the back of a curly haired girl showing how to moisturize natural hair
Curly Hair Care

How To Moisturize Natural Hair

Every natural’s favourite question (aside from how to grow long natural hair) is how to moisturize natural hair.

Every natural experiences dryness, regardless of hair type and density. And nothing robs natural hair of its inherent beauty and etherealness than moisture loss.

When natural hair is dry, it causes deeper damage than you can imagine. Dryness can cause split ends and single-strand knots, the two main occurrences that halt natural hair growth in its tracks.

Dry natural hair also has further implications – if your hair is dry, your scalp is most likely dry as well. This can result in permanent damage to your follicles if your scalp is not properly moisturized to support them. Damaged follicles mean ZERO hair growth.

Yikes!

That’s why it’s so imperative to learn how to moisturize natural hair. Ready to learn how to moisturize natural hair, the right way? Let’s get started!

Why Is My Natural Hair Always Dry?

If you have chronic dry natural hair, you are not alone (as I write this, my hair feels as dryer than the Sahara). Dryness and natural hair goes in tandem for factors beyond our control.

Learning how to moisturize natural hair starts with the question: what causes dryness?

Our scalp, much like the skin on our body, produces natural oils called sebum. Sebum is our body’s way of moisturizing itself.

In an ideal world, the sebum from our scalp is supposed to moisturize our hair by way of gravity. From the top of our head to the ends of our hair, sebum is produced to moisturize every inch of our hair.

But because of the angularity of our curls and kinks, the sebum cannot travel down our hair shaft. So it gets trapped at the top of our curls and can’t make it down to our ends.

This is the main reason why natural hair is chronically dry. This is also why it’s so important for us naturals to deep condition weekly, use hydrating products and take care of our scalp. We literally have no choice if we want happy, healthy hair.

Okay, so now we know why natural hair is dry. But what can we do about it? How can we learn how to moisturize natural hair?

Hair "Facts"

Knowing your hair type and porosity is the next step before you can figure out how to moisturize natural hair. Type 4 natural hair is the driest because of the how coily the curls are. This results in extra fragile natural hair. The looser curls of Type 2 natural hair is the least dry because sebum has a better chance of traveling down the hair shaft.

Hair porosity, in general, is a more difficult quality to pinpoint. To know if you are either low porosity or high porosity, pull a clean strand from your head. Run your fingers down the length of the shaft, from the root to the end.

If you feel bumps, you may have high porosity hair, which means your cuticles are lifted and open. Open cuticles mean your hair takes in moisture well but cannot retain it – it evaporates away because your cuticles are stubbornly open.

In contrast, if you don’t feel bumps, you have either low porosity or normal porosity. To test this, use this same strand and put it in a cup filled with warm water. If your strands floats, you have low porosity hair, meaning your cuticles are closed. Your issue is that your cuticles are stubbornly closed and therefore, won’t take water in.

Once you are armed with this knowledge, you can figure out how to moisturize natural hair. Here’s some tips on how to do this.

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Know The Right Products/Oil For Your Hair

Once you know your hair porosity, it's time to choose your products.

Products

Your products are integral to your natural hair routine and will provide both the hydration and protein you need to retain healthy moisture levels.

Look for products where water is the first ingredient and products that have understandable ingredients. Think shea butters and aloe vera. If you can't understand 99% of the ingredient list, it may not be the best product for you!

Oils

A common mistake many naturals make is that they think oil can "hydrate" the hair. 

Make no mistake, putting oils on dry will hair will further dry out your hair.

Oils are meant to be sealants, meaning that they will act as a barrier between your hair and the outside world. Some oils can actually provide additional moisture to your hair, but only when the hair is already moisturized.

Be sure to use oils after you've used products.

Another common mistake is not actually knowing which oils are best for natural hair. Stay away from mineral/petroleum-based oils, such as serums and hair gloss. Those will only clog your follicles, facilitating product buildup! Stick with plant-based oils such as jojoba oil and olive oil. Your hair will thank you!

Apple Cider Vinegar

Apple cider vinegar, or ACV, is one of the greatest examples of how common household items can do wonders for beauty.

Known for its anti-inflammatory properties, ACV is the goat for calming down irritation on both the skin and hair. For all my high porosity naturals who struggle to keep moisture locked in, this product will be your holy grail.

ACV will force those cuticles shut, locking in that moisture and preventing your hair from shriveling up like an un-watered house plant.

The key here is to use diluted ACV (so half water, half ACV in your mixture) and to ensure that your hair is well moisturized prior to using. I like to use it like a hair toner – after I clarify my hair with a good shampoo and conditioner, I grab my ACV bottle and pour it down the length of my shaft to close the cuticles.

Another way to use it is in a mask. A common one that is well talked about in the natural hair community is bentonite clay. Bentonite clay works to attract all the gunk, grime and buildup coating your hair strands and pull it out. Combined with ACV, this is an effective way to clarify your hair while maintaining a proper moisture balance. When doing this, skip the shampoo (since this is used in place of one), and make sure you follow it up with a good deep conditioner.

Clarify Your Hair

Some naturals believe that natural hair doesn’t need to be shampooed. This is a common misconception in the natural hair community that needs to be canceled, sis!

Natural hair needs to be weekly or biweekly clarified, period. Whether you use shampoo, a clarifying conditioner, or even a homemade concoction, your scalp and hair needs to be cleaned regularly. Otherwise, all that product buildup and grime will suck the moisture out of your hair. Trying to learn how to moisturize natural hair is futile if you’re not clarifying properly.

If you decide to use shampoo, make sure to target your scalp only. This is where most of the buildup occurs. When you wash it out, the shampoo will run down the length of your hair, taking the buildup on your hair with it.

To take it up a notch, pre-poo your hair with your favorite oil or butter prior to stepping in the shower. You can let it sit overnight or for an hour or two before you begin your wash. This will keep your natural moisture levels intact and protect your strands from the harsh suds of the shampoo!

Steam In Your Deep Conditioner

All my low porosity naturals, this one is for you!

As mentioned, low porosity natural hair are stubbornly closed. This means that water won’t get in. Regardless of your hair type, if you are able to open your cuticles, your natural hair will be moisturized. And once it’s properly moisturized, it’ll grow like a well-watered plant.

Cue in the heat steamer. Just like the pores on your face, the pores in your cuticles will open in the presence of steam. This is especially important because products will be able to penetrate into the hair strands and do their jobs. Many naturals report that products sit atop of their head and doesn’t do anything. A heat steamer will fix this problem!

Here are some affordable options for heat steamers. If you want your hair to grow, using a hair steamer is a must.

After wash day, section your hair and apply your favourite, hydrating deep conditioner. This deep conditioner should contain hydrating ingredients such as honey, aloe vera, or shea butter. Put on a plastic cap and sit under the hair steamer for 30 minutes. After the allotted time, wash out the conditioner with cold water and apply your leave-in immediately.

Which brings us to the next tip…

Seal ASAP

Some naturals let their air dry before applying their leave-in conditioners. If you suffer from dry natural hair, you should seal in the moisture before it dries out. By doing this, you are layering products on top of your hair and protecting it from evaporation.

Some naturals prefer the LCO while others prefer the LOC method. Play around to see which one works for you. In general, use a hydrating leave in conditioner (the first ingredient in the product should be water or a water-based ingredient such as aloe vera) and a thick butter, cream or gel. If you want to use an oil, make sure you understand what oils work for natural hair here.

Protective Style

Protective styling is imperative to learning how to moisturize natural hair, irrespective of hair type or porosity. Any natural will see an increase in moisture levels if they continuously implement a protective style routine into their natural hair regimen.

Natural hair is inherently dry. Even if you use the right products and deep condition properly, you may still find your hair is dry by the end of the night. An overlooked reason is climate.

Air will dry out your hair depending on where you live. If you live in a seasonal country (i.e. you experience both winter and summer), you will notice dryer hair in the dead of summer and in the middle of winter (i.e. extreme weather). In these conditions, protective style your hair 50% of the month. That way, when your hair is out of the style, it will have adequate moisture levels to bear the weather.

Remember: protective styling is an artform. Moderation is key. Don’t protective style every week of the month, otherwise you are exposing your follicles to damage. You also need to let your hair breathe. Also, make sure your style isn’t too tight so protect your edges!

Low Manipulative Styles

On days when you’re not protective styling, low manipulative styles will be your best friend. These protective styles are simple, easy to style and are still protective. Examples include braid-outs, twist-outs, and bantu knots.

Make sure to keep your fingers out of your hair to stretch out the style.

Sleep with Satin

Now, after all of this, why would you NOT protect your hair while your sleep?

Your cotton pillowcase is responsible for jacking all that precious moisture from your scalp. The rough edges of cotton molecules will further tug and pull at your ends, causing knots, tangles and two-strand twists. The agony!

To fix this, you MUST sleep with either satin or silk at night. These can be found in either pillowcase form or even in a wrap or bonnet.

Regardless of your choice, keep away from cotton pillowcases!

What If None of These Work?

If you incorporate all of these tips, you should expect to see more moisturized, healthy looking natural hair in about 3-6 months.

But, if after 4 months you don’t see any significant changes in your hair, here’s why:

  • You mischaracterized your hair
  • You need a trim, or
  • You need a protein treatment

The Bottom Line

If you suffer from dry, dehydrated hair, don’t feel bad. Natural hair is dry by nature. All naturals suffer from dry hair!

What really matters is how you address this issue. By deep conditioning with steam, using hydrating leave-ins, and alternating between protective styles and low manipulative styles, you’ll be giving your hair the moisture boost it needs to thrive.

What are your tips on how to moisturize natural hair? Comment down below!