Humidity and dew points have come up quite a bit lately, and instead of trying to reinvent the wheel, I looked to a NaturallyCurly.com legend to break it down for us! RCC’s blog Pittsburgh Curly is very informative, she writes:
‘The care and maintenance of naturally curly hair is one of my favorite hobbies. I have really enjoyed learning how much of a difference things like ingredients, weather, seasonal changes, and a host of other random quirks affect the way our hair curls. Whether or not we end up with pretty waves, curls, and kinks, or, end up with a head-full of frizz can be a simple matter of one ingredient or a slight change in the humidity.’
RCC is the author of the following article. I hope it helps you to make better product and ingredient decisions no matter the weather!
When many curlies talk about humidity and their hair, they often look at relative humidity. While this makes some sense in a humid summer, it really doesn’t give a clear picture. Once winter hits, it can still be 100% humidity, but your curls will not spring out like they will on a summer day that is 100% humidity.
That is because there is a difference between relative humidity and actual humidity, or how much water really is in the air.
If you want to use humidity to gauge what types of hair products you need, you need to check out your dew point.
Dew point is the temperature at which water will condense and form dew (or fog), hence the name dew point. The catch is that the dew point cannot be higher than the air temperature. If it’s 20 degrees with 100% humidity, the dew point will be 20 or so. If it’s 90 degrees with high humidity, the dew point will often be in the 70’s.
How much water the air can hold all depends on the air temperature. Think of a cold day as a shot glass. It can only hold a little bit of water. Now, think of a hot day as a keg. It can hold a lot more water. So, even if your cold day/shot glass is 100% full of water, it still isn’t that much water compared to a 1/4 full keg/hot day.
What most people consider a “humid” day really means a “high dew point day.” Many people start to feel uncomfortable when the dew point reaches 60 degrees, and at 70 degrees, it feels quite oppressive.
What does this mean for you and your hair? Does all of this meteorological mumbo jumbo really mean anything when it comes to how your curls behave? You betcha!
This can also apply to curlies who live in areas that are low humidity year-round such as the Rocky Mountain and Southwest regions of the US.
Conditioners and humectants will be talked about in this section, and then mentioned in following sections.
I consider a dew point of 30 (-1 C)and lower to be dry. A lot of this is influenced by where I live. I live in an area that has four distinct seasons. For some of you, 30 might be a good day. For others, dry to you will be a dew point of 45 (7 C).
If there isn’t much moisture in the air, there is little for your hair to retain. Like your skin and sinuses, (think of those wintertime frozen boogers!) hair is often drier in the winter. The tight perky curls you had in the humid summer will often take a looser pattern in the winter. That’s fine, and pretty normal. It’s nothing to panic over. But, if you totally lose your curl pattern and see a bunch of flyaway static-like poofy frizz, there are things you can do.
If appropriate, get a humidifier. I have a plug-in one that I use so my nose isn’t super dry, and it seems to help with my hair too.
Conditioners. You will need richer, thicker conditioners in the winter than you did in the summer. You will probably also have to condition more often. I prefer heavier conditioners with things like shea butter. Look for conditioners made for dry hair, or those that claim to be thick and rich. I’m a big fan of Aubrey Organics Honeysuckle Rose and White Camellia conditioners this time of year. Do be careful not to over-condition, but do condition enough so that your hair isn’t ending up being a static poofball.
Humectants. A boon to curls in the spring and summer, a bane to them in winter. This article by Curl Chemist Tonya McKay will give you a much better explanation of the role of humectants and humidity than I ever could. The main thing is that you need to avoid humectants in dry weather conditions as much as possible. While someone in Boston may only have to avoid them in the winter, someone in Utah may have to avoid them most of the year.
To quote a part of the article:
In extremely low-humidity conditions, such as a cold, dry winter air, there is no appreciable amount of water in the air for the humectant to attract to the surface of the hair. In this particular type of climate, the best one can hope for with most traditional humectants is for them to prevent evaporation of water from the hair into the environment. Also, under these circumstances, there is some risk of the humectant actually removing moisture from the cortex of the hair itself, creating the problem it was intended to prevent.
The main humectants one sees in hair care products are glycerin, honey, propylene glycol, and panthenol/vitamin B5. If you can avoid most of them (which can be difficult) you’ll do a lot to help keep moisture in your hair. The Aubrey conditioner mentioned above is humectant free, as are others. This is one of those annoying ingredient issues that requires lots of label reading time. Hair gels often contain humectants, which is why they work so well in the summer. You can switch to a curl cream if that works better for you, or use your gel over a leave-in conditioner to see if the conditioner will be enough of a buffer between your hair and the hemectants of the gel.
Leave-in conditioner. If you don’t use a leave-in any other time of the year, you way want to consider one in the winter. A leave-in can add an extra layer of protective moisture to your hair. Just look for one without humectants!
The In-Between Stage: Is it dry? is it normal?
I consider the 30-40 (-1 to 4 C)degree dew point range to be the in between area. It’s not super dry, but it isn’t comfortably moist either. I have noticed lot of variance in what other curlies like in this range. Some do best with a modified low dew point routine such as still using moisture but adding small amounts of humectants. Others keep a low dew point routine, and some use a routine that also fits the comfortably moist range by using a balance of moisture and humectans that works with your hair’s texture and porosity. It is hard to give recommendations that work for all in this range as this seems to be the range that most have a hard time with. In places with four seasons, you see this range a lot in the seasonal transition from winter to spring and from early to late fall.
Comfortably Moist – Happy Hair
The 40-60 (4 to 16 C) degree range seems to be a happy haven for most curlies. There is enough humidity to keep curl formation, but no so much that you get the big giant frizz. Depending on your hair type, a good balance of moisture and humectants works here. While there are differences between the lower and upper ranges, the range itself is comfortable for many.
Many people notice that it feels sticky once the dew point hits 60 (16C ), and most will feel it when it reaches 65 (18C). At 70 (21C) and over, it is quite uncomfortable. This is the range when people call it a humid day.
At this point, many curlies will put away the thick rich conditioners they used in winter or drier times, or, they may just use them less frequently. Some skip using a leave in conditioner. I have porous hair, and I still like a leave in during the sticky months because it does seem to help keep the cuticle tamed a bit. You can play around with this to see what works best for you. I’m having wonderful luck with Curl Junkie Curl Rehab as a leave-in in various dew points. Other might prefer this in the moderate to dry range only.
Some of you, especially those with porous hair may notice a backlash from humectant use. The products that controlled your curls in more temperate dew points may cause you to get the cotton candy look in the summer. Those of you who get humectant induced frizz in the summer many want to look into anti-humectants to help keep the moisture out of you hair. Others resort to hard hold type gels along with their regular routine. I seem to have a preference for polymers like PVA/PVP in high dew point conditions. It sort of locks the curl down for me.
For those of you who, like me, are absolute heat wimps, updos are an option too. I tend to put my hair up a good deal in July and August because it just gets too uncomfortable to wear it down all of the time. I tend to put the anti-humectant properties of pomades to good use then also as they help keep my updos in place. Right now I am a big fan of the Kinky Curly Gloss Pomade that I can pick up at my local Whole Foods.
If you want an easy way to check you local dew point, plug in you zip code into the Weather Channel search bar on the top of their page. The results will show you the dew point right below the pressure. Or, if you want an hourly estimation of what the dew points will be like for you that day, plug in your location on Weather Underground. This is really good for those of you who live in variable climates where you have quick changes during the day or from day to day.
I, along with No-Poo Jillipoo and Colorado Curly being the hair science geeks that we are, talked about it enough that there is a simple, if theoretical, temperature chart. bear in mind that this is what seems to work for me and my area. While the guidelines are also helpful for many others, they are merely guidelines. Use this info and tailor it to your individual needs.
- Dew point below 15F (-9C) – very dry. Use as much moisture and emollients as you hair can handle without overconditioning. Many will have to expect a looser curl pattern at this point. For those who like to occasionally straighten their hair, this is a good time for it since you may have less curl to fight. Humectant use may need to be cut out entirely or severely limited.
- Dew point 15-30F (-9 to -1C) – Dry, add moisture and emollients. Limit or cut out humectants.
- Between 30-40F (-1 to 4C)can be iffy. Some people can tolerate more humectants. Other cannot. Very trial and error in this range.
- Between 40-60F (4 to 16C). Prime curly range. You should get some curl without that summer frizz. Find a balance between moisture and humectants that works for you.
- Dew point 60F (16C) and up. You need to find a moisture/humectant tolerance that works for you. Some of you will be able to tolerate humectants. Those of you with more porous hair may start to see humectant induced frizz at this range, and especially so once the dew point hits 70. Those who get humectant induced frizz may want to look into anti-humectants to keep that muggy weather out of your hair.