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.
What are humectants?
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.
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.
Why does low porosity hair need humectants?
So, you’re probably thinking: ‘I get it, humectants attract water. Do I need more water in my hair?’
Actually, that’s a good question. It depends on your hair’s porosity. Porosity basically tells you how good your hair is at absorbing water.
Porosity comes in three flavors: low, normal, and high. If you have normal porosity, your hair is just right. It takes in the amount of moisture it’s supposed to.
If you have high porosity, your hair is very good – a little too good – at absorbing moisture. This means your hair has a lot of holes and can lose that moisture just as quickly as it got it.
The hair cuticle of people with high porosity hair is highly raised and therefore absorbs and loses moisture easily.
If you have low porosity hair, it means your hair is bad at absorbing moisture.
Remember I have low porosity hair. This means that my hair’s cuticle layer is tightly packed and this makes it difficult for water to pass through.
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.
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.
Which humectant should I use?
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 recently 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 infuse moisture to their hair strands.
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.
Pros and cons of 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 in 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’s an anti-humectant?
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.
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.
There is a lot more to say about humectants, and there are a lot of humectants we haven’t talked about yet, but hopefully, my article 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.