If you suffer from dry hair, it’s because the hair system is not properly hydrated. Healthy hair typically has 6% moisture. When the hair system becomes dry, it’s typically found in hair that has high porosity.
What is High Porosity Hair?
High porosity hair has raised cuticles that will not hold moisture in the cortex or cellular membrane complex. The twisted, elliptical, corkscrew hair shaft structure for type 4 hair makes it particularly susceptible to raised cuticles (i.e. high porosity) and ultimately breakage at those points where the hair makes a 180-degree bend. If your hair is damaged from excessive flat ironing, coloring or mechanical stress, the problem of dryness gets much worse.
Why is Highly Porose Hair Easily Damaged?
Porous hair systems tend to absorb (sorption) water very quickly in high humidity conditions. It will also allow the water to evaporate (desorption) very quickly in dry conditions like when you are indoors during the winter months. Since we tend to spend the bulk of our time inside during the dry climate conditions water from our hair and skin is constantly evaporating and eventually, they becomes dry.
Is High Porosity Hair Correctable?
High porosity hair does not mean you are confined to eternal hair dryness and breakage. You just have to take extra care in styling your hair as well as know what types of products will work well with your particular hair type. Below, I will discuss some of the solutions to correcting dry hair. But before I do, I want to also mention the fact the low porosity hair can be a problem as well.
Low porosity hair is the reverse of high porosity hair. The cuticle is more tightly closed and although the hair will absorb less water, it will actually hold onto the water a lot longer than highly porose hair. Unfortunately, when the moisture reserve begins to dwindle, it much more difficult to replace it because of the tightly closed cuticle and therein lies the problem. Luckily there is a quick fix to get low porosity hair back on track.
Tip: Low porosity hair dryness is not as prevalent as high porosity hair dryness but is an easy fix nonetheless. Try using a castile soap periodically. The problem is that your hair cuticles are too tightly attached to the hair shaft. The high pH soap will gently raise and open the cuticle, to allow more water and oil into the cortex without doing too much damage.
Now I will discuss the following 4 methods you can use to treat dry hair due to high porosity: Oil/Butters, Humectants, Emulsions, and Silicones
Myth or Truth: Can Oil and Butters Correct Dry Hair?
All About Oils and Butters:
If oil does not have any water in it, how in the world can it be moisturizing?
There has been a lot of discussion regarding the use of oils and butters to treat dry hair. It’s even been suggested that oils and butters should be your first choice as a moisturizer. While this can be true to a certain degree, one huge point was missed. Your hair has to be properly hydrated in order for an oil to “appear” to be moisturizing.
Why aren’t Oils and Butters Good Moisturizers When Used Alone?
Oils and butters do not contain one drop of water. So why do we refer to them as moisturizing when they do not contain water? Oils and Butters are really a collection of essential fatty acids (EFA). Depending on the structure and molecular weight of the EFA, they will either coat the outside of the hair or penetrate the hair cuticle and cellular membrane complex.
Tip: Oils and butters are nothing more than emollients, which are chemical agents that increase your skin and hair’s hydration (water content) by REDUCING evaporation-and NOT ADDING MOISTURE!
So I would have to say inaurguably, that soley using oils and/or butters will moisturize your hair is in fact a myth.
Oils and Butters Dos and Don’ts
Do use Oils and Butter on Hydrated, Healthy, Normal Hair
When oils/butters coat the outside of the hair, they make your hair shiny, soft and to some degree detangled. On the other hand, when they penetrate the hair cuticle they increase your hair’s elasticity and suppleness because they are able to trap in the hair’s natural moisture. When moisture is trapped into the hair, it’s more difficult for your hair to lose moisture due to evaporation in dry climates. The end result is that the hair will feel more moisturized when oil is used but it is not the result of oil bringing moisture to the hair, instead, it is the oil’s ability to aid our hair in using its natural hydration more efficiently.
Don’t use Oils and Butters on Dry Hair
On the flip side, if your hair is dry adding oil will do nothing to moisturize your hair. In fact, it will take longer for dry hair to adsorb moisture if oil has been applied because the oil will act as a sealant and coat the hair. Again, oils and butters only aid in moisture retention when your hair is already properly hydrated.
The Experiment: When your hands are extremely dry, apply your favorite oil or butter to them and see if they feel moisturized. My hypothesis is that they will feel even more dry, which is exactly what will happen when you apply oil to dry hair.
Tip: If you are a “diehard” oil and butter user, make sure to apply them to damp hair. It is also great to apply a light dressing of oil to your ends after you shower.
Super Tip: Use a steamer with a pre-poo to combat hair dryness. This combination will bring both water and oil to the hair system.
I’ve discussed oils and their ability to stop moisture from being absorbed or desorbed from the hair, which makes me think of a similarly acting ingredient regarding absorption and desorption-humectants.
Myth or Truth: Can Humectants Reduce Dryness?
All About Humectants
What are Humectants?
Humectants also do not contain any water. However, they have a huge affinity for water. That means they will take moisture from the air, your hair products, or your hair to stay hydrated. When used in hair care products, they will also slow down the evaporation of water from the hair. Again, this is due to water’s affinity/attraction for the humectants as compared to the energy needed for evaporation in dry climate conditions. Glycerin is a typical humectants used in hair products. You have to be careful of using it in high and low humidity conditions. There can be some drawbacks from using high glycerin formulas depending on the dew point.
Myth or Truth: Do Emulsions Reduce Dryness?
So I would have say that it is true that humectants can reduce dry hair-however, it depends on the dew point as stated above.
Let’s Talk Emulsions
What are Emulsions?
In my opinion, the best of both worlds are hair products that are cream or lotion conditioning moisturizers. The technical term is oil in water emulsions. It is both water and oil (hybrid) combined with the help of a conditioning emulsifier. Emulsions are suspended droplets of oil trapped in a water matrix. The oil droplets are incased in an emulsifier and allow the oil/water mixture to not separate. Cream and lotion emulsions are considered moisturizers because they possess water while at the same time being oil.
Emulsion Mechanics and how it works on my hair
The water/oil emulsion can either penetrate the hair cuticle or coat the hair shaft. The end result is that when oil and water penetrate the cuticle, the hair is moisturized because of two mechanisms:
- The formula water is hydrating the hair system.
- Oils that have penetrated the cuticle act to slow down the evaporation rate of water from the hair.
Tip: Humectants can also be added to the water matrix of the emulsion to improve the moisturizing properties of the product. It stays suspended in the water matrix due to its affinity for water. It also acts to farther slow down the evaporation rate of water from hair.
Truth or Myth: Emulsifier Aid in Reducing Dry Hair?
Yes, the conditioning emulsifier has another function. Due to its positive charge, it will coat and smooth down the cuticle. Thus, it will make it even more difficult for water to evaporate. Remember, your hair negatively charged and is dry because the cuticle is raised. Anything that will coat the hair and smooth the cuticle will translate into more moisture in the hair System. BTMS is a typical fatty acid alcohol emulsifier.
So it’s True, Emulsions are Great at Reducing Hair Dryness.
Tip: Cream and Lotion emulsion products can be added to damp or dry hair. However, I would use caution when applying an emulsion to dripping wet hair. Depending on the oil to emulsifier ratio (for you tech geeks the HLB), the extra water could “break the emulsion” and cause it to separate. Not a big deal if it happens during the application but the product will lose some of its effectiveness.
Tip: Root to tip application of an emulsion-based product is a great way to mechanically smooth down the cuticle. Remember, raised cuticles on the hair structure cause hair dryness. Anything that will cause the cuticle to retract will mean more moisture in the hair system.
Let’s Talk Silicones
Myth or Truth, Does Silicone Reduce Dryness?
Silicone coats the hair also. Why is it considered bad for my hair?
Silicones (aka “Cones”) are some of the best coating compounds on the market. They give your hair incredible shine without weighting down the hair. However, they are too good at coating the hair. It all goes back to moisture in the hair and how to effect its evaporation. What I did not elaborate on earlier in this article is that moisture in our hair actually is in equilibrium with the environment that we are living. In dry conditions, our hair loses moisture via evaporation. In humid conditions, our hair adsorbs moisture. The problem with silicone is that while it will slow down (not completely stop) the evaporation of moisture from hair, it almost completely stops the adsorption of moisture back on to the hair shaft. “Net – Net” your hair becomes drier over time as your hair evaporates moisture without being able to adsorb moisture back into the hair. Remember, hair dryness can lead to breakage.
“Tips for my Cone Junkies:”
1. Make sure your hair is properly hydrated before you use Cones. It is kind of like getting a cold drink of water before a long hot walk. It’s going to be awhile before you get some more water so drink up.
2. Use a SLS or harsh detergent type shampoo to strip the silicone from the hair on a more frequent basis. Only use the SLS shampoo for stripping out the silicone.
3. Follow up with deep condish and consider going without silicone for a while. During this time, focus on hydrating/ moisturizing the hair. You have to find your rhythm on how long to stay on and off silicone. Let your hair guide you in finding the right frequency. The goal is to have properly hydrated hair.
Lastly, Let’s Look at Proteins
Myth or Truth-Do Proteins Moisturize the Hair?
How in the world is protein moisturizing?
Typically, protein is not used in its natural state due to its size. It’s too big to be effective in skin, hair and body products. Most products use hydrolyzed protein, which is not meant to convey any moisturizing properties what so ever.
Just as oils are a collection of essential fatty acids, protein is similar in that it is a collection of amino acids. These amino acids are linked together by peptide bonds to form long protein chains. Hydrolyzation is the process of “cutting up” the protein chain into very specific molecular weight segments of amino acid. All segmentation occurs at the peptide bond and a by-product of breaking a peptide bond is the formation of water. The hydrolyzed protein segments are smaller and from a stereo chemical standpoint, can benefit the hair.
Hydrolyzed protein does two things:
- It will strengthen the hair structure
- It will repair/coat/patch areas on the hair system that have been damaged. Damaged can be defined as split ends, missing and or RAISED cuticles.
So I would say that it’s a myth-protein does not moisturize the hair.
In closing, preventing hair dryness is all about 1st) properly hydrating the hair and 2nd) slowing down the evaporation (desorption) process. So to summarize:
- If you are going to use an oil or butter. Pre hydrate your hair before using the oil or butter. Think of it as going to a BYOW affair. You have to “bring your own water” to the party in order for an oil to be effective at moisturizing your hair.
- If you like to use humectants “spritz” products, then think of them as a “Water Kleptomaniacs” and your hair is benefitting from the stolen goods. Humectants steal water from the air and your hair products to ensure that it stays hydrated. Since humectants are also coating the hair shaft, the hair will also be hydrated.
- Emulsions that have humectants are the best of all worlds. You get benefits of moisture and oil in one product. They should be applied to dry or moist hair.
- Silicones are way too much of a good thing. Your hair is not given the chance to adequately re-hydrate itself. Over time, your hair becomes drier because moisture evaporates faster than it can adsorb water.
- Strip the silicone from your hair periodically and re hydrate/ deep condishing.Protein is the repairman. It coats, smoothes, and patches damaged areas of the hair. If you can patch those areas where the cortex is exposed, your hair will stay hydrated longer. You will also delay/lessen/prevent the possibility of hair breakage!
- Low porosity hair can use a higher pH shampoo. I am not saying going back to SLS. Castile soap is good middle ground for cleansing the hair. Follow up with a deep condishing!