Floating around the black hair community is the idea that water is the best moisturizer for black hair. Based on my research I have found this theory may not necessarily ‘hold water.’
First, sebum is a oily waxy substance that is produced by the sebaceous gland in the skin and secreted through our hair follicles. The purpose of sebum is to….lubricate and seal or waterproof, our hair and skin, keeping both soft, supple and pliable, with plenty of tensile strength.
When it comes to black hair, we produce more sebum than most ethnic groups. The problem is, sebum doesn’t effectively travel down our hair strands due to its relatively flat cross section, which creates the numerous tiny coils and torsion twists that keep our hair fragile and from clumping in a regular, defined, curly pattern.
The prevailing consensus is to use water to moisturize and oils to seal; but if one were to analyze the substance sebum which is the best ‘moisturizer’ for hair, a product would need to contain approximately:
25% wax monoesters
16% fatty acids
4-6% cholesterol esters
The numbers above are approximate based on individual and age.
Analyzing Black Hair Type
Though it is hard to effectively ‘type’ black hair. There are various systems that try to do so including: stylist Andre Walker’s system of numbering, with black hair being number 4 and straight Asiatic being number 1; as well as the LOIS system which labels black hair by texture, density, and pattern. Though the LOIS system is more detailed, due to the variance in black hair, that system also cannot be an effective qualifier. Trying to grow long, healthy black hair should be based on our own connection to our hair.
So What About Water?
Why water? All of us are composed of water naturally. Water is indeed a humectant. Which means, it’s wet. Wet is therefore moist, so moisture. Though water is not the single best humectant to apply directly to our hair. Because our hair and bodies naturally contain water, sebum’s job is to seal and protect the natural moisture balance of the hair. If you are healthy and your hair is healthy, oils such as: jojoba, coconut, shea and olive oil do a much better job at mimicking sebum. Shea, in particular, contains a high number of triglycerides; and olive oil, fatty acids. Eating a wholesome diet and drinking plenty of water will help maintain and give healthy hair.
This isn’t to disregard water’s role in hair health and length retention. Water and a gentle shampoo is essential for cleansing the scalp. Healthy hair starts with a clean, well maintained scalp.
How Do I Moisturize?
First, get to know your hair. Though hair typing is helpful, dismiss it as hard fact or pure science. A professional hair analysis is the best way to gauge hair characteristics and composition.
If you cannot have one done, simplicity is always best. When it comes to Black hair care, less is more. Try using these tips:
- Make sure all products are pH balanced to seal cuticles and maintain the natural acidic environment of the hair. Healthy hair pH range is 4.5 to 5.5.
- Cleanse hair when it’s dirty using cool water, a gentle shampoo and conditioner.
- Use a leave in conditioner/moisturizer that does not contain water as the first added ingredient. (Water tends to evaporate, drying out the hair further.)
- Trim hair as necessary to prevent split ends and breakage. Once every two months or so is adequate, if necessary.
- Use a serum or penetrating oil such as jojoba, coconut, olive oil or shea to seal and protect and add suppleness, sheen or shine. Apply from ends to scalp to ensure coverage.
- Use a silk/satin scarf to protect your hair while you sleep.
- Use low manipulation styles (Black hair thrives when simply left alone).
I have added my regimen as an illustration and example for caring for black hair. For simplicity, my hair type is 4c, fine, and very dry.
Step 1. I always wash, rinse and/or co-wash my hair using cool water.
Step 2. I wash my hair, once a month, with a gentle shampoo as necessary; otherwise, I co-wash using a conditioner that provides plenty of slip. If you are active, try rinsing then co-washing instead of using shampoo too often.
Setp 3. Remove excess water from your hair.
Step 4. After washing, I use a leave in conditioner/detangler that provides slip. Adding aloe to the product helps seal the cuticles. I make sure the formula is always pH balanced if I do this.
Step 5. Finally, I add a generous amount of shea butter to my hair and distribute it evenly.
Step 6. I style in medium sized twists, which I further part in two sections and braid while at home; or you can put your twists in a bun, whatever is comfortable for you. It is best to use protective styling.
Step 7. I then cover my hair with a disposable plastic shower cap and tie my head with a satin or silk scarf to maintain moisture.
Step 8. You can go to sleep overnight like this.
Step 9. Repeat steps 5, 7 and 8 daily.
Remember to eat healthy and drink plenty of water and In no time you should see a positive change in your hair’s health and length.