Ever since I did the hair porosity test a few years ago, I’ve been eager to learn as much as I can about humectants for low porosity hair. For the longest time, I had to deal with extremely dry hair because I had no clue that my hair strands could not easily absorb moisture.
I had become a product junkie because I was desperate to find a product that would work for my straw-like hair. Little did I know that I needed to know what to look for on the list of ingredients.
I’ve always said on this blog that hydrated hair is healthy hair. This is a creed embedded into the mind of any hair care lover, especially those with curly locks.
To make sure your hair is healthy and shiny, it must be fed tons and tons of hydration and moisture. If not, you’ll end up with dry, dull hair that is prone to breakage.
So, when shopping for hair products, many of us are trained to keep an eye out for nourishing ingredients. Some gravitate towards classics like coconut oil and aloe vera, while others prefer exotic hydrators, like baobab seed oil and fruit extracts.
But not everyone knows about humectants, otherwise known as the kings and queens of hydration for the hair.
These are the crème de la crème of hydrating hair ingredients – the ones that can infuse so much moisture to your hair strands that they go from parched and unruly to smooth, shiny, and nourished.
Today, we’re focusing on what these hydrators can do specifically for low porosity hair (aka the hair type that can be the trickiest to hydrate).
Table of Contents
What Are Humectants in Haircare?
It’s a good question, right? Maybe you’ve heard about humectants online, at your local salon, or from a friend.
They can be found in all sorts of products, from conditioners and shampoos to tobacco and cookies.
Today let’s talk about what humectants are, what we need to know about them, and why we would (or wouldn’t) want them in our hair.
Humectants are hydrophilic ingredients, which means they LOVE water.
They attract water like magnets attract metal.
Humectants also need a place to get that water from.
The weather and what other products you use in your hair will determine where humectants get the water that they crave, but we will get to that in a bit.
Sebum Isn’t Enough
The sebaceous glands in your scalp are meant to produce oils that coat and moisturize your hair.
But if you have long, thick, curly hair, a lot of the time, your sebum isn’t enough.
The natural oils won’t be able to travel down your entire mane to keep it nourished, thus the need for hydrating products.
How Do Humectants Work?
Time to put on our lab coats.
Molecules are a few atoms that stick together.
For example, the molecules that make up water are two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom.
That’s why we call it H20 (Hydrogen 2 + Oxygen).
All of these molecules like to stick together, which is why when you spill water it tends to stay together in a puddle instead of just turning into mist.
In particular, the hydrogen atoms and the oxygen atoms like to stick together. This is called a ‘hydrogen bond.’
This is where the humectants come in.
Humectants have something called polar hydroxyl groups.
These groups also like to make hydrogen bonds.
Because of this, water likes to stick to humectants too, and they draw in water from whatever is around them.
Oils ‘Lock In’ Moisture
When it comes to keeping the hair hydrated, many people immediately think of oils, like coconut and argan oils.
But these oils are meant to lock in moisture in your hair – they don’t provide moisture itself.
That comes from water, whether in the air, your shower, or humectant ingredients.
Humectants are very common in many hair products.
As mentioned earlier, these substances are known to attract moisture from their environment and pull it into your hair.
Some of them, like hyaluronic acid, can hold up to 1,000 times their weight in water.
This is more than enough to quench your dry hair of its thirst!
And they don’t just attract moisture into your hair.
They work to keep it there, too.
When humectants pull water into your strands, they bond it to your hair structure through a process called hydrogen bonding.
This boosts moisture retention to keep your hair hydrated for as long as possible.
Humectants are awesome for keeping your hair strong and healthy.
After all, hydration is the lifeline of hair strength and elasticity.
But to make sure the humectants are locked into the hair with no escape, they’re usually formulated alongside emollient and occlusive ingredients, like your favorite natural oils.
Related Post: What Are Emollients In Hair Care?
What Is Low Porosity Hair?
Porosity is the attribute of your hair that has to do with its ability to absorb and retain moisture.
It’s a huge indicator of how you can take care of your hair and what products to use on it, so it’s important to know your hair’s porosity type.
To understand porosity better, let me introduce you to the hair cuticles, aka the outermost layer of your hair strands.
These cuticles lay flat and overlap to cover your hair strands properly like a cocoon or shingles on a roof.
Natural, virgin hair usually has tightly packed cuticles with no gaps in between them for moisture to enter. This is when your hair has low porosity.
The more you manipulate your hair with heat stylers or chemical treatments at the salon, the cuticles lift and even break off.
This leaves tons of gaps and “pores” where water seeps in quickly but escapes just as fast, like a sponge. This is when your hair has high porosity.
Now, let’s go back to talking about low porosity hair.
Because the cuticles in this hair type are so close together and leave no room for water and oils to enter the hair shaft, low porosity hair is often considered moisture-resistant.
Instead of water penetrating your hair, it just kind of runs off in beads without being fully absorbed.
That’s why you’ll know you have low porosity hair if it takes forever to get it drenched when you step into the shower.
And when it finally does get wet, it takes another eternity to dry after your bath.
Because the tightly bound cuticles of low porosity hair repel water and moisture, those that have this hair type (like me) often suffer from hair dryness.
Low porosity hair often needs specific types of hydrating products to make sure the moisture seeps into the hair shaft.
If you want to figure out the porosity of your own hair, there is an easy test that can help you out.
Take a glass of water and drop one clean strand of hair in.
If it sinks, you have high porosity.
If it floats somewhere in the middle of the glass, congrats! You have normal porosity.
If it floats, then you have low porosity.
Now, if you have low porosity hair, then humectants are for you. Humectants can boost your hair’s ability to take in moisture to give you healthy and happy hair.
Humectants For Low Porosity Hair: Examples
You may not have realized it, but some of your favorite hair care ingredients are probably humectants!
There are many types of humectants, and they all work a little differently.
I’ll list some of the most common humectants and break down some basic information on them.
Propylene glycol is clear and syrupy.
It has no odor or taste, and it’s a synthetic liquid that comes from vegetable oils like grapeseed and coconut, and it’s non-toxic.
It mixes well with water while also still attracting it.
This humectant won’t cause build-up and will not evaporate easily.
Hexylene glycol works well as a humectant and tends to add a little slip to the product it’s in.
However, it is classified as an irritant.
This is another liquid humectant that is colorless and odorless.
How dipropylene glycol stands out is that it tends to be more oily than other humectants.
Glycerin is an alcohol that mixes easily into water, and it’s odorless and non-toxic.
It’s a very widely used product with 1,500 different known uses (including being a key ingredient in dynamite).
It’s also a powerful humectant that smooths hair and increases shine.
I shared my experience with glycerin in this article.
Honey is an extremely useful product, and as it turns out one of those uses is as a humectant.
It’s especially appealing because it’s a natural product, and it helps regenerate damaged hair.
Many people even add honey to their deep conditioner in a bid to infuse moisture into their hair strands.
It also has antibacterial properties, making it a must for sensitive scalps.
This humectant is also of natural origin, it can come from plants and animals, and when it’s absorbed into your system it becomes vitamin B-5.
Vitamin B-5 supports the production of keratin in your hair.
You’re probably used to seeing this one in your food.
It’s a form of sugar that comes from fruit.
It’s also a humectant that will protect your hair.
Be careful though, too much fructose in your hair can make it dull.
Substances like sorbitol and hyaluronic acid are among the most common humectants you’ll see infused in hair products.
Another humectant you might be familiar with is hydrolyzed proteins.
The likes of keratin, collagen, silk, and wheat proteins help soften and tame frizz.
But since they’re also humectants, they go the extra mile of drawing moisture into your strands for properly hydrated locks.
Aloe vera is yet another popular humectant used not just for the hair, but the skin as well.
The gel from this miracle plant has tons of benefits, from hair growth to adding shine to your tresses.
But arguably its biggest gift to your hair will be intense hydration.
Related Post: Can I Use Aloe Vera Gel On My Hair Everyday?
These are just some of the many humectants experts infuse into our daily hair care products to help hydrate dull and tired locks.
With these, you get extra help in bringing much-needed moisture to hair that is difficult to nourish – like, say, low porosity hair.
Why Low Porosity Hair Loves Humectants
Moisture is a must for any hair type.
It’s the reason why hair is so soft, shiny, and bouncy.
But for low porosity hair specifically, retaining moisture in the hair can be a huge problem.
It’s difficult to hydrate hair when it has no gaps and spaces to absorb moisture.
Most people would grab their favorite rich and creamy deep conditioner or their beloved tub of coconut oil to moisturize the hair right away.
But thick oils and butters are not really suitable for low porosity hair.
Because the cuticles have no gaps in between them, it’s difficult for heavy creams and oils to penetrate the hair shaft.
These thick products have big molecules that end up sitting on the surface of low porosity strands instead of entering the hair shaft and nourishing it from the inside out.
Sometimes, heavy ingredients like coconut oil and shea butter might even leave the hair with a waxy coating around the strands, which can lead to build-up the more you apply the oils.
And we all know that product build-up leads to dryness and brittleness in the hair when it isn’t washed out right away.
So, if you have low porosity hair, it’s important to look for more lightweight hydrators – like humectants.
These substances are almost always light and thin in consistency, so it’s easy even for closed cuticles to absorb them.
And when they’ve penetrated your hair strands, they can draw even more moisture from the environment into your locks, as humectants do.
Humectants are the perfect workaround for low porosity hair that’s a pain to moisturize and keep conditioned.
Humectants are also great for low porosity hair because they’re not heavy.
So, they won’t weigh your hair down.
This is pertinent for curly hair with spirals you want to show off.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, high porosity hair might have trouble with humectants when used alone with no oils or hair sealant.
Highly porous hair loses moisture extremely fast.
So, even if high porosity hair does absorb humectants, it releases the hydration almost right away, too.
Other Benefits Of Humectants On Low Porosity Hair
Hydration isn’t the only advantage of using humectants on low porosity hair.
They also have tons of other benefits that will make your hair look and feel healthier.
Because humectants attract moisture to your hair, they add suppleness, softness, and elasticity to your hair texture.
It makes your hair bouncy and stretchy in a healthy way so that it can withstand hairstyles like ponytails and braids without breaking off.
Remember: hydrated hair is strong, resilient hair.
The immense hydration humectants provide also add definition to your curl pattern, which is highly important when you have beautiful ringlets.
It tames that frizz that comes naturally with curly hair, showing off your gorgeous waves instead.
You’ll also notice that your hair gets shinier and more lustrous when you use humectants.
Since low porosity hair is prone to dryness, dullness is a common occurrence too. By hydrating daily with your favorite humectant, you’ll find that your hair will start looking glossier.
Ways To Incorporate Humectants In Your Hair Routine
Here are two of my favorite ways to use humectants in my low porosity hair routine:
Use aloe vera or glycerin as a leave-in conditioner.
This helps hydrate the hair, making detangling and styling easier.
It’s best to do it fresh out of the shower.
Do a honey and aloe hair mask treatment.
Combine half a cup of aloe vera gel with two tablespoons of honey and mix well.
Apply the mixture all over damp, freshly cleansed hair and leave it in for 20 minutes before rinsing.
Downside Of Using Humectants
So, we already know that humectants can be good for low porosity hair.
But there is more to know about humectants and how they work.
Humectants can also be good for people with normal porosity as well.
If you use it at the right time it can keep your hair from drying out and can make your hair softer and have more body.
Now for the cons. Remember that humectants like to attract moisture? Well, that moisture needs to come from somewhere.
If the weather is normal humidity, meaning that there is a normal amount of water in the air, then the humectants will get their water from the air.
But! If the air around you has low humidity, then the humectants could pull the little moisture that you have OUT of your hair and dry it even more.
The opposite is also true, if the air is very humid then the humectants might bring in too much moisture, making your hair way too frizzy.
Because of this, it’s important to be careful when you use humectants.
If you have cold, dry winters where you live, then it might be wise to avoid humectants without using other products to help trap moisture.
On the other hand, if it’s very humid where you live or you have very humid summers, you may need an anti-humectant.
What Are Anti-Humectants?
Anti-humectants are exactly what the name suggests.
They are moisture blockers that prevent moisture from getting into your hair.
This helps keep your hair from frizzing, and if you’ve straightened your hair it can help you go back to your natural texture.
Anti-humectants are emollients that can seal your hair cuticles after it’s been moisturized to ensure nothing penetrates or escapes the hair strands.
For low porosity hair, this means very lightweight serums and oils, like a drop or two of argan oil or sweet almond oil.
These oils also add a bit of extra shine to your hair too, which is always a plus!
Be careful when using anti-humectants as well.
They should only be used in high humidity.
If you use them when the weather is dry, you will have parched, brittle hair.
Related Post: Anti-Humectants For High Porosity Hair
Low porosity hair can be a pain to hydrate because of its closed, overlapping cuticle structure.
But if there’s a family of ingredients that can feed it all the moisture it needs, it’s humectants.
Humectants are amazing for their ability to pull moisture in from the environment and into your hair.
For low porosity hair, that means a world of difference, especially when your cuticles are closed shut with no gaps for hydration to enter.
But it’s not all rainbows and butterflies.
When you’re not careful with how you layer humectants and other hair care products, you could end up struggling with poofy frizz, especially in humid cities.
Make sure you lock in your humectants with oils and serums to ensure your hair stays tame and hydrated.
So, if you have low porosity hair and need extra help hydrating your locks, grab a bottle of glycerin or cut off a big, juicy leaf from your aloe vera plant.
Humectants will be your BFF in quenching your hair’s thirst, finally leaving you with soft, shiny, healthy locks.
There is a lot more to say about humectants, and there are a lot of humectants we haven’t talked about yet, but hopefully, this post has given you a good place to start learning about them.
The more we know about what we put in our hair the better, and the closer we get to perfect, silky, beautiful hair everyday.