How to Moisturize Natural Hair: Hairdresser Techniques
Natural texture, the term used for hair that waves, curls, or kinks – regardless of genetics – has many qualities that people with straight hair can only dream of: it has volume; it has character, it has shapes no heat tool can imitate. As wonderful as natural texture is, it's prone to dryness. Natural inclinations need encouragement sometimes, and that’s why it’s important to know how to moisturize natural hair in the most effective way. But not only it is key to understand how to give your hair the replenishment it needs, it’s especially important to address the question we all have asked before - “What type of hair do I have?” Once you identify your hair type, you can create the best hair care regimen that incorporates gentle hair cleansing and spoil those lovely locks of yours.
We turned to our texture expert, hairdresser Jennifer Covington-Bowers, who cuts and colors hair for her private clientele when not running the gauntlet backstage at Fashion Week each season in New York, Paris, and Milan. She is a fierce advocate for racial inclusiveness in the beauty and fashion industries, and strongly believes that every hairdresser should have the skills and knowledge to work with every hair type.
The Why of Dry
There are two primary reasons for dry strands. First, your scalp doesn’t easily produce enough of the natural and moisturizing oils that condition hair. This can be hereditary or it can be a slowdown in oil production due to age – this is why mature skin often appears drier. Hydration has simply diminished. Alternatively, you might be over-washing your hair or using shampoo made with harsh detergents that strips hair strands of their natural oils. Finally, your hair might simply be in poor condition because – well, life happens – or it has an innate shape and structure such as natural curls that make it prone to dryness naturally.
A strand of hair is made up of three distinct layers. At the center is the medulla, which is where the core fibers live. Surrounding the medulla is the cortex that gives your hair its shape, resilience, elasticity, and curl. Protecting the cortex on the surface is the cuticle, composed of overlapping shingles on a roof.
When the “shingles” are laying flat and tight, hair appears glossy and shiny, and moisture is safely sealed inside. When the “shingles” are rough and loosened, this reflective surface is disrupted and hair can appear more matte. But the real problem is that moisture can easily escape from the core, which can lead to dryness, and eventually to fragility.
What Makes Hair Dry?
Our fragile fibers face challenges at every turn and even the simple act of washing isn’t always so innocent. When it comes to your hair care regimen, adopt the mindset that you would if caring for precious cashmere: Handle with care.
Factor 1: Over-washing & under-conditioning
Shampoos contain detergents that strip hair of its natural oils, your best possible conditioners. On the other hand, silicone-free conditioners help maintain moisture without over-washing. For many, conditioners have taken the place of shampoo entirely in a technique called co-washing, conditioner-only washing, pioneered by curly haired women fed up with shampoos that only contribute to breakage given their ingredients.
Solution: Responsible washing
It’s crucial that you wash your hair only as necessary, and your effort should be focused at the scalp rather than shampooing naturally dryer ends.
We recommend trying a shampoo alternative, like New Wash. New Wash does not contain detergent and supports dry hair the moment you apply it to your strands - when Aloe Vera and a blend of essential oils get to work at moisturizing your hair. New Wash also conditions while cleansing, saving you time and money on additional hair products.
1. Wash your hair less often. The last thing dry, damaged hair needs is daily washing! Give your scalp a chance to replenish the oils you normally wash away. If your hair gets too flat or oily, a dry shampoo like Powder will have you looking refreshed in no time. How often should you wash, while also maintaining moisturized locks? It depends on a number of variables to consider.
2. Condition liberally.You may not use shampoo each time you shower, but there’s no reason not to use conditioner and rinse. One moisturizing technique that’s gaining traction amongst those with afro-textured hair involves the progressive application of liquid, cream, and oil to bathe hair in moisture and then seal the hair cuticle. This is called the LOC Method and its various forms depend on your hair porosity, how well your hair strands absorb or repel water. There are several high and low porosity hair characteristics to consider when determining where you fall on the spectrum.
Remember that moisturizers can help mask breakage and make hair soft, smoother and healthier, but these styling products cannot actually repair damage or restore hair to mint condition. Naturally dry hair can be improved and frizzy curly hair can be controlled with a daily dose of a leave-in conditioner such as Hair Balm (also great while you sleep).
Factor 2: Hair styling
Blow dryers, flat irons, curling irons, and hot rollers are amazing inventions, but they can also wreak havoc on your hair and lead to its premature demise of a healthy hair shaft and cuticle. “High temperatures strip natural moisture, especially when in direct contact with dry hair,” cautions Covington-Bowers. Likewise, using irons on very wet hair at temperatures well above boiling can do just that: boil your stands and cause all sorts of integrity issues.
Solution: Heat-style safely
1. Use liquid protection. Before you style, use heat-protecting products to minimize damage. Regardless of whether you have straight hair or coily hair, choose styling products specifically designed for heat protection and that contain ingredients like copolymers, proteins, and essential oils to both insulate hair from heat and prevent moisture loss: one such product is Hairstory Dressed Up.
2. Cool it down. Make sure your styling tools feature variable temperature settings. Some irons and blow-dryers heat up to 450 degrees! A maximum of 400 degrees should be enough to get the job done. Do your best to work quickly and efficiently to limit the time you expose your hair to heat. Hydration retention may be reversed, depending on how often and for how long you apply heat.
3. Unplug. Expand your repertoire of styling options and embrace those that don’t require heat styling every day. For more specific, terrific heat-styling tips, read on here.
Whether you’re using heat or not, avoid any maneuver that goes against the grain of the cuticle. As much as possible, work with the grain to encourage those shingles to do what they’re supposed to: keep moisture in! Always point your blow-dryer nozzle in the direction of growth away from the scalp. Backcombing? Teasing? Better not to.
Factor 3: Exposure
Summer can be fun, but not when the sun’s UV rays, extremely dry weather – a winter factor as well – or water sports threaten your natural moisture balance. The good news is that these factors are the easiest to control in preventing damaged hair.
Venture out into the sun with a hat or a scarf, and don’t forget sunscreen for your face! There are a few UV protecting hair products available but don’t expect to see SPF numbers on them as you would sunscreen for your body.
If you’re a swimmer, never let chlorine touch your hair if possible! This is key to keeping the hair shaft and hair cuticle moisturized. Wear a cap, wet hair before diving in, or coat your hair with a water-repelling oil to reduce the amount of chlorine it absorbs. Rinse hair while it’s still wet; dried chlorine is stubbornly difficult if not impossible to remove and is the chief reason for green hair when Autumn comes. If you swim regularly, do your best to be diligent and integrate at least one of these practices into your hair care regimen to keep hair soft.
Factor 4: Chemical Treatments
Hair color, highlights, relaxers, perms, and chemical smoothers can all cause healthy hair to become un-naturally dry, especially if you experiment with in-home hair color.
Solution: Your Colorist
1. Ammonia-free hair color. Ask your hairdresser about ammonia-free permanent and demi-permanent color formulas and other options that are gentler for dry hair. Innovations in the hair color category include formulations that bleach hair and add color simultaneously, lessening the negative chemical impact and saving time at the salon.
2. Hair Painting. Ask about having your color or lightener hand-painted onto the mid-lengths and ends only. This involves a softer approach to the transition between your natural color at the root to where artificial color is placed. Future regrowth, or naturally-colored roots come in without the telltale hard line of demarcation. This technique is more forgiving, and requires bleaching less frequently.
3. Embrace natural texture. It can be a big decision, but it may be time to consider alternatives to chemical smoothing services. “A weekly blow-dry or an occasional flat-ironing while learning to love your hair the way it grows might be rewarding,” says Covington-Bowers. Of course, she respects individual choice to use permanent straightening treatments for the ease of styling, but encourages being aware that there are trade offs when it comes to overall hair condition.
Keeping natural hair optimally moisturized is a combination of what you should do and what not to do – ditch detergents, turn up the moisture, dial down the heat, go with the grain, and by any means necessary, keep those critical cuticles calm. Beautiful, natural texture is your birthright, so don’t let dryness stop you from claiming it. Treat your naturally curly hair with kindness!