Hygral Fatigue: Why Your Hair May Be Over-Moisturized

Sep 5, 2020

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To keep it simple, hygral fatigue is the result of over-moisturizing your natural hair (aka doing too much).

As naturals, we push the importance of keeping our natural hair moisturized. Whether that’s deep conditioning weekly, using hydrating leave-in conditioners, to just drinking more water, we’ve been told that moisture is an integral step of a healthy natural hair routine.

Chloe x Halle giving the screen a glass of water_hygral fatigue

And yes, moisture is one of the cornerstones of healthy hair. But too much of anything can be detrimental over time.

And this is no exception with our hair.

If we’re not careful, we can over-moisturize our hair strands, which damages the structure of our hair cuticles and interferes with our hair’s internal ability to absorb moisture.

And when our cuticles are damaged, we will experience accelerated breakage, shedding and various other types of mess. No ma’am!

Let’s get into the signs of hygral fatigue and how we can avoid it.

What Is Hygral Fatigue?

Before we get into the nuisance of hygral fatigue, let’s get into the science of what happens when our hair gets wet.

When we wet our hair, the cuticles swell up with moisture. When it dries, the cuticles contract, shrinking back to its original size, similar to a dry sponge.

a video of plants growing out of a pot

This back and forth of swelling and shrinking can, overtime, be quite damaging to our curls. Much like a rubber band, the overexertion and overextension of the hair fibers fray our cuticles, decrease our hair’s elasticity and weaken both the hair cuticle and the cortex. Overtime, this will result in breakage and an increase in porosity.

Hygral fatigue is caused by:

  • Over conditioning (constant overnight conditioning or letting a deep conditioner sit too long on the hair);
  • Constantly wetting your hair without letting it dry completely, or;
  • A sufficient lack of protein in your hair.

TCM TIP

To check your protein levels, on your next wash day pull one of your coils and observe what happens. 
If the hair bounces back to its original position (known as elasticity), your protein levels are balanced.
But if the curl stretches and does not maintain its original shape, your protein levels are off. You may need to use a protein treatment to rebalance it!

Hygral Fatigue and Porosity

Some naturals are more susceptible to hygral fatigue than others. 

And it has everything to do with your porosity.

Natural Hair Porosity

Natural hair porosity is the ability of your hair to absorb water and/products. 

Low porosity natural hair has a low absorption rate, because the cuticles are stubbornly closed. It is difficult for this hair porosity to absorb moisture.

High porosity natural hair has a high absorption rate, because the cuticles are always open. It is difficult for this hair porosity to retain moisture.

Unlike low porosity natural hair, the cuticles of high porosity hair is raised and open, making it highly porous.

This means water is able to flow in and out of the cuticles very easily.

This easy facilitation of water means that the hair cuticle can swell and shrink very easily, resulting in a higher chance of hygral fatigue.

Low porosity naturals, on the other hand, are less susceptible to hygral fatigue because the cuticles are flat shut. Therefore, water has a hard time entering and leaving the hair shaft.

So you’re less likely to experience hygral fatigue if your cuticles are closed (aka low porosity).

Signs of Hygral Fatigue

Here are most common signs of hygral fatigue: 

❤ Low elasticity;

❤ Hair feels gummy, like seaweed when wet

❤ Limp, curls don’t hold a curl anymore;

❤ Uncontrollable frizz;

❤ Prone to breakage but hair doesn’t feel dry;

❤ Excessive shedding

If you have two or more of these signs, your hair is most likely over-moisturized. But thankfully, hygral fatigue is quite an easy fix.

Let’s get into what you should do to reverse it.

What To Do If You Have Hygral Fatigue

Protein Treatment

First things first, you need a protein treatment STAT.

Hygral fatigue means that your protein/moisture balance is off. More specifically, you have more moisture than you do protein.

The fix? Adding more protein!

Protein has a unique ability to temporarily fill gaps and cracks in your hair’s cuticle caused by hygral fatigue. Incorporating light protein treatments and using stylers that contain protein will restore your moisture/protein balance and revive your elasticity.

For high porosity naturals (where this phenomenon is more common), protein treatments should be a staple in your routines.

To do a protein treatment, simply replace your deep conditioner (which is moisture) with a medium strength protein treatment every 2-3 weeks.

Look for a protein treatment that contains varying sizes of proteins yet contains slip to reduce friction between your strands.

On non-protein treatment weeks, opt for a light protein leave-in conditioner (with some moisturizing properties, too) to boost your protein stores.

a photo showing aphogee two minute reconstructor how to take care of natural hair monthly

Aphogee Keratin 2 Minute Reconstructor

Best for TYPE 3-4

This protein treatment is AMAZING for a protein up-keep, reversing heat damage and healing hygral fatigue. Your hair will be defined and bouncy immediately after washing it out. 

For looser curls and waves – apply in the shower every 3 months for 2 minutes. Only apply where your curls are most pronounced. For Type 3c-4c, use every 2-3 weeks for 15 minutes.

an image of mielle babassu and mint deep conditioner

Mielle Babassu & Mint Deep Conditioner

Best for TYPE 4

One of Mielle’s most popular products, the active ingredient in this mask is babassu seed oil, a significant source of Vitamin E and fatty lipids. The amino acids in this formula are small enough to penetrate into your hair and support the proteins in your cortex, preventing hygral fatigue. Should be a staple product in any natural prone to hygral fatigue!

an image of the shea moisture jamaican black castor oil leave-in conditioner

Shea Moisture Jamaican Black Castor Oil Leave-in Conditioner

Best for TYPE 3 – 4a

A fan favourite amongst high porosity and protein-loving naturals. If you’re experiencing hygral fatigue, this leave-in treatment will assist in rebuilding your protein stores and re-strengthening your hair. The proteins in this formulation are small enough to fit into your cuticles, reducing frizz and increasing moisture absorption. A win-win!

Stop Over-conditioning

Too much of a good thing can become damaging.

Everything should be done in moderation – including moisture!

If you’re suffering from hygral fatigue, you want to make sure you’re not overconditioning your curls.

This means no more sleeping with your deep conditioners (we all do it sometimes!).

Our deep conditioners are formulated to work best until the 30 minutes after application.

After this 30 minute mark, the deep conditioner is less effective, and all you’re doing is overmoisturizing your curls.

Make sure to wash out your deep conditioners after 30 minutes (and never keep it in longer than an hour!).

Use Coconut Oil As A Pre-Poo

Coconut oil is one of nature’s best kept secrets.

In a nutshell, if you use coconut oil as a pre-poo (i.e. applying it right before you shower), it will protect your hair from the damaging affects of swelling when the hair gets wet.

The molecular structure of coconut oil is straight-chained and non-complex, meaning that it can fit comfortably in our hair’s cuticle.

By doing this, the coconut oil is acting as a barrier between your hair and the water.

This is exactly what we want with over-moisturized hair. Your curls won’t experience the damage of swelling and shrinking when the coconut oil is protecting it!

Final Thoughts on Hygral Fatigue

Hygral fatigue is no fun – we know this!

But thankfully it’s an easy fix. By incorporating more protein treatments into your routine, using coconut oil as a pre-poo and reducing over-moisturizing practices, you’ll be well on your way to fixing hygral fatigue!

The Curl Market is a natural hair blog catered to helping black naturals grow their curls into a long, luscious manes.

We use the latest evidence-based scientific research to provide you with the top tips on growing your curls, regardless of hair type.

We also provide lifestyle tips, both self care and mental care, to ensure you are optimizing your body’s natural hair growth cycle – because you can’t grow natural hair if you’re stressed out!

Come as you are.

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WRITTEN BY

Ayana Aden

Ayana is The Curl Market’s brand founder. When she’s not deep in natural hair research or creating content, she’s hanging on the couch with her husband and her cat, reading a book or scrolling through TikTok. Follow her on Instagram at @tothecurlmarket.

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