Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Humidity: Two rules of engagement that will change the game

So as a follow up to my last post where I talked about the reprecussions of humidity to the hair, I thought I'd brainstorm some possible solutions to this pesky situation. Like I mentioned before, most (if not all) online suggestions directed me to find silicone containing products to tame frizz. While I do believe that silicones will provide a barrier on the strand that helps the moisture in the air from penetrating, I also can see a dark side to this option.

As women with textured hair, one of the greatest battles we face is that of dryness. We can all agree that air can be a huge culprit in the dryness factor of our hair. If the air is too dry, it sucks the moisture out of our strands leaving it dry and brittle. If the air is too moist, it over penetrates our hair creating an environment of dry and brittleness as the water molecules in our oversaturated hair strands begin to evaporate. As I shared in my last post, the oversaturated strand expands excessively to the point where the cuticle layer is lifted. This is really undesirable because any type of friction can lead to cracks on the hair follicle, spit ends, and breakage. So while I believe silicone can be useful in helping to create a barrier against the humidity, I also think there’s an undesirable side effect to blocking all moisture from entering the strand. For one, the layer of “protection” can turn into buildup if day after day; you are constantly applying silicone products to you hair. This may be a non-issue if you maintain a regular cleansing schedule and can clarify effectively on wash days. But let’s talk about some other options shall we?

For most of last year, I went without an umbrella. I had one previously but decided not to replace it right away once it went missing. Anyway, because of this, I found myself making mad dashes to my car on occasions when I was caught in the rain. Soon the mad dashes turned into calm walks to my vehicle once I realized that getting my hair wet in the rain wasn’t such a bad thing. Why? Because pretty much every time my hair received the moisture from the moderate rain, it felt softer and more moisturized for the rest of the day. For this reason, I’m not too adverse to the moisture in the air, I just think that we have to control it so we can receive the good from it and minimize the undesirable effects.

Rule # 1: You're in control
Whenever I find myself in an environment with lots of moisture in the air, my very first instinct is to reach for my satin or silk scarf. This, to me, provides a very temporary barrier against extreme humid conditions in the air. I’m sure a little moisture will likely penetrate the hair under the scarf but not nearly at the same levels as when my hair is exposed. Having a scarf on hand is much easier now that I’ve created my healthy hair on the go kit. Whenever the need strikes me, I grab the scarf and I’m good. The scarf also keeps the hair secured against the head which helps provide structure for the hair to dry naturally without a negative effect. Remember how I said earlier in the post that the air could be both good and bad. It could deposit moisture into the strands (good) then turn right around and create a vulnerable environment for the hair to become rough if the cuticle layer becomes raised (bad). If you allow a controlled amount of moisture to come in contact with your hair, and then tie down with a silk scarf, you allow your hair to experience the good and reduce impact of the drying after effects.

Another action I made sure I took whenever my hair began to get damp was to seal the hair right away with my nourishing oil blend. Since I always have a little bit on me at all times, I’d just simply seal the natural moisture in, tie down with a scarf and allow the combination to work its magic. In fact, I think it was this technique that afforded me the opportunity of going without purchasing a moisturizer for so long. I remember using a technique last summer (when the humidity was the highest) where I would cover my head with a clear plastic cap for 5 minutes or so to help generate moisture. Once my hair became somewhat damp, I would remove the cap, seal with Gleau Nourishing oil, and then smooth the hair with a silk scarf. That method worked pretty well for me. The moral of the story if you want to avoid dry frizzies and brittleness, never let damp hair dry unsecured….ever.

Remember learning about the terms hydrophilic and hydrophobic in 6th grad escience class? If not, let me refresh your memory. Hydrophilic means “water loving” while hydrophobic, on the other hand, translates to something that doesn’t love water. As a general rule, if you want to minimize the effects of extreme humidity, try laying off the heavy humectants. Humectants usually draw moisture from the air and attract to the hair. This is a great thing in the winter but when the air is already laden with moisture you may be promoting frizz. So for example, when I use my steam setter, I generally don’t have to use moisturizer because the steam roller will be transferring the water particles directly to the strands. If I apply extra moisturizer, the hair remains too saturated and the curl doesn’t hold or it comes out our frizzy and puffy. On the other hand, if I just use a little oil to seal, I experience different results. If your hair is already drawing a ton of moisture from the air, you should think about whether your regimen requires less hydrophilic products (humectants) and more hydrophobic products such as natural oils. The cool thing about natural oils is that even though oil & water generally don’t mix, they compliment each other perfectly when it comes to your hair regimen. Do oils provide the same layer of protection against moisture as silicone containing products? My guess is no. But I actually appreciate the fact that oils will allow for some moisture penetration while still helping keep frizz at bay. After all, moisture isn’t entirely a bad thing.

When it comes to dealing with your hair in a high humidity environment, low manipulation is critical. In the study I mentioned in my first post, there were images of the hair samples used during the experimentation. All of the hair samples had one thing in common, they we allowed to dry loose and unrestricted. This is a recipe for disaster for textured hair. If you read this blog on a regular basis, you know that I’m not one for protective styling. It’s just not my thing. Now with that said, I still know better than to walk out of the house with my hair loose when the humidity is in full effect. If a silk scarf isn’t handy, I’ll put my hair in a single braid, a bun, or put my hair in an upsweep. The only way I take my hair down is when I’m inside in an environment where I know my hair will be safe. Again, sometimes I allow some absorption of the moisture, then apply some light oil, tie down for further penetration then remove the scarf when I arrive at my intended destination. Sometimes just a few minutes under a silk scarf is enough to make a difference.

Rule # 2: Seal the deal
For some reason, when the weather warms I suddenly have the urge to break out my cute summer dresses while sporting braid out styles. Within a few short hours my once defined waves turn into a puffy mess. While I appreciate the thickness I experience as my hair succumbs to the humidity, I hate the fact that my hair looses definition as the hydrogen bonds are broken. I think back to the days when I frequented the Dominican salons. All that blow drying really helped seal my cuticles which helped preserve my style. In fact, one visit to the salon would equal bone straight hair for up to two weeks no matter how humid it was outside. From this experience, I conclude that using heat to seal the cuticles is another option. I’m not talking about the indirect heat from sitting under the dryer while roller setting, I’m referring to the direct heat of a flat iron or blow dryer. Like silicone, excessive use of either of these techniques tend to hinder your hair’s moisture levels in the long run so make sure you work smart when ever using direct heat. This means using quality heating tools that are less harmful to the hair. Just make sure you get enough moisture in the hair from your deep conditioning process before you seal. Whenever you decided to use direct heat, you’ve got to take extra precautions to make sure your hair isn’t harmed by the whole experience. Try to get as much moisture into the strand as possible beforehand. You also really got to make sure you step up and use quality heat protecting products. Lately I've been hearing a lot of good things about Nioxin Bliss Thermal Protector. I just picked up a bottle last week. High on the list of ingredients is wheat protein and amino acids (it also contains one silicone ingredient) I really hope it lives up to my expectations.

Which leads me into another point, one important note I also remember from my reading of the study was how porous hair absorbed more water molecules than virgin hair. Again, let’s assume for the sake of argument that those of us who relax have porous hair. So to me this means I have to make sure I’m giving my hair exactly what it needs in terms of protein and ceramides. Protein will strengthen the strand and fill in the cracks, ceramides will help seal the cuticle layer. Together they work together to create hair that’s less porous and therefore less likely to attract all that excess moisture. Think back to the "healthy hair experiment" that requires you to place a strand of hair in a bowl of water. Damaged, porous hair absorbs the water and soon begins to sink to the bottom of the bowl. Healthy hair floated on the water's surface as it was able to protect itself from absorbing all of the water around it. If you haven't done that test in a while, maybe now is a good time to revisit.

And of course after every wash I want to make sure I use a little apple cider vinegar during my final rinse to lower the pH level of the hair and scalp. And let’s not forget that during the summer months is the perfect time to make sure we use cold water when rinsing out product. Both of these actions help create that sealed cuticle layer which is so critical in fighting humidity. O.k so I went a little longer in this post than I usually do. That’s because I wanted to offer up some options on how we can leverage all the “free moisture” that’s available to us in the form of humidity while still keeping frizz at bay. I understand there will be times that our hair has to look perfect and using a silicone product is the answer, but I also think there are other (healthier) options available to us as well.





  1. If you don't like the Nioxin Bliss please feel free to send it to me - I love it:)
    This post was very interesting as since I've started my hair journey I no longer use a shower cap.

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