Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Deep conditioning: Repeated water exposure and weakness

We previously discussed curl definition in relation to changes in the hair protein keratin.  In the same study , they mention that repeated exposure to water softens and weakens nails

For example to 5-10 minutes wetting produced some structural changes to keratin but not as much as 15 minutes (After exposure to water for 15 minutes, the protein - keratin cannot take up any more water). 

The panel was therefore asked,  is less water better giving the benefit of added flexibility but not weakening the internal hair structure? Does the same concept apply to hair?

Noire: Possibly it depends on the study design 

This is a good question that speaks to the point of "saturation." I take a step back and ask, are nails "weakened" with water--or are they in fact more "malleable?" We all know that nails are "brittle" in general when dry. In materials science, the "strength" of a material is a completely different property, not to be compared with being it's flexibility or brittleness. Nails that contain water but not at the point of saturation are in fact not any weaker than when they are dry. The strength is the same, but the state of brittleness changes to flexible when wet (or even malleable). (Ref: H. Maeda 1989.) I can only agree if the nails were proven to be saturated with water repeatedly, therefore overcoming the inherent bonds in the nail repeatedly, causing a drop in the strength of the nail (a.k.a. weakness). This can also be applied to hair, because they are similar structurally, and accept water similarly in relative humidity conditions.

Jc: Yes, less is more

Hair when shaken in water loses protein (8mg per gram over 24 hours). This is most likely from the cuticle rather than the cortex but we know that loss of cuticle leads eventually to loss of cortex strength. Hair while more flexible when wet is also in its weakest form, therefore I think limiting water to only as much as you need is necessary. Do you really have to deep condition for 3 hours or would 30 minutes be enough? Do you have to soak your hair in water for daily styling or would a small spray be sufficient? Less is more in my opinion

Laquita:  Yes it applies, less is better. 

I would agree that this would apply to hair as well. And like Jc I would say that limiting water to only as much as you need is better. Again using conditioner as an example I find that if I attempt to detangle hair with simply using water - and I douse each section with it - the hair breaks more therefore requiring more time to detangle versus me using a mixture of conditioner and/or oil on each section, epecially when taking down and detangling extension braids that have been left in for months at a time.

And as far as conditioning I do believe 30 mins would be enough and when I wash/style other people's hair I don't go over 30 mins, and would do the same for myself but it's pretty much a matter multi-tasking. After washing my own hair - after I throw on that plastic cap I have time on my hands to do other stuff cooking, cleaning etc which results in me having the conditioner in for up to an hour.

I also believe that hair doesn't have to be under running water for 5 to 10 mins before washing - I just use enought water to get it wet and for my shampoo to lather which doesn't take 5 to 10 mins. While washing I turn off the water - then on again when I'm ready to rinse which again doesn't take 5 to 10 mins either.

I like the less is better mantra. If I'm wearing cornrows or braids, or puffs - each morning I let the spray from the shower lightly spritz my hair (again not soaking my hair to a point it's dripping wet - but just a little moist to the touch) before adding just a dab of oil to seal in the moisture. And when using a spray bottle I give it a quick spray then add oil or pomade. And I do this in the colder months as well because of the small amount of water used my hair is usually dry by the time I'm dressed.

 Ktani:  Not really, hair recovers well from water

The hydrogen bonds in hair that are broken by water reform when the hair is dry, so I say no.

Monique: The point when hair is handled is important 

Hair is easier to manage when wet, yet it is also at its most vulnerable state. I would focus on the amount of manipulation you are giving your hair while it is wet, as opposed to just looking at saturated hair


  1. WOW, I appreciate both sides of this arguement in this piece. I never thought about the saturation issue. But I have continued to remind myself of the manipulation issue since becoming natural. I believe there is valid truth to the saturation of hair causing weakness and thus leading to breakage or over moisture. Almost everything has a saturation point. However, I think manipulation is more important because even in that saturation state if the hair is treated like silk, it will recover just fine. But with aggressive and careless manipulation, one can lose alot of hair.

  2. Thanks Laquita: Your explanation was very insightful. I never looked at it in that way before.

  3. Thanks for the comments intelligentbeauty and Callalily.

    I definitely agree that adding more voices to a debate increases understanding. I find myself learning when I didn't think it was possible to rethink what I know.

  4. @ Ktani

    What do you think about the protein lost though ?

  5. What is your opinion on hair steamers? Is that the equivalent of too much water exposure? I am really curious about this and would like to know the science before I purchase one. I hear steamers have great benefits for hair.


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