Thursday, 16 September 2010

Dry hair is normal : part 2 of 2

In part 1, I touched on the rule of 3 (i.e try a product or technique 3 times before deciding it doesn't work). This second section is about dry hair being normal.

Reader MyssKay actually took the words out of my mouth when she pointed out the difference between what I would call symptomatic dry hair and asymptomatic dry hair.

1. Symptomatic Dry Hair : Brittle, breaks easily under low force
2. Asymptomatic Dry Hair: Not brittle, feels dry but does not break unusually (i.e some breakage but not excessive and not with low force).

In the discussion below we are talking asymptomatic dry hair

Dry Hair or Texture?

It is rather unpopular to say this but since I have been churning out the unpopular topics of late, I will continue! Many of us confuse texture for dryness. I should know a thing or two about this because for a long time, I did too.

The remedy for this is simple, keep your shed hair. Really yes keep your shed hair (and if you have a partner or kids, tell them about it so they don't think you are totally bonkers when they find your hair stash). Collect the hair and keep it dry for a month or so and then touch it and see if it is actually dry. Try running your hand over an individual strand, learn to distinguish dryness from random twists and kinks in hair.

Internal Water Content of Hair : natural=relaxed=bleached

Hair can feel dry but that does not mean anything is wrong with it. In truth what we do when we moisturise hair is that we play around with the water on the outside of hair (i.e we create a fake humidity). For more details read the moisture bumper issue.

What is even more interesting is that when hair is damaged chemically (relaxed or bleach), there is very little change to the internal water content of hair. In short natural hair, bleached hair and relaxed hair have the same fixed amount of water present internally in the hair (Thermochimica Acta 494 (2009) 136–140)

External Water

Yet we all know that relaxed and bleached hair tend to be dry, right? Well right! It is because the hair has a reduced capacity to trap water at or near the cuticle surface (reasons: cuticle damage, dissolving of cuticle oil, reduced outer oil(sebum)).

In short some of us may experience dry hair for the same reason. Perhaps by default our hair simply is not able to trap as much water, it does not mean that there is something wrong with the hair, just by default it does not trap much surface water.

What can you do about dry hair?

Scientifically there are two answers that I have discussed before (search button!)
1. Humectants such as glycerin which also strengthen natural hair.
2. Oil barriers 

Is there such a thing as too much moisture?
Actually yes there is. Moisture content to a certain extent helps to protect hair from premature breakage (J Soc Cosmet Chem, 36, 39-52, 1985). However, increasing the water content of hair actually also reduces its elasticity. In short the force required to break the hair is much less as you increase the water content.  (J. Cosmet. Sci. 58,) 393–404,2007) 

Are you still struggling with moisture? What is your method for keeping your external water? Any Jheri Curl Juice fans?


  1. Jc, I'm intrigued by your suggest to keep old hair strands for a month to distinguish dry texture from dry hair. So what characteristics of this old, shed hair would give us a clue as to which we have?

  2. Thanks for the post Jc! :)

    I'm glad that you are talking about asymptomatic dryness, I think it's one of the most confusing aspects of our hair.

    I would like to add that one's hair may "feel" dry because the cuticle is roughed up (friction from too much hand in hair or sleeping on cotton) or because they have product build up.

  3. Anon - Keeping the shed hair for a month should give you a feel of what your hair feels like when it is dry. You will not be doing anything to it (i.e not conditioning or going through a moisture routine). It will therefore over time balance itself with the normal humidity of your home.

    I did it myself and was pretty surprised to see that the hair really wasn't that dry at all. Other people may have a different experinence but whichever way it is a great marker for what really is 'dry hair'

    Thanks for the contribution Little One :)

  4. Oh and my method for keeping external moisture is a few light sprays of aloe vera juice followed by a tiny bit of shea butter. I still have my glycerin mix, but I always end up spraying it on my face :). It's great for setting makeup!

  5. My method for keeping moisture are ceramides, Joico Cuticle Sealer and light protein.

  6. I have a question Jc! From what I understood in this post, the internal water content of hair remains constant and moisturizing simply affects the water content of the outside? I was under the impression that there was some osmosis going on - I was harkening back to my bio classes I guess. I thought the cuticle layer (via the lifting action) acted like a semipermeable membrane that water would diffuse through. So my assumption was adding more water to the outisde would increase the internal water content of the hair via osmosis. Am I totally off base? lol

  7. Nicki - yes water does get into the hair (mostly by squeezing between the cuticle layers). However this water can get out just as easily as it got in and it is refered to as external water.

    When we moisturise we are trying to get the outside of the cuticle to a higher humidity so as to keep the external water in.

    There is a fixed potion of water inside the cortex . An old explanation for it is that this water is 'bound water' meaning although it is liquid, it behaves a little bit more like ice. It is less mobile and tends to hang on quite tightly to the protein of the cortex. This is the internal water whose volume does not fluctuate much.

  8. Sorry to change the topic but I came across a really interesting thread on LongHairCareForum about using a mathematical formula to calculate the terminal length of your hair.

    Terminal length = (terminal time) x (yearly growth rate)

    And where (yearly shed rate) = (avg no. hairs shed daily) x 365 days

    And (terminal time) = (no. hairs on head) / (yearly shed rate)

    With an estimate of 100,000 hairs on my head and a shed rate of approx 20 hairs a day, this comes to a terminal time of 13.7 years. Times the average yearly growth rate of 6 inches a year that would come to a Terminal length of 82 inches of hair - which is floor sweeping hair!!!!!

    Sounds crazy doesn't it. Especially as the only black people you ever see with this kind of hair length are those with dreadlocks who never remove their shed hair.

    I'd love to get your take on this. Do you think there could be anything in it or is it totally offbase.
    The thread is at

  9. I've found that mixing my leave-ins with some aloe vera juice works WONDERS! I've been so/so about leave-ins for a looooong time. Some moisturized a little but not enough. I did a s-curl/aloe vera/water mixture for a week and a half and the results were glorious. I also tried it with jane carter/aloe vera/water and I'm still ecstatic about the results. I'm gonna try adding aloe vera to some of the old leave-ins that are sitting around that i wasn't crazy about and see if it makes them better as well!

  10. JC, do you have any pictures of your hair texture and length on your blog? With all of your hair knowledge I would think that your hair should be long and strong! I am interested in seeing your favorite/best hair styles, the products you use, and the overall length of your hair. I like to read your blog from time to time (very interesting info!), but its hard for me to take hair advice seriously if I can't see the condition of your own hair.

  11. I wash my hair relatively frequently once a week and if I'm really good I co-wash once a week too. That helps to keep my moisture levels good.

    When I wash my hair, I make sure its damp then I moisturise, then I seal with a petroleum based oil. I'm using Jojoba at the mo. It helps me to retain moisture. I also try to drink 1 litre a day... I often fail at this. Sometimes I use a liquid oil to seal I have a castor,sweet almond, olive and a few other oils that I mix...

  12. Jheri curl juicer here! A month ago, I bought a bottle of care free gold hair and braid spray. I was ASTOUNDED by how it made my hair feel. My crunchy ends became soft, my hair had a nice sheen, and it felt soooo soft. Even my husband noticed a difference! My only concern is using this product in the winter! ~Renee

  13. Ever since your blog won me an argument with my sister about oils being moisturising I've been a total devotee. I've nominated you for a Sunshine award coz your blog is amazing!

  14. I don't struggle with moisture issues at all.

    I wash, detangle and DC once a week. On wash day, I moisturize my slightly damp hair with Yes To Carrots Conditioner and let it air-dry in braids. In the fall/winter, I seal with shealoe (whole strand) and castor oil (ends). In the spring/summer, I don't use shealoe or castor oil (or even seal at all). Also, I occasionally use a water/aloe vera gel/honey spritz.

    My hair hates glycerin so I'm sure it would hate jheri curl juice as well.

  15. Has anyone viewed Kimmaytube at YouTube she has videos re hair structure, pH and what will keep hair moisturized w/o all the expensive product brands out there and it works...aloe vera juice, jojoba oil and whatever leave-in conditioner but you have to make sure everything will have a pH level of 4.0-4.5 to keep the cuticles closed and thus you have the key to lock in the moisture! Check her out. Very scientific (and visual) just like JC


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