I think the single biggest misconception among those with kinky hair texture is that oil is a moisturizer. But many feel the need to add excessive amounts of oils to the hair and scalp because black skin produces less sebum (aka oil) right? Wrong! Consider this myth busted. The reason afro-textured hair tends to be dry is because the sebum has to travel the length of the hair to coat the strands. The kinkier the hair, the more difficulty the sebum has traveling down the hair, therefore the more dry or dull the hair looks. There are of course exceptions to every rule and there are some who produce more or less oil than average, but this is in reference to healthy scalp function.
Hair needs moisture to maintain good health and elasticity. What is the ultimate moisturizer? WATER! This makes water-based products and of course water itself the best things to use to achieve the greatest moisture benefit! The hair optimally should be nourished and treated daily with water, even if it’s just a refreshing spritz. The molecular structure of water allows it to penetrate the hair shaft, moisturizing the hair. Oil molecules are too large to penetrate the hair shaft and therefore sit on the strands acting as a barrier. This serves an extreamly useful and beneficial purpose for the hair, but moisturizing is not one of them. With that being said, here is an exception…
Coconut oil is It is also one of the few oils that penetrates the hair shaft. Studies have confirmed that the ability of coconut oil to penetrate the hair shaft is likely due to its low molecular weight and straight linear chains. These characteristics coupled with its high affinity (or attraction) to hair proteins cause the coconut oil to penetrate the hair shaft.
It is easy to see how the ability to penetrate the hair shaft and the high affinity to proteins makes coconut oil so beneficial for the hair. Not only does the high affinity to proteins help it penetrate the hair shaft, but it also discourages protein loss and reduces the occurrence of hygral fatigue. Studies conducted in India confirm that when compared to mineral oil and sunflower oil, “coconut oil was the only oil found to reduce the protein loss remarkably for both undamaged and damaged hair when used as a pre-wash and post-wash grooming product.” Another study suggests that coconut oil reduces the ability of the hair shaft to swell and thereby reduces the likelihood of hygral fatigue. Hygral fatigue is caused when the hair swells and constricts due to the absorption and loss of water. This makes coconut oil a most excellent oil to pre-poo with. (Pre-pooing- A treatment applied prior to cleansing. It usually consists of oils and applied a few hours before cleansing or the night before the cleansing. This is usually performed to help the hair maintain necessary moisture during a cleansing process.)
Determine Hair Porosity
Our hair is naturally porous ( Having minute holes through which liquid or air may pass). This means just as quickly as we fill our tresses with moisture it can escape. The cuticle is the outer layer of the hair, it’s made up of scale like cells that look similar to shingles on a roof. These “shingles” can be raised or tightly compact which determines the level of the hairs porosity. Determining your hair’s porosity is very important, because it will largely effect how you moisturize and retain moisture for your hair.
- Low Porosity
Low- po is when the cuticle of the hair shaft is tightly compact. This type of hair is more difficult to moisturize, as the compact nature of the cuticle does not allow moisture to easily enter or leave the hair shaft. You will notice your hair takes longer to get thoroughly wet, and both water and product tends to just sit on top of the hair as opposed to entering it. To moisturize this type of hair heat is actually a good thing. Now hold up! Put down the blow dryer and back away from the flat iron! I mean we are usually taught to use cool to cold water when washing and conditioning hair to seal the cuticle and add shine, but for low-po hair you should cleanse and condition with warm water. The warm water will help to temporarily lift the cuticle allowing moisture to enter the hair shaft more easily. After cleansing and conditioning you can rinse with cool water or acv to close cuticle. You will also benefit from using a hooded dryer or heat cap when deep conditioning.
- Normal Porosity
No- po hair is when the cuticle is compact and permits moisture to pass through the hair shaft into the cortex as necessary, but does not allow too much moisture to penetrate the cortex. This hair type is pretty easy to moisturize and keep moisturized, and should stay moisturized with regular cleansing and conditioning.
- High Porosity
Hi-po hair has a cuticle with wide spaces in between the cuticle and the shaft. High porosity hair is a sign of damage secondary to chemicals (including color), heat, or rough manipulation. Although your hair may feel dry it is capable of absorbing A LOT of water, due to the large openings in the cuticle. Generally the more porous the hair the more moisture it tends to absorbs. Since our aim is to moisturize, this seems good, but more is not always better- sometimes it’s just more; and too much moisture creates a whole new set of problems. Like over drying, high porosity hair absorbs more water when wet – but also looses more as it dries. Hi-po hair can also stretch beyond a healthy limit due to the increased weight of hair when full of water, this constant stretching of the hair causes it to become weaker and more prone to breakage. For hi-po hair minimizing if not eliminating heat is a good idea and consider dry finger detangling with oil as opposed to detangling with a brush or comb while hair is wet and more fragile.
After hair is cleansed and free from any and all products, place a strand in a glass of room temp water. Normal to low porosity strands will float. High porosity hair will sink to the bottom of the glass from absorbing loads of water and becoming too heavy to float.
Why Oil Is Also Important
Since our hair is naturally porous, after we get the moisture in there- how do we keep it? Here’s where oil is the the most important. It sits on the hair shaft since the molecules are too large to enter it, coating the hair and sealing in moisture. Oils also lubricate our strands making the hairs slide over each other more easily reducing tangles and friction. It is important to use the oil to seal already moisturized hair. If you use oils without moisturizing before , the oil will seal the moisture out of the hair strand and lead to a coated feel and eventual dryness. Build up from heavy oils is one of the main culprits in a scenario where we feel like no matter what we do, our hair is still dry! You may have to remove current build up first, and then the moisture can get in.
Keeping your hair properly moisturized will minimize breakage keeping hair strong and healthy for maximum length retention. Even if long and strong is not your goal, I’m sure beautiful hair is.