Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Film Forming Humectants - What They Are and Why You Need Them

What is a film-forming humectant? It's a term for a group of ingredients that are moisturizers par excellence! Especially for hair that is easily weighed down by conditioners, or hair that oils or conditioners seem to sit on top of instead of "soak in." There is a list near the end of this page of products emphasizing film-forming humectants. ©Science-y Hair Blog 2014

Rather than just attract water when water is abundant like glycerin or sorbitol do, film-forming humectants form a film over your hair that helps your hair resist dehydration. ©Science-y Hair Blog 2014
Humectant ingredients in products (once the hair is dry) can release the water they initially attracted when the air when the air around your hair is dry. Some humectants release water fairly readily like glycerin or sorbitol. When humectants form a film, water is slowed down by needing to pass through the film, therefore water loss from your hair to the air around it is slowed. 

With film-forming humectants, water is lost slowly from the hair through the humectant film over the course of the day or between washes because these are large, complex molecules which dry to form a clear, flexible film over your hair. Because they are very complex molecules they have more nooks and crannies for water to be packed into whereas a simple humectant molecule (like glycerin or propylene glycol) has fewer. Chemically, that's an oversimplification - but you get the idea. They not only trap water in themselves and in/around your hair - but the water has to pass through the film to escape from your hair.
Glycerin - a simple humectant molecule.
D-Galacturonic acid, one of the
several complex molecules in flax-
seed gels.







Analogy: If a simple humectant like glycerin dries quickly like an old, thin dish towel, then a film-forming humectant dries slowly like a very thick, plush bath towel.

Film forming humectants are often what your hair is needing when it seems dry even though you use oil or lots of conditioner or leave-in conditioner because they actively grab water and they keep their grip on it. If you want to keep your hair hydrated - a film-forming humectant in your leave-on or refreshing or moisturizing product is a necessity in a well-formulated product or product combination.

Where do film-forming humectants come from?
1) Plant gels©Science-y Hair Blog 2014
Many film-forming humectants are plant gels extracted from plant tissues. Plants excel at being able to store and move water. These all have a gel-like or juicy quality, tend to be slippery and to dry clear and smooth. Some work better in combination with others than alone.
  • flax seed gel (linseed)
  • okra gel (made from okra seed pods)
  • aloe vera
  • hydroxyethylcellulose
  • pectin
  • xanthan gum
  • guar gum
  • marsh mallow root
  • slippery elm
  • carrageenan (also known as irish moss or seaweed extract, sea emollient, sea algae, sea vegetable)
  • nettle leaf tea or nettle extract
  • panthenol
  • Hydroxypropyltrimonium honey

2) Hydrolyzed proteins

  • Hydrolyzed ________(source of protein) protein 
  • Peptides (wheat, oat, soy...)
  • Amino acids (wheat, oat, soy) or glycine, alanine, proline, etc.
  • Cocodimonium hydroxypropyl hydrolyzed _________ (source of protein, i.e. keratin, silk, rice, soy)
  • Cocoyl hydrolyzed ________ (source of protein)
  • Potassium cocoyl hydrolyzed ________ (source of protein)
  • Hydrolyzed oat flour

Proteins from plant and animal sources also act like humectants, with smaller to medium proteins tending to get under the cuticles somewhat to moisturize/hydrate from the inside (or at least around the outside of the inside) and medium to large proteins forming clear films over the hair. All sizes of protein help slow water loss from the hair over the day.©Science-y Hair Blog 2014

What products are film-forming humectants best in? Conditioners, leave-in conditioners, hair styling products, shampoos. Hydrolyzed proteins will stay with your hair even if they were used in a rinse-out conditioner. But with most non-protein film-formers, you need to leave them in your hair to have them work the best at sealing in that water.©Science-y Hair Blog 2014

Can you use film-forming humectants with oil sealants? Absolutely! They compliment each other. 
Oils as sealants on wet hair give you a waterproof barrier to water escaping from your hair. That's one sort of protection from dehydration - waterproofing. But oils are oily whereas film-forming humectants are more juicy and give you a water-soluble but strongly water-attracting layer. If you use both, you increase the likelihood that your hair will stay hydrated longer.

Something like a leave-in conditioner with a film-forming humectant could go over or under a layer of oil for sealing. A styling product with film-forming humectants can go over a layer of oil to seal. If you hair needs all the help it can get to stay hydrated and flexible, try all 3. Or mix everything together if applying more than one product seems like to much bother.©Science-y Hair Blog 2014

57 comments:

  1. Hello! Can you please do a post about low porosity hair? I can't seem to find a way to keep it moisturised, it always gets dry. Oils sit on my hair - i've tried your oil blend , but it made my hair limp (even just by using a little bit). It is never soft and is always tangly. Now i'm trying out shampoo bars, but I think the castor oil weighs it down. I want to know the best way to moisturise it :)

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  2. What are some examples of hydrolyzed proteins? And how do the plant gels work differently than the hydrolyzed proteins? And which ones work better together?

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  3. I'm confused. You say that film forming humectants help water stay in your hair and therefore keep it from dehydrating. But in another post you say that hair penetrating oils are good because they keep water out and prevent the hair from swelling. It sounds like the opposite thing to me. Can you explain?

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  4. Charlotte,
    If you use the "search" function in the upper left of the page, you can find a few posts about protein.
    Hair normally contains water and we want a certain amount of water to stay with the hair, even when it has dried. If the hair loses too much water, it becomes brittle and can begin to look less than pleasing. That happens in dry air, in hot sun, under hair dryers and so on. Film-forming humectants in hair conditioners and styling products give hair extra help holding on to the water it needs to stay hydrated. In other words - it slows dehydration. Water is an essential part of the composition of hair and it's that water we're trying to preserve with film-forming humectants.

    Hair-penetrating oils are used for porous hair or dry hair to prevent excessive swelling of hair when it is placed in water (in the shower, in the bath tub). When hair is porous, it lets water in and out readily. It swells in water. When hair swells, the cuticles stick up. When cuticles stick up, they are easily broken. When cuticles are broken, hair loses even more of its protective covering that preserves essential water within the hair. And it becomes rough and tangly and loses shine. When hair is treated with a penetrating oil (and it is allowed to "soak in") that oil will prevent the swelling of the hair that leads to cuticle breakage and increased porosity over time. Wetting the hair causes stress - porous hair experiences the most stress. Hair penetrating oils reduce this stress. There is a post titled, "Managing Elasticity and Porosity in Hair" in the list of popular posts at the right (or you can use the search box) which explains the effect better. In this case - we're trying to prevent the hair from being "waterlogged" rather than preserving essential moisture.

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  5. I get it! Thanks for explaining. Now for a new question... How do the different film forming humectants behave with hair? Does aloe effect the hair differently than marshmallow or wheat protein? Obviously it will be different for different hair types, but is there any vague generalization? I'm wondering if there's a way I figure out which will be best for my hair without trying them all!

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  6. Charlotte: Aloe and marshmallow are "gels" from plants. They're essentially very large carbohydrates that the plants use in various tissues. These will form a film over the hair that tends to retain water within the hair because they're water-loving. Wheat protein does that too, but it is also mildly cationic (+ charge) in most conditions, so it will bond with the hair too. Actually, I don't know of any research indicating whether aloe or marshmallow root can bond to hair, most plant-based gels are anionic (- charge) but anionic ingredients do sometimes bond with the hair via other hair products. It is possible to get build-up from aloe or marshmallow root.
    Hair that is coarse (wide, feels strong to the touch, tends to resist bending or curling) is sometimes less tolerant of frequent protein. But may benefit from panthenol or aloe or marshmallow root or flaxseed gel. Silky-feeling hair, or fine to medium hair or hair which has been heat-styled or chemically processed often perks up with protein use. That may help you sort things out a little. WS

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  7. Thanks for your answer! is the goo that comes from chia seeds also a plant gel version of a film forming humectant?

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    1. Charlotte - yes, the goo that comes from chia seeds is a film-forming humectant. Some plant seeds have that quality so that their seed coat soaks up water from the soil and doesn't dry out. Wetting and then drying out is certain death for most seeds. I've never tried to "extract" it for hair!

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    2. I might try it, since I have a lot of them in my kitchen pantry!

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  8. Sorbitol is used as a thickener in products, but also classified as a humectant. Is it a film forming humectant? And do you have any experience in how it effects hair?

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    1. Sorbitol is similar to glycerin. It is often used like glycerin as a "plasticizer." In this case, "plasticizer" means something that prevents hair gels from drying stiff and crisp, but it also thickens and has humectant qualities. It is not a film-forming humectant. It gains and loses moisture readily.

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    2. Does it change hair behavior when it is added to a product?

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    3. Yes, it does change hair behavior. It is a plasticizer, so sorbitol might make hair less rigid when it is added to a strong-hold product like a hair gel. In a conditioner, it may make hair better moisturized or dry more slowly.

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  9. Hello! I have been searching on hair product ingredients. I am trying to figure out what products will work well with my curly hair. I read another article that talked about how weather and dew points affect our hair. It said that because there is no moisture to draw from the air during winter (dry, low-humidity conditions), there is some risk of humectants actually removing moisture from the cortex of the hair itself, creating the problem it was intended to prevent. Would you help me? I want to help my hair, not further damage it. I am pretty sure I have mostly low-porous hair (it may be more porous towards the ends) if that helps. Thank you!!

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    1. Sarah,

      Humectants like glycerin and propylene glycol and sorbitol are small molecules and they hold water when the air isn't dry, as you mentioned. But when the air is dry, they may have the ability to pull water from your hair. A lot of how strongly an ingredient can pull water from hair (or skin) has to do with how much of it is there, how strongly it attracts water to itself and whether or not the formula includes ingredients which slow water loss like oils or conditioners. It's the same principle as salting vegetables before making pickles or cooking them otherwise to remove excess water - the salt pulls water to itself and out of the vegetable. Only you use so much salt, you overwhelm the vegetables ability to hold water. Similar in principle - not entirely similar to glycerin.

      So yes, It is possible that glycerin, propylene glycol and sorbitol could pull water from your hair when the indoor/outdoor humidity drop. That can have a lot of side effects from causing a styling product to take on a dried-candy, tacky feel, causing frizz, making the hair "flash-dry" in which some locks dry almost immediately, or it could make your hair feel rough. Some of this is an interaction of the product with the dry air. Long-term roughness or dullness or stiffness is probably your hair being dried out by the product containing glycerin etc.

      Some people can work around this by using conditioning glycerin-containing (those with oil or conditioners included) products or using leave-in conditioners when using glycerin-containing products or "sealing in moisture" with oils on damp hair under glycerin-containing products. Others just need to avoid glycerin in dry weather if they find it gives their hair problems. Some people's problem with glycerin in dry weather is purely cosmetic and some people's problem with glycerin is dehydration.

      The film-forming humectants in the post above are an exception. They are very large molecules and generally slow water loss from your hair, even in dry air.

      But I don't advocate avoiding anything unless you've already tried it and had problems. I don't want to encourage people to avoid ingredients unnecessarily because we might miss out on good things if we do that. High-glycerin products work very well for many people who live in dry climates. It's a matter of how your own hair reacts.

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  10. Do you have any ideas as to why my hair best responds to stylers that are glycerin heavy? I have fine, low porosity hair that I keep well-balanced with protein and moisture (at least I believe this to be true--I assess my elasticity and I do a lot of what you indicate in the other blog post for LPs) so I usually go into styling my hair with well hydrated strands (they are tightly coiled, btw). I'll normally choose a leave-in based on dew point and how my hair feels, and when I try to use a glycerin-free styler (any level of hold from light to firm, natural or salon brands) my hair is much "crispier", sometimes flakes and stiff than if I used my regular glycerin gel (specifically any type of Eco styler). So add another factor in selecting my leave-in for the day, as over-moisturizing hair causes me wet frizz. I find this happens no matter the dew point, which causes my brain concern because while I live the southern US, for work I travel usu via plane to some pretty cold and dry northern US cities on a weekly basis. Not to say that it cannot be dry where I live either; as I type this at home the dew point is 22. Plus I have a lot of gels collected over time that are not Eco Styler haha, and I would like to use them. Is my hair crazy?

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    1. Hello TW,
      Your hair is responding in an ideal way to glycerin! And you have a great fit between those products with your insightful application of them. One purpose of glycerin in hair gels is to keep the gel flexible once dry. It does that by virtue of being a humectant and a "plasticizer" which is an ingredient capable of keeping films flexible. A leave-in conditioner adds more qualities such as even more flexibility, slowing water loss from 1) your hair once dry and 2) the product itself. If you're having no trouble with glycerin-containing gels like Ecostyler in dewpoints down to 22°F, count your blessings and don't worry about it. I don't know what other gels you are using that give you crispy hair, but you may need to mix them with gels that do work for you or use more leave-in to give you the flexibility (in the product once dry) that your'e looking for. When glycerin works - it's really great stuff.
      Cheers!

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    2. Ok thanks, this makes me feel quite a bit better about my hair's condition at least :) I find that because my hair doesn't absorb product all that well, I end up using a lot more than I would vs if I was using Eco style gel (I've been using it for years so I know it very well, that's part of it too, probably). Joico JoiGel Medium, Aquage Defining Gel, Jessicurl Spiralicious, CJ Curl Queen, Paul Mitchell Super Clean are some of the more recent examples I can recall. Ingredient-wise they are good picks, but with no glycerin, my hair is just too stiff and producty. The PM gels actually foam on my hair and can dry that way :(

      Also, my hair looks fine when wet after applying product and then as it's drying, either a) this weird wet frizz creeps up as it dries like I put nothing in it or b) it dries still looking good but feels like extra coated in product when I go in to SOTC. It seems as though product was "pushed" out once dry. Too much product or not enough, I often find it tough to gauge how much to use. My hair is showing my products who's boss, lol! In the past I've used Paul Mitchell Super Sculpt (no glycerin) but mixed it with Fantasia IC gel (glycerin) and the results were pretty good, so I will re-visit doing this as you suggest. Thanks so much again!

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  11. Hey! When im in the shower with wet hair can i use aloe vera gel and then a leave in over that? Like a leave in conditioner with much glycerin and then a leave in conditioner with oils over that? Should i use acv (with cold water) before or is it best to use it in "warm" hair? :)

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  12. And.....
    Should the leave in be all over the hair or just in the ends? Is it better to use a pure oil like arganoil instead of a conditioner with oils to seal? Thank you :)

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    1. Use leave-in wherever it is effective. This is all trial and error because leave-ins are as much styling products as they are hair protectants. Some people prefer to use an "all in one" product of conditioner + oil and some prefer to apply the oil separately. This is trial and error too. Using oil separately gives you more control over how much oil you use and where you apply it.

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  13. Could you please do a post about dew points and Humectants. I live in Wisconsin where we have minus dew points in the Winter. I can't use humectants because they make my hair frizz as soon as I step out of the house. Humectants pull moisture from the air and cause frizz when they can't find any. I have fine porous 2b-c hair. Finding products that will work with my Winter hair and still are 'natural' and 'curly girl' friendly is very frustrating and difficult.

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    1. Most recent post (Sunday, February 22, 2015) is about this.

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  14. Hey. Helpful post. Unfortunately, I don't have flaxseeds anymore and my hair doesn't like aloe. But I just remember that polyquats are film forming and polyquat 7, at least, is a humectant. So I'm going to give that a try.

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  15. Hi! I have a question about the film-forming humectants: Should they only be applied to wet hair or can they be applied to dry hair to moisturize/refresh between washes, say a mixture of aloe & water? I am curious if they work best for wet hair, or when mixed with water, they can be used on dry hair.

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    1. Hello Lena, film-forming humectants work for both applications you mentioned - on wet hair in conditioners or styling products, and also on dry hair such as a mixture of aloe and water. If you moisten your hair with plain water, your hair absorbs the water initially, but the air around your hair will take back as much water as it "wants." If you have some aloe in the water, the aloe helps your hair keep the moisture from the water, longer.
      Even better if you've included other ingredients to create a well-balanced product like water + aloe + a little conditioner.

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  16. Hi there! I really enjoy your Very informative blog. My question is: is it ok if I were to use a mix of distilled water with honey to moisten my hair in-between washes? Thank you in advance.

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    1. Hello Zan M.,
      You could give honey and distilled water a try. Depending on how much honey and water you use, it might make your hair a little stiff (from the honey, not a "side effect"). You'd probably notice that if you used 1/2 teaspoon to 1 teaspoon of honey per cup of water. Another things to consider is humidity - when it's humid, honey left on hair can make hair feel soft. When the air is dry, honey can leave that stiffness ("hold").

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  17. Hi there, is this the category of product I need to get my waves to clump into curls? Are there specific brands or combination of ingredients that are usually considered better than others? thanks

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    1. Hello Lynn,
      Click on the tab "Product List by Category." Then scroll down to the list of products with film-forming humectants. Many of these products excel at helping wavy, curly, and coily hair pull together into more-defined wave/curl patterns and help them to dry "set" in that position.

      For some people, products that help hair "clump" together have a thick, or sticky, grippy texture that pulls hair together.

      Beyond that, if your hair doesn't have quite enough lubrication, it will tend to not only tangle, but also to have difficulty lining up to form defined waves. If your hair is lacking in hydration, it will have a more difficult time forming defined waves because dehydrated hair tends to be less flexible and we need flexibility to have a defined wave pattern. Film-forming humectants help with hydration and flexibility.
      I hope that helps!

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  18. Can we use flax seed oil instead of flax seed gel?

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    1. Hello Curlista, Flax seed oil is an oil, it is not a humectant so the effect is different.

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  19. Hi! i love your blog. I think it's amazing that you out such an effort into it! I just had two quick questions: 1) even when I never use heat or dye my hair, it's still very frizzy, even right after I get out of the shower! Why could it be? 2) flaxseed gel gives me good results , but sometimes I see little white particles on my strands. What can I do?

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    1. Hello lolo,
      I'm not sure I can be much help with the flaxseed gel problem without knowing what else might be in your gel or what else is in your hair. If you used too much flax gel, you might actually see a residue, but that would be more likely if you thickened the gel with xanthan gum or a starch or added an ingredient that precipitates. Make your flax gel with distilled water, especially if you have hard water to prevent precipitation of minerals in your gel.

      Some products (leave-in conditioners, for example) will interact badly with gels and you'll get little particles (or bigger globs) from that.

      For hair that's frizzing right out of the shower - you might be having a negative reaction to an ingredient in your cleanser or conditioner (glycerin, or proteins or shea butter for example). Sometimes hard water will cause that, or product residue (glycerin - again - polyquaternium ingredients, conditioning products, butters).

      If none of those are the case and your hair wants to frizz because that's what makes it happy, applying flax gel while your hair is dripping wet - and then adding a little bit more water can pull the wayward hairs together. After squeezing out excess moisture, you can always add more flax gel if you need it for your style.

      If your hair is frizzing because it's lacking in flexibility and softness - it might need to be deep conditioned. But only if you haven't been doing that already. Otherwise the opposite could be true - over-softening.

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    2. Try using Malibu C hard water treatment. It removes all the build up of minerals from the hair that can be causing the frizzies

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  20. Hi again. Thank you so much for answering so fast. I will use distilled water next time and see what happens. I only add aloe vera gel, jojoba oil and grapeseed oil. Thanks, again, and great blog!

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    1. hi lolo, could you tell me if that mask with jojoba oil works or not?

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  21. Hi, I love your blog and all of the scientific basis that you include in all of your posts! I was wondering what your favorite conditioners, leave in conditioners, and/or daily moisturizers with film forming humectants are? Particularly because I have seen your list of "Products Emphasizing Film-Forming Ingredients", but there are so many that I'm not sure where to start. I have low porosity 3C/4A hair that is protein sensitive, has a weird love-hate relationship with coconut oil (it's good in moderation at night, but too much/too often and my hair get super hard and dry yet greasy b/c the coconut oil just sits there), and that gets build up fairly easily, and I'm trying to get my hair to have more definition and movement. Any suggestions?

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    1. Hello Christina,

      My skin is extremely picky, so I can only be a little help here about my favorite things. I love sunflower oil for oil treatments. Babassu oil is a close second. And I am very fond of my oil blend recipe which should be in the side bar for treatments also. When I get "broom ends" on my hair - these oils before washing for 4-6 hours (or all day) get the job done so the ends aren't lighter-looking and spreading out rather than pulling together.

      My favorite conditioner is the one I formulate for myself which is really simple - some Behentrimonium Methosulfate and Cetyl alcohol, a little grapeseed oil, and glycine betaine, which is a great humectant. As I Am Leave-in is a bit similar to this.

      I have a recipe under the "More recipes, Allergy alternatives" tab for an aloe/glycerin hair wash. I use Lily of the Desert aloe vera gel, which is thickened with Irish Moss - and that makes a big difference to the aloe. That wash can really put back the "soft" in my hair if I've been neglecting it and it's feeling dry and uncooperative. Because it's rinsed out, it doesn't seem to cause the "aloe dryness" that some aloe products can cause. And the Irish moss and glycerin help with slipperiness and hydration.

      Two brands come to mind because they might be useful, and they provide lots of customer support through downloadable product guides, interactive product guides, or telephone assistance. Saffiyah Botanicals by Redgine is a good brand - some of their products will be too rich for low-porosity hair, so see the guide for assistance. http://saffiyahbotanicals.com/ Original Moxie has plenty of online guidance, but will also help you choose products if you call. http://www.originalmoxie.com/ If you need variety or hold, these brands have both. Both brands sell samples too! Uncle Funky's Daughter Curly Magic is a very popular, non-creamy, film-forming humectant-rich gel/definer that may work well - read some reviews to see if any match your experience.

      If you want simple, cheap, DIY - make some homemade flaxseed gel and start getting creative with the additives! It will give you a feel for what you're looking for in a gel - do you need oils? Do you need to add a bit of conditioner or oil under the gel in order to get multi-day hair? Do you need a thicker gel? Do you need more hold? That can help you answer a lot of questions without spending a whole lot.

      Good luck!

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  22. Please help! I have low porosity, fine, coily hair and all of a sudden I can't do anything with it.

    For the last month I was doing henna treatments (the henna was mixed with coconut cream so it was essentially a protein treatment) every other week and my curls were looser, silky, and manageable. As soon as I stopped doing the henna it got really frizzy and the ends are very dry and tangle easily. I've tried a deep conditioner and a protein treatment with coconut milk, honey, and olive oil. It just seems to be getting worse. I have no idea what's wrong with it. Could it be that there isn't enough protein in my diet? I eat vegetarian most of the week.

    I'd really appreciate the help. I'm super discouraged right now and just feel like buying a wig, covering it up, and not feeling with it anymore.

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    1. Hello Sparkle,
      I wonder if the problem you're having might be with the coconut cream. That would contain a lot of coconut oil and coconut oil can make some people's hair feel dry or stiff or brittle or crunchy. I have a blog post about that here: http://science-yhairblog.blogspot.com/2014/06/coconut-oil-makes-my-hair-stiff.html

      That's a possibility to start with. Try avoiding coconut completely - no coconut milk, coconut oil, coconut cream, coconut extract, either alone or in commercial products. You might avoid protein for a little while too, but some people's hair does very well with protein and "hates" coconut oil, so they're not the same.

      If you see some improvement, then perhaps it was the coconut oil causing the problem. Otherwise - some henna products are 100% henna and others have other ingredients added, so be sure you weren't using a henna with other additives - those are typically "metal salts" and can dry hair out. Henna itself needs to be used with a lot of lubrication (slippery conditioners, adding oil to conditioner, deep condition) both right after the treatment and throughout the week.

      If neither of these apply or help, I'd say your hair was absolutely in love with the henna treatment and maybe you would benefit from a "henna gloss" between full henna treatments to reduce the amount of henna you're using, but keep the benefits of volume and color.

      Coconut oil / cream does not contain protein. Coconut oil can prevent loss of proteins when hair gets wet - but those are proteins that are already in the hair and are lost from porous hair when it gets wet because it soaks up more water than is good for it. So coconut oil doesn't "count" as a protein treatment as far as hydration of hair is concerned. If your hair really loves protein, it may need some hydrolyzed protein.
      I hope that helps!

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  23. Tnx soo much for your generosity in sharing from your wealth of knowledge..

    On film forming humecants...flaxseed and aloe vera plant are difficult to come by and very expensive in my location.. we also do not have the luxury of diverse good natural hair products locally.. imported ones are pretty pricey. But I have access to xanthan gum and okra.. will these 2 be ok to use alone/mixed with oils & conditioner for my low porosity 4c nappy hair?

    Also what kind of conditioners will be good to add? Leave in or washout conditioners..
    Oils.. what's your view on pure almond oil & olive oil for low porosity

    Is it safe or effective to use gelatin ( a form of hydrolized protein) as protein treatment?

    What basic ingredients are vital in a diy moisturizing deep conditioner for low porosity hair

    Tnx for your patience...��

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  24. Thanks for your help! I did henna gloss and cut out coconut and my hair is back to being nice and soft 😊

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  25. Hi, this post was really useful. Whenever I use flaxseed gel I end up with so many white flakes all over my hair. I try not to use ecostyler gel because it just sits on top my hair and can end up flaking as well. Any advice on why this happens and what gels I can use to define my low porosity 4c hair? Thank you

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    1. Gel flakes! Nooooo! Sometimes gel has a reaction with something like leave-in conditioner in your hair. A quick-and-hopefully-accurate test before subjecting your head to a product combination is to mix products in your hand and see what happens after a couple minutes. Sometimes they'll clump up or turn cloudy and that will become flakes in your hair. There's nothing wrong with those products, they're just not compatible.

      Sometimes flakes happen if you use too much gel - but some of us need a lot of gel.
      Some gels flake because they're too thick for your hair.

      Some people get flakes no matter what and need to apply gel to soaking-wet hair and then add water again to dilute & distribute the gel(s) more thoroughly.

      If you need more fluid gels, less-viscous gels, marshmallow root and okra might be better. Gums like xanthan and guar are probably not good. Even flaxseed gel diluted with water (shake it up or blend it) might still work.
      You might look for gels that don't "cling" like flax gel and ecostyler do. Or a curl cream might do a better job (less cling). I hope you are inspired to find an answer somewhere! Good luck - W

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  26. Iam using shikakai for a wash coffee for leave in.
    Jojoba oil and shea moisture during the day.
    But I still have some dry hair on top .
    What is your advice.
    I have low porosity and high density hair

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    1. Hello,
      I'm not quite sure how to advise - I don't know which Shea Moisture product you are using or whether your hair is coarse or fine/medium. You might try a different product for the dry hair on top - if you are using a conditioner for leave-in, you might try something a bit richer. Or if the leave-in product contains glycerin or aloe, you might try something without glycerin and/or aloe. You also might consider using a different oil - jojoba provides good lubrication, but it doesn't soak in to the hair. Avocado oil or sunflower or coconut might be an option. But at the same time - some people's hair gets dry and brittle with coconut oil - so be aware of that for coconut oil alone and in products. Best wishes - W

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  27. Hello WS,

    This is sort of unrelated to the current post but I don't know where else to post this. The formulation of favorite product has been changed. :( This product was a conditioner but was unlike any other conditioner I've used in that it lathered/foamed up very well. It lathered like a sulfate-shampoo does. However, the product claimed to be sulfates free and did not list any sulfates in the ingredients list. It also did not dry out my hair so I really don't think it had sulfates in it.

    The lathering quality was what I loved most about this conditioner and was wondering if you have any idea of an ingredient that might cause a product to foam besides sulfates so I can create a similar conditioner?

    Here is the ingredients list of the conditioner: Water, Guar Hydroxpropyltrimonium Chloride, Glycerin, Acetamide MEA, Propylene Glycol, Paraffin Oil (Paraffinium Liquidum), Cetyl Alcohol, Stearyl Alcohol, Ceteareth-20, Glyceryl Stearate, PEG-100 Stearate, Peg-150 Distearate, Behentrimonium Methosulfate, Peg-17 Lanolin, Lanolin Alcohol, Fragrance, Citric Acid, Disodium EDTA, DMDM Hydantoin, Tocopheryl Acetate, Methychloroisothiazolinone, Methylisothiazolinone.

    These are the ingredients of both the old and new formulation so the ingredients never changed. But the consistency and texture of the product sure did and it doesn't lather anymore. I think the company put something in the product not listed in the ingredients. So do you know of any foaming agents I can use to make my conditioner? Thank you!

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    1. Hello LinaBlue,
      Some conditioners foam up because they're thin-textured. I think Tresemme conditioners sometimes foam a bit.

      In the product you copied the ingredients for, it may foam because of the ingredient Acetamide MEA, which is a conditioner and thickener but also (surprise!) a foam-booster.
      In addition to that, glycerin is an ingredient that makes bubbles bigger and more stable. Guar Hydroxpropyltrimonium Chloride helps build foam in cleansers and stabilizes it (so the foam doesn't disappear right away).

      Cocamide MEA is also a foam-booster.

      In this product - the 3 foam-boosting or foam-supporting ingredients are in the first 4 ingredients, so this is pretty unique for a conditioner. There are thickeners and Paraffin Oil all before you get to a "traditional" conditioning ingredient (Behentrimonium methosulfate).

      If both the texture and foaming of the product changed, one has to wonder if they changed the product but didn't yet change the label. I would probably call or write to the manufacturer and ask them what had changed and if the current label is correct - and provide them with any identifying numbers from the bottle.
      Best wishes - W

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    2. Thank you so much for your reply, you are always a wealth of knowledge! The reasons why this conditioner foams up so much makes sense now. It is indeed a unique conditioner. I'm thinking that the company have not updated the label yet because the new formulation is nothing like the previous. Thanks again, I will look into the ingredients you mentioned and see how it works.

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  28. Question: I have fine, thin, gray hair. It is natural and low porosity. What are the best shampoo, conditioner, scalp treatment for me?

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  29. Thank you for all your informative posts !
    I have low porosity, 4C, protein sensitive, coarse hair. I use silicone free products. I am trying to find a film form humectants that will work with my hair for daily use with the LOC method. My hair knots easily, does not hold water for long periods and has frizz once my hair reaches mid length.

    The aloe vera gel works well in the summer; however, in the winter it leaves my hair feeling dry. I have also tried Kinky Curly Knot leave in conditioner which makes my hair have a static and dry after using it on freshly washed drenched hair. Homemade flax seed gel, after two attempts makes my hair also feel crunchy.
    Can you suggest any products or natural items that is a film humectant and will not leave my hair dry or static ?. Could a rinse of Apple Cider vinegar or Green Tea be as effective ?

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    1. Hello Joann,
      So aloe works in summer (when it's more humid?) but not in winter. I can relate. Kinky-Curly Knot Today is drying and your hair doesn't "like" flax gel...
      The static issue interests me. My hair is different from yours, curl wise, but it does the same thing, static-wise. It doesn't get so static-y when I have enough humectants in a conditioner - that seems to weigh the static down. And it does better with oils in a conditioner, even just a little. But only some oils like babassu or pumpkinseed or grapeseed. Conditioners like V05 moisture milk - my hair is static-y even if it's humid.

      A vinegar rinse could help if hard water is part of your problem. Do a test-strand first if you've never used ACV to be sure your hair will tolerate it! Start with 1 tablespoon in 1 cup distilled water on clean, wet hair and leave it on for a few minutes with gentle heat. Then rinse and condition.

      Green tea isn't a humectant and it might even feel a bit drying.

      You need a good humectant! People who don't like flaxseed gel often like okra gel. It's easier to make than flax gel and thinner - more syrupy.
      Marsh Mallow root tends to work for a lot of people also. Marsh mallow needs to boil longer than flax - but about the same amount of time as okra - so it's pretty easy to make a marsh mallow root-okra gel all at once if your hair liked okra.
      Nettle, which you can buy in teabags can be helpful in some hair - but can feel drying in others. It can go into a gel or be used as a rinse

      Getting fancier - Irish moss is a *powerful* humectant and a great curl definer. You can buy the raw material or the powder and make a gel to use - here's a link for how to do that. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6i5kh_uxosI
      The moss itself (it's really seaweed!) needs to be soaked in water - then you use the gel that results. For the powder, you do the same thing - stir into water, then let it soak to hydrate. You don't want a super-thick gel or it could flake and your hair might not dry until October.
      I hope that helps! -W

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  30. Help! I have 3a coarse, protein sensitive hair. Hydroxyethylcellulose causes frizz for me like nothing else. My hair feels rougher and more tangled. Does this mean I need to avoid film-forming humectants? Or just Hydroxyethylcellulose? Or - does it indicate a deficiency of something else, should I be using more oils? I deep condition with olive oil every week but I can't seem to moisturize enough. What can I do to fight this frizz battle?

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    1. Hello C., Hydroxyethylcellulose tends to dry sort of stiff and crunchy (and dry-feeling). So you might need to avoid that ingredient sometimes. It really depends on what you used. Hydroxyethylcellulose in a formula with some conditioning ingredients or oils might be fine because those things would add some flexibility to the Hydroxyethylcellulose-thickener.
      Protein doesn't work... Even small ones like keratin once every few weeks? That would be one direction to go.
      Oil pre-wash treatments are something else to try, the effect is quite different from deep conditioning. If you use the search box (top-left of the page) I have a post about oil pre-wash treatments with some tips.
      Do you add a humectant like honey to your deep conditioner? That can make a big difference in helping your hair retain moisture. Honey has humectant molecules small enough to penetrate the hair shaft.
      A product you can buy which has both conditioning ingredients and humectants which can penetrate the hair shaft is GVP Conditioning Balm. It makes a good base for deep conditioning, though it's sold as a rinse-out conditioner.
      I hope that helps! -W

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    2. Here's a link to that post - which probably won't be active. http://science-yhairblog.blogspot.com/2014/03/oil-pre-shampoo-or-pre-wash.html

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