Establishing and maintaining a proper moisture/protein balance in our hair is vital to the success of any hair care regimen, and it is key to fighting hair breakage. With every hair product you use, it will tip your hair one way or the other on the moisture/protein balance scale. Several things can cause hair breakage; however, the two more common causes of hair breakage are moisture and protein deficiency. Each type needs to be handled accordingly and evaluated on its own merits and may require a different approach and product selection strategy to bring it under control.
Moisture and protein imbalances within the hair fiber can be brought on by improper product usage and regular manipulation (whether self-inflicted or by chemical processes). We must make informed hair product selections for making the moisture/protein balancing process to work; we need a multi-product strategy to address our hair’s needs. Knowing the moisture/protein nature of products will be extremely helpful when it’s time to rotate hair products in your regimen. Product rotation is required, and experimentation is vital to mastering it.
What Is Hygral Fatigue?
Hygral fatigue occurs when the hair swells from repeated and excessive swelling and deswelling of the hair cuticle when it takes on water, continually wetting hair before it is thoroughly dried, and or the overuse of rich deep conditioning treatments or moisturizing products. It is often associated with porosity issues. The process of hair expansion in wet conditions and contraction under dry conditions is both stressful and damaging to the hair fiber over time.
Hygral Fatigue earned its definition from the term “hygral expansion.” It is described as:
“Hygral expansion measurements of woven wool fabrics are influenced by the way in which wet fabric, after relaxation in water, is dried. If the wet fabric is dried directly in an oven, the hygral expansion values are relatively low, but if the fabric is allowed to dry under ambient conditions before oven drying, the values are relatively high (and closer to the "true" values). An interlaboratory trial conducted using thirteen commercial worsted fabrics includes a statistical analysis of different methods for determining the magnitude of hygral expansion. The fabric drying conditions have an important bearing on the magnitude of the dry dimension, and this, in turn, influences the hygral expansion value obtained.” (Hygral Expansion of Woven Wool Fabrics)
There is a difference between hygral fatigue and over-conditioned hair— if you are not exposing your hair to extensive amounts of water, your hair is merely over-conditioned.
Here’s a further breakdown according to the nerdy curl girl:
- Is hygral fatigue an interchangeable term for over-conditioning? No.
- If you are over-conditioned, are you also experiencing hygral fatigue? No.
- Is your hair also over-conditioned while it’s hygral fatigued? Yes! (Hence the confusion!)
The nerdy curly explains that “People who are experiencing both may present with similar symptoms: the cause and reasonings are extremely different.”
“...perpetually moisturizing with water (a main moisturizing agent) and conditioning agent while your hair is a fragile state. It’s often why you may notice hair breakage — especially in the nape area which is generally the area most likely to break due to friction. The excessive hydration has left your hair unable to soak in nutrients, weakened, and in need of being balanced.”
Before protein-deficiency breakage occurs, your hair will give you several warning signs.
Signs Of Hygral Fatigue:
- Hair will feel limp and have a gummy feeling when wet and will stretch considerably in this weak state before breaking (it will almost feel like your hair will disintegrate. This is an indication that the structural protein elements of the hair are deficient and can’t properly balance the elasticity level in the hair)
- Excessive frizzing, hair is not retaining moisture and feels porous
- Curls do not curl or hold styles well
- No weight
- In severe cases- breakage
How to Combat Hygral Fatigue & Keep Your Hair Balanced
You must learn to recognize the difference between moisture-based and protein-based imbalances, which will help you organize your hair care regimen more effectively when or if the issue arises. And understanding the difference between moisture/protein products and what they do for your hair is key to stopping breakage and achieving healthy hair. The unique relationship that exists between moisture and protein within your hair is not merely a case of balancing one opposing force over the other. Instead, moisture and protein work together synergistically to produce healthy hair.
A strong preference toward either moisture or protein, without sufficient balance, always results in breakage. Breakage is the result of the hair’s chemistry thrown off balance. Keeping the hair balanced between these two entities is crucial to maintain the condition of your hair. Achieving the proper moisture/protein balance involves using the right combination of moisture/protein products for your hair type at the RIGHT time.
Beating Hygral fatigue is all about maintaining the innate protein structure of the hair shaft. If the protein structure is intact, the hair fiber will resist excessive expansion when wet. Ensuring a proper protein structure through timely protein conditioning treatment is essential. Some proteins are better suited for reinforcing the hair’s infrastructure, while others are better at supporting the hair’s elasticity.
Note: The moisture/protein balance requirements and product selection will vary from hair to hair- If you choose products based on what someone else uses, your hair may not respond well because your hair is different from theirs. These regimens are also flexible. You can gauge the products you currently own by analyzing the ingredients list to determine where they would fit into your regimen.
Levels Of Breakage & Corrective Steps:
Protein-deficiency breakage is pretty simple to correct. As you follow these steps, you must pay attention to and evaluate your hair at each step because your hair’s condition may correct itself in the first one or two steps of the regimen; thus it may be unnecessary to follow the regimen from beginning to end. You may also need to adjust the conditioning times to reap the best benefits.
Conditioning needs depends on your own level of breakage, prior treatments, specific product use, and level of hair porosity. I cannot stress enough that you need to learn how to read the cues your hair gives you.
If your breakage is light, a protein-based conditioner or deep conditioner will do (this type of breakage is typically corrected with one protein deep conditioning session). You can also use light conditioners or leave-ins with protein.
Product Suggestions: Aubrey Organics Glycogen Protein Balancing Conditioner, Aveda Remedy Conditioner, or the Curls Hair Solutions Silk Protein Deep Moisturizing Treatment. If your breakage is on the moderate side, a mild protein reconstructor like the Curl Junkie Repair Me, or Aphogee Two-Minute Reconstructor will work best (once or twice a week). If your hair is breaking a lot, you need an intense protein reconstructor treatment like the Aphogee Two-Step Protein Treatment or Affirm 5 in 1 Reconstructor.Researchers discovered that using polar oils such as coconut oil protects the fiber against hygral fatigue. Pre-poo oil treatment with coconut oil (use for a few hours up until overnight, depending on your hair). If your hair does not like coconut oil, try another penetrating oil like grapeseed or sunflower. Penetrating oils will cut back on "waterlogging."
To support the deepest penetration of protein, you must first wash with a low-level sulfate shampoo or a clarifying shampoo to lift products from the hair.
Product Suggestions: Kinky Curly Come Clean or Suave Essentials Daily Clarifying Shampoo. Depending on the intensity level of breakage (mentioned above), apply a protein-rich deep conditioner/reconstructor/protein treatment as directed on the instructions. Rinse with cool water. As you feel your hair begins to strengthen, you can then start incorporating more moisturizing products.
The Nerdy Curly Girl. J TRI/Princeton, Princeton, N. Journal of Cosmetic Science. 2001 May-Jun;52(3):169-84. NCBI