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Black Hair: Moisturizers and Sebum

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Are you having trouble moisturizing your hair?

Understanding the function and chemical make up of sebum, will guide you in achieving the soft, healthy, flexible hair you always wanted.

Sebum is the body’s natural moisturizer.

Its main function is to lubricate the skin and inhibit toxic bacteria from entering the body.

What is Sebum?

what is sebum

If you are not familiar with all the componants mentioned to the LEFT; then focus on the terms you do recognize. How many of your hair products have the word wax or cholesterol mentioned on the label?

To stretch your imagination even more, what comes to mind when you see the word fat?

When I think of a substance that is high in fat, I imagine something thick and oily. Have you ever cooked bacon? Ok, back to the point!

Every substance has a complex chemical makeup that allows it to exist. For simplicity purposes, I will explain the properties of sebum as it pertains to moisturizing your hair on a daily basis.

The Obvious Questions:
How does sebum keep bacteria out? How does sebum lubricate the skin?

Quick Answers:
Sebum creates an acidic mantle over the skin that blocks bacterial invaders. Sebum is comprised of 50% water which conditions the hair and skin. It's other properties are basically keratin (protein) and oil, which lubricate the skin.

Sebum not only conditions the hair and skin on the surface; it also, blocks moisture-loss internally.

Sebum’s oily, wax-like properties cover the body and create a barrier on top of the skin that prevents water from leaving through the pores. When water leaves the body, so does--flexible, soft, supple hair and skin, which ultimately leads to unsightly dry, ashy, damaged textures.

So, Sebum's main characteristics are: it is acidic, it is oily, and it is 50% water.

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Sebum functions similar to a caulk coating on a window. Caulk along the windows keep the heat-in. Sebum along the body keep the moisture-in.

Why does sebum try to keep moisture within the hair strand?

On the skin, we have pores that allow the water to leave and cool the body when it becomes over-heated.

The hair strands, on the other hand, are made up of protein-based keratin scales. The scales (along the cuticle layer of the hair), need the water from sebum in order to move (more freely) without breaking.

Learn more about the hair cuticle, the protective layer of the hair strand.


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The Hair Strand vs. Skin in relation to Sebum:

The hair is at a disadvantage when compared to the skin in regards to how it retains moisture, for two immediate reasons.

One: The skin is alive. The hair strand is dead.
Two: The skin self-lubricates. The hair strand does not self-lubricate. The hair relies on the lubrication from the scalp.

The process of sebum leaving the pores of the scalp to lubricate the top epidermis layer of the skin is quick and easy. The scalp is quite efficient at producing adequate lubrication for the skin of the scalp.

Sebum is released by the body to condition and protect the skin and by affiliation it also protects and conditions the hair strands, which are attached to the skin.

With black, kinky, tightly curled hair, sebum can not thoroughly do its job. So, guess what? You have to pick up where sebum left-off. If you want longer, healthier, softer, prettier hair; then you will have to supplement your hair with the correct moisturizers---similar to that of sebum.

Black, Afro-textured Hair and Sebum Production:

On straight hair, regardless of ethnicity or race, sebum moves through the pores, onto the scalp, and down the entire hair strand. On curly, kinky black hair, sebum moves in the same exact manner--EXCEPT--it gets stuck between the twists, turns, and bends of our curly hair.

Kinky hair amazingly protects the scalp from the ultraviolet rays of the sun. However, kinky hair tends to be dryer than other hair types because the sebum can not effectively, and thoroughly reach the entire length of the curlier hair strands.

The hair strands are an extension of the scalp. Although the two are connected, they are intricately different in their use of sebum.

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Since sebum has a difficult time conditioning the entire hair shaft; I have dismissed it as an efficient moisturizer for our Afro-textured hair.

Waiting on the natural oil of the body to lubricate the hair, will leave you disappointed with a dry, brittle, unsightly hair texture.

Instead, learn to use hair products to mimic the functionality of sebum.

This is not a new phenomenon. Hair product manufacturers have been trying to do this for years.


Black Hair Products vs. Sebum (when moisturizing the Hair):

The ultimate goal of any hair product is to mimic--through its ingredients--the same habitat for the hair that sebum creates for the body.

The hair follicle develops within the scalp and has a sebaceous gland attached to its surface. Within the scalp, the hair follicle is secreted with sebum as it continues to develop and push through the scalp.

The habitat that sebum provides is slightly acidic, and made of 50% water. So, an ideal hair product should be slightly acidic and water-based.

When I say acidic, I am referring to the pH range of the liquid hair products you place on your hair. Do you know the pH range of your hair products?

Obvious Questions:
How to know whether or not a hair product is water-based? How to determine if a hair product is acidic?

Quick Answers:
Is Your Moisturizer Water-based?
It is extremely easy to figure out if your moisturizer is water-based. Simply flip to the back of its label and scan the ingredients list. Did you notice water as one of the ingredients? Ideally, water should be the first ingredient. When water is at the top of the list, you know that the moisturizer is predominantly water.

Quick Note:
If upon scanning your hair products, you notice petroleum as the key ingredient; do not panic. However, set those hair products to the side until you find one with water as the first ingredient.



The products with water as the first ingredient are closer to the chemistry of sebum then petroleum-based hair products. When you find hair products with water as the first ingredient keep them close.

Now, the second characteristic is the acidity of your daily moisturizers.

Is Your Hair Products the RIGHT Acidity?
The pH of sebum ranges between 4.5 - 5.5 on the pH scale.

On the skin, the slightly acidic sebum helps to kill bacterial invaders that try to enter the body.

On the hair, sebum creates an acidic mantle that helps the protective layer of the hair (the cuticle) to seal shut and prevent moisture from leaving the hair.

Unlike skin, hair is dead; therefore, bacterial invaders are not a threat to its health (preservation). However, moisture-loss and dryness is a huge threat to the preservation of the hair strand.

If the hair strands are not well-preserved, they WILL NOT reveal length. If you do not moisturize your hair identical to --or at least--similar to that of sebum; then you will experience dry hair that will become damaged and ultimately experience breakage.

Learn how to determine if your moisturizer is within the right pH.


Ingredients that are UNLIKE Sebum:

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Believe it or not, most of the ingredients that you find within hair products are not components within sebum.

For instance, petroleum, mineral oil, vitamins, preservatives, fragrance, silicones, and even protein are not elements found within sebum.

Such ingredients, generally, provide a thick coating over the hair shaft, but can not and do not moisturize the hair.

Moisturizing the hair involves making the hair move easily--CREATES FLEXIBILITY.

The hair strand is most pliable when the water-bonds within the cortex are broken. Only a liquid substance, made with water, can alter the water-bonds within the hair strand; thus creating flexibility.

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Coating the Hair Strands vs. Moisturizing the Hair Strands:

Hair products that merely coat the hair are simply creating the illusion of conditioned, flexible hair. The soft, silky, shiny texture that oils and silicones provide results from them covering the hair strand like a coat. You are essentially experiencing the texture of the hair product, not the texture of your hair.

Imagine: washing your hands--then without adding lotion-- you put on cotton gloves; and then touch your naked arm. While the gloves are on-- your touch will feel soft; but as soon as you remove them, the surface of your hands will be dry, and brittle, from lack of adequate moisturizing.

In reality, this is what the hair strand encounters when you ONLY use hair products that are heavily oil-based and/or high in silicones. Your sense of touch may be fooled by such ingredients, but your hair strands are not. Underneath the oils and plastic coats of silicones, the hair strands could be starving for moisture and dangerously dry.

hair-products-coatOils, protein, and silicones all coat the hair. We all know that there is a time and place to put on a coat. And there are situations where you need room to breathe.

The hair strands need to have the capacity to breathe and to gain the water contents from your moisturizers.

The good news is: most sealants are removed upon shampooing. But be aware of the staying-power of silicones. They are not easily rinsed away and could continue to linger on the hair strand even after applying shampoo.

Why are stubborn silicones detrimental to moisturizing the hair strand?
If a silicone coat is not removed; then the hair strand could suffocate and become severely dry.

Remember, the goal of sealants is to prevent moisture-loss.

As these products wrap around the hair strand and create a barrier that prevents water from leaving the hair; they also, block the water from your daily moisturizers from entering the hair strand.

How to ensure that silicones and other sealants are appropriately removed?
Pay attention to your hair. Does it look stiff ...dull...dry...brittle? Does there appear to be a white cast over your hair? Does it look dingy?

If you have noticed any of the above conditions within your hair, then you could have been suffering from product-build-up.

Product-build-up occurs when you are continuously adding more substances onto the hair strands without adequately removing the ingredients (through cleansing the hair) from previous hair products.

Again, the hair strands need room to breath and take in more moisture.

Allowing hair products to compile onto the hair strand not only suffocates the hair strands; they can also, weigh the hair down and cause it to break.

How to prevent product-build-up?
Examine your hair and ensure that it is clean and flexible. Hair that suffers from product build-up is less flexible because the heavy particles prevent the hair from moving.

Cleanse your hair thoroughly and regularly.

hair-products-stopBut wait one Second...
Now, do not go and throw out all of your oils, silicones, and protein-based hair products.

Although they are not moisturizers, they can support the outside layer of the hair (cuticle) in resisting friction and dryness--ONLY WHEN a water-based moisturizer is applied first.

Connecting the Dots:
A winter coat can protect your immune system from breaking-down and becoming vulnerable to sickness.

Likewise, oils, protein, and silicones can cover the protective layer of the hair (cuticle) shaft; and act as a first-line-of-defense against friction and weathering of the cuticle layer of the hair strand.

As your hair becomes older, it begins to weather. Tension from brushing, combing, burns from heating appliances, and/or over-processing with chemicals can speed up the weathering process of the hair.

The older and more damaged your hair becomes, the more you will need to use hair products that coat the hair in addition to a water-based moisturizer.

Using the right acidic, water-based moisturizer coupled with an oil-based sealant is an important step within attaining healthy, long, beautiful hair.

Remember, your goal should be to mimic sebum, which is essentially oil and water.

Oils, silicones, and protein are called sealants because they seal-in moisture and prevent it from evaporating into the air. Keep in mind, sealants do not contain water molecules and thus are not effective moisturizers for the hair which is dead and desperate for water from the environment.

With black hair--as your hair becomes longer; it becomes increasingly difficult for sebum to move along the entire hair shaft.

Selecting a good moisturizer is one of the most important steps to being successful at your hair goals. Understanding the key characteristics of sebum, the body’s natural moisturizer, will set you straight on your path to soft, flexible hair.

A great moisturizer can range from faucet water with a dab of apple cider vinegar to a pH balanced leave-in conditioner formulated by your favorite hair product line.

There are thousands of options to choose from.

The interesting thing about the hair-care industry is that many of the ingredients are recycled. Also, many of such ingredients have little value to the strength, length, and flexibility of hair.

There is little evidence supporting the effectiveness of vitamins, and other food-related ingredients on the hair. This is why I stress the significance of water and acidity within your hair products.

I want you to focus on the water content and acidity because this is where hair products are successful at mimicking sebum.

Preservation of the Hair Strand through Moisturizing:

Hair is dead; therefore, it can not be nourished--only preserved. Think about it: how does one preserve a dead body? You prevent it from dying up and breaking apart.

How does one prevent something dead from drying up? You add water to it.

Yes, hair is dead and does not use water for livelihood. Water is important to hair ONLY for cleansing and creating flexibility. When hair is flexible, it will bounce-back rather than break-off when confronted with friction. Hair can resist friction from the environment when it is clean and flexible.

Friction can cause dry hair to break just as the contents of dried-out bones will break apart when roughly touched, bumped, and/or rubbed-up against. Hair is as dead as a doornail. The quicker one accepts this fact; the more practical one’s expectations will be regarding hair-care and hair maintenance.

5-Things you MUST Remember When Moisturizing Black Hair:

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