Everything You Need to Know About Humectants for Your Natural Hair
Humectants found in your natural hair product should be treated like any sweet treat. Good in moderation but overindulging can lead to unwanted problems.
So what exactly is a humectant?
By definition, a humectant is any material used in products to moisturize dry or damaged hair. They promote moisture retention by attracting water molecules from the local environment and binding them to specific sites along their structure.
They say a picture is worth a thousand words…here is the breakdown of what is chemically happening when humectants come in contact with your hair shaft.
This process is called adsorption.
Adsorption describes the process whereby atoms or molecules are attracted to and adhere to the surface of a material, usually via forces weak enough that they can be easily separated. Some humectants can adsorb several times their weight in water!
In humectants, this happens via hydrogen bonding – a very important phenomenon based upon polarity of specific atoms.
Only attracting to the surface, and only passing through the first layer at most allows the hair to retain moisture without being weighed down.
This leads us to the benefits of humectants in your natural hair products…
Humectants ultimately add suppleness and softness to slightly dry hair. It can make your kinks more bouncy and help retain your unique curl pattern. Hair can recoil more easily from stresses like heat and chemicals and is less likely to break.
Which of my products are most likely to contain humectants?
Humectants are usually found in moisturizing products like:
There are 2 types of humectants in hair products.
Naturally occurring and synthetic. While the natural humectants are biologically produced they still have complex names so don’t be alarmed when you see them on any of your natural hair (or skin!) care products.
Here is a list of non-synthetic humectants that are best for your hair.
Can humectants be bad for my natural hair?
In the winter season, you don’t have to worry about this as much but the use of humectants depends a lot on your geographic location and the amount of humidity found in the air.
In high humidity conditions, humectants may attract too much water to the hair from the wet environment. This can cause the hair shaft to swell, the cuticle to become ruffled, and hair to lose its shape and become big and frizzy.
High porosity natural hair types usually suffer from this problem more so than low porosity hair.
Q: How do you know this could be an issue for you?
A: When the products you put on your hair feel sticky instead of smooth.
When the humidity where you live is extremely low, humectants may draw water out of the interior of the hair shaft and cause dryness and possible damage or breakage.
It’s always good to keep a hair journal and notice when your hair reacts differently to various products. Most 4c hair types do quite well with humectants as moisture is always the main goal and any agent that helps to retain it is a plus!
Photo courtesy of: Naturally Curly
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