Here you are in a lovely spring morning. Winter mornings have faded and the beautiful warmth of sunshine has invaded your life. "What a lovely temperature!", you think to yourself. You decide to check the temperature forecast in your weather app and wear something more appropriate for this lovely warm day, but change nothing about your curly hair products. You leave the house to go to work wearing a fresh crown of washed curls, which look stunning, only to look in the mirror at the end of the day and find that your curls are frizzy, undefined and all over the place. "What could have gone wrong?", you ask yourself.

Lorraine Massey says that "curls are natural weather barometers" and she is so right! Curls change with the weather, and in order to keep them well defined, we need to come up with ways to retain good moisture and hydration. As dew points change with the shifting of seasons, this means that your curly hair routine will need some tweaks as well, just like your clothing choices do. What worked for your hair in winter won't necessarily work in summer.

With the permission of Wendy (scientist) of The Hair Science-y Blog, I am going to share with you some of the things that I have learned with her, which have worked for me across different seasons.

Dew Points

Dew points are the accurate measurements of the moisture present in the air. They tell you how moist or dry the air is. If you are going to rely on any measurement for your choice of hair products, you will need to look out for dew points in your weather app, because curls are naturally attracted to moisture.

When dew points are:

  • Below 50°F (10°C) - the air is dry.
  • Between 50-59°F (10-15°C) - this is considered "comfortable range".
  • Above 60°F (15°C) - the air is humid.

Woman with curly brown hair wearing a fur hooded jacket

Photo courtesy of @spisha

If the air is dry (below dew points of 50°F/10°C):

Avoid breakage and knots by adding flexibility to your hair.

You can do this with deep conditioning, leaving some conditioner in your hair when you wash ("Conditioner is for the hair what water is for the body", Lorraine Massey says) and by using oils, fatty alcohols and film-forming humectants.

  • If your hair tolerates oils, use a small amount of natural ones (coconut, avocado, pumpkin seed, etc).
  • Some examples of fatty alcohols in ingredient lists are:
    • Lauryl alcohol
    • Cetyl alcohol
    • Myristyl alcohol
    • Stearyl alcohol
    • Cetearyl alcohol
    • Behenyl alcohol

If you're going to use a humectant in extremely dry weather (dew points below 33°F/1°C), opt for a film-forming one, because simple humectants (glycerine, propylene glycol or sorbitol) may create friction, make the hair feel dry and look dull in such circumstances. If you can't avoid simple humectants altogether, opt for products that have simple humectants close to the end of the ingredient list. Film-forming humectants are great during dry seasons because they form flexible films that retain water in your hair.

  • Here are some examples of useful film-forming humectants which you can find in ingredient lists:
    • Flaxseed
    • Okra
    • Aloe Vera
    • Hydroxyethylcellulose
    • Pectin
    • Xanthan Gum
    • Guar Gum
    • Marshmallow Root
    • Slippery Elm
    • Carrageenan (also known as Irish moss or seaweed extract, sea emollient, sea algae, sea vegetable)
    • Nettle leaf tea
    • Nettle extract
    • Panthenol
    • Hydroxypropyltrimonium honey

Some examples of styling products which contain film-forming humectants are:

When the air is within comfortable range (dew points between 50-59°F/10-15°C):

Use a balance of ingredients.

You can still use film-forming humectants, fatty alcohols and even some simple humectants! Continue to keep your curls hydrated with balanced amounts of conditioner and styling products. This is the most comfortable range for curls.

Women with wavy hair walking through field of corn

Photo courtesy of @curlsandbeautydiaries

Dealing with humid air (dew points above 60°F/15°C):

When the air isn't humid in an exaggerated way, your curly hair may be more defined and bouncy, because it's hydrated by the water that is present in the air. However, as humidity levels continue to rise, you may notice a loss in curl pattern, a lot of frizz or lack of volume. This is because your hair may be absorbing too much water, resulting in cuticle disruption.

To counter-act high levels of humidity, you will need to leave less conditioner in your hair (at this point they will be too heavy), focus on light-weight moisture and use humidity-resistant ingredients in your gel or mousse to provide a strong hold.

  • These are humidity-resistant ingredients to look for in your mousse/gel:
    • Polyquaternium-69
    • Polyamide-1
    • Polyquaternium-72
    • Polyquaternium-11
    • Polyquaternium-10
    • Polyquaternium-4
    • PVA/VP Copolymer
    • VP/DMAPA Acrylates Copolymer
    • Polyacrylate acid
    • Polyacrylate-2 Crosspolymer

These are some examples of light-weight styling products that are suitable for humid weather:

Here are some mousse/gel options that contain the humidity-resistant ingredients mentioned above:

The Meaning Behind Ingredients

To finish off, I would like to share with you my five little secrets for knowing the meanings behind ingredient names and gauging if a certain product might be suitable for your hair before hitting the "purchase" button.

Before purchasing a product, I think about the fact that my hair is low to normal porosity and coarse in width. Then, I look up what the function of each ingredient is in comparison to what my hair needs at the time and write down my findings in a notebook. This healthy habit has saved me a lot of money over the past year because I am no longer spending money on products that are unsuitable for my hair and the season I am in.

These have been my five secrets:

  1. Have a hair analysis with Wendy (scientist). Having an analysis done with her was crucial for me, because she told me the exact width and porosity levels of my curls. With your analysis results, she will also send you helpful files with suitable ingredients for your hair and another educational file that explains what ingredients mean.
  2. Research ingredients at Wendy's Hair Science-y Blog. Her blog's search button function is great for this and her page is filled with reliable information, for free.
  3. Research ingredients at the Natural Haven Bloom page. This is another amazing reliable resource for ingredients and hair science in general.
  4. Lookup ingredient names at EWG's Skin Deep Cosmetics Database. This page is amazing and extremely easy to use. Besides listing what the functions of ingredients are, they also give you a hazard score.
  5. Use Paula's Choice Ingredient Dictionary. This page is simple to use and has a lot of information about the functions of certain ingredients.

A change in seasons doesn't have to be a struggle for your curly hair routine. In the same way that we change our clothing choices for each season of the year, we also need to tweak our curly hair product choice, based on ingredients and not label claims. It is very possible to read a list of ingredients in a product and know with certainty if you'll need it. If I can do this, you can too!

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