Humectants are great and are widely used in hair and skin products for added moisture, lubrication, and shine. However, understanding humectants and how they are engineered will help you to properly use them in your hair regimen.
What are humectants?
A humectant is a substance that is used to reduce the loss of moisture. It helps to moisturize and repair dry, brittle hair while adding shine and luster. It promotes moisture retention by attracting water molecules from the immediate environment to the site of application.
How do humectants work?
A humectant is often a molecule with several hydrophilic (attracts water) groups and most often hydroxyl groups, however amines and carboxyl groups (have the ability to bind with water molecules to form hydrogen bonds) can be also be encountered. Humectant-rich formulation contains simple alcoholic sugar that can increase skin and hair hydration.
The molecules in humectants have the ability to bind with water thus attracting water molecules to the site of application. Therefore, when humectants are added to hair and skin products, the water from the environment binds to the molecules of the humectant in your product to add moisture to your hair and skin.
Humidity and Humectants
In high humidity (warm or hot summer environment), humectants from your hair products will draw moisture from the air to your hair. This will prevent evaporation of the water molecules from your hair to the air, which means more moisture for your hair. However, there may be a con to this. Attracting too much water to your hair can cause your strands to absorb too much moisture thus create a big poofy mess, and a big bucket of frizz.
On the flip side, in low humidity (cold or winter environments), humectants may do exactly the opposite. Humectants are engineered to take water with them to where there is need for hydration. Therefore, if you apply humectants to your hair or skin and go in a dry environment then the moisture will leave your strands and skin to add moisture to the dry air. This may be one reason why you could be experiencing very dry and brittle hair.
Humectants, Humidity, and High Porosity Hair
Women with high porosity hair have a higher chance of experiencing frizz, tangles, and breakage in high humid environments than women with normal or low porosity hair. Having high porosity hair means that your cuticles are already lifted and moisture can readily get into your strands. This in turn may lead to massive tangles, frizz, and possibly breakage.
It is very important that you read the label on your products to determine if they contain humectants. That will help you to choose your products wisely to benefit your hair.
Now that you know how humectants work, lets look at the benefits.
Humectants help to:
- Make hair and skin feel softer
- Add moisture to the hair
- Make hair more pliable
- Reduce breakage
Types of humectants
- Propylene glycol, hexylene glycol, and butylene glycol
- Glyceryl triacetate
- Hydrolized silk protein
- Sugar alcohols (sugar polyols) such as glycerol, sorbitol, xylitol, maltitol
- Polymeric polyols such as polydextrose
- Sodium PCA
- Aloe vera gel
- MP diol
- Alpha hydroxy acids such as lactic acid
- Egg yolk and egg white
- Lithium chloride
- Sodium hexametaphosphate E452i
- Agave nectar
What you can do about it!
Humidity and Humectants
So I discussed earlier that humectants in low humidity can cause water/moisture to leave your hair and skin, but what if I told you there might be something you can do? There is!
They are called occlusive ingredients!
Occlusive agents are the ingredients in skin and hair products that create a film to prevent water/moisture loss. They usually do not contain water. They can can be very effective, however, I would be very careful with those because they can be waxy and cause clogged pores (acne) if not used properly. Once added they do not let anything in or out.
Products with these ingredients should not be applied directly to the hair as the first line of defense. By this I mean that you should add your moisturizing agent then your occlusive product to hold it in. It is like a sealant! I would also suggest using the natural butters as your occlusive agents over synthetic ingredients.
Types of Occlusive ingredients:
- Propylene glycol
- Silicone derivatives, such as Dimethicone and Cyclomethicone
- Cocoa butter
- Mango butter
- Shea butter
- Mineral oil
Now that you know about humectants and occlusive ingredients what changes do you plan to implement in your regimen?
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