Hair moisture vs smoothness? Plus - ingredients database?

Hi Beauty Brains! I have a couple of questions - 

1) From some of the reading I've done on this site, both on hair structure and on the difference between moisture and occlusion, a question occurred to me. When most people talk about their hair being moisturized vs being dry, are they really unknowingly talking about the smoothness/roughness of their cuticles? It seems to me that when I think of "moisturized" hair, I picture it being shiny and smooth. And when I think of "dry" hair, I think of it being rough, and definitely not shiny. But now I'm realizing those are actually more indicative of the state of the cuticles! Am I right? And if so, then my question is, how do you ACTUALLY tell if your hair is dry or if it has enough moisture? And of course, I'm talking about the hair itself, not the oil production (or lack thereof) on the scalp. Is the moisture (water) content inside the hair strand even really very important - could it even be damaging? (Re: your post referencing the study that found that air drying could possibly be more damaging to hair because the strand stays swollen with water longer than if it were blow-dried.)

2) I'm tinkering with making my own personal care products. While I have no delusions that "all chemicals are toxic and evil," I do enjoy sticking to more "natural"-type ingredients out of simplicity - I'm nowhere close to being a chemist, not even an amateur one! :P But I do know enough to know that it's important to try and use lower-pH ingredients to be gentler on skin by closely matching its own pH. However, I am having a really hard time finding a reliable information source that I can look up pH values for ingredients. I know I could test them myself, but this would require buying every ingredient I was interested in. I don't have that much of a DIY budget! ;) The trouble with trying to look up the pH of more "natural" ingredients is that I run into the whole nutritional theory of body acid/alkaline imbalance. The sites will categorize things like lemon juice and apple cider vinegar under the alkaline side, because they supposedly have an "alkalizing affect" on the body. Which is certainly NOT helpful in letting me know what their ACTUAL pH is. :-L If you are able to point me toward a searchable database where I can look up simple properties like pH for various ingredients, that would be wonderful. I'm currently trying to find values for ingredients such as corn starch, rice powder, baking soda, arrowroot powder, cocoa powder, activated charcoal, bentonite clay, kaolin clay, rhassoul clay, etc. A lot of powders, lol. But you can see that some of them wouldn't be in a food ingredients database - such as the clays - and others wouldn't necessarily be in a cosmetics ingredients database - such as the cocoa powder and activated charcoal. But I would imagine there must be a pH database of various ingredients of all kinds SOMEWHERE on the interwebs. :-B I just can't seem to find it myself! So if you know of one, that would be INCREDIBLY helpful! :)


  • You're exactly right that when most people talk about "dry" hair they're really referring to the symptoms of dryness and not the actual moisture content. In other words, the state of the cuticle of your hair has more to do with it feeling rough and dry than the actual water content of the hair itself. 

    Regarding pH of ingredients...the important thing is the pH of the finished product, not the individual ingredients. When you formulate a product you use an acid or base to adjust the final pH. Also, only water based materials (or water dissolved materials) have a true pH so you won't find a listing for many of the examples you cited. I've never seen a comprehensive pH database anywhere. 
  • Thanks, Randy! Bummer about the non-existent pH database, but it makes sense, I understand. About hair moisture, then, is there any need to try and figure out if hair needs more? For example, is it possible to have smooth, shiny hair because of good cuticle-sealing products, and yet still have dry hair that needs more moisture? If so, how would you be able to tell, and how would you know when it had enough moisture?
  • I'd focus on giving hair the conditioning it needs rather than the moisture. Hair equilibrates to ambient humidity pretty quickly. The amount of moisture inside the hair shaft is less important than the condition of the outside. 
  • Great, that's what I was thinking, but wanted to be sure. Thanks much! :)
  • Thanks for your great and good post...... :)) :))
  • I know this is older, but I was looking for an answer to this question! I have a related one as well. If I were to not get my hair wet or apply a product with water for a week or a month even, would that have a bad effect on my hair? Would it then need Water? Or would it not matter since the water you put on it ends up evaporating and then your hair adjusts to ambient humidity?
  • Not putting water on your hair for a week or month will not hurt it.
  • Thank you for your reply! :)
  • To be more precise ;-) Like Randy already said: Hair has always a certain moisture content depending on the moisture of the atmosphere (eg. in the air of your living room). Hair contains nearly 10 % water relative to its dry mass at very low ambient humidity and around 30 % water relative to its mass at 100 % RH (foggy, rainy days, or during hair shower). These values vary a little bit (depending on the source of literature). These values also depend on the condition of your hair: damaged hair can absorb more water at high humidities. If ambient humidity changes, hair desorbs (looses) or absorbs water. Hair absorbs more water from the atmosphere at high humidity conditions and it releases water at low humidity conditions - for this reason hair has been used as hygrometer. Every time you wet your hair, afterwards its moisture content always equilibrates to the ambient humidity (relative humidity: RH). However, there is a special phenomenom called humidity hysteresis: hair contains a little bit more moisture, when it moves from a high ambient humidity to a lower ambient humidity. Would hair need periodic water rinses? If this question rises in my german long hair community I answer back: Is your hair looking healthier and is it shinier on damp, foggy days? I would suggest, definitely not. Actually hair do not really need high moisture contents to look nice and healthy. High moisture contents can even lead to unmanageable hair. There are also interesting panel tests studies (by MG Davis and S Stofel,) which have shown, that the feel of moistured hair does not depend on its real water content. But there seems to be a optimal atmopheric humidity (moisture content of hair) with regard to its tensile properties - a balance between the plasticizing effect of water (what makes hair weaker concerning tensile stress) and the same effect which makes hair elastic: When hair has a low moisture content, it has more strength (it snaps at higher tensile stress), but it snaps at lower elongation. The best atmopheric humidity seems to be around 60 % RH. So it would be more important to adjust the humidity in your rooms for optimal tensile properties. You can put a hygrometer (in those indoor weather stations) in your living room to check the relative humidity. It is now around 60 RH in my living room. This is supposed to be a good humidity condition for hair (for optimal tensile properties). In the winter months it is much lower (around 30 RH).
  • Good explanation, thanks!
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