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Curly Nikki

Your Moisturizer Needs These 4 Ingredients to be Effective

By January 27th, 202117 Comments
Your Moisturizer Needs These 4 Ingredients to be Effective

 by Susan Walker of Earthtones Naturals

If someone were to ask me what is the number one challenge with
natural hair my answer would be maintaining appropriate moisture levels.
This topic has been covered extensively but dry hair is the the number
one complaint of many natural women I hear from and it warrants further

There has been a lot of confusion about what moisture actually is,
how to moisturize hair and what ingredients should be included in an
effective moisturizer. Products containing emollients such as mineral
oil and petroleum, natural oils and butters as well as silicones have
been marketed as moisturizers. Women have used these products with no
relief to their dry hair. Brittleness has continued with ensuing
breakage. Because of this we need to take a deeper look into this
concept of moisturizing our hair, dissect the formulas and
really understand what makes a product an effective moisturizer.

What is Moisture?
Moisture is a property of water and this element makes the best
moisturizer. Hydration contributes to the pliability and elasticity of
the hair. Because water can quickly enter and exit the hair it’s
difficult for it to remain moisturized for long periods of time with just water. Factor in conditions such as high
porosity and chemical damage and keeping the hair hydrated seems as
though it’s a losing battle. This is where an effective moisturizer is

Read On>>>
A good moisturizer will hydrate and nourish the hair deeply within
the hair shaft. Water-based products are necessary. Anything anhydrous
or without water such as a 100% oil-based product will not be an
effective moisturizer. This is because oils and waxes DO NOT moisturize.
Oils replace lost lipids from the hair, nourish it and can create a
barrier to seal in moisture but they do not moisturize. Therefore using
an oil-based product with the hopes of moisturizing the hair will be an
exercise in futility and will likely result in dry hair especially
if there is no moisture in the hair shaft. Therefore a proper
moisturizing product will contain humectants and emollients to draw
water into the hair and occlusives to keep it there.

I absolutely love humectants. I think that if they are used
correctly, they can effectively improve moisture levels in the hair for
days before remoisturizing is necessary. When it comes to skin, the
essential components to skin moisturization are humectants, emolliency
and occlusiveness. If we extrapolate these principles to hair care we
find the same thing. Exactly what is a humectant? Humectants attract
water from the surroundings by absorption into the hair, and adsorption
onto the hair, at defined conditions, which include temperature and

Glycerin is probably one of the most popular and well-known
humectants because it’s very effective and relatively inexpensive. It
can absorb its own weight in water over 3 days. However, many naturals
avoid products with glycerin because it can leave their hair feeling dry
or looking frizzy. As a result, many natural hair care companies are
manufacturing products that are “glycerin free”. I like to put things in
context when it comes to the use of specific ingredients for hair care,
their incorporation into a product and the result on the hair. To say
that glycerin makes the hair hard or results in frizziness is relative
depending on many things including the humidity, the product formulation and other ingredients in the product.

Other Humectants
While glycerin is the most well known humectant there are several
others. This is where I take issue with some companies that market
products as “glycerin free” because they will leave out the glycerin,
but often add other humectants. These include:

  • agave nectar
  • honey
  • sodium PCA
  • sodium lactate
  • propylene glycol
  • urea
  • honeyquat
  • sorbitol
  • panthenol 

Just to name a few. Certain humectants have more moisture
binding capability than others and each humectant is unique bringing
other properties to a formulation.

In high humidity frizz can ensue because moisture is taken from the
environment into hair resulting in swelling of the hair shaft, raising
of the cuticle and resulting poofiness. If hair is dry, damaged and
overly porous it can be a hot mess!

Humectants exacerbate this condition and some, such as glycerin, can
become sticky once saturated with water. So in this type of weather
[summer]or climates in which high humidity is characteristic, using
products with high amounts of humectants can have a negative effect on
the hair. This I understand and I’ve experienced the “cotton candy hair”
during high humidity days this summer. However the other side of this
and one of the arguments against using glycerin (and by extension it
should apply to other humectants as well, no?) is this notion of
it drawing water from the cortex of the hair in low humidity conditions
such as dry, cold weather. Relevant research I found pertains
specifically to the skin. Can this be applied to hair? Perhaps.
Humectants are able to attract water from the atmosphere (if the
atmospheric humidity is greater than 80%) and from the dermis. Even
though they may draw water from the environment to help hydrate the
skin, in low humidity conditions, they may take water from the
deeper epidermis and dermis, resulting in increased skin dryness. For
this reason, they work better with occlusive ingredients.

What does this mean for hair care? If the same principles apply then
in lower humidity conditions humectants may contribute to hair dryness
if water is lost from the hair. Therefore they should be paired with
occlusive agents, better known as SEALANTS. Sealants will work along with humectants to minimize
the evaporation of water and subsequent dryness. This doesn’t just apply
to glycerin but ANY humectant. What are good sealants? Natural sealants
include butters such as shea butter and cocoa butter and waxes like
beeswax and carnauba wax. Mineral oil and dimethicone are two other
sealants that are very effective at minimizing water loss once used

Emollients are lubricating and are film-forming. They help smooth and
seal the hair and can be oils, butters, hydrolyzed proteins, polymers,
and cationic quaternary compounds.

To summarize, an effective moisturizer will contain:
1. Water
2. Humectants
3. Emollients
4. Occlusives or Sealants

When it comes to moisturizing hair you’ll definitely need to find
which product works for you. Navigating through the abundance of
products seems daunting but understanding the ingredient list can help
you narrow down your choices.

In order to evaluate whether a moisturizer
will be good for your hair or not you’ll need to know a few things:
1. Your hair texture (fine, medium, thick)
2. Is the product a light lotion or thicker cream?
3. Is there water in the product to hydrate the hair?
4. Are there humectants in the product? Where are they in the ingredient list?
5. Are there any emollients
6. Are there any occlusive agents (aka sealants) in the product to minimize water loss to the environment?

Have you found an effective moisture? What are the ingredients? 

This article was originally published in August 2008 and has been updated for grammar and clarity.


  • Jessica Coletrain says:

    Thanks for sharing! I was considering purchasing this because other naturals seem to LOVE it. I really don't use a leave-in after I wash and my hair is moisturized….

  • Jessica Coletrain says:

    I'm somewhat of a PJ too. I have some glycerin, but hadn't used it enough to know if it dries my hair out. Hmm…..guess I'll do some experimenting sometime in the near future. OAN, have you tried the Jane Carter Nourish & Shine? It's a little on the expensive side ($17- $22) but it works pretty good to moisturize twists.

  • Jessica Coletrain says:

    I use the LOC method. After my weekly wash, I apply coconut oil and then Shea Moisture (Moisture Milk, I think it is) while my hair is still wet. This keeps my hair moisturized for most of the week. Sometimes I do spritz with water mid-week and reapply coconut oil and Shea Moisture.

  • Jessica Coletrain says:

    I'm with you there! If it works for your hair, why not?

  • SavanahRae says:


  • SavanahRae says:

    I learned my lesson this past week. I decided to go out and buy Giovanni Direct Leave-In to use on my hair instead of my regular butter. Well I think its too light for my hair and my hair was super dry even after I used it and I had tons of ssk(s). So I'm going back to my regular butter, water and olive oil and pass the leave in on to mother.

  • Sydney says:

    Does anyone know where Aloe Vera Juice would fall in this category. My moisturizing regime is to always pre-poo my hair prior to either poo or co-washing my hair, I always DT once a week and use a steamer. I allow my DT to cool on my hair and I then "seal" it with a cheapy conditioner before I rinse both out. I then spray my whole sopping wet heat with my home made "refresher spray" (water, aloe vera juice, grape seed oil, olive oil and argan oil) and apply shea leave in conditioner to my entire head. I then put in about 22 chunky twists and seal each section (before twisting) with One N Only argan oil treatment. My hair feels super soft and moisturized for up to 3-4 days and I re-spritz at night with the refresher spray and re-seal the twists to keep them soft. If things get frizzy I undo the twists and re-do them using a refresher spray I made using Lacio Lacio and pure aloe vera juice and I will seal this with the One N Only argan oil treatment. It's been really working. My growth is rocking and my curls are popping (sorry I sound lame but it's true :))

  • Angela B. says:

    Glycerin is my enemy! It makes my hair super dry. I really like Taliah Waajid's products, especially the Protective Mist Bodifier spray. It keeps my hair moisturized for days when sealed with shea butter. I also like Shea Moisture Curl Enhancing Smoothie. I love any moisturizer with aloe vera juice or gel and honey is a super humectant.

  • Gwenn4ya says:

    I've had alot of trouble finding a good moisturizer. I currently use the kimmaytube leave in and it has been getting me by, but not sure if it is as moisturizing as it could be. So, I mix shea moisture curl enhancing smoothie with the souffle and it works great and keeps my hair moisturized for a few days at a time. This seems to work better for me. When I want to remoisturize, I use the leave in first and then apply a little more of the shea moisture mixture. Seems to be working for now. I believe that my hair likes the agave nectar alot. I never quite understood how humectants worked, but now I think I have a better picture. This was a great article! Thank you!!

  • Leslie says:

    Right now I use Shea Moisture Moisture moisture mist to lightly moisten my hair(first 5 ingredients:Deionized water,coconut oil, shea butter,silk protein, essential oil blend..) then I use Bee Mine Moisturizing daily conditioner(lotion like) (first 5 ingred: Distilled water,Chamomile extract,cetearyl alcohol,peg 40 castor oil,stearalkonium chloride..)over that , and lastly I use Bee Mine Beloved Hair&Scalp Moisturizer to seal the ends.(first 5 ingred: 100% Unrefined shea butter,100%coconut oil,sweet almond oil,grape seed oil,ayurvedic herbs…) I do this every other night to keep it moisturized up until co-wash day which is close to every 2 weeks. My hair feels super soft doing this.

  • Mimismom says:

    Camille Rose Naturals almond joi twisting butter has been the best moisturizer for my hair. The ingredients are: almond milk, distilled water, aloe vera juice, BTMS, Almond oil, jojoba oil, Olive oil, pumpkin seed oil, macadamia oil, Hemp, honey, Green tea, Marshmellow root, Amla, optiphen and Natural fragrance. This gem leaves my hair very soft when I use it on top of my leave-in and then seal with my oil mix. After trying a gazillion products, I finally found my holy grail moisturizer.

  • Davina916 says:

    Good info!

  • Derika says:

    I'm currently pregnant and transitioning. I have no clue what works for my hair. I notice that my hair is drier because I'm pregnant and finding a moisturizer has been harder. I created a spritz with veggie glycerin, water, KCKT, and a few oils. I can't tell if it works or not. I try not to use it too much because I live in humid Louisiana and one thing I did notice was frizz when used often. I'm not giving up though. Transitioning has been a journey.

  • Megan M. says:

    vegetable glycerin, water and a creamy thick moisturizer not to thin. For example, SMRSBR conditioner or the curl and style milk. The smoothie is too thick for my hair type I have to use a little. I like glycerin because in Las Vegas when it is humid it helps keep my hair moisturized for a week. I wore my hair out and it stayed soft and moisturized those humid days.

  • mzcnnd says:

    When I first started reading this site, I was a little discouraged because the product I used for years contained a lot of "no-nos" and was definitely on the bad list. (Prior to my big chop last year my hair was texturized, but if I used Right On I could get a nearly straight spiky, pixie look that was almost maintenance free!) I can't even pronounce the names of the stuff in Right On. It's in a white bottle with fushcia print and it's a white, creamy lotion. When I big chopped last year, I discarded it quickly in favor of trying new products without the bad stuff. My hair is fine and very soft and cottony. Even on my TWA, the natural product lines (Miss Jessie's, etc.) disappointed. I anxiously read the labels, only to be deflated after using the product on my hair. (The best darn curl cream–not!) I do have some luck with Shea Moisture products, but I had to try a few before I figured out what worked best (I still use their shampoo and Curl Enhancing Smoothie). Fast forward one year later and I've gone back to old reliable, old school Right On as my moisturizer. Why? Because it works for me. Although the directions suggest wetting your hair first (it can build up quickly if you use too much), I just use the smallest amount on my dry hair every morning. I follow up with Taliah Waajid for curl definition and hold. Perfection–for me! Normally my hair is very dry. And because it is colored, it can be like straw in the morning. With RO, I don't wake up looking like Buckwheat. As a matter of fact, some mornings I could literally walk out the door without touching my hair! (I wouldn't, but in an emergency–hmmm.) I do have to wash twice weekly (usually on Friday with shampoo and early week with conditioner). It might not be the best product ingredient-wise, but after a lot of trial and error Right On/Taliah Waajid has turned out to be the magic combo for me!

  • Shashou says:

    I think this article is very important. All of these steps are important in keeping your hair moisterized. A true testiment. Without all of these at some point your hair gets dry. I love using Carols Daughter Healthy Hair Butter w/water topped with oil. And using the Shea Moisture Coconut and Hibicus Line topped with oil to seal. You can tell a huge difference in properly moisturized your when you apply all these steps, most importantly when your hair is wet. Well atleast thats when I've found it works best to apply all of these things.

  • Safarascurls says:

    I love this article. It is very informative and has given me some light bulb moments. I have been transitioning from heat damage for 13 months and I have learned so much. I basically became a PJ and just tried many different products on my hair. I have narrowed my best products down to Kinky Curly & Jane Carter.
    Now I always thought the aloe vera in the Kinky Curly was why my hair likes it, but I just learned that agave nectar is the humectant and the vitamin E is the sealant! The aloe vera probably brings down the pH.
    I also learned that panthenol is the humectant my hair likes in Jane Carter leave-in and condition & sculpt. The curl defining creme has glycerin far down the list and my hair is okay with that.
    On the other hand, the glycerin in DevaCare high on the list and left my hair dry.
    Loved the article keep on informing us Nikki!!!!

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