Wondering how to hydrate hair and get your tresses back to a bouncy, shiny state? If you’re dealing with dull, brittle hair, you may be wondering if there’s hope. Good news: with a little know-how and the right ingredients, you can help bring your hair back to life. Read on for hair care habits that may help keep your hair hydrated and smooth.
Understanding Hair Structure
To understand how hair hydration works, it helps to understand the basics of hair structure. Your hair consists of two main parts: hair follicles and the hair shaft. The hair shaft is mostly made up of keratin. It has three layers:
- Medulla: The innermost layer of the shaft, the medulla is a soft, spongy area of tissue. Typically, coarse hair has this layer and fine hair may not.
- Cortex: This layer consists of long protein fibers called keratin. These hair proteins are coiled together, like an old-fashioned phone cord. This layer provides the hair’s strength, color, and texture.
- Cuticle: The outermost layer is made of flattened cells that overlap like shingles on a roof. Hair cuticles protect the cortex layer.1
Your body has a natural system for maintaining the health of your cuticle: sebum. Sebum, or natural oil, is produced near your hair follicles. This substance naturally fills in the gaps between cuticle cells and helps keep your hair shiny and flexible.2
What Does Dry Hair Look Like?
With dry hair, the outer cuticle layer may be damaged, cracked, or partially worn away. Without protection from hair cuticles, the inner cortex fibers can also end up damaged. This can show up as:
- Dull hair
- Frizzy hair
- Split ends
- Brittle hair3
Possible Causes Of Dry Hair
- Excessive sun exposure
- Nutritional deficiency
- Hair dye and bleach
- Heat styling from blow-drying, curling, or hair straighteners
- Damage from styling products
- Excessive hair washing
- Disrupted sebum production4
Hair Hydration Vs. Moisturization
While similar, hair “hydration” and “moisture” refer to different things.
- Hair that needs hydration typically has an issue with the inner cortex layer of the hair. The protein structure may be damaged. Dehydration may cause hair to break easily and lack bounce.
- Hair that needs moisture may have an issue with the outer cuticle of the hair shaft. Hair may feel rough and frizzy.5,6
In both of these scenarios, hair will feel dry. If hair needs hydration, it likely also needs moisture and vice versa. Hydration and moisture work hand in hand, but they are not exactly the same thing.
Hair Hydration Products help:
- Saturate hair with moisture from the inside out.
- Add water and other nutrients to the innermost layer of your hair.
- Typically contain humectants that let water in and help it reach the core of a strand of hair.
- Often have high water content.
Hair Moisturizing Products help:
- Strengthen hair
- Smooth down the outermost layer of hair to help make it soft.
- Typically contain emollients and oils that help repel water in order to seal moisture in.
- Work best after the use of a hair hydration product to help prolong the effects.7
Healthy hair needs both hydration and moisture to live its best life. When you keep your hair hydrated, you’ll potentially help reduce the occurrence of split ends and keep your hair shiny and smooth.
Hair Types That Might Need Extra Hydration
Every hair type can benefit from hydration. Curly hair, natural hair, and textured hair can especially benefit, as these hair types tend to be more dry.8
How To Hydrate Your Hair
Make Dietary Changes
One of the best answers for how to hydrate natural hair is to be deliberate about what nutrients you consume. What you put into your body plays a big role in the health of your hair. Here are some ideas on what to incorporate into your diet to help optimize hydration.
- Plenty of water
- Fatty fish, like sardines, salmon, and mackerel
- Kidney beans9
Reach For Products With Moisturizing Ingredients
When your hair is damaged, it may become porous, which can lead to moisture loss. If this is your situation, you’ll want to pick up products that help your hair retain moisture. Water might be first on this list, but you’ll also want a mix of humectants and emollients. Here are a few ingredients to look for.
- Coconut oil
- Avocado oil
- Olive oil
- Aloe Vera
- Shea butter10
- Use Hydrating Masks
If you haven’t added a hair mask to your hair care routine yet, you may want to start. Conditioning masks may help with damage, infuse moisture, and make hair smooth and shiny. While there are plenty of great hair masks available to purchase, you can also DIY this. Here are some ideas.
- Coconut oil mask: Apply a few tablespoons of coconut oil to damp hair, let it sit, rinse, and then shampoo.
- Mix milk and honey: Both contain proteins and other nutrients that may help support your hair’s inner structure.
- Use a small amount of butter to keep hair smooth and shiny. Massage it in, let it sit, and then wash as usual.11,12
Show Your Scalp Some Love
If you’re going the extra mile to hydrate your hair, don’t overlook your scalp. Consider a scalp treatment that delivers nourishing ingredients to your roots. Many salons offer nourishing options.13
Pick Up A Hair Serum
Hair serums can help reduce frizz and amp up shine. They may be particularly useful in areas of high humidity or for those with natural curls. Serums typically coat the outermost layer of your hair to help protect it from damage.14
Try Hair Oils
If you’re wondering how to hydrate natural hair, the answer may be hair oil. Hair oils act as emollients that help lock water in and prevent moisture loss. If you have the type of hair texture that tends to frizz, a few pumps of oil may be especially effective for you. Try one of the following:
- Sweet almond oil
- Jojoba oil
- Coconut oil
- Castor oil
- Marula oil
- Grapeseed oil
- Olive oil15
Dry Hair Gently
Take it easy on wet hair. Instead of roughly rubbing damp hair with a towel, wrap it up in a terry cloth towel for a few minutes post-shower. This can help absorb water and protect it from further damage.16
Try A Hair Supplement
Depending on what your hair needs, a hair supplement may be able to help.17 Just make sure to consult your doctor before making any changes to your diet.
Take Preventative Measures
You may be able to prevent further hair dehydration by changing some habits that may be drying out your hair.
- Avoid hair dye and bleach if possible.
- Turn down the heat setting on styling tools, like your hairdryer, curling iron, or straightener.
- Limit sun exposure, especially during the heat of summer. Consider wearing a hat or headscarf when you’re out in the sun.
- Limit contact with chlorinated swimming pools.
- Avoid washing hair too frequently.
- Wash with cold or warm water instead of hot water to protect your cuticles.
- Use mild, sulfate-free shampoo.
- Avoid brushing wet hair.
- Trim hair frequently to prevent split ends.18
If leave-in conditioners and other hair care products haven’t worked to revive your dry hair, you may need to hydrate it from the inside out. Seek out hydrating ingredients, apply hydrating masks, and when in doubt, ask your hair stylist for help. Beautiful, hydrated hair could be just around the corner for you. And once you achieve it – don’t forget to protect it.