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View Full Version : HELP!! Humectants vs. moisturizers: also hair swelling, raised cuticles, evaporation



FlowFlow
July 17th, 2010, 01:10 PM
OMGoddess!!! So, Iím a nervous wreck! I have been researching humectants and although it all makes a lot of sense, now I donít know what to do. There are just so many variables!

My goal is to have the proper level of moisture AND flat cuticles AND some slip. By the way, I donít think I need proteinÖ my hair shaft is solid and not see through, the hair does not stretch when pulled, it snaps. Also, I am a WO washer.

Hereís what Iíve read:

-Sorry Iím nerding out so bad. Am I making this more complicated than it needs to be?

-Since humectants attract water molecules there is actually a risk of attracting too much water (particularly in humid weather), causing the hair follicle to swell and the cuticles to stand up. Raised cuticles decrease slip, increase frizz, make hair less manageable, increase tangling and the dreaded dread, etc. If the cuticle is raised wouldnít this increase moisture loss, thus resulting in a cycle of too much moisture, followed by loss?

-Attracting moisture to hair with humectants is especially good during dry weather (ex: winter), but one must also take measures to help decrease evaporation via occlusion. Do occlusives keep excess water from coming in AND hair shaft water from evaporating out?

-Since the purpose of humectants is to bind moisture to its own molecules, this can backfire in dry weather because they will pull moisture out of the skin and to the humectants, causing dryness. Would this be true with the hair shaft as well? Would this mean that in dry weather you must first attract the moisture (humectant) THEN follow it up with moisture loss prevention before exposing the hair to dry weather?

- Do humectants also attract water molecules when your hair is wet, for example when you wash, and pull that water into the shaft?

-There are moisturizers that can help keep moisture in the hair by decreasing evaporation. Is this true?

-Some oils coat hair and make them shiny, but donít actually moisturize. This is the issue I suspect Iím having with coconut oil. This is what got me to start researching humectants vs. moisturizers. Iím on my first day of shea butter and had beautiful soft results the first evening but by today it was obviously wearing off. I suspect it was both absorbed by hair and rubbed off on pillow since I didnít sleep in a protective do?

-Do the oils that coat hair and make it shiny make good occlusives (help lock in moisture/keep unwanted moisture from getting in)? Do moisturizers that donít have humectant properties also help in this?

-I read that this is why beauty products have a combination of water, moisturizers, humectants, emollients, etc., so that you donít do too much of a good thing and get a balance. So that there is water in the ďenvironmentĒ to draw from etc. The problem that I have with this is that not everyoneís hair shaft is created equal and I want to understand enough of these components to tailor make my hair care.

-Life changes, body chemistry changes, weather changes, so it seems to me that the levels of what oneís hair (or skin) needs also changes, so any one product may not work year round or life round. What do yaíll think?

P.S. If I made any mistakes, please let me know, I'm new at being a hair nerd!!:eyebrows:

Beatrice
July 17th, 2010, 06:24 PM
I'm also a newbie, but I've given these ideas some thought myself. Though in the end, I think the best we can do around here is trial-and-error. There are so many variables, it's hard to know in advance how your own hair will react to anything.

I've definitely experienced the problem of humectants in humid weather. Aloe gel has made my hair soft and beautiful, and it's made it dry as straw. What's more, when my hair became dry, I topped it off with a silicone serum that usually does wonders. It only worked for the rest of the day, and in the morning, I woke to dry hair again. I'd never had this problem before or since.

I believe some oils aren't as occlusive as others. Somewhere I think I read that coconut oil would allow a bit more moisture to pass in and out. Ktani probably has the answer.

To really nerd out, search naturallycurly.com for the humectant article that gives actual dew points at which you should avoid humectants. I've used aloe gel only twice, but so far, the article was right. Now that I have conditioners and a routine I like, I don't think I'll risk the aloe again.

Jenn of Pence
July 17th, 2010, 09:03 PM
This is a very interesting topic; sounds like you've done some good research. I live in a dry climate, so I think humectants would be great. Right now, I'm on vacation in The Humid South...and I mean humid! I don't even have a clue how to deal with my hair now, but I imagine that humectants are totally out. It would be awesome to know what products help minimize the over-absorption of water in humid weather (occlusives, you call them). Fortunately I'm only here for two weeks, and my hair will calm down when I get home, but I wanna know for the future. ;)

triumphator!
July 17th, 2010, 09:48 PM
Hair swelling? Every time I come to this site, it seems like hair is getting more and more complicated! Aaaaand the learning begins again.... : )

teela1978
July 17th, 2010, 10:07 PM
Unfortunately, different stuff seems to work differently for different people. Coconut oil is one of the few oils that has been verified in the literature as actually going into the hair and moisturizing it. Most others sit on the top... but coconut oil really doesn't work well for everyone.

On a tangent... this "my hair doesn't stretch" thing... is that actually a good thing? I've seen it mentioned a couple times in the last few days. I thought elasticity of hair was a sign of health... I'm all confuzzled again. Is there an article or something out there these days?

danacc
July 17th, 2010, 11:06 PM
I've felt challenged by some of the same questions. Here's some of what I've found.


...

Hereís what Iíve read:

-Sorry Iím nerding out so bad. Am I making this more complicated than it needs to be?

Maybe. On the one hand, it is complicated, at least in part because the words we use are often imprecise. A lot of folks who say "moisture" really mean "supple" from what I've seen floating around. In the case of humectants and swelling, we are actually talking about moisture (water), though.



-Since humectants attract water molecules there is actually a risk of attracting too much water (particularly in humid weather), causing the hair follicle to swell and the cuticles to stand up. Raised cuticles decrease slip, increase frizz, make hair less manageable, increase tangling and the dreaded dread, etc. If the cuticle is raised wouldnít this increase moisture loss, thus resulting in a cycle of too much moisture, followed by loss?
In any environment, the natural tendency will be for the humidity to even out. Your hair will tend to have the same humidity as the air that it is in. You can end up with swelling and frizz even without a humectant when it is humid. The humectant can create the problem sooner because it is creating a blip in the natural balance by holding onto moisture on your hair. However, if the environment is humid, your hair won't be losing too much moisture because there is no place "drier" that the moisture wants to escape to; the humid air will keep your hair moistened. Does this mean you can stop being concerned about the roughed-up cuticle? No--it's just not a moisture concern. The healthiest position for the cuticle is still smoothed to avoid mechanical damage.



-Attracting moisture to hair with humectants is especially good during dry weather (ex: winter), but one must also take measures to help decrease evaporation via occlusion. Do occlusives keep excess water from coming in AND hair shaft water from evaporating out?
Yes, to the question about occlusives.

Attracting moisture to skin with humectants is especially good during dry weather because skin is alive. Your bloodstream will keep the skin cells supplied with moisture, and the humectant will help the skin hold onto the moisture despite the dryness of the environment. Hair does not benefit from a ready source of moisture in this same way. It is dead; there is no circulatory system providing "internal" moisture. I've found it helpful to keep this in mind when reading about humectants since often, they are discussed in reference to skin.

Humectants can actually pull moisture out of the hair strand core if it contains more moisture than the surrounding air. Humectants are scary things for hair in low humidity. My hair responds much better to occlusives when it is dry.


-Since the purpose of humectants is to bind moisture to its own molecules, this can backfire in dry weather because they will pull moisture out of the skin and to the humectants, causing dryness. Would this be true with the hair shaft as well? Would this mean that in dry weather you must first attract the moisture (humectant) THEN follow it up with moisture loss prevention before exposing the hair to dry weather?
Yes, it is true of humectants generally. They don't care where the moisture comes from, and will pull it from the easiest source. As stated previously, you may want to avoid humectants in low humidity altogether. Mist the hair very lightly and use occlusives instead.



- Do humectants also attract water molecules when your hair is wet, for example when you wash, and pull that water into the shaft?
Yes. There is a limit (obviously) to how much water they will hold, but they will get the moisture from wherever they can, and then hold onto it.


-There are moisturizers that can help keep moisture in the hair by decreasing evaporation. Is this true?
Things like silicones and oils can help keep moisture (water molecules) in the hair by decreasing evaporation, yes.


-Some oils coat hair and make them shiny, but donít actually moisturize. This is the issue I suspect Iím having with coconut oil. This is what got me to start researching humectants vs. moisturizers. Iím on my first day of shea butter and had beautiful soft results the first evening but by today it was obviously wearing off. I suspect it was both absorbed by hair and rubbed off on pillow since I didnít sleep in a protective do?
Oils don't technically moisturize. Only water does that. Oils can help slow the evaporation of water, though. All oils do this to some extent. Shea butter coats the hair shaft and does not penetrate it. (If it is no longer on your hair, it came off; it was not absorbed.) Coconut, avocado, and olive oils penetrate the hair shaft in addition to slowing evaporation. Coconut oil in particular has been shown to slow protein loss during hair washing. Palm oil is also likely a penetrating oil. Jojoba is technically not an oil, but it will also slow evaporation and will not penetrate the hair shaft.


-Do the oils that coat hair and make it shiny make good occlusives (help lock in moisture/keep unwanted moisture from getting in)? Do moisturizers that donít have humectant properties also help in this?
Other than what I wrote above, I haven't seen any comparisons of oils to know their relative "goodness" as occlusives.


-I read that this is why beauty products have a combination of water, moisturizers, humectants, emollients, etc., so that you donít do too much of a good thing and get a balance. So that there is water in the ďenvironmentĒ to draw from etc. The problem that I have with this is that not everyoneís hair shaft is created equal and I want to understand enough of these components to tailor make my hair care.

-Life changes, body chemistry changes, weather changes, so it seems to me that the levels of what oneís hair (or skin) needs also changes, so any one product may not work year round or life round. What do yaíll think?

P.S. If I made any mistakes, please let me know, I'm new at being a hair nerd!!:eyebrows:

Companies that make hair products spend a lot of money on research to come up with formulas that work well. There are lots-lots-lots of different concoctions out there which suggests that no one formula works well for everyone. This is repeatedly borne out here in the forums. Further, how you treat short hair that is always cut before it gets even a little bit "aged" and how you want to treat long hair that will be around for years and years can understandably be quite different.

So yes, I agree there is no one "right" or "forever" answer.



Unfortunately, different stuff seems to work differently for different people. Coconut oil is one of the few oils that has been verified in the literature as actually going into the hair and moisturizing it. Most others sit on the top... but coconut oil really doesn't work well for everyone.

On a tangent... this "my hair doesn't stretch" thing... is that actually a good thing? I've seen it mentioned a couple times in the last few days. I thought elasticity of hair was a sign of health... I'm all confuzzled again. Is there an article or something out there these days?
Stretching, or elasticity, is a good thing as long as it returns to its original length when released. Here's a link; google for lots more. :)
Hair Elasticity (http://www.hairfinder.com/hairquestions/hairelasticity.htm)


Hope that helps a little.

teela1978
July 17th, 2010, 11:31 PM
Stretching, or elasticity, is a good thing as long as it returns to its original length when released. Here's a link; google for lots more. :)
Hair Elasticity (http://www.hairfinder.com/hairquestions/hairelasticity.htm)


Hope that helps a little.
That depends a lot on how far you pull it. Any hair can be pulled to breaking, and any hair can be slowly pulled beyond its elastic point where it will return to its original length.

I've heard this "my hair snaps so it doesn't need protein" thing a few times though and I have no idea where its coming from.

danacc
July 17th, 2010, 11:58 PM
That depends a lot on how far you pull it. Any hair can be pulled to breaking, and any hair can be slowly pulled beyond its elastic point where it will return to its original length.

I've heard this "my hair snaps so it doesn't need protein" thing a few times though and I have no idea where its coming from.

I don't know where it comes from, either. I have seen similar statements, but no studies that indicate it is true. In fact, "protein treatments" where the protein has been modified to penetrate the hair shaft are often recommended to add strength to damaged hair.

ChloeDharma
July 18th, 2010, 02:16 AM
You may find this study interesting http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17520153

FrannyG
July 18th, 2010, 03:56 AM
You've gotten some good replies on your topics, but I'm more concerned with the fact that you're overwhelmed and say that you're a nervous wreck. :grouphug:

Learning about hair care does not have to be stressful and it would be nice if joining this forum was a relaxing pleasure for you. It's not necessary to learn everything at once, although when we first join, so often that's what we want to do. So many of us have gone through this. Me included.

Please read Ursula's Standard Newbie Advice (http://forums.longhaircommunity.com/vbjournal.php?do=article&articleid=39). It really calmed me down when I first joined TLHC.

So relax, try one thing at a time, and before you know it, you'll have a routine down.. :blossom:

dropinthebucket
July 18th, 2010, 06:39 AM
Thank you for these detailed, interesting posts! It's very generous to share this with all of us, especially as it really takes time to put all that down - i really appreciate it! (and it sounds like we need an article here at LHC on humectants and/vs. oils, for us newbies to hair care who have similar questions!).

Wally
July 18th, 2010, 07:32 AM
I also want to add my thanks for the detailed replies. Very interesting. I've been using the trial end error method with success (and having fun with it). It's more expensive, but my daughter is happy to take any products that don't make the grade.

FlowFlow
July 21st, 2010, 12:33 PM
THANKS SO MUCH, EVERYONE!! I've so enjoyed reading the replies. It has given me loads to think about and lots of ideas to experiment with!

P.S. I would come across the snappy vs. stretchy hair shaft test when I was searching through the forums trying to figure out if I needed to try a moisturizing treatment or a protein treatment. Do not remember exactly where, though.

HintOfMint
July 21st, 2010, 07:58 PM
I believe on some curly-girl website, there is a lot of information on dew points, which is discussed to a lesser degree here. A search could help you out.
It all relates to how much actual moisture is in the air. For example, in cold weather, 100% humidity could only mean a small amount of moisture, whereas in hot weather, 100% humidity means a metric butt-ton of moisture.
You are right that humectants can actually dry out hair in super-dry weather because it sucks the moisture out of one's hair. And yes, humectants can attract too much moisture in muggy weather, causing the dreaded frizz.

Basically, after considering your climate and seasons, you can decide whether or not it is too humid, or too dry to use humectants outside of the shower.
IN the shower is another story. I add heated honey and aloe to my conditioner on a regular basis. When I shower, there is steam and moisture in the air, so the humectants can do their job. When I get out and towel dry my hair to damp, I add an oil (coconut for me!) to seal in the moisture. It's a good way to use humectants to your advantage even when the climate doesn't agree with you and you still need moisture. It works really well and I live in really dry area.

Another thing about keeping the cuticle smooth-- an old hairdresser told me that when you get out of the shower, after you towel dry to damp, it is a good idea to put on some kind of emollient/occlusive material because as the water dries from your hair, it lifts the cuticle, and leads to drier and rougher hair.

Oh and welcome! Enjoy your hair, and try not to stress out!