If you ask any curly girl what is their main challenge or objective when taking care of their hair, I bet the most frequent answer will be ‘Keeping my hair moisturised’.
There’s no surprise here since the shape of curly hair means that the natural secretion from our hair’s sebaceous glands (sebum) is unable to travel its entire length protecting it from external damage and preventing quick water evaporation.
Additionally, this task can become even more difficult if you factor in hair porosity, use of heat styling tools, chemical hair treatments (dying, bleaching), the environment (the sun, the sea water, low/high temperatures, etc.)...
Though this can make it sound that keeping curly hair moisturised is a hard task to achieve the truth is humectants can be the secret weapon for keeping your hair hydrated for longer periods of time.
WHAT ARE HUMECTANTS?
Humectants are ingredients or substances capable of attracting water from their surroundings and hold on to it keeping things moist. When used in a hair product, humectants will absorb water into them and hold it onto the hair.
This will help the hair stay moisturised for longer periods of time especially when emollients (e.g. butter and vegetable oils) are also present in the product formula/
Examples include: Glycerin is perhaps the best-known humectant alongside honey and panthenol, however, there are plenty of other humectants in the ‘product formulation sphere’. Therefore, when you’re out and about looking for a product capable of deeply moisturising your dry tresses lookout for these other ingredients in your product’s ingredient list:
Hydrolysed Proteins (e.g. keratin, silk, collagen)
SOMETHING TO CONSIDER
While glycerin has been highly demonised by many for making the hair feel dry and frizzy in low and high humidity conditions in the air, the reality is all humectants have this ability. Just as they can ‘pull’ water from the air onto the hair, they also have the ability to remove water from the hair into the air when there is low humidity outside.
However, humectants differ in their ability to absorb water and what these properties will bring to a formulation where there are other ingredients. Glycerin, for instance, has a high water-binding ability and is cheap to use by hair care product companies - it can be tricky to master its use.
AVOIDING DRYNESS & FRIZZ WITH HUMECTANTS
Well formulated products will have humectants to attract and hold water onto to the hair and emollients to seal the hair and delay water release. Make sure your product has a good balance of both, it can be enough to solve any issues of dryness and frizz.
Another solution to solve this issue in low or high humidity conditions is to look for products that have humectants after the first five ingredients or opt for ‘glycerin free’ products specifically. Lastly, avoiding humectants is never a good choice as virtually all well-formulated hair products will have them because they are so useful for hair care, especially for curly hair. Instead, keep a hair journal to help you find the ones your hair likes the most.