Friday, 5 February 2010

How important is water?

Friday's food for thought comes courtesy of an email from Dessalina who asks, 'Can too much water cause damage to hair? How can you moisturise your hair and still keep it strong?'

I have previously blogged about hygral fatigue which starts off when hair strands expand when wet and then contract when dry. Repeating this process several times can create damage to the hair cuticle first because it can be chipped off and then later damage to the main strand leading to split ends/breakage etc. It is not really about too much water but really just water, full stop.

Now wetting hair does have its advantages. It makes the hair more flexible. Is there a way to completely avoid water or water based products? In my view, these are some of the best products to use in curly hair to enhance flexibility especially if you intend to manipulate your hair into a style.

I have to repeat my usual line and say that hair is individual. You have to find the right amount of water and type of product. Some people swear by conditioner, gel, glycerin, water misting...or a combination. You absolutely CAN go wrong with water hence the reason for mushy hair, but with a little patience and practice, you will get your routine right.

For further study and paper references, I would recommend reading (use the search button!) posts on hygral fatigue, porosity (towel drying) and ofcourse coconut oil!

Finally, do share your successful routines. Is water an integral part of your routine? How much, how often and what type of product do you use?


  1. I've been really surprised by how much water my girls' hair really likes, especially my daughter with 4b hair. I noticed that last summer when they spent a lot of time splashing in their kiddie pool and taking swimming lessons, their hair looked and felt great.

    On an extended break from swimming, I found one daughter's 4b hair to be unusually dry. It took a couple of weeks for me to associate wetting her hair thoroughly a few times a week with it's great condition. Now I'm careful to wet it well a 2-3 times a week. We also do best with water-based products.

    How much does climate influence how hair responds to water or water-based products?

  2. I have a question I've been researching for days! I've heard great things about thermal water:

    I was wondering since it can restore the pH balance in skin can it do the exact thing with hair? Can it moisturize hair more like it does with skin?


    P.S. I hope you don't mind, but this is the first of my many questions.

  3. Great comments!
    @Joyful mom - The water in hair is in a constant balance with the environment. This is why humidity and temperature can affect hair. It all depends on how much water is in the air. I think it is always ideal to follow the touch and feel of the hair and modify products accordingly.

    @Addy - I have not heard of thermal water before. I had a quick look at the page and from the description it appears to be water with minerals. I have found that most people with natural/curly hair do not tend to like hard water (i.e water with calcium deposits, usually also silica). I do tend to be quite critical of cosmetic company claims especially when they misuse scientific terminology just to sound clever. For example inert gas nitrogen could easily be subsistuted with the word air because air is 78% nitrogen and doesn't react (inert). I prefer to see hard figures and facts in a scientific paper. It really sounds to me as a way to sell an overpriced bottle of water. In short I am not convinced that this product is any better than tap water, however if anyone else has used it and is convinced otherwise, I'm sure we would all love to read about it - so do comment! You are more than welcome to keep asking questions!!

  4. I probably would run from the rain, even though I'm natural. One word: shrinkage. Plus, I'm very gentle when I work with wet hair because water has put my hair in its weakest state. It gives me only temporary slip and softness because my hair is so dry and coarse when the water evaporates.

  5. I made a couple of spritzes (one for home and one for the office) made from water, jojoba oil, almond oil, and avocado oil. It keeps my curls bouncy, shiny, hydrated, and healthy. I also live in San Francisco...and there is so much moisture in the air. I can't help thinking that my hair thrives in this climate as well.

  6. lol misha, I haven't rocked free hair for a while for the same reason. I do definitely agree that handling hair when it is wet has to be done with great care. I don't really think my hair has more slip, I usually only get this with conditioner. It is however much softer and easier to move for styling.

  7. @naturalhairselection - Climate is a factor and I'm sure San Francisco is one of the best

  8. You said : ''It is not really about too much water but really just water, full stop.'' and it got me confused because i think you told me before that dampening the hair does not cause the hydral fatigue. The hair has to be wet.

    I rarely use water on my hair during the week unless i have to do big breads at night. I then use a little bit of water sometimes, to separate the hair at the tip and do my 4 braids without breaking the hair.

    I avoid water to avoid shrinkage that leads to breakage. I have come to the conclusion that the ''kinky hair need water'' speech might be a myth. It seems to be only necessary for styling or detangling purposes cuz the hair looses the water after few minutes anyways

  9. Hi Kadiane. The effect of water on the hair strand is that it passes into the strand and as a result there will be an expansion of the strand. I cannot say definitively without an experiment when hygral fatigue has happened. I can say that everything we do to hair once it is out of the follicle is most likely to damage it, including wetting it.

    We therefore have to see damage in a different way, not as pure prevention but also in some cases as a necessary part of grooming. In my view it is unlikely that slight dampening of hair has the same effect as saturating the hair with water. Is it possible that damage occurs in both scenarios? Yes it is possible. Is it possible that one has less damage and potential benefits? Yes it is possible.

    I am therefore saying that I don't think the worry of hygral fatigue should stop you from making your hair a little more flexible so that you can style it. I hope this is clear and I'm sorry for confusing you before.

    I am not certain about the 'need' for water either. I like water but I'm not certain that it is needed. I am currently researching this topic, looking to see if African hair really does contain less water than Asian or Caucasian hair. I'm also looking to see if I can find any papers on swelling differences/similarities between different ethnicities.

  10. Thanks for letting me ask questions! Do you want me to leave them in the comments or do you want me to private message you?

  11. Any method you prefer Addy! The questions asked are exactly what keep the blog going so I'm happy for you to comment or email :)

  12. I've been spritzing my hair with a water-based spritz almost every day for months but this month I decided to try wetting my hair with water each night. Particularly after sealing with an oil-based product (right now: a mix of oils, including castor oil), my hair looks and feels great. So I read your mention of hygral fatigue and got concerned...until I saw in the comments where you mentioned the balance between hair and the environment. Here in the Midwest the humidity is between 50-60% so I think we're good! :)

  13. @Anon - Thanks for sharing!

  14. I don't think water is as damaging to hair as this blog makes it out to be. I know many people who wet their hair daily and their hair is long and healthy. I have recently been wetting my hair (4b)in the shower everyday and it's not Sahara dry anymore. Seems to me as the people with the driest hair type we(African Americans) should be the ones to wet our hair more often. Anything can cause damage to the hair but for me there are more pros than cons to wetting the hair often.

  15. Well Anon, I do not think you actually read this post. If you had you would have seen that I stated that water and water based products are some of the BEST products to enhance flexibility of hair.

    I think we should think about hair like wool or silk which are also keratin based furs (like our hair!). Now if you have a lovely silk cloak or a nice cashmere sweater, would you wash it everyday and expect it to look the same?

  16. Am I the same person that asked you this question, I dont remember it was 2 years ago, but thank you for the respond, my name is spelled exactly that way, just wondering if I have a twin.I love reading your blog.

  17. I've been reading a lot of your site since I found it. CAn't find discussions on hard water; have I missed any? I've had a lot of trouble with my hair-weakened, dry, brittle, split ends, and no shine, and I can't think of any other reason other than the hard water. It's pH is 8! Supposedly it's 9 grains per gallon hardness.

    Though I grew up in this town with hard water, I didn't seem to notice the issue until I moved back after a 3 year hiatus in a sunny area with soft water. (4 grains per gallon, I think?) I was working out a lot, so sweating...occasional shampoo but mostly diluted ACV rinse, and my hair was the BEST it ever was.

    I've been trying to use rain water (pH 6) but it seems like no matter what I do now, there's no helping it. Any help appreciated :-)


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