What to look for in a moisturizer and what ingredients to avoid
Moisturizing hair is as important as deep conditioning* to any black person who wishes to have long hair. As washing and deep conditioning* the hair every day is quite impractical, a hair moisturizer is required to avoid dryness until the next wash.
Relaxed and natural black hair tends to be quite porous so loses moisture quickly. The key to long beautiful locks is to keep replacing the moisture lost. The easiest way to do this between washes is to use a good moisturizer.
Oil is not a moisturizer
First things first, let’s deal with a common misconception about oil. Oil is not a moisturizer! Oil lubricates the hair and ‘seals in’ any moisture you already have in the hair. If your hair is dry and brittle and you apply oil to it then you are doing your hair more harm than good. The oil will coat the hair and prevent any further moisture from entering the hair which will lead to breakage.
The best moisturizers should always be water based i.e. the first ingredient should be water; water is in fact the best moisturizer! Good moisturizers also contain humectants. These are ingredients which attract water from the atmosphere, glycerine being the most popular of these. Honey is also an excellent humectant but more commonly used in conditioners and not moisturizers.
Say no to mineral oil
Always avoid moisturizers that contain mineral oil or any other petroleum based product in the first few ingredients. Although mineral oil may not be the worst thing in the world, it does nothing but coat the hair which prevents moisture from the atmosphere from getting in. Bottom line is there are plenty of better natural oils to choose from.
You may find that the best leave in conditioners and moisturizers are the ones that are marketed to ‘wet type’ styles (jheri curl or wave nouveau) as they contain mainly water and glycerine. S curl is particularly good.
How to moisturize your hair
How to use hair moisturizers is just as important as getting the right product. If you plan to blow dry or roller set your hair, after towel drying apply a dime sized amount of a glycerine based moisturizer before you apply the same amount of heat protectant* and comb through hair to evenly distribute. After the blow dry or roller set your hair will be left soft and silky to the touch and will remain like this throughout the day. If you plan to flat iron it then only apply leave in conditioner* and a heat protectant* to the hair before flat ironing. You can always apply oil after you have straightened your hair. See the article on how to get movement in relaxed hair.
Moisturizers should then be applied daily or as needed. Only a dime sized amount is required for shoulder length hair. A touch more for longer hair. Always distribute the moisturiser through the length of the hair with either a wide tooth comb* or your fingers to make sure that every strand gets its share. You can apply a bit more to the ends if desired.
There is really no benefit to loading your hair with moisturizer. Hair is only about 10-14% water and all you are are trying to do is to restore the moisture that you lost during the day, not to drown your hair. If you put too much, you are likely to ruin your style by leaving relaxed hair looking greasy or making natural hair revert. A good moisturizer application should leave your hair feeling soft without weighing it down or being sticky.
Oil free moisturizers
Oil free moisturizers are not a bad option either. Instead of oil, they use silicones that help ‘seal’ the moisture into the hair but their first ingredient must also be water. Silicones are not as bad for hair as you may have heard, as long as you clarify your hair regularly to prevent build-up. Having said that, they should not be your first choice if sticking with natural products is your main focus.
Water and natural oils
The out and out winner for moisturizing hair is good ole H20 (water). Yep, you read right. All you need is a very light spritz of water on your ends to moisturize then seal in the moisture with oil. Alternatively, you can wet your hands and run it down the length of your hair before sealing with oil. Wetting your hair is not the aim here and your hair shouldn’t actually physically feel wet after moisturizing.
Some good examples of natural oils that can be used to seal in moisture after a wash are coconut oil*, avocado butter, mango butter or Shea butter. Remember that these are oils and will just lock in whatever moisture you already have in your hair.
Note – If you are natural with straightened hair, you may be better off going for a light moisturizer rather than using the water method to prevent reversion.