Module 2 – Factors That Impact Hydration
Welcomeeeeee to Module Two!!
Over the next several weeks we will work together to create a curly tool kit, of sorts, from which you can pick strategies and products in order to help you accomplish these three objectives and truly fall in love with the hair you were born with.
The main thing to remember as your are learning what your hair needs are these three objectives.
Don’t let distractions like trying to understand everything about your hair’s porosity, density, texture, etc. throw you off course from them. Don’t worry about the Curly Girl Method and it’s long list of rules.
Instead, focus on hydration. Focus on water.
The Ultimate Goal
Sometimes, using your fingers to simply rake through and detangle the hair is enough to get hydration in and curly clumps forming while saturating.
Clean, saturated hair naturally softens, clumps together and stays that way even after the water source has been turned off for 60 seconds.
When that happens it’s a great indication that you can skip cleansing and move on to conditioning.
Other times you make have to work hydration in with encouraging strategies like scrunching and roping or even the bowl method, to work water in more deeply.
Let’s be clear about one thing: the ultimate goal anytime that you are getting your hair wet in the shower is to create the smoothest, softest curl clumps that you can.
After you saturate your hair fully (ideally without any product), you have a choice to make: cleansing or conditioning.
Because we know our goal is to create the smoothest, softest curl clumps possible we should immediately think of conditioning, but we don’t. Conventional products and strategies have us reaching for shampoo first thing without hesitation.
Today (or the next time you consciously do your hair), I want you to change that by introducing you to the Wet Refresh. That’s when you go right from saturating your hair to conditioning, skipping the cleansing step and the damage that comes with it.
(Don’t worry – we’ll talk about cleaning soon, just stick with me).
Here’ what you do: You condition really wet hair and work it in as well as you can. Then you repeat the experiment from last week’s homework.
Conditioner adds slip to the hair and improves hand feel, but there’s more…conditioner actually bonds to the water and then pulls it inside of the hair shaft.
If there is a way inside of the hair shaft the conditioner will find it and pull the water inside, continuing to soften and smooth it. Encouraging strategies can support this effort.
If there’s not a way inside feel less smooth, more coarse and start frizzing with just water and conditioner, even after encouraging. Rather than improving in hand feel it may start to feel sticky, tacky, or like running your fingers down smoothly painted surface or the surface of a new rubber band.
That’s how you know that there is too much build-up and water is being blocked out. That’s when you cleanse.
Cleanser is only used when saturation and conditioner alone don’t accomplish the goal of smooth, soft curl clumps.
When the hair does take on hydration it will soften. You will see it start to clump together and it will feel better to the touch. When it does that you’ve won.
You’ve used less product, caused less damage, inserted more hydration and are honestly just giving your hair the break that it deserves.
Your goal is to balance the damage to your hair from cleansing too often with the damage to your hair from creating too much build-up and dehydrating it and find the smooth spot in between where your hair is smooth, sleek, hydrated and sexy.
Most of us know a little bit about the cuticle: that’s the part of our hair that we either love or hate. It either gives us a nice smooth and shiny surface, or a hot frizzy mess.
The cuticle is the outer layer of our hair that grows in thin overlapping eaves like the scales of a fish or the shingles on a roof, and which, together, create a nice thick protective layer for the cortex, or the center of the hair shaft.
Shown are several strands of hair at varying degrees of health and porosity, as seen under a microscope. I also included images of pine cones in various degrees of openness, because they are nature’s true visual representation of the cuticle, our outer protective layer of our hair shaft.
Generally speaking, the tightest that the eves of the cuticle of your hair will ever be is as your hair emerges from the scalp. We can help hair with tighter cuticles grow by focusing on long term scalp heal and reducing forms of damage. Hair with tighter cuticles is referred to as having lower in porosity, meaning that it is harder to get hydration (and other substances) into the core of the hair shaft, but once it is there it tends to stay.
Therefore, lower porosity hair does not get wet very easily. It may look wet, because the water is sitting outside of the hair shaft, but you may notice that when you shut off the water source, your hair immediately dries our or starts or frizz, meaning that the hair never truly got wet.
To put it simply, if your hair is lower porosity then you’re going to have to spend more time and more energy getting water inside the hair shaft especially with conditioner which helps water to penetrate tight spaces and hydrate throughout. The good part is that once the water is in you don’t have to spend that much time or energy to keep it there because your hair is doing it for you.
In the case of the more wide open pinecone, as time went on the eves dried out and god ruffled from the environment and started to lift. This is much like what happens to our hair over time. Hair with a looser, more lifted lifted cuticles is referred to as higher in porosity, meaning that it is generally easier to get water into the hair shaft, but more difficult to help the hair retain that hydration.
Therefore, higher porosity hair gets wet easily, especially when it’s clean. The challenge becomes to help the hair hold onto hydration for as long as it can, a goal which is generally achieved by working first with conditioner, but then with creamier products that work like glue to fill the gaps where the cuticle is lifted, making the hair behave lower in porosity and hold on to hydration.
To put it simply, if your hair is higher porosity then you are going to have to spend less time working water and conditioner into the hair because that will happen more easily. Instead your focus will be more on trapping hydration into the hair shaft with filling products like creams, foams, serums, etc. to help reduce the short term porosity of the hair and help it hold hydration longer.
To put it simply, if your hair is higher porosity you’re not going to be as focused on getting water inside of the hair shaft, you’re going to be more focused on locking that hydration in creating, the perfect set.
How your hair accepts hydration has everything to do with it’s porosity. There are only one factor that impacts hair porosity:
1) Natural Cuticle Tightness
But in our day to day life, there are two factors that can impact the tightness of our hair’s natural tightness
1) Damage – increases porosity
2) Build-up – reduces porosity
Like anything else the structure of the hair weakens and becomes damaged naturally over time, but with the conventional strategies of modern day times we’ve done a pretty good job as expediting this process.
Damage weakens the cuticle layer causing it to become irritated and lift off the hair shaft. In extreme forms of damage the cuticle can flake off entirely.
It is impossible to remove all forms of hair damage from you life, even just existing and aging is damaging to the hair. Our role is to stay conscious to forms of damage that do exist and mitigate them in order to give our selves more healthy and manageable hair in the long term.
Types of Hair Damage
Mechanical damage occurs when the hair is physically altered or ruffled with friction.
Brushing, combing and pulling the hair, using hair ties, giving scalp massage, wearing the hair in tight buns, braids, up-dos or extensions, rough surfaces like pillow cases, hats, helmets, clothing or terrycloth, getting the hair caught under purses or backpacks are all examples of ways that the hair can become damaged hair without even realizing it.
Thermal damage occurs when the hair is physically altered or irritated by direct heat.
Using hair dryers, straighteners, hot caps, curling irons, even the hot water from the shower can cause damage. When the hair is exposed to heat, the cuticle is forced open very quickly causing all sorts of problems, especially if the hair is dehydrated because dry hair is quite brittle and the cuticle can actually flake off entirely.
Chemical damage occurs when harsh chemicals that alter the structure of the hair are used.
Nearly all products or treatments that exist cause some kind of chemical damage. Yes, even your everyday shampoo and conditioner. They manipulate the pH of the hair and include ingredients that dry out or take space in the hair shaft, both of which can cause damage.
Over-processing, or the excessive/incorrect usage of normal, everyday products is a huge form of damage that I see all of the time in the curly hair world because of all of the pressure to use product after product, treatment after treatment, cleansers, co-washes, leave-in protein, moisture, etc, etc.
Salon treatments including bleaching, straightening, dyeing, keratin treatments, and perms contain more harsh chemicals, many of which are designed to break open the cuticle and alter the structure of the Keratin Cortex, and therefor cause damage on a whole different scale.
Hard water is another form of chemical damage. Chemicals such as chlorine and fluoride along with thousands of dissolved solids and heavy metals exist in our water today can bond with the hair creating build-up which can be quite difficult to remove form the hair. Swimming pools and other forms of heavily treated water are another form of chemical damage and build-up.
Environmental damage occurs just from existing in the Earth’s natural elements.
Heavy pounding rain, direct sunlight, air pollution, high humidity, low humidity, high heat, extreme cold, high wind speeds and dew point can all play a role in the health of the hair’s cuticle and protecting your hair from these factors and/or ensuring they are completely removed from the hair can go a long way to preserving the health of the hair in the long term.
Supporting Damaged Hair
Here is the thing about damage: it can’t be undone. This is why such a huge part of the curly hair world talks about avoiding as much damage as possible.
Hair that is damaged may feel excessively coarse or matted when wet, especially after it’s been cleansed. It usually does not hold on to hydration very well and will frizz out and lose curl pattern in a day or two.
Strategies you will commonly see to reduce damage and improve the overall health of the hair in the long term include:
- Extending the number of days between washing with cleanser
- Using less heat for styling and deep treatments
- Using cooler water in the shower
- Finger detangling and raking instead of brushing the hair with a Bruch or a comb
- Transitioning to your hair’s natural color
Supporting hair with higher porosity and damage in their effort to hang on to hydration for longer is the primary focus of the 4th and 5th modules of this course.
Build – Up
Build-up, whether from product, hard water, chlorine, smoke, air pollution or whatever else, starts blocking water out of the hair shaft, causing excessive frizz and causing the need for more effort to work water into the hair shaft.
There is enormous pressure to have dozens of products and to use them all regularly. In our effort to heal our hair with product we can actually make the problem much, much worse by creating build-up and blocking out hydration.
Build-up creates causes the hair to behave as if it were therefore lower in porosity because the space between the cuticles becomes filled up.
All products build-up on the hair, yes, ALL of them and when the product is adequately washed away during cleansing we call it Short Term Build-Up.
We can (and will) begin to use this knowledge of short term build-up to help higher porosity hair hold on to hydration by skipping the cleansing step and going right to conditioning and styling, which will help hair that tends to dry out quickly to behave lower in porosity and hold on to hydration for longer.
Extending the number of days between cleansing creates what we call the Wash Day Cycle.
The idea that we can manipulate our hair’s porosity and how it interacts with water is what I like to call Dynamic Porosity and is one of the most powerful tools you can put in your tool box.
The idea is simple. We push off washing out hair for as long as possible (to avoid unnecessary damage and help it hold hydration longer) until the build-up on it is too much and causing it to become heavy and dehydrated. Then we cleanse to create an entryway for water to get back in side of the hair shaft and use build-up to support our hair that is too damaged or weakened to hang on to it well so that the hair stay hydrated as long as possible.
When the hair becomes dehydrated we can add more water or product as necessary until the hair becomes heavy and is no longer able to accept hydration. Then we cleanse and start over.
There is no better way to learn our hair what it needs on any given day then to start paying attention to how porosity changes in the short term. With time you will be able to use this information to notice when your hair needs to be washed or whether you can push out the cleanse and the damage that comes with it.
The power with Dynamic Porosity is that Cleansing makes our hair the highest porosity it can be (in the short term) because it lifts open the cuticle and removes build-up. When the hair is not taking on water by softening and smoothing during the saturation, we can use cleansing to create space for water inside of the hair shaft.
Cleansing leaves the hair more dry and coarse because the cuticle has been lifted and any any all short term build-up that was creating a smooth and soft surface is removed.
Then we condition to counter the cleanser and bring back hydration to the hair. It is not uncommon to cleanse more deeply on wash day, as this is the day that your hair needs hydration the most
Conditioners naturally soften the cuticle and encourage it to lay flat and at the same time bond with water and pull it through tight spaces (like the cuticle) and inside of the hair shaft, helping to create the soft and smooth curl clumps that are the main goal of our wash days and wet refreshes.
Short Term Vs. Long Term Build-Up
The only problem with out little experiment is when the Short Term Build-Up that accumulates over the week is not removed with the chosen cleansing method on wash day.
Compounds and minerals that are not removed can solidify and crystallize over time becoming hard and very difficult, if not impossible, to remove.
This is what is commonly referred to as “build-up”, but in the Consciously Curly world it’s knows as Long Term Build-Up because we know that in reality ALL products and compounds that the hair encounters create build-up.
If the products we use (or something else we come into regular contact with) can’t be removed from our hair with the cleanser we use each wash day, over time our hair with begin to fight hydration and behave lower and lower in porosity.
Eventually the hair may stop taking on hydration entirely.
Supporting Hair with Long Term Build-Up
I am going to be honest with you, the chances that you have long-term build-up right now are quite high. This is why a more aggressive cleansing option was recommended to you in the first week of this course and we will be talking more about how to use it next week.
Hair that has build-up may feel tacky, hard or heavy when wet, especially when it’s being conditioned. The hair may seem to take on water initially it tends to frizz out in the shower when the water source is removed for 60 seconds.
Strategies you will commonly see to remove layers of long term build-up and improve the hair’s ability to take on water in the long term include:
- Learning what build-up feels like so that it’s easy to recognize when it’s happening
- Finding the proper combination products that ensure all foreign compounds are removed from the hair on wash day.
- Placing more focus on the power of mechanical motion and scalp massage during cleansing
- Integrating a clarifying or chelating product into your long term routine (if necessary)
- Avoiding heavy oils, butters and synthetic chemical treatments that contain ingredients designed to stay in the hair forever.
Supporting hair with lower porosity or build-up in its effort to take on hydration adequately is the primary focus of the 3rd modules of this course.
This week we are going to start an experiment that will continue over the remaining weeks of this course. The goal is to reduce the amount of damage to, and control the amount of build-up on, our hair at any given time, and notice it all.
The first step is to start to pay attention to what build-up looks and feels like on the hair, and we do that by incorporating the wet refresh into our routine.
Hair that has more damage or is naturally higher in porosity will love them, hair with build-up of that is naturally lower in porosity…not so much.
This experiment will help you begin to notice how your hair takes on differently in ways that you can control, and use that information in the long term to help hydrate and support your hair better and at the same time cause less damage.
- Repeat the same experiment as last week while saturating your hair the next time you are in the shower.
- Completely wet and detangle you hair under the shower stream in an upside down position, then shut the water off and take a photo of your curls.
- Count to 60 and then take another photo of your curls.
- Turn the water back on and rake through your hair upside down, and over each shoulder using the gravity method, and then upside down once more, working water onto the hair for at least 90 seconds. Fill it up with water, then shut the water off and take a photo of your curls.
- Count to 60 and then take another photo of your curls.
- Condition your hair. That’s right – skip the cleanser and go right to conditioning, or as I like to call it Wet Refreshing. Feel free to use the conditioner as a Co-Wash to gentle wash away any build-up. Use conditioner just like a cleanser by working it in and then rinsing it out. Then condition as normal.
- Work your hair into the smoothest most hydrated curl clumps possible, reaching for encouraging strategies and water before when you feel like you need more product. Get your hair nice and wet and full of conditioner, then shut the water off and take a photo of your curls.
- Count to 60 and then take another photo of your curls.
Then, trust your gut.
Finish your shower and styling your hair in a way that feels good to you.
Remember that the ultimate goal of our wash day or wet refresh is to create the smoothest and softest curl clumps we’ve seen.
With that in mind, what happened when you used conditioner on your hair after saturation?
- Did it resist and stay hard, coarse, and stiff in its ways? Maybe frizzing out without water or feeling wet but not really smooth or soft to the touch like you’ve seen?
*hint* these are signs your hair needs help accepting hydration (module 3)
- Or did it accept hydration and soften, starting to form some of the more smooth and soft curl clumps you can remember?
*hint* these are signs to continue encouraging and conditioning (module 4)
Really think about what you are seeing when you have the opportunity to watch your hair interact with water. It’s truly quite fascinating and will tell you everything you need to know about how to continue.
Watch this series of videos called The Wash Day Cycle where I take you through this very experiment and notice the differences in how my hair takes on hydration on Day 2, Day 5 and Day 9.
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