Hair Moisture 201: Choosing the Right Products

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You know how to moisturize your hair, but how do you know what product(s) will work for you? Unfortunately, there is no silver bullet. A lot of what you will need to do will involve a considerable amount of trial and error. However, the types of products you use will vary, depending on three key considerations: (1) your hair type, density, texture, and porosity, (2) the climate in which you live, and (3) your lifestyle and personal preferences.

Fashion Silhouettes #6

Why does hair type matter? Because different hair types require different hair care regimens and respond differently to various products. For instance, if you have type 2A hair, you will likely have a vastly different hair care routine from someone who has type 4C hair. This is because each hair type has unique characteristics and moisture needs, and different moisture needs require different products and techniques. But, be careful. It is easy to get caught up in superlatives (e.g., “This is the healthiest hair regimen for people with 3B hair”). A prime example of this is the hair care aisles at most Big Box and beauty supply stores. Usually, there are mainstream products and then an “ethnic hair care” aisle. Such labeling can be misleading … Several times, I have been in the so-called ethnic hair care section and couldn’t find a product I needed and have often purchased a product that was marketed toward someone with type 2 or 3 hair instead. On one particular occasion, I was reaching for a mainstream brand while a Caucasian female in the same aisle was reaching for a brand geared toward those with “ethnic” hair. We ended up laughing (almost hysterically) because we both thought it was silly that hair and beauty companies don’t realize that there is no one-size-fits-all hair care, especially when it comes to textured hair. We both thought it was hilarious that a product geared for my market segment didn’t work for me but worked perfectly for her. The converse was also true. A product geared toward her market segment didn’t work for her but worked amazingly for me!

If you have wavy or curly hair, don’t be afraid to use a product the mass media says isn’t for “YOU.” By the same token, not every product that is created for your hair “type” will work. If you’re like me and your tresses are comprised of two or more hair types, you are going to have to go through a significant amount of trial and error to determine what will work best for your hair. So, take it in stride, and always be willing to think outside the box. Nothing beats a failure but a try!

Hair density, texture, and porosity will also come into play. Hair density refers to the number of strands you have on your head. High-density hair means that you have lots of strands. As a result, your scalp is difficult or impossible to see when dry and in its natural shape (when loose). Low-density hair means you have fewer strands than average and can see your scalp easily. Medium-density hair means that you have an average number of strands and can see some of your scalp.

Hair texture references how “thin” or “thick” your hair is and can be fine, medium, or coarse. Fine hair has difficulty holding styles, especially for long periods of time, is easily “weighed down” by products, and can appear thin and stringy, particularly when worn in pin-straight styles. Fine hair is more prone to split ends and breakage because it is the most fragile hair texture. As a result, low- and no-manipulation hairstyles, as well as gentle hair care techniques (i.e., when combing, brushing, and detangling), are often crucial. Coarse hair holds styles very well, even over long periods of time, always appears “voluminous,” and is the least prone to breakage (i.e., from heat or chemical processes like permanent hair colors or relaxers). Medium texture hair is somewhere in-between. Medium hair is not as fragile as fine hair and, like coarser hair textures, holds styles fairly well.

Hair porosity is how well your hair absorbs moisture. It can be low, normal, or high. Low porosity hair means that your hair is resistant to retaining moisture, so moisture has a hard time entering the hair shaft. To infuse moisture into your hair, consider investing in a hair steamer, using humectant-rich products (i.e., glycerin-based products), and deep conditioning on a regular basis. High porosity hair absorbs water very easily but loses the moisture just as quickly. High porosity is caused by “gaps” in the hair’s cuticle from excessive heat, chemicals, or poor hair practices and techniques. Balancing deep conditioning and protein treatments will be central to attaining healthier strands. Normal porosity is the most ideal. This means that your hair easily absorbs and retains moisture.

Does your hair take hours to dry after you wash it? You probably have low porosity hair. Is your hair fully dry in a matter of minutes? Then, you likely have high porosity hair. Somewhere in-between? Chances are you hold the coveted normal porosity position.

I have very fine, high-density hair with normal to low porosity. This means that my hair takes a couple of minutes before becoming fully saturated with water (has low porosity). Each of my individual hair strands is very small in diameter (fine). However, because I have lots of strands (densely-packed hair), it often resembles some of the same characteristics of someone with naturally thick hair. My sister’s hair is the direct opposite of mine. She has very thick hair (the diameter of each of her strands is quite large), but she has low to medium density (much fewer strands than I do). But, because I have medium to high density, my hair often seems as though it is as thick as hers even though it isn’t. In fact, to convince my sister of this fact, I unraveled one of my shed hairs from my brush and compared it to one of hers. The diameter of her hair strand was almost 3x larger than mine! I don’t think she believed how fine my hair was until I did a side-by-side comparison of both of our strands.

In general, people with finer/low-density/high porosity hair (fewer strands/smaller diameter strands/that absorb moisture quickly) will prefer lighter and lesser products. People with thicker/high-density/low porosity hair (high number of individual strands/bigger diameter strands/that absorb moisture slowly) will often need to use thicker products and more of them. (Hello heavy-handedness! 😉  Those with medium-density/medium thickness/normal porosity are somewhere in-between.

Fashion Silhouettes #15

Hair length also affects hair moisture, especially as your hair grows from one length to another. One of the things I quickly realized is that when I had super short hair, moisturizing it was stress-free. It also retained moisture easily. By the time I attained shoulder-length hair, I started experiencing breakage from my hair becoming increasingly dry and harder to hydrate. So, don’t take your hair’s moisture level for granted. And, remember that the longer your hair grows, the harder it is for your scalp’s sebum (a natural oil produced by the sebaceous glands) to reach the ends of your wavy/curly/coily hair.

Weather and Hair Care

Another important factor that most people don’t consider is weather. If you live in a mild climate, your hair will have completely different needs from those with your same hair type and texture in a more extreme climate (whether extremely hot or cold). For instance, when I moved from Seattle, Washington to Huntsville, Alabama, I had to completely overhaul my hair care routine. The products that once left my hair moisturized for days no longer seemed to work or had to be applied two or three times a day due to the intense humidity. Even in the winter time, I often have to combat high humidity levels, so I have had to tweak my hair care plan to accommodate this factor. The bottom line? Climate matters. So, make sure that you design your hair regimen in such a way that your local weather won’t wreak havoc on your hair.

Fashion Silhouettes #14

Let’s face it, hair type, density, texture, and porosity aside, sometimes lifestyle choices and personal preferences have to take precedence. If you work 14-hour days or frequently travel, obviously you will need a simpler, less complicated hair regimen than someone who has a less demanding schedule or occupation. And, that’s okay. There is no “right” or “wrong” when it comes to simple or complex hair regimens. If your wash routine has 14 steps, you can only apply products in a certain, complex order, and your hair is healthy, moisturized, and retaining length, a complex, multifaceted routine may be a good fit for you. However, if you are having difficulty keeping up with you hair wash, deep conditioning, hair style schedule, simplification may be in order. And, that’s okay, too. Do what works for you, and ignore the theatrics of those who tell you otherwise! 😉

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9 Comments

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9 responses to “Hair Moisture 201: Choosing the Right Products

  1. Pingback: My 2014 New Year’s HAIR Resolutions + Encouragement | Relaxed. Transitioning. Natural. Beautiful.

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  3. Pingback: Hair Moisture 401 (the Grad Class): How to Maintain Healthy, Moisturized Hair | Relaxed. Transitioning. Natural. Beautiful.

  4. Yindie

    #Whew! That’s a relief, any suggestions please? I’m completely new to all this 🙈🙈

    • No two sets of hair are exactly alike, so you’ll have to experiment with various methods and techniques to see what works for your particular strands. Some initial suggestions: (1) moisturize and seal your hair properly, (2) invest in a good pre-poo or deep conditioner, and (3) develop healthy hair techniques that minimize breakage (i.e., minimizing the amount of heat you use on your hair or excessive styling). Hope that helps point you in the right direction …

  5. Yindie

    Hi, I have highly porous hair, with a mixture of fine, medium and thick strands (more of medium though) and medium density and I’m wondering if it’s possible to make all my stands thick and also increase the density of my hair ? Plus I just did the big chop at the end of August and I was totally oblivious to everything in this article, I only used water on my hair daily and nothing more… I hope my hair isn’t beyond repair
    I have 4a/4b coils.
    Thank you for this great article, I’m going to try every single thing in it! And with any luck I hope my hair becomes of normal porosity (is that still possible??)

    • Thanks, hon! The density of your hair is mostly genetic. Not much you can do to change that. However, there are tons of products on the market that can temporarily expand the hair’s cuticle and make it appear fuller (think volumizers)! I personally like to use castor oil. It naturally regrows and thickens hair over time and also helps strengthen strands and prevent breakage (i.e., from bad bacteria that may grow on the scalp). Give yourself a scalp massage three times a week with a tea spoon or two of castor oil. You can use it plain or add a few drops of rosemary or tea tree essential oil. Do this for a month, or two, or three. You should start to see results after 4 weeks (if used consistently). 😉

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