British Curlies - All About Naturally Beautiful Curls
Your curls are popping and you need to share. You decide to go out to show off your curls, even if only at the local Tesco's. You catch yourself in a shiny pillar, and you are horrified to see your hair has turned into a huge puff of hair, more frizz than curl. The shine you were admiring at home has turned to dullness, it feels like straw - oh, and look, you've managed to get a bit of pollen in it as well. Fantastic.
Every curly has had this happen to them - but why does it happen? A great hair day indoors can turn into a bad hair day in seconds the moment we step out of our house - and it's all down to the weather.
Many curlies over at NC.com have posted both topics and their own blog entries about the relationship between weather and curls (see useful reading, below), but this is largely from an American point of view. UK weather is very different to that in the US: it's much less extreme, and fairly consistent. We don't have the extreme highs of Arizona or lows of North Dakota, the extreme high humidity of Florida or absolute dryness of New Mexico. Our summers aren't excessively warm, and while they're damp, they're not hot enough to create a real humidity problem; our winters are actually quite humid in general, keeping the dew point high enough to stop it from ‘feeling’ dry. All of this makes for a very unusual climate where hair is concerned for three reasons: a fairly temperate range of temperatures, high relative humidity, and a mid-range dew point all year long for much of the country.
There are a bunch of words in that paragraph that need defined before we move on.
Temperature, for the purposes of this article, is the actual level of warmth in the air. Humidity is how much water is in the air at any given time. Sometimes you can actually feel this when you walk outside: a humid day in summer feels sticky. Relative humidity, what we see in weather forecasts, is expressed as a percentage of this total amount of water that the air can 'hold'. Dew point is the temperature at which the water in the air forms into dew . In high humidity, the dew point is closer to the actual temperature; in low humidity, the dew point will be well below the actual temperature. Note that the dew points in this article are in Fahrenheit. You can find out the current dew point for your area at http://uk.weather.com.
Now, this is relevant to hair for a very simple reason: all hair loses moisture to some extent, and this moisture loss is due in part to the environment the head it's attached to is in. Where this causes problems is when humectants (water-loving ingredients in products, such as glycerin, aloe, and honey) are used. The most important issue here is dew point.
What happens is that the water-loving (‘hydrophilic’) ingredients in these products 'seek out' water . They are literally thirsty, and will get water from wherever they can find it. This is a boon in middle dew points (40-55): there is just enough water in the air to satiate these ingredients, and this action helps keep hair feeling moisturized which is why many hair and skin care products use these ingredients . In extremely dry or humid weather, however, this can be catastrophic for some curlies: in dry weather, these ingredients will pull water from your hair (it is the moistest thing around). In humid weather, humectants will become greedy and pull excess moisture from the humid surroundings. Both ultra high and ultra low dew points can cause frizz, while low dew points and too many humectants can cause dryness, and high dew points and too many humectants can cause undue stress on the cuticle (due to it absorbing too much water) . This is why you often hear curlies in America and other areas with extreme climates saying they don't use glycerin in winter or summer, as it can cause problems due to the relative humidity and dew point at that time. But this is not generally an issue for Curlies here in the UK most of the time, but is good to know for when going on holiday and in the rare circumstances when the UK experiences extreme weather.
In the UK, we're lucky: in general, our dew point is fairly consistent year round, ranging between 40 and 60 in general throughout the country . This is the dew point ‘sweet spot’, where there’s not so much moisture in the air that a humectant will get greedy and take on too much moisture from the air, nor too little so that a humectant will turn to the moisture in the hair . This, coupled with the lack of extreme heat or cold, literally creates the perfect climate for curls.
This doesn't mean that dew point and humidity won't affect your curls: overusing humectants at any point can be problematic, and the UK does occasionally get extremely low dew points (though this is generally short-lived). Some people's hair is simply extremely sensitive to humidity. The best thing to do is to know if your hair likes humectants and use them according to the dew point. Humectant sensitivity can often look like other sensitivities or problems, but in high dew points it exhibits as a tendency to frizz out during the day (worse when using humectants), and in low dew points as a tendency to dry out through the day (again, worse when actually using humectants). It is important to note that these are not one-off events, but a consistent trend over several days. It’s worth switching up products for a period if you suspect a sensitivity as humectant sensitivity often looks a lot like other things (a lack of moisture overall, a need for a harder hold gel, a need for more protein, etc.). If humectants are the culprit, then it is worth avoiding them in extreme dew points. If they cause you problems at ‘middle’ dew points (45-55), then it may be worth avoiding them altogether.
Some examples of humectants are :
• Glycerin (glycerine, vegetable glycerine)
• Propylene glycol
• Panthenol (vitamin B5)
Other ingredients that act as humectants (but also have other properties) are:
• Agave nectar
• Aloe Vera
• Flax seed gel
Humectant-heavy products include Curl Junkie’s BeautiCurls conditioner, Bee Mine Be Hold Curly Butter, Jessicurl Gelebration Spray, and Kinky-Curly Curling Custard. Anything with a humectant high in the ingredients list may cause humectant issues in high/low dew points or for those sensitive to humectants. Luckily for Curlies here in the UK, these products can be used almost year round unless there is an underlying sensitivity to them or there is unusually cold/hot weather.
The take-away message here is that weather is an important factor to consider when looking at hair products. It can cause the effectiveness of a product to change from day to day or season to season. Though the UK has fairly consistent weather as far as humidity and dew point are concerned, we very occasionally get extreme variation and thus understanding how the weather interacts with the ingredients in our products helps us to pick the appropriate product for a great hair day, everyday.
Useful reading/ Bibliography
Becker, Tonya McKay. ‘Humidity, Humectants and Hair.’ Naturally Curly.com. URL: http://www.naturallycurly.com/curlreading/curl-products/curlchemist-humidity-humectants-and-hair. Accessed 6 December 2010.
Becker, Tonya McKay. ‘Humidity, Humectants, and the Dew Point.’ NaturallyCurly.com. URL: http://www.naturallycurly.com/curlreading/curl-products/humidity-humectants-and-the-dew-point. Accessed 6 December 2010.
Becker, Tonya McKay. ‘What Are Humectants?’ NaturallyCurly.com. URL: http://www.naturallycurly.com/curlreading/curl-products/curlchemist-what-are-humectants. Accessed 6 December 2010.
Coulton, Marsha. ‘How to Prevent Your Curls from Drying Out?’ Curl Junkie Blog. URL: http://curljunkie.blogspot.com/2010/09/how-to-prevent-your-curls-from-drying.html. Accessed 6 December 2010.
Coulton, Marsha. ‘Oh No… Frizzies!’ Curl Junkie Blog. URL: http://curljunkie.blogspot.com/2009/04/oh-nofrizzies.html. Accessed 6 December 2010.
‘Dew Point vs. Humidity.’ NaturallyCurly.com. URL: http://www.naturallycurly.com/curltalk/showthread.php?t=43942. Accessed 6 December 2010.
‘Dew Points.’ Pittsburg Curly. URL: http://pittsburghcurly.wordpress.com/dew-points/. Accessed 6 December 2010.
‘Knights of the Aloe Vera Roundtable.’ No-Poo Jillipoo. URL: http://jillipoo.blogspot.com/2009/08/knights-of-aloe-vera-roundtable.html. Accessed 6 December 2010.
‘Moisture Issue: Glycerin is Your Friend.’ The Natural Haven. URL: http://thenaturalhaven.blogspot.com/2010/03/moisture-issue-glycerin-is-your-friend.html. Accessed 6 December 2010.
‘Moisture Issue: Glycerin – The Science Bit.’ The Natural Haven. URL: http://thenaturalhaven.blogspot.com/2010/03/moisture-issue-glycerin-science-bit.html. Accessed 6 December 2010.
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