As a new naturalista, you're often told you need hydration and moisture, but you're probably left asking what's the difference? On this journey you'll be exposed to a whole new vocabulary about hair! We hear different terminology but don’t always understand the meaning and application to our hair situation. “Hydration” and “moisture” are terms you hear about and see on the labels of hair products for curly hair, but if you’re like most, you don’t quite know the difference. Well, let’s break these terms down so we can recognize each one as a distinct step in your hair care routine.
Often natural gals will hear and even use, the terms “hydration” and “moisture” interchangeably. While these are similar concepts, in reality, they are more interdependent (you cannot have one without the other) than interchangeable (same concept, different name). To understand how hydration and moisture work hand-in-hand, we have to look at the multiple layers that comprise our hair. Human hair consists of three layers:
The Medulla – innermost, deepest layer of hair (unless you have microscopic eye balls, you can’t see this layer);
The Cortex – middle layer, covers the medulla (this layer gives us hair color, thickness and hair texture); and
The Cuticle – outermost, thinnest layer of hair (this layer protects the other layers).
When we speak of hydration, we are referring to the internal layers of hair; while moisture applies to the outermost layer of the hair.
So, how do you actually get hydration into the inner layers of hair? Think of this concept the same way you think of nourishing your physical body internally...what you put into your body plays the biggest role in achieving and maintaining optimal health (most personal trainers will tell you, diet is approximately 70% of the health battle, the remaining 30% results from physical activity). That means the biggest factors in having well hydrated hair, are maintaining a healthy diet and ample water intake.
Ok, so how do we optimize hair moisture? When the hair is wet, the cuticle opens up and allows nutrients and vitamins to go beneath the cuticle layer and be deposited into the inner layers of hair. This is where the 30% comes in – the quality (and pH) of hair products matter! A quality hydrating shampoo and conditioner will be absorbed beneath the cuticle and cortex level to feed the hair down to the deepest layers.
There is one more critical step in maximizing hydration and moisture - sealing the hair shaft. Use of a quality oil is essential to sealing hydration in the inner layers and moisturizing the outer layer of hair. Oil will smooth your hair cuticle (think of closing the blinds on your windows) and seals the hair to allow maximum retention of nutrients absorbed in the inner layers. You cannot have one without the other…feeding your hair internally without sealing the cuticle will not give you optimal hair health and vice versa.