14 June 2013

Tips: Moisture Vs. Buildup

Following my previous post where I mentioned steaming my locs and returning to coconut oil, I'd like to throw a few lessons or quick tips about oil, water, moisture and buildup out there for anyone who might need them.

I've learnt that;

  1. Products need not be used on a daily basis as is popular with a lot of us.
  2. Loc'd, braided or plaited hair holds products between the intertwined hair strands very easily. Have you ever removed cornrows or braids after 6 weeks and found that all sorts of debris was trapped too?
  3. Only water moisturises our hair. It's makeup (hydrogen, oxygen and some natural minerals) is able to seep into open cuticles in the hair shaft. Heated water and steam are the most common ways to open the cuticles.
  4. Virtually all products can seal in moisture by lying over the cuticles of damp hair just like a sealant would over a crack. But like a sealant they also seal out moisture. Thicker products like leave-in conditioners, waxes, pomades and some gels, will also seal out oxygen. When these products are reapplied daily it leads to buildup and eventually weakened hair. Once the buildup is there it's removability is entirely dependent on the type and quantity of the products used and how mature your locs are.
  5. When we find a product that really works, it should work for more than a day. Applying products once a week or once a fortnight will decrease the chances of buildup.
  6. At different times throughout the year your hair will need more moisture but not necessarily more oil (or product). Increasing usage of a spritz solution to get more moisture increases the risk of buildup by reapplication of product without shampooing. If you try using oil and water separately you can control how much of each is going onto your hair.
  7. Sometimes the scalp becomes dry and some oils are known to help treat it. If oil and water is used separately you can apply oils exclusively to the scalp without over saturating your hair and risking buildup. In reverse, you can apply oil to damp hair without creating a greasy scalp. Harder to do when the two are sprayed together.
  8. Other ways to retain moisture include, covering hair with satin or silk and avoiding contact with other fabrics, protecting hair from extreme temperatures, using shampoos with lower amounts of sulphate (choosing specifically "moisturising" shampoos should help), minimising "clarifying" shampoos to once or twice a year (incl. apple cider vinegar and lemon juice), and drinking as much water as possible everyday.

£3.99 from DolphinFitness.co.uk

In my experience:

Going from starter locs through to my first year, my views on the popular oil and water spritz combinations and moisture vs. buildup have changed and developed. You can never really know exactly what your locs are going to do in your climate until you go through all the seasons and experience it for yourselves.

For me I'm finding I get better results when I use oil and water separately rather than together. At first it felt like the spritz idea was working great but throughout the previous winter it just didn't help at all. I became frustrated with having to spray my hair three or more times a day just to make it feel soft. It felt like my hair was either dry or constantly damp.

I've come to the conclusion that as oil and water don't mix (even when agitated) it's not possible to get an even spritz of oil and water every time I use it. In reality some locs will get more oil or water than others if any at all. So unlike commercial solutions it's a little hit and miss. When I apply coconut oil on already damp hair with my hands it reacts differently. I find that the distribution is more even and the effects last longer. I use less and I don't get buildup or a greasy feeling.

Even if they aren't visible, oils will stay in your hair until they're washed out with shampoo (sulphates are known for stripping oil). Since my shampoo is specifically moisturising (lower on sulphate too) my method is: oil or shampoo, not both. If I've rinsed without shampoo I will use oil. If I've washed with shampoo I won't use oil. Obviously if it were a standard shampoo or a clarifying shampoo like Head & shoulders, Dr. Bonner's or Suave, the oils would be necessary.


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  1. Definitely sharing this! Thanks for talking about this, although I must say that Dr. Bonner's probably isn't the best for dreadlocks. Most people aren't diluting the solution enough and small traces of the product remain and gradually start to eat away at the loc itself.

    I personally contacted them about the subject and they don't recommend using the product on non-loose hair and they've received several complaints from people with dreadlocks of whom thought their product wasn't 100% natural and it was damaging their hair. But in fact, the product is natural BUT contains harsh natural astringents that may prove to have an overly drying effect if left in the hair and gradually it'll cause the hair to break and tear.

    1. Thanks for sharing what you've learnt about Dr. Bronners. I've heard the dilution was an issue but I never knew it had such potentially damaging effects. I never got around to ordering any for myself as the USA to UK P&P was out of my budget for shampoo.

      I suppose it just goes to show that all chemicals both natural and man-made need to be used with awareness and caution.

      I think the main thing to remember is that it's trial and error but we shouldn't stick with a product just because it's popular. If your hair doesn't feel and look healthy or you've got to use 101 other products before and after then it's probably time to stop using it all together.