The Importance of Moisture for Hair

By Marla, Hair Care Contributor

Marla is based in Atlanta, Georiga. Having been on a healthy hair journey for the past few years, she has learned the ins and outs of hair care through research, product sampling, and trial and error. Marla is a recent graduate of Emory University, earning a Bachelor of Science in Neuroscience and Behavioral Biology and minor in English. Her interests include spending time with family and friends, reading, volunteering, the arts, and cooking and baking. Since her family is originally from Ghana, West Africa, she hopes to take a much needed vacation to visit for the first time soon. And while in the midst of applying to medical school and working as a freelance writer, she is a beauty and fashion lover – simple, feminine, and sophisticated aesthetics – who won’t leave home without a good lip balm and mascara. Marla is also a writer for the beauty and fashion forums on, an online women’s magazine where “charity meets style.”

Photo by Dionysius Burton

The Importance of Moisture for Hair

The difference between healthy hair and not-so-healthy hair can be as simple as moisture retention. All hair types, especially curly/coily/kinky textures, thrive off moisture. Without it, hair won’t only experience dryness, brittleness, and dullness, it also becomes highly susceptible to one of the most dreaded hair-related problems of all: breakage. If retaining hair moisture has been difficult for you, there are a few things to look out for (and even more to stay far far away from).

The #1 hair care moisture product of all time is none other than water. Just like the rest of your body, hair constantly needs water as it helps to maintain its elasticity, softness, natural shine, and strength. So after shampooing, which can be drying, following up with a moisturizing conditioner and a leave-in can help your hair retain the water it needs. So how do you know what’s good? The ingredients list is a reliable source. Water-based products are the way to go. If water is listed as the first ingredient, that’s a good sign. Moisturizing extracts and humectants – aloe vera, glycerin, sorbitol and other sugars, and more – can act to attract moisture from the air, further helping to retain moisture.

As for the rest of the ingredients found in moisturizers, it’s much easier to note what you don’t want to find on the list: petroleum jelly, mineral oil, and lanolin. Petrolatum- or mineral oil-based products are not your friends when it comes to moisture retention. While they do seal moisture in after the initial wash, they also prevent any more moisture from entering by coating the hair shaft. Lanolin, aka wool wax, has similar effects. Some more no-nos are silicones, sulfates, and certain alcohols. Silicones can coat hair which leads to build up, which leads to dullness, which leads to using harsh shampoos to remove it, which leads to a never-ending hair horror cycle. You get my point. And the last thing you want to do is use a shampoo with harsh sulfates that can further strip the hair of what little moisture it may have. As for alcohols, some of them can be very drying as well.

I know. I’ve named just about every ingredient found in all hair care products and there’s nothing left to use. Not quite. I’m merely pointing out common ingredients that have been known to cause hair trouble. At the end of the day, what may work wonders on your hair may be the nemesis of another’s. The best thing to do is to “listen” to your hair. If it’s constantly screaming “I’m thirsty!” or it’s breaking off at the ends as fast as (or even faster than) it’s growing at the roots, it could be time to go product hunting. Take a look at your current hair care products; see where on the list the not-so-great ingredients show up (if at all). If any are listed first or second, and dryness has been a problem, that product probably isn’t a keeper.

A promising “cheap” conditioner line for everyday use or conditioner washes (co-washes) is Suave Naturals ($3.49). Not only is water listed as its first ingredient, it’s pH balanced – less frizzies and more shine! Also pH balanced, Giovanni 50:50 Hydrating-Calming Conditioner ($7.99) works to replenish moisture in dry to normal hair.

As for leave-in conditioners, I’ve been as faithful to Herbal Essences Long Term Relationship Leave-In Split End Protector ($3.99) as it’s been to me. Perfect product line name. On top of moisturizing hair, it leaves great slip for easy combing on wet hair. For curly heads, Kinky Curly Knot Today ($12.00) is a natural leave-in detangler. As a girl with every kind of curly in her head, I know the value of a good detangler.

Tips on Avoiding Dryness

  1. Wash your hair with cold water. It closes the cuticle allowing water to stay in and dirt to stay out. Closed cuticles leave hair shinier, too.
  2. Like water-based products, pH optimized products (pH of 3.5-6) add elasticity and shine. They also help in detangling and maintaining moisture/protein balance.
  3. Always follow a shampoo with a conditioner. Shampoos (especially those with sulfates) can be very drying, but conditioners help to add moisture back. If dryness continues to be an issue, consider washing with shampoo less often or doing co-washes (just washing with conditioner) more often.
  4. Spritzing daily with rose water or water mixed with aloe vera juice (for optimal pH) and then sealing with a little hair oil (no mineral oil!) can add much needed moisture to dry hair.
  5. No heat (or at least minimize your usage).

How do your current conditioners) and leave-ins fair–any no-no ingredients? What moisturizing products are working for you?

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I stopped using shampoos and conditioner last January, I only use baking soda and apple cider vinegar to cleanse my hair. It was just an experiment that I decided to continue for as long as possible since my hair has never been healthier. It became thicker,shinier, and my natural curls came out. I have wavy hair that was always frizzy &unmanagebale when I was using shampoo. I also followed some advice on the internet about not washing hair everyday (only when I’m not going out) and my hair became more softer. The only setback w/ my routine is my hair can smell a little off and smells like “oil”.

Wow you really know your stuff! Love this article. Conditioner is my favorite hair product! My staples are Giovanni Smooth as Silk(aftershampoo/detangling) and Aubrey Organics GPB for deep conditioning. My favorite leave ins are Oyin Handmade Hair Dew or Kinky Curly Knot Today mixed with coconut oil. What works for me is sealing in the moisture in wet or damp hair with one of my leave-ins. I try to stay away from hair products with sulfates, parabens, and silicones.

I’ve always wanted to buy Giovanni products but they retail for $14 to $19 in Canada. >_<

I maybe touch a blow dryer 3 times a year. I wash and let my hair dry overnight with my curly/wavy hair.

Not sure if you have a Superstore/Loblaws in your area of Canada, but I just found the Giovanni product in my local Superstore in the organic product isle for 9.99 this past week! Hope you have the same luck. 🙂

Although my hair is not “natural”, it absolutely loves KeraCare Hydrating Shampoo. It has been my staple for years now: it gives enough slip just like a conditioner, leaves my hair residue-free and keeps it shiny and soft.

Ericka, as long as a product has the ingredients I like and works for my hair, I don’t even worry about what hair type it claims to cater to. Sounds like you have a promising product there!

Great article!! Thank you! I recently decided to embrace my natural kinky/curly hair and have been exploring a lot of products, trying to figure out what my hair likes best and the best regimen to retain the most moisture. I’m a big fan of Kinky-Curly Knot Today too! I also took advantage of the Black Friday deals today to try out some new products – just did a big order at Bask Beauty, and also still shopping around at Oyin (mentioned by another commenter) and Curl Junkie. I love that EVERY brand goes crazy for BF, not just the big massive chains like Target!

Thanks so much for your article! I’m also a curly girl so my quest for products for my hair type is neverending. I just cannot seem to find a decent leave-in conditioner, so I especially welcomed your suggestions. I currently have 3: the one by Cantu (they changed the formula down the line and it is no where near as effective as it used to be, IMO); Creme of Nature’s Lemongrass and Rosemary (my hair feels no different after using this one); and Mixed Chicks’ (I purchased it at Sally Beauty Supply. Again, my hair feels no different after using it.). I want a leave-in that provides a little “slip”, so I’ll be all over that Herbal Essences product tomorrow!

You’re welcome, MAChostage! I hope you like the HE LTR Leave-In. It’s worked well for me. I’m with you on the endless search for the right produts, though. I’m still trying things and learning about my hair.

Great contribution, thank you!
Since i bread my hair, i can’t spritzing water on them everyday; i do this only when i let my hair loose.
I use to use an olive oil moisturizing hair lotion by Organics roots stimulator; a shampoo by Creme of Nature; a conditionner by Aphogee.

My thing is I never fully rinse out my conditioner and organic coconut oil . I leave enough in as a leave in conditioner. My hair has never been healthier! Doing this has helped me grow lONG soft hair. Oh, and I have saved a ton of money on hair products! I also rinsing hair with apple cider vinegar is awesome and it makes a great facial cleanser!

OMG. I’m sick and tired of reading all over the Internet that “silicone is a no-no”. Ladies, perhaps it’s high time to stop reading silly forums and switch to scientific resources, or at least, thebeautybrainsdotcom?
This MYTH was busted long ago. Silicones are one of the best conditioning ingredients on the market. Whenever I choose a conditioner/treatment/leave-in product, I ensure that it contains loads of -cones.
For the record – after years of fruitless attempts I managed to GROW MY HAIR 10 INCHES LONGER due to Kerastase, and their products are FULL of silicones.

Daria, I’m sure you know there has been a lot of debate as to whether silicones are a nay or a yay. Truth is, they’re both really. Some “light” silicones are water-soluble and therefore beneficial in sealing in moisture without causing build up. But there’s an even longer list of “heavy” silicones that are only slightly water soluble or insoluble entirely. Silicones in these categories last longer in the hair leaving it smooth, slippery, silky,and shiny. However, because they are heavier, they have also been known to weigh hair down, cause product buildup or greasiness over time, and create a tight hydrophobic film over the hair shaft that makes it difficult to wash out without using sulfate-containing shampoos (hence the drying cycle). Silicones themselves may not be damaging to the hair (and they certainly have their benefits), but some measures in order to clean them out of the hair are. Here’s a list categorizing silicones commonly used in hair products:

When it comes to silicones, some peoples’ hair reacts well to it (congrats on the growth!), while many others have benefited greatly from using them sparingly or staying away from them all together. With that said, if there’s a product containing a “no no” that you and your hair love (that applies to some of my favorite products past and present), then that’s great. Not every “good” or “bad” ingredient/product will respond the same way from person to person. Needless to say, every head of hair is different. Hope this helps.

I love all the products mentioned in this article. I found my holy grail cleansing conditioner (better than WEN) at the Dollar Store! I can’t find it online at all, so I try to grab 5 bottles each time I visit so that i’m not stuck when or if they discontinue it. It’s called White Rain Clarifying Conditioner. I love Giovanni direct leave in too.

What a great and timely post! I just learned more about the importance of the pH of hair products, as well as the benefits of products like Giovanni conditioner and Suave Naturals while researching a new hair care strategy over the past few weeks. Thanks for all the tips!

Linda, other than spritzing with a little water and sealing with a light oil for moisture, some popular sleep-time hair protection tricks are to cover your hair with a silk scarf or satin bonnet. You can also sleep on a satin pillow. These fabrics slip against hair much better than cotton, resulting in less breakage. Plus, it doesn’t hurt to sleep on satin! Also, you might want to avoid hair ties with metal, rubber bands, or sponge rollers, to tie/style your hair at night. If you’re like me when it comes to sleeping, these can pull and snag at the hair from all that tossing and turning. Hope this helps!

You have BEAUTIFUL hair! I’m a curly girl, too, and I love Deva’s NoPoo, Sudzz FX shampoo/conditioner, Macadamia Oil Deep Repair Masqua, Aveda’s Curl Enhancer cream, and Moroccan Argan Oil!

I am a bit confused…

Suave naturals your recommend has alcohol… so it’ss drying…
Herbal Essences for split ends has Cyclopentasiloxane which is a silicone and Kinky Curly has 2 different types of alcohol… !

Not everything can be perfect. Alcohol is sometime essential to assure that the product won’t be contaminated by nasty stuff and as long as the ”bad” ingredients are not first on the list (let’s say first to third) you can actually take a dare and see if it works for you

You’re right, Dolce. Unless you’re using completely natural products, and even then, it’s hard to come by products that will contain zero questionable ingredients. With that said, every “rule” has it’s exceptions. Not every alcohol is bad, same with silicones. For instance, cetyl alcohol, benzyl alcohol, as well as stearyl alcohol and other fatty alcohols are considered good. Some not so bad silicones include dimethicone copolyol and PEG silicones.

I’ve been on my natural hair journey for about 6 years now but finally decided to relax my hair this past August. I co-wash my hair 2x a week and use shampoo or a no poo shampoo once every 3-4 weeks. For my daily moisturizer I have a spray mixture of water, sauve/vo5 conditioner, and glycerin and seal with coconut oil. I’ve definitely noticed a difference in the health of my hair. I must say I’m so glad that the info on good hair care is easily available now!

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