsorption. There is also this definition of hygral expansionin the context of clothing fibers. Simply put, hygral expansion is the resulting measurement of how woven wool fabrics dry out in oven drying or air drying after being immersed in water. This measurement is taken to see how the integrity of the fabric holds up after immersion.
Extreme tiredness or exhaustion.
If you have been following me for any length of time you're aware of how I always say your hair is a plant. Just like a plant can be over-watered, so can your hair. Textured hair is similar to a sponge in the way that it absorbs water and releases water as it dries. If you think of your hair strands as sponge-like rubber bands that are expanding and contracting each time your hair takes in and releases water, then you'll understand how Hygral Fatigue works. Every time you apply water to your hair, it is soaked up and your cuticle expands and collapses as water enters and exits the hair shaft. This is a normal occurrence on any head of hair, but when you begin to constantly wet, re-wet, spray, mist, co-wash, and etc your hair strands are expanding and contracting every single time. With each expansion and contraction, that rubber-band stretches and stretches and stretches. The more that the rubber band expands and contracts will eventually lead to loss of elasticity with breakage following soon after because there is just has nothing left to give.
Let's Talk About Retention, Baby
If your hair is dry or you constantly feel like it dries out, you need to look first look at retention. Is water being lost at a rate that is the same or higher than the rate that it is being replaced or re-hydrated? Next you want to look at the products you are using to keep your hair hydrated and moisturized.
Are you just using a spray bottle blend with watered down conditioner and oil?
Are you only using raw butter mixtures?
Are you using products that have a barrier forming, moisture retaining ingredients?
These are important questions to keep in mind as you do an audit on your hair care products to see if you are causing your dry hair and scalp. Don't forget dry hair and scalp can also be caused by a clogged scalp. Whether it's clogged from dandruff, dirt, or product build-up, they all play a part in blocking your follicles. Properly cleansing your hair with shampoo is so important in a healthy hair routine (co-washers only, I'm looking at you!). Yes, you read that correctly. Only co-washing can lead to product build-up which leads to a clogged scalp. There are some cleansing conditioners on the market but why not choose a gentle shampoo instead. You would be doing your scalp a favor since a clogged scalp means that no sebum can break through the product build-up and that means a dry head of hair! It's already hard for sebum to properly moisturize your hair due to the bends of your hair strands, don't make it any harder!
How to Banish
perpetually dry hair
With proper ingredients, proper application, and consistent scalp care you can banish your perpetually dry hair and scalp. Knowing what ingredients keep your scalp moisturized and your hair hydrated will be the turning point you need in your natural hair journey. You want to always be mindful that the products you're using contain ingredients to add, boost and retain hydration and moisture.
Easy Tips Stop Dry Hair in it's Tracks
2. Scalp Care (clarifying, massages, scalp scrubs, etc)
3. Steam Treatments
4. Hydrate your hair by drinking enough water
5. Eating for healthy hair
6. Using either a deep conditioner or rinse-off after shampooing
7. Using pH balanced products for your hair and scalp
8. Professional trims (dry ends aren't a good look sis)
9. Use products formulated with ingredients to boost AND retain hydration and moisture
10. Sleep with your hair protected and with a real satin bonnet/pillowcase
How are you feeling about your haircare regimen after reading this post? Are there things that you need to change?
Share this post with a curlfriend and leave your questions below!
Make sure you are subscribed to the newsletter so that you'll get posts delivered to your inbox. The next two posts will cover how to take care of your hair in the winter and learning about labels and ingredients to boost hydration and moisture!
P.S. Now that you've leveled up your moisture and hydration game, don't you want to Rescue your Washday too? Sign up today to receive a free copy ($25 value) of the Washday Rescue ebook straight to your inbox when it is released!
Hygroscopic: a substances ability to hold water molecules to absorption or adsorption.
Humectant: promotes moisture rentention. Humectants have the ability to attract water from the atmospshere. This bonding between humectants and water improves moisture retention by minimizing water loss due to evaporate. Ideal for thirsty, dry hair in most settings.
Follicles: The golf club shaped pocket that hair strands grow from.
Sebum: The oils that is produced to lubricate your hair and skin.