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How do you moisturize curly hair? Episode 104

Question of the week: How do you moisturize curly hair?Hair_Windings

Chris says…My question is about the curly hair products that are out there now, brands like Diva Curl and Ouidad. They’re very expensive and targeted to people who have ethnic hair and want to go natural or girls with curly hair who don’t want to straighten their hair anymore. The whole thing is about moisture moisture moisture. I was just wondering if you think you need to spend a lot of money on products that are specifically made for curly hair or if there are drugstore equivalents that are cheaper that work the same way. Also what ingredients do you look for in haircare products that are moisturizing. For example if you wanted the most moisturizing conditioner or leave and what would you look for in the label?

Before we can talk about products for curly hair we need to say a little bit about what makes hair curly in the first place.

Two primary factors that control the shape of your hair

1. Shape of follicle
You can think of hair as little tubes of Play Doh that are squeezed out of holes in your scalp. If the scalp hole is perfectly round the hair is round and very straight. If the hold is a little more oval, the hair has an elliptical shape which causes it to twist and turn into a curl. And if the hole is sort of kidney-bean shaped, the hair grows out to be kinky (like African-American hair.) There’s nothing you can do about this although it may change as you age and experience hormone changes.

2. Protein composition of the cortex
Remember that the hair consists of three main regions: cuticle, cortex and medulla. The cortex is made of up two different protein regions: one is called the Ortho and the other is the Para. These regions absorb water differently and this differential absorption causes one protein region to swell more than the other. That causes hair to twist and turn as it absorbs moisture. That’s why hair gets curlier in high humidity.

“Moisture” vs “moisturize” vs “water”

This might be a good time to dispel what is perhaps one of the most deep-seated of all cosmetic myths. And that is the idea that you need to add moisture to your hair. It’s true that you need to fight the effects of having too much or too little water. But it’s not how much water you add to your hair – rather, the key is the lipid content and the integrity of the structural proteins that make up hair. Those things are much more important then the moisture content.

Why don’t you moisturize hair the same way as dry skin? First of all skin is a living organism where as hair is made of dead protein. One of the most important functions of skin is to control how much moisture your body loses that perspiration. Hair doesn’t work that way. It’s not like your hair is a hollow straw that wicks moisture through your scalp dissipates it into the atmosphere.

There is a certain amount of moisture this naturally present in here that’s somewhere between 7% and 14%. The actual amount varies depending on the humidity around you. Hair very quickly equilibrates to ambient conditions.

Another difference is that skin is a flat surface and it’s relatively easy to occlude by covering it with a barrier that moisture cannot penetrate. Think about it  – when you put on skin lotion put on a fairly thick layer and spread it all across your skin very evenly. It soaks into the upper layers and it does a very good job of barrier to prevent moisture from the escaping.

Hair, on the other hand, has much more surface area. Think about it as hundreds of thousands of tiny tubes each that are several inches long. If you wanted to seal moisture in hair the same way as you did your skin you would have to cover it with an equally thick layer which would feel greasy and flatten out your curl.

How do you moisturize curly hair?

When we talk about moisturizing hair we’re not necessarily talking about adding water to hair. What we really mean is that we’re fighting the effects of dryness (and damage.) How do we do that? For curly hair there are two key things you want to achieve with a moisturizing formula.

  • Smooth hair so won’t snag (reduce inter-fiber friction).
  • Avoid weighing hairdown so curls stay loose and bouncy.
  • Add texture to enhance curls (but that mostly comes from leave in products)

Which ingredients to look for

Chris specifically mentioned Deva Curl and Ouidad and asked about drug store products that may be equivalent but cheaper. To help you understand the ingredients used in curly hair conditioners, I’d like to direct your attention to an excellent article published by the Natural Haven that shows you how to break down an ingredient list to separate the active ingredients from the extracts and other crap that’s just there for marketing. You should read that entire article but I’ll summarize it here and then we’ll use the product examples she cited to do a cost comparison.

Link: http://blackgirllonghair.com/2014/09/the-myth-of-natural-commercial-hair-products/

First, let’s look at some ingredients to look for and to avoid

  • “backbone” ingredients cetyl alcohol, stearyl alcohol, cetearyl alcohol (explain not like ethanol)
  • -ium chlorides like Behentrimonium Chloride
  • Methosulfate quats don’t stick to hair as aggressively
  • other ‘cones amo dimethicone , dimethiconol
  • Polyquaterniums (more typically used in leave in). They can give hair more texture. Film formers.
  • Dimethicone (stay away from this one)

Next lets look at some specific product examples, including the ones Chris mentioned, in order of least to most expensive.

Herbal Essences Hello Hydration Moisturizing Conditioner

First up, at the low price of $0.34/oz, is Herbal Essences Hello Hydration Moisturizing Conditioner.

It’s based on Stearyl Alcohol , Behentrimonium Chloride , Cetyl Alcohol, and Bis Aminopropyl Dimethicone. It should do a good job of softening but it doesn’t contain any of the texturizing ingredients we talked about. If anything, this one might feel a bit too heavy for some people.

This is a very basic and common formulation approach which you’ll see used in a number of similar drug store brands. For example Pantene has a conditioner that uses the same basic approach for about the same price.

DevaCurl One Condition Ultra Creamy Daily Conditioner

Next let’s look the Deva Curl product that Chris asked about. All their products (as far as I can tell from the website) are no poo type cleansing conditioners. That means if they’re being true to the definition of a cleansing conditioner, you probably won’t find the type of ingredients that give you more intense smoothing like silicones, cationic polymers and so forth. Their “Maximum Hydration” product is their One Condition Ultra Creamy Daily Conditioner. It’s a bit pricier at $1.66/oz.

It’s also based on Cetearyl Alcohol, Behentrimonium Chloride, Glycerin, and Guar Hydroxypropyltrimonium Chloride. The main difference is the choice of the guar instead of a silicone which will certainly give a different feel to hair.

Kinky Curly Knot Today

Then there’s Kinky Curly Knot Today at $1.75/oz. It’s a very basic formula based on Cetyl Alcohol and Behentrimonium Methosulfate. As we said the methosulfate quats are less sticky to hair so you may find you prefer the feel of this one.

Ouidad Curl quenching Moisturizing conditioner

Here’s the other product that Chris asked about Ouidad’s Curl Quencher Moisturizing Conditioner. At $2.35/oz it’s starting to get fairly pricey. It claims to be a “vitamin and botanical rich” formula but looking at the active ingredients you can see that it’s really based on Cetearyl Alcohol, Dicetyldimonium Chloride, Panthenol, wheat amino acids, Amodimethicone,Glycerin, some sulfate quats (Behentrimonium Methosulfate, Linoleamidopropyl Ethyldimonium Ethosulfate, and Polyquaternium-37. PQ-37 is a classic conditioning agent known for its film forming and anti-static properties.

Jessicurl Deep Conditioning Treatment

There’s also this Jessicurl product based on Behentrimonium Methosulfate and Cetearyl Alcohol for $2.38/oz.

Aveda Damage Remedy Intensive Conditioner

Finally there’s Aveda’s Damage Remedy product based on Cetearyl Alcohol, Cyclopentasiloxane, Stearalkonium Chloride, and Behentrimonium Chloride at a whopping  $7.20/oz!

The Beauty Brains bottom line

  • You don’t have to spend a lot of money to get a good product for curly hair.
  • Remember that “moisture” isn’t the same as “moisturize” and it isn’t about just adding water.
  • Don’t pay attention to botanical extracts
  • Look for -ium and methosulfate quats. for effective softening
  • Look for polyquaterniums for added texture
  • Silicones are ok except for “dimethicone.”

Hard to pronounce beauty brands

I started off the show with an Allure article about how to pronounce beauty brand names. Randy didn’t do so well on the pronunciations.

iTunes reviews

You can REALLY help us out by reviewing the show on iTunes. If you do, we’ll give you a shout out like this…

Xhintns says..A Must to separate myth and marketing gimmicks from the truth —I was intrigued because I did not expect men to address beauty questions, but I read on and was impressed not only because they know what they’re talking about but also because of how they deliver their message. It’s clear, concise, and generally well-referenced.

Uniq 1 says… For the first time I can understand how things work in science. What is real and what is simply marketing and WHY .The beauty industry should take good note on what you do, because that is what actually the consumer is looking for: facts, simplicity and understandig concepts.

Improbable Products

We had a special guest star on this week’s game. Chuck the Chemist! Plus, it’s a special “new Hair styling trend” edition of Improbable Products. Can you guess which is the fake?

1. 3d printed hair extensions
Researchers in Milan have created a 3-D printer for curly hair. Using a combination of silk and plastic polymer filaments the scientists can print hair extensions in any almost shape and style you desire. These curly clips hold their shape permanently so you’ll never need your curling iron again.

2. Frozen hair styling
If you’re a fan of Disney’s smash hit frozen (and really who isn’t) then you’ll love this New hairstyling trend that’s sweeping the Yukon.
They freeze your hair at temperatures close to 30° below 0 C while you comfortably bathe in a tub of hot water. The result is a magical crystal quaff worthy of the snow queen Ilsa.

3. Pixelated hair color
A Madrid based salon can now imprint your hair with patterns resembling pixelated computer graphics.
This bizarre new coloring technique has a futuristic feel that brings to mind old-school eight bit video games.

Listen to the show for the answer!

Image credit: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/3/31/Hair_Windings.jpg

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Beatriz October 13, 2015, 5:27 pm

    Hi there! I’m a girl with curly hair and I’ve read positive opinions about Dimethicone. Why isn’t it good for curly hair? Thanks.

    • Randy Schueller October 13, 2015, 9:17 pm

      Some people feel that dimethicone is too heavy for curly hair because it weighs the curls down. (It is, however, an excellent smoothing agent.)

      • celeste November 3, 2015, 8:47 pm

        I wonder if it is too heavy for afro hair. I really wish you guys would stop forgetting about us.

        • Randy Schueller November 4, 2015, 8:52 am

          It’s probably fine for afro hair. And I’m sorry it if feels like we’re forgetting about you. It’s just that afro hair requires special expertise and we haven’t spent as much time working on that segment of the market. If you have any specific questions, please let us know and we’ll do our best to answer them.

          • SARAHIA February 18, 2016, 10:08 am

            Afro hair is essentially curly hair, just a different type. Please look into Curly hair types, there’s 3a, 3b, 3c, 4a, 4b, 4c… watch a couple of youtube tutorials and you’ll see.

  • Nada Manley October 13, 2015, 9:18 pm

    A subject near and dear to my heart. I have been a fan of yours since you reviewed my book years ago. :)) I use Pantene conditioner (they change the names all the time, but I just pick a moisturizing formula) and then Australian 3 Minute Miracle as a good, cheap leave-in, comb it through when wet and leave it to air dry. Works so well! I also love Ouidad, Davines, and Kerastase but the drugstore products are my standbys. I even did a video about my curly hair routine in case someone finds it helpful. http://beautymommy.com/2015/08/cheap-quick-curly-hair-tutorial-version.html

  • PaigePuff October 13, 2015, 9:47 pm

    Hey Randy-Love your site! Thanks for all you guys do to help clarify the beauty world.

    I am very confused about this part (copy and pasted below) of the article. It says “look for and avoid” but then the list isn’t very detailed. And I’m not sure if you mean : 1)look for TO avoid, OR 2)some ingredients to look for AND some to avoid. Make sense?

    “First, let’s look at some ingredients to look for and to avoid

    “backbone” ingredients cetyl alcohol, stearyl alcohol, cetearyl alcohol (explain not like ethanol)
    -ium chlorides like Behentrimonium Chloride
    Methosulfate quats don’t stick to hair as aggressively
    other ‘cones amo dimethicone , dimethiconol
    Polyquaterniums (more typically used in leave in). They can give hair more texture. Film formers.
    Dimethicone (stay away from this one)”

    • Randy Schueller October 14, 2015, 7:45 am

      Hey PP. Sorry about the lack of clarity – that’s what happens sometimes when we’re transcribing the audio file. Anyway, here’s what we meant:

      “backbone” ingredients
      These are just the carriers for other ingredients so you’ll see them in most products.

      -ium chlorides like Behentrimonium Chloride
      Methosulfate quats don’t stick to hair as aggressively
      other ‘cones amo dimethicone , dimethiconol
      Polyquaterniums (more typically used in leave in). They can give hair more texture. Film formers

      These are good conditioning agents for curly hair. You may have to try different combinations to find a formula that you like.

      While this is a good conditioning agent, maybe people with curly hair find this to be too heavy.

  • Daniela October 14, 2015, 12:47 am

    Hi Beauty Brains, I am a longtime fan. Thanks for the great work you do. I read a few years ago about an ulcer drug that was a proton-pump inhibiter which had a side effect on mice – causing hair to grow back where the mice had lost their hair, and that hair was also its original colour (i.e., grey was reversed). They were going to start human trials as this could be the next big thing against hair loss, etc. Do you know if anything has developed since?

    • Randy Schueller October 14, 2015, 7:46 am

      Hey Daniela. We hear a lot of noise about the next new hair growth drug but we haven’t seen any real developments yet. We wish!!

  • Marie October 14, 2015, 7:16 am

    Are those products for African American curls or white girl curls?
    My red curls looked great with the old version of Curls Rock Curl Cream, but when they changed the packaging a few years ago, I think they changed the formula. Can you recommend something for me?

    • Randy Schueller October 14, 2015, 7:49 am

      African American hair tends to be more tightly curled which means it has its own set of issues. Maybe we’ll dedicate a future post to that topic. If you post the ingredients of the old version of the Curls Rock Cream I can take a look for a dupe.

      • The grinch April 22, 2018, 6:43 am

        Did you try clarifying your hair. In my observation your recent results may not be due to a change in the product but more likely due to build op on the hair itself. I know that it is a major concern for kinky cozily hair type to use sulfates and chelates in their shampoos due to their stripping the oils from the hair. It needs to be done if you want to get good results. You just have to do it and follow it up with moisturizing shampoo and then conditioner. When there is too much product build up and or heavily metals in the hair it will change the way the product effects the hair. To get the hair back to what you once adored will be possible after the hair is cleansed and reconditioned properly.

  • ana October 14, 2015, 7:33 am

    this is was a great show but can you guys cover curly hair products that wont dry out the hair i buy things maintain my kinky curly hair but some have drying ingredients that over time make your hair break and dry out

  • ana October 14, 2015, 7:40 am

    another thing is that you guys didnt cover how to cleanse it with OTC products that are less expensive i have very curly hair that is very sesitive to OTC due to the detergents they use i usually end up buying the professional brands because they work better or seem to work better but would love to use an OTC that costs me more im also a lincensed cosmetologist so i get it a cheaper price

    • Randy Schueller October 14, 2015, 7:50 am

      If you can post the ingredients in the professional shampoo that you like I can look for a similar OTC product.

  • Kelli October 14, 2015, 9:23 am

    Great topic Randy and Perry!
    I don’t have curly hair but I would like to know which silicones you think would be best for normal hair v. curly hair? There are several different types home formulators can purchase. I’ve seen Dimethicone with 6 centistokes, 350 centistokes, 1000 centistokes and Cyclomethicone/Dimethicone combinations of 150-250 centistokes and one that is way up there at 5500-8500 centistokes. Then there is Phenyl Trimethicone and water soluble Amodimethicone which are very low centistokes. Can be somewhat confusing on which to choose. Are the options with lower centistokes less heavy while still offering a smoothing effect? Should people with curly hair avoid the higher centistoke versions or just dimethicone all together.
    Any help would be greatly appreciated.
    Many thanks,

  • Alessandra October 14, 2015, 12:51 pm

    This was really interesting to me, even if I don’t have curly hair at all! My hair is almost straight and gets waivier when it’s short or in humid weather. Because it’s very fine in texture, I was told by several hair stylist that I would fare better with an oil-free conditioner or a light leave-In detangler, glycerin and water-based. However, your post is making me wonder if this stuff will add any moisture to my dry ends! Maybe I need something heavier? But what’s heavier but not too heavy?

  • Rocio García October 15, 2015, 11:52 am

    Hi Randy and Perry:

    I want to know, What is the difference between Guar and Silicone on the hair?

    And What Is better?

    Thanks for your help!!

    Have a good day!!

    • Randy Schueller October 15, 2015, 3:29 pm

      Both are good conditioning agents. There is some data to show that guar and silicone work together to be even more effective than either one alone. You can’t really say which one is better they just have a different feel.

  • Rocio García October 15, 2015, 11:58 am

    An other question, Why don’t use dimethicone?

    • Randy Schueller October 15, 2015, 3:27 pm

      As we said, some people find dimethicone too heavy on curly hair.

  • Lori Richardson October 17, 2015, 10:59 pm

    Hi! Thanks for the great info. You mentioned about if you get the ingredients, you could possibly match an OTC brand. I have forever wanted to try Kerastase Oleo-Relax, but it it just too expensive and I can’t justify the price.

    Thank you!!

    Aqua (Water),Behentrimonium Chlor,Cetearyl Alcohol,Glycerin,Amodimethicone,Potato Starch Modifi,Cetyl Esters,Isopropyl Alcohol,Elaeis Guineensis (P,Shorea Robusta (Shor,Methylparaben,Trideceth-12,Benzyl Salicylate,Linalool,Citronellol,Chlorhexidine Dihydr,Cetrimonium Chloride,Geraniol,CI 47005 (Yellow 10),CI 14700 (Red 4),Fragrance,Aqua (Water),Behentrimonium Chlor,Cetearyl Alcohol,Glycerin,Amodimethicone,Potato Starch Modifi,Cetyl Esters,Isopropyl Alcohol,Elaeis Guineensis (P,Shorea Robusta (Shor,Methylparaben,Trideceth-12,Benzyl Salicylate,Linalool,Citronellol,Chlorhexidine Dihydr,Cetrimonium Chloride,Geraniol,CI 47005 (Yellow 10),CI 14700 (Red 4),Fragrance,Aqua (Water),Behentrimonium Chlor,Cetearyl Alcohol,Glycerin,Amodimethicone,Potato Starch Modifi,Cetyl Esters,Isopropyl Alcohol,Elaeis Guineensis (P,Shorea Robusta (Shor,Methylparaben,Trideceth-12,Benzyl Salicylate,Linalool,Citronellol,Chlorhexidine Dihydr,Cetrimonium Chloride,Geraniol,CI 47005 (Yellow 10),CI 14700 (Red 4),Fragrance

    • Randy Schueller October 18, 2015, 5:40 pm

      The Herbal Essences conditioner we talked about in this post may be worth a try. The key ingredients are pretty similar.

  • Cris October 18, 2015, 6:04 pm

    Yay Randy!! You nailed the answer to my questions…thank you so much.
    I bought the Herbal Essence product and you are right…the silicone makes it a bit heavier BUT… for my hair it’s perfect because my hair could use some weighing down. You will save me a bundle!
    Thanks so much for your in depth answer…as usual, informative, entertaining and thorough. Xxoo

    • Randy Schueller October 18, 2015, 8:38 pm

      Thanks for the positive feedback, Cris. I’m glad we could be of help. (Is there any chance you’d want to return the favor by recording the intro to our show? If so, just drop me a line at thebeautybrains@gmail.com.)

  • Cristina Hamilton October 20, 2015, 2:11 pm

    Line dropped!

  • Anne October 21, 2015, 8:22 am

    Hello! What kind of product should I use as fatty alcohols cause me very bad breakouts?

    • Randy Schueller October 21, 2015, 8:53 am

      How do you know it’s the fatty alcohols? Those ingredients typically don’t cause breakouts.

  • AV October 28, 2015, 9:47 pm

    you mentioned people stay away from dimethicone As it weighs curly hair down! I read it forms a barrier around your strands preventing moisture from penetrating! I have kinky hair and avoid silicones due to this ! Is there silicones that can be removed using the no poo method? I avoid sulfates in shampoo due to their drying nature. Also could you explain the most effective way to moisturise kinky hair and how to keep that moisture in the strands longer? Thanks I enjoy your shows!

  • Ann January 21, 2016, 7:39 am

    Thank you for this info.Like another commenter, I currently use pantene advanced, sometimes as a leave-in. I am going to try that herbal essences hello though.
    Your info was perfect for me, but I see a lot of questions here from people with kinky hair. I know you feel like Afro hair requires special expertise, outside your familiarity. However, you do discuss many topics that require special expertise beyond your own personal background. Why is it so much harder to provide scientific analysis for their hair type? Are there no such studies? If you are really going to ignore so many people asking the same question, it might be nice if you’d explain why its harder or less interesting for you.
    Anyway, thank you for the work & info that you do here. That gem about the shape of hair follicles was really helpful. I always wondered why dead protein would take on such different shapes. I think it helps all hair types to see why there is no conditioning or product that will give them a different hair type.

    • Randy Schueller January 21, 2016, 9:07 am

      Hi Ann, thanks for the comment. Can you please clarify what you mean when you say we ignore so many people asking the same question? If you can give us a specific question we’ll try to answer it.

      • Ann January 21, 2016, 10:44 pm

        To be fair, there were just 3 commenters, and you did respond to 2 of them who did not reply to your question!
        I guess the recurring question could be put as — How can I keep kinky hair well moisturized? What products, ingredients, methods are most effective or better avoided?
        I’d suppose some of them are using a no-poo method of washing.

        The last commenter was concerned about the product “preventing moisture from penetrating”. She might not get your points about moisture, or maybe she just hopes there has to be way to get more moisture into dry kinky hair.

        My understanding (of what you said) was that there is not a lot you can do to add moisture to hair. It will have moisture in proportion to humidity. You said in dryer climates, it is better to seal the hair to prevent moisture from going from your hair to the air (ie., drying out). I think this may just be hard for people to accept, especially when their hair tends to be very dry.

  • Ann January 21, 2016, 10:47 pm

    I have this dryness problem too since I color my hair. In my experience the silicones really help. With silicones, I can wash with shampoo without my hair drying out too much, as long as I don’t wash too often. But some people, seem to have more trouble with shampoo drying out their hair, or feel they need to wash more frequently.

    You said it is more important to preserve the lipid content & protein structure than add moisture. It’s possible, some of us won’t relinquish moisture as our main goal because we’re are not sure what it really means to preserve lipid content & protein structure. What alters protein structure? Heat and harsh chemicals? What makes lipids go away? Heat and washing?

  • Tiffany Laurencio March 21, 2016, 10:33 am

    Hello Randy and Perry,
    This podcast is my all-time favorite of yours. It really helped me understand my haircare products. I have a question though: You mention in the podcast that Dimethiconol is water soluble. I’m seeing a lot of ‘Curly Girl Method’ websites that say Dimethiconol is not water soluble. Can you confirm that it is or it is not water soluble? If Dimethiconol is water soluble I plan on dancing around my room.

    • Randy Schueller March 21, 2016, 1:32 pm

      Hi Tiffany. If we said that dimethiconol is water soluble we must have misspoken. It’s dimethicone copolyol that’s the water soluble version. Sorry for any confusion!!

      • Tiffany Laurencio March 22, 2016, 2:39 pm

        Bummer! Well, better to be ‘Brainy’ then ‘Built-up’ (ha! see what I did there?!?) Thank you so much!!

  • Janet January 7, 2017, 12:40 pm

    Love your blog, was wondering if you can help me figure out what I am allergic to. About 3 years ago I found out that I was allergic to tresemme keratin smooth conditioner. It took 3 months to figure out what it was since the severe hives & swelling I get happens many hours after I use it. Once I stopped using it, they didn’t return. Until now! I am a hairstylist & only sometimes I get the allergic reaction when I come home from work. I think it is a shampoo/conditioner line that we carry at work. Problem is we carry many & have many assistants so it’s hard to pinpoint. I’m so frustrated & ready to quit my job of 20yrs! Throughout the years I have used MANY tresemme products & never had a reaction. Can you please help me figure out what chemical is causing my allergic reaction? Thank you!!!

    • Randy Schueller January 8, 2017, 8:27 am

      Here are the ingredients:
      Water (Aqua), Cetearyl Alcohol, Dimethicone, Stearamidopropyl Dimethylamine, Behentrimonium Chloride, Fragrance (Parfum), Dipropylene Glycol, Lactic Acid, Amodimethicone, Potassium Chloride, Disodium EDTA, DMDM Hydantoin, Hydrolyzed Keratin, Peg-7 Propylheptyl Ether, Cetrimonium Chloride, PEG-150 Distearate, Methylchloroisothiazolinone, Methylisothiazolinone.

      Most of the ingredients are the same as those used in other Tresemme conditioners so nothing jumps out as the culprit. Perhaps the fragrance is different? The good news is that since this isn’t very different than other Tresemme products you should be able to find a substitute that you like. I’m sorry I can’t be of more help.