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If Your Natural Hair Is Too Damn Dry, Stop What You're Doing And Read These 12 Expert Tips

Find out how things like co-washing your hair, oiling your scalp, and using warm water are really affecting your coils.

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Natural hair is a beautiful thing. But caring for it can get frustrating, especially if you're dealing with dryness that just won't quit. We asked licensed cosmetologist and natural hair expert Jennifer Cherilus to help us figure it all out.

1. Do most naturals have dry hair issues or is it just me?

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Dryness is definitely a big issue because of the nature of our hair. The natural oils that our scalps produce don't slide down our hair shaft as easily as they do for people who have straight hair. So some of that oil is just sitting on the scalp, which can lead to buildup and flakiness. But there are some people who just don't produce that much natural scalp oil or sebum, which leads to dry scalp.

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2. I've stopped using shampoos and only co-wash now, so shouldn't my hair be moisturized?

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Co-washing (washing your hair with only conditioner) is a great way to rejuvenate curls or reset hair without a shampoo, but over time it may be counterproductive. Think of it like showering with lotion alone. Reapplying conditioner without a cleansing agent will leave product buildup on the hair and scalp, making it really difficult for them to absorb moisture. So I don't recommend co-washing as a replacement for your shampoo.

3. OK, so dirty hair can't really absorb moisture, but do I really have to wash my protective style?

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A lot of people will get a protective style and not follow through with cleansing and moisturizing regimens, causing that protective style to become a damaging style. When you get a protective style, you should be cleansing your scalp no later than four weeks after the installation (you should only have the style in for eight weeks, maximum, and here's why). A light shampoo would be the most effective, depending on the style. But if you absolutely do not want your style to frizz from water, you can use an astringent. However some astringents, such as Sea Breeze, contain alcohol, which tends to dry hair out. So, you’d have to immediately start your moisturization regimen again.

4. Every now and then I'll deep condition my hair. But is it necessary if I already do that at the salon too?

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A lot of people slack off on deep conditioning at home and just wait until they come into the salon. But deep conditioning at home is also important and really beneficial, especially for people with dry hair, because it leads to softer, more manageable hair over time. I'd recommend using deep conditioners that focus on moisturizing and also humectants (a humectant helps to draw moisture and humidity from the air into your hair). As for a regimen, try deep conditioning after every shampoo and and then follow that up with your personal LCO method.

5. My moisturizing regimen is actually the LOC method. That's cool, right?

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The LOC method is applying liquid, oil, and cream, in that order, but it should really be changed to LCO. Oil should be applied at the end because it's a sealant, so it locks in moisture by creating a barrier. Once you apply that oil, any additional moisture will have a really hard time penetrating that barrier because oil and water don't mix. As for liquids and creams, they're in the same family. You do need a water-based liquid, because water is the key ingredient for moisturizing your hair. Creams, on the other hand, usually have both liquid and oil.

At the end of the day, just remember that oils lock in moisture, so think of it as a final step.

6. And does it matter if I use warm or cold water while doing all this washing and conditioning?

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Each strand of hair has a cuticle layer that kind of looks like the scales on a fish. Warm water raises those scales, making it much easier for products like color, protein treatments, and conditioner to penetrate the hair. So after you've completed your cleansing and applied all of the products that need to be absorbed with warm water, you should do your final rinse with cold water. The cold water will help lay those cuticles back down to seal in color, moisture, and whatever else you applied.

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7. I've been oiling my scalp for years. Does that have any benefits?

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Oiling your scalp should be done strategically, based on how your scalp is feeling. Some people do produce very little of their own natural scalp oil or sebum, and might need to apply a little bit of extra. But remember that oil isn't a moisturizer.

That being said, there's nothing wrong with oiling your scalp, as long as you apply a light water-based mist to your scalp beforehand to make sure some moisture is getting in there. Other people already have super oily scalps and don't need to add any more. You've just got to find that right balance. But nobody should be parting their hair and oiling down their scalp every single day. That's not necessary or effective.

8. Do you have any general suggestions about how to maintain moisture throughout the day?

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If you find that your hair typically feels dry or hard, you probably need to carry a small moisturizer spray or cream to moisturize your hair in the afternoon. People are always kind of really shocked when I recommend this and feel like that's maybe doing too much, but think about it like this: Back in the '80s, our hair was long, full, moist, and moisturized. Well, during that time, a lot of African-Americans had Jheri curls, so everyone walked around and moisturized throughout the day because that was the norm.

So you might be one of those people whose hair needs constant moisturizing. It might seem impractical at first, but we all typically get at least one break throughout the day, so maybe you moisturize before work, during lunch, and at night. People who wear their hair out a lot, like in a wash-and-go style for example, might need to moisturize even more than that. Just know that it's okay.

Editor's note: Keep in mind that not all products marketed as moisturizing are actually moisturizing. Some ingredients are counterproductive and make the hair even dryer. Check out these tips on reading ingredient labels and selecting effective products.

9. But how will I even know if my hair is really moisturized?

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Your hair should normally feel soft and manageable, meaning you should be able to put your hands through your detangled hair no matter what texture it is. But when you hair's not moisturized, it's going to feel dry, hard, and brittle, as if you had old gel in your hair. It's not really going to cooperate and your styles won't set properly.

10. And is there any difference between dry hair and coarse hair?

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Dryness refers to the amount of moisture in the hair and coarseness refers to the texture or the thickness of the hair. There is a difference. So there are some people who have coarse hair and, because of the way that it feels, they assume their hair is dry. To those people, I'd say wet your hair completely, like completely saturated in the shower, and feel your hair strands. Keep that feel in mind and then continue to feel your hair as it dries. There should always feel like there's some moisture in it.

There are some people, though, who feel absolutely no moisture when their hair is 100% dry, so they should definitely spray their hair throughout the day to achieve suppleness and prevent it from drying completely. But at the end of the day, it's really about education. To really learn about your moisture levels and your texture, you should really talk to a licensed, professional natural hair expert.

11. What's the number one thing I can do to really deal with my dry hair issues?

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The most important thing people need to do for their hair is develop some kind of personal regimen (even if you go to the salon frequently). And that regimen can be as simple as cleansing and moisturizing, that's it. Decide how often you're going to cleanse and moisturize your hair and how often you're going to manipulate it and style it. Whatever your regimen looks like, make sure it addresses your hair needs and fits your lifestyle so that you can stay consistent! Because when you stay consistent, you can start to see which products and what kind of manipulation your hair responds to best. And if you're looking for a natural hairstylist, you'll be able to easily communicate with her or him because you can refer to your regimen and what you've learned.

12. Gotcha! And will that solve everything?

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There's really no "one-size-fits-all" solution for everybody. You have to feel your scalp and hair a lot and pay attention to what's going on up there. I can't say for sure that you should be spraying your hair once a day or twice a day. It all depends on so many factors, such as the health of your hair, your hairstyling preferences, your regimen, and your lifestyle.

For example, the lifestyle of an avid gym-goer is going to be different from the lifestyle of someone who doesn't go to the gym. What I tell that gym-goer to put on their scalp will probably be different from what I recommend to someone who doesn't go to the gym and also works in an office with A/C. That office person might have to use a different product and apply it during their lunch break.

So, you see, there's no secret fix. You just have to pay attention and fully educate yourself so that you when your hair's at its optimal moisturization and when it needs more. People just have to pay attention to what's going on.

This post has been edited for clarity.

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