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Hair moisture matrix

By now, you are probably an expert on moisturizers. You have your moisturizers, straighteners, and sealers and know which ones work best when your skin is dry, oily, or somewhere in between. In theory, the moisturizers that you use on your hair are exactly the same! But in practice, they're … a little harder to find. Especially because what defines hair isn't just a sliding scale between dry and oily. Don't get me wrong, moisture is still what you want to control here. However, the way it affects hair depends on both its texture and its integrity. Do you remember the graphic I created to find your perfectly tinted moisturizer? We can use a similar one to find the best moisturizer for your specific hair.

On one axis is the hair type or how straight your hair is. "The shortest distance between two points is a straight line," explains Leigh Hardges, chief stylist at Maxine Salon in Chicago. "On straight hair, oils can travel from the scalp to the ends faster, resulting in well-nourished, but often oily hair in three days." When straight hair is an oil road, curly hair is more like a winding mountain road – its twists, turns, and curves mean an increased ETA for oil flowing down the hair shaft. Because of this, curly hair can stretch a wash more easily, and those with straight hair can be used to avoid moisturizers for the hair altogether.

Sounds too easy? That's because you're still missing the second half of the equation! This is known as hair porosity, or how much water your hair itself absorbs. When your hair is highly porous, it absorbs so much water that the hair shaft swells and breaks. However, porous hair also dries faster because the cuticle, a protective, hydrophobic coating, is too broken up to hold water in. "Hairy hair is usually more porous than straight hair," says Hardges, but they are not mutually exclusive. She also names things like bleach and other chemical treatments, heat damage, tension stress, frequent shampooing, UV exposure, and simple ancient genetics as factors contributing to hair porosity. (If you're not sure how porous your hair is, take this quick and easy quiz.) Treating porous hair is very similar to treating dry skin: the name of the game is, take it on with thick products Oil-based coat restore the hair's moisture barrier.

Your hair falls somewhere between these two axes – knowing exactly where it is can lead Goldilocks to happy, healthy, and envious hair. Here you start:

Quadrant I.

If you go counterclockwise from the top right, you'll find straight and wavy hair first at the end of high porosity things. If you fall into this category, your hair will likely go greasy on its own, but due to bleaching, processing, heat, or infrequent cuts, your hair will be dry and thirsty. You could use the added protection of something oil-based, though you need to watch out for oiliness. Look for products with water-attracting humectants (glycerin, aloe and honey) in addition to light oil emulsifiers such as argan, jojoba, grape seed and sweet almond. Ingredients like wheat, vegetable, and quinoa proteins are also helpful in rebuilding healthy cuticles.

Some suggestions…
Playa Monoi Milk Leave-In Conditioner
Reverie Milk Anti-Frizz Leave-in Nourishing Treatment
Shea Moisture Manuka Honey & Yogurt Multi-Action Leave-In
Ouidad Advanced Climate Control feather light styling cream

Quadrant II

Low-pore, mostly straight hair is probably the most resistant to moisturizers by now, but there is still something for you! You are right to stay away from things that are too moisturizing or oily. "Over-conditioned hair feels weighed down, gummy, thread-like, and unresponsive to thermal styling," added Hardges. But even straight, shiny hair that doesn't need much help building its moisture barrier can benefit from something highly moisturizing like an aloe vera-based mist.

Some suggestions…
Christophe Robin Hydrating Leave-In Mist with Aloe Vera
Rahua Hydration Detangler + UV Barrier

Quadrant III

If your hair is curly but its porosity is low, you are some kind of hair unicorn. Treating them can be the most difficult as you need to find a balance. On one hand, you need to maintain dry ends as it will take your natural scalp oils longer to reach the length of your curls. However, you need to do this without adding heavy oils, which will build up on your already healthy cuticles and prevent adequate moisture from penetrating. Look for something light and humectant like milk to get the job done.

Some suggestions…
Oyin handmade moisturizing herbal leave-in
Kinky-Curly Knot Left in Detangler today

Quadrant IV

And finally, this is where you live if your hair is curly to curly and particularly thirsty. Look for proteins, heavier oils like coconut and castor, and butters like shea, murumuru, mango, and cupuacu. You can also benefit from using multiple layers of moisturizers called the LOC method. "The holy grail of hydration routines begins with soaking wet hair, applying leave-in conditioner, followed by nourishing hair oil and a cream styler," explains Hardges.

Some suggestions…
Melanin Haircare Multi-Use Softening Leave In Conditioner
Devacurl Leave-In Decadence Ultra moisturizing leave-in conditioner
Curlmix Pure Avocado Moisturizing Cream with organic castor oil
Alikay Naturals moisture-rich hair parfait

Hardges also suggests that it is possible to reduce the porosity of your hair with products so that your position on the porosity axis can change over time. In addition to consistently using moisturizers, she often recommends that her customers with high porosity use a clear shine that temporarily coats the hair with a kind of pseudocuticle. An acidic wash with apple cider vinegar can also help prevent cuticle swelling. And once a damaged cuticle is restored, you may find that your hair is naturally curlier than you thought.

But where does your hair fall for the moment? I would say my sleek, virgin, otherwise healthy hair is somewhere around (3, 14) considering how desperate I am for a haircut. Tell me your coordinates in the comments.

– Ali Oshinsky

Photo via ITG


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