Monday, 15 February 2010

Part 1: Water is perhaps not a moisturiser?

To kick start the moisture bumper issue this week, I must go through some basics. First let me remind you about the structure of hair (skip to the diagram if you wish!).

1. Hair has two main layers. First an external thin layer called the cuticle that protects an inner shaft known as the cortex.
2. Hair is made up from protein known as keratin. Water can and does bind to this protein.
3. Hair in the cortex can gain and lose water.

So now on to the main feature........water is not a moisturiser at least not on its own. Take a moment to digest that statement, I am not saying water is useless, I am saying though that it may not be as useful in plain form. I have looked at multiple studies of moisturisation of skin and hair, it is clear that both will take up water but both will also lose water. The 'losing' part is the key to my previous statement. In fact water is sometimes used as a control (meaning if you are testing a moisturiser and want to compare its effect to no moisturiser, you spray the skin/hair with water and compare that to skin/hair with moisturiser).

The question is what happens when you add water to hair? Well instead of writing a detailed narrative, I thought I might just make some drawings. In short, hair can take up water but it cannot hold on to the water if left in the same environment as before. Hair will lose any 'excess' water to balance itself with its environment.

Therefore if you simply spray hair with water and nothing more the additional water to the hair will eventually evaporate and you are back at square one.

Tomorrow, I will introduce the effective moisturiser techniques. Most of these are based on
1. Trying to stop evaporation of water from the surface
2. Holding on to the existing water

Journal of Colloid and Interface Science 269 (2004) 329–335
Aust Fam Physician. 1997 Nov;26(11):1308-9.
J Invest Dermatol. 1985 Apr;84(4):282-4.
Biopolymers, Vol. 20,2649-2656 (1981)


  1. Can't wait for the next segment.

  2. Great visuals! So this is why sealing the moisture into the hair shaft with oils/butters is so important! Looking forward to Part 2!

  3. Information like this is why I LOVE your blog!

  4. Being somewhat like-minded (I have an engineering background), I thoroughly enjoyed this post! You did a great job of simplifying what can be a complex concept. Definitely a good idea to go the diagram route. As the often used statement says, "A picture is a worth a thousand words".

    Your series on moisturization is off to a great start. Looking forward to the next posts.

  5. JC - thanks for this post. I've been spraying my 4b hair with water to help "moisturize" it (based on suggestions from other blogs) and have seen no results. This post confirms that it prob isn't helping on its own. My hair only feels moisturized after a DC and a couple days after. I have yet to find a good moisturizer during the week. Oil doesn't really do much always feels the same = dry.

  6. Interesting!! I'll be tuning in Tomorrow.

  7. Thank you all for the compliments and comments :)

  8. This is AWESOME! I have to link to this!

  9. Thanks joyfulmom. Sure thing L.

  10. je suis contente de lire cet article!

  11. Great stuff as usual! I'm going to tell folks on my blog to check this series out. Thanks!

  12. Very very well explained. Thank you !!

  13. Thanks again ladies. Thanks savvybrown

  14. Great article. I hope you don't mind that I post to a YouTube video that I made on this very subject. I sprayed two clumps of hair: one with a moisturizer and one with water - just to illustrate the point you are making.

  15. One thing might help this discussion. When you spray plain water on hair that is already naturally porous, the water swells the hair thus creating even more porosity. If you do nothing to seal the moisture in, you have just made the situation worst. Water temporarily swells and snaps the secondary bond holding the hair together (the hydrogen bonds). That swelling or disruption manifests as swollen hair with more porosity leading to more evaporation.


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