Hydrate, Moisturize, Repeat: The Science of Healthy Curls
Posted on October 01 2019
What even is glycerin? Your best friend, that’s what!
You probably thought moisturizing and hydrating were the same thing. Well, they’re actually not. Although we tend to use them interchangeably, moisturizing and hydrating are two different processes that equally contribute to beautifully healthy curls.
Even as a physician with a biology degree and years of chemistry education, I wasn’t clear on this myself until I decided to move away from the harsh process of chemically straightening my hair. When I started to research the chemical-exposure issues inherent to the processing of textured hair, I found that I had really done myself a long-running disservice. It wasn't until then that I committed to leaving that all behind and caring for not just my hair, but also my three daughters’ hair in a much more natural and healthy way. Soon after, I discovered there was very little in the market to choose from, and became determined to create my own. That led me to create Many Ethnicities for adults and children, which was released to the public in 2017 after three years of research and development.
So how do moisturizing and hydrating differ? Three scientific words: humectants, occlusives, and emollients. These terms are commonly used in skincare and haircare. A very hydrating product, like a leave-in conditioner, contains ingredients that can fall under all three categories (talk about a triple threat!). However, even though all three can be used together, each group contains a unique set of ingredients that are either hydrating or moisturizing.
First comes hydration. Most of us strive to drink enough water daily––doing so contributes to glowing skin, less bloating, and more energy. Your hair demands the same attention, except, it’s a little different. Hydrating, in hair terms, is a process that penetrates the hair fiber, improving the absorption of water so hair can better retain moisture. Humectants play the biggest role in this.
Humectants, most effective in neutral environments that aren’t too humid or dry, bond with water molecules, drawing water from the air and transferring it to your hair. Some ingredients that fall under this category include glycerin, proteins, various vitamins, aloe, and panthenol, all of which are found in our products.
Glycerin is the most popular one––a colorless, scentless liquid abundant in humectants, it works wonders on your hair. But, be careful: if the air is too dry, glycerin may draw water from your hair to create a balance, resulting in dryness, and if the environment is too hot and humid, glycerin can cause the hair to swell, causing frizz. Despite its few cons, the water-soluble agent is highly effective, giving curls definition and providing ample hydration.
To counteract the dryness that can be caused by an agent like glycerin, occlusives are sometimes added to hydrating products. They create a temporary barrier blocking water or moisture from escaping. (Shea butter is a great natural occlusive and is featured in our Leave-In Conditioner.) In the winter, when your skin is parched because of drier air, you probably gravitate toward heavy-duty products, such as Vaseline or Aquaphor (two occlusives), to keep your skin softer. Your hair demands the same barrier to lock in moisture.
Now let’s talk about moisturizing. Moisturizers soften, protect, and seal in water and nutrients. Unlike a hydrating product that penetrates the hair fiber, moisturizers use butters and oils to coat the surface of your hair, making it super soft and helping it retain water.
Occlusives and emollients, with their fatty qualities, are what make up moisturizers. Occlusives are typically thicker and used for sealing in water, and emollients are oils that soften, smooth, and detangle (think avocado, argan, and jojoba). Most moisturizers use both, as occlusives and emollients go hand-in-hand.
Always use a moisturizer after you hydrate. But, if you’re using our Leave-In Conditioner, don’t worry about what comes first: our powerful product is filled with humectants, natural occlusives, and emollients like shea butter, aloe, jojoba oil, and glycerin, taking your curls from dull and frizzy to silky and soft.