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Dry Hair Solutions: How Moisturizers Work

• Feb 14, 2012

The question — ‘I have very dry hair, will a moisturiser fix that?’

The answer to this question is yes and no. The effectiveness of the moisturiser depends on the amount of product already on your hair, the ingredients of the moisturiser and your hair’s response.

Q: How much ‘dirt’ is on your hair?

If you have a routine where you dampen and oil your hair on a daily basis, whether you see it or not, your hair is likely to be very oily. This oil layer coats the outside of your hair and prevents water from accessing the strand fully. If you find that your hair is dry while following this routine, a moisturiser may not work effectively simply because water in the product will remain outside the hair blocked by the oil layer. In order to make the moisturiser effective, you should clean off the hair with a gentle shampoo or if co-washing is effective for you then it can also help.

Q: What is in the moisturiser?

Different moisturisers have different ingredients but they can broadly be grouped into these main categories for the purpose of moisturising

1. Water for moisture

2. Emollients to soften hair e.g cetyl alcohol, stearyl alcohol and certain oils like shea butter

3. Humectants to increase the humidity at the hair surface e.g glycerin, aloe vera, honey

4. Oils to lubricate the strand and to help seal in the moisture e.g coconut oil, shea butter, mineral oil and silicones

5. Amino acids and proteins — These also help hair to hold on to water and therefore play a role in moisture e.g glutamic acid, hydroylsed silk and wheat protein

6. Acidifiers which help the product pH to a range between 4–6 e.g citric acid and some fruit extracts.

Many commercial moisturisers will contain all of these ingredients. The appearance of the product and the ingredient order (if correctly labelled) will however give you an indication of the quantities.

Water based moisturisers will tend to be clear and come in a spray bottle (e.g homemade mixes of water and oil or diluted conditioner, carol’s daughter tui leave in) .

Emollient rich products tend to be creamy and come in a pump action or pour out type bottle (e.g giovanni direct leave in, herbal essences long term relationship).

Humectant rich products will tend to have a jelly like consistency in appearance or if in creamy form may feel sticky if you do not add water (e.g curl activator, kinky curly curling custard, eco styler gel) .

Oil rich products also tend to be creamy but will tend to come in a scoop up containers (e.g shea moisture curl enhancing smoothie).

Q: How does your hair respond to the moisturiser?

The key to finding a good moisturiser lies in knowing which products have most effect on your hair and its environment. If your hair does not tend to care for deep conditioning (there is little/no difference whether you use heat or not and whether you leave the conditioner on for 20 minutes or  2 hours), you may find that your hair will respond better to humectant heavy conditioners which create humidity around your hair shaft (examples curl activator, non drying gels such as ecostyler). This is as opposed to conditioners that attempt to soften hair (emollient rich) or drive moisture into your hair (water rich). Your hair may be less responsive to these type of moisturisers. However, if you live in an area with dry air (low humidity), you may need to use a water rich moisturiser in addition to make sure the humectant can work.

If you find that your hair has a tendency to become soft very quickly when you leave hair conditioner on it and also maintain that softness for a few days, then you may find water based, emollient and oil rich moisturiser may work for you (examples homemade water oil mixes, giovanni direct, herbal essences long term relationship). You may want to avoid humectant rich conditioners as they may make your hair feel mushy or sticky especially if you live somewhere humid.

Ladies, which moisturizers work best for you?

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30 Comments on "Dry Hair Solutions: How Moisturizers Work"

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I’m fairly new to the Natural world and am scared that I do not moisturize my 4b hair well enough.
Oftentimes, I do not bother to buy a moisturizer and all I do is to dampen my hair with water and seal it with shea butter. Is that sufficient to keep my hair moisturized?
And if so should I do that every day or rather every 2 days or something?
Thanks in advance 🙂

Hey Sandra, I know EXACTLY what you’re going through. But with all the products and combinations of products I have used, I have found that it is better to see the difference in your hair when you moisturize daily, or every other day. Rather than follow someones’ regimen, I found that I need to moisturize every day in the warmer months, and every other day in the cooler months. Also when my hair is out,[ rather than a bun] I moisturize by spritzing my hair with water, AV juice, and an oil. Then I seal with a little more oil… Read more »

Hi Sandra
That was me like 2 or 3 months ago. Like Amy said you have to try to make a regimen that’s unique to you. It’s a journey to find the perfect products that will make your hair feel the way you are happy with. I have read of ladies who use exactly the same regimen as you — water and shea — and are happy. It might help you to experiment a bit, and not be too scared.

Sandra all you need to ask yourself is 1. Does your hair feel brittle? 2. Does your hair break? If the answer to this is no, your routine is perfectly fine. Hair of African origin can feel dry a few hours after it has been wetted but if your hair is not breaking or if it is in a protective style which does not require the hair to be flexible then you have nothing to worry about. This post is only in answer to the question of commercial moisturisers. Some women have a lot of success with just water and… Read more »

Thank You very much ladies :)!
I guess I’ll just have to take a closer look on how my hair behaves in the coming weeks and might try out something else if my hair still feels brittle.


I think the biggest mistake that many new natural make (that I made myself) is thinking that you can use oil alone as a moisturizer. I used to end up with greasy yet crunchy dry hair all the time and not know why. For moisturizers I like Kinky curly knot today, Bee mine hair milk, or Karen’s body beautiful hair milk.

My hair loves humectants and water based moisturisers, but with water based moisturisers I have to layer on a humectant otherwise my hair will dry out. Of course I seal but with oils as my hair doesn’t like butters either. I love the feel of emollients but my hair hates them so I use them as conditioners instead or mix a little into a humectant. It took a lot of trail and error before I finally figured out what my hair wanted. I started treating my hair with respect in Jan 2011 and that September I finally clicked that my… Read more »

My tightly coiled, afro-textured hair likes water-based creamy moisturizers with glycerin and oils/butters.

Glycerin is the key to soft, pliable hair for me–If it’s not in a product, it needs to be in a spritz or something. I need oils/butters in my moisturizers because adding them full-stength to my stands leads to hard/greasy hair. Because of this, I only seal my ends and edges (w/ castor oil).

Examples of moisturizers my hair likes are Alba Botanica Leave-In Conditioner, Shea Moisture Curl & Style Milk and Shea Moisture Deep Treatment Masque.


My hair feels dry and tangled after useing emollients and humectants leave my hair greasy and heavy with no body. What can I use to help me enjoy wearing my natural heair free and wild without fear of it drying out quick or being weighed down by puddings?

Signed, Tired of curly ponytails

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I’m not natural but I love this site 🙂 I am someone who does the aforementioned routine is spraying sections of hair with water before applying a moisturizer and coconut oil, but here it is described as potentially dirtying your hair (which I guess I can agree with as my hair does get smellier faster when I do this)…Is this then wrong to do? Should I rely on the moisturizer and oil alone?


Has anyone used coconut oil mixed with she’s butter?

barbie 3000

I use cantu coconut sheabutter product


Can I use shea butter as a moisturizer and seal it with olive oil or coconut oil?



Nina Day

Nope, but you can use aloe vera gel or rosewater as a moisturizer then seal with shea butter. You can also just apply shea butter on damp hair after washing your hair to seal in moisture


The best natural solution for dry hair is ARGAN OIL. Seriously, you guys have to try this. But make sure there’s no silicone in it, that will ruin the argan oil and weigh hair down. I got Pro Naturals moroccan argan oil and it’s the best one I’ve used so far, I had to order it online from but it was worth the wait. My hair is really smooth and healthy, has been since I started with argan oil! 😀


argan oil is fantastic, im using it every day too to seal my moisture in.. but don’t overlook that it is an oil / sealant and not a moisturizer.

Cathey Poindexter-Taylor
Cathey Poindexter-Taylor

I find that my hair really likes Emollients for Leave-Ins as well as Water-based conditioners, while, it responds to humectants for styling products.


i want to know how to properly moisturise my 4c extra coarse TWA, in braids, since its getting cold and i want to protect it.


I just went natural…and my hair is not dry, but I wanna know what can I buy to keep it from getting dry? I’m using now organics olive oil etc product. I have read about homemade product..not to sure about that just yet…I need something I can get from the store. Some one help me.


I have another question about natural hair. What is some good Deep conditioner, leave in conditioner, and shampoo too? How can I tell what type of hair I have? I have a lot of question about natural hair

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I’m completely new to running a blog however I do write in my journal on a daily basis. I’d like to start a blog so I can easily share my personal experience and views online.
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new aspiring bloggers. Thankyou!

Can someone help me out with this..I have low porosity, fine hair. My hair is like 3a, or b with the right product and a diffuser or plop. My hair is also extremely long. The author mentions that oils already coating the shaft can block your hair from taking in moisture. So, let’s say that I do not have time to co-wash my hair every day, and I don’t think many of us do, especially with longer hair, it’s a pain and probably not recommended. What would be a good way to bypass the previous application of moisturizer + oil,… Read more »

What if hair is oily after you moisturize and seal?
Do you still moisturize and seal the next day?
I’ve heard that your supposed to do it everyday or every other day, but my hair just gets so oily.
I usually just moisturze and seal my hair after I wash it, and don’t do it again until I wash again wich is once every two weeks and sometimes once a week.

Nina Day

No, that means you should find a lighter oil to seal with or use a teeny bit of oil. I personally never really got the point of sealing with oil. It never worked for me no matter how light the oil is. If your hair is actually well moisturized, i would probably switch to using less oil per section of hair


If you have dry hair then use sulfate free shampoo! Seriously I changed over and it makes a HUGE difference. If you get silicone free conditioner then even better. I use everything by the Pro Naturals argan oil line and I really really recommend their stuff. Especially the leave in argan oil, total lifesaver for dry hair.
hello there and thank you for your info – I’ve certainly picked up something new from right here. I did however expertise several technical points using this website, since I experienced to reload the web site a lot of times previous to I could get it to load correctly. I had been wondering if your web host is OK? Not that I’m complaining, but slow loading instances times will very frequently affect your placement in google and could damage your high-quality score if advertising and marketing with Adwords. Anyway I’m adding this RSS to my e-mail and could look out… Read more »

[…] Black Girl Long Hair: Dry Hair Solutions: How Moisturizers Work […]


I believe that you have to know the true reason your hair is dry before you can properly address it. This article was helpful for me so I’d like to share it with my fellow naturalistas.

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