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  • Writer's pictureJo DeSerio Jones

Moisture and hydration are not the same for hair. Confused about the differences? I was too.

Curly hair is a complex being that requires a different approach than straight hair. It is naturally dehydrated and lacks much needed moisture to bounce up and thrive. While moisture and hydration might seem like the same thing (I thought this for years), my research concluded that in fact, they are not. Let’s talk about the differences.

Water is the source of life for us as well as our hair; without it, no curly hair care routine would go well.


Hydration involves adding water, improving absorption and retention to the inner layers of the hair (cortex and medulla). Hydrating the hair isn't enough, though, as water will evaporate. 

For this reason, hydration should come first. Essentially, we need to lock that water into the hair and prevent that loss. This is the key difference.


  • hydration = moisture absorption

  • hydrators contain humectants


Since water is the source of life for us and our hair, locking it in is key. Moisture is the hair's ability to retain water. It works by sealing in water with oils to eliminate evaporation and loss of hydration. Moisturizing products target the outer (cuticle) layer, and without them, hair can become dry and brittle due to water loss. This should be done with finishing products or sealers to reduce water loss. We need to lock that water into the hair and prevent that loss. This is the crucial difference between hydration and moisture.


  • moisturization = moisture retention

  • moisturizers act as sealants or anti-humectants


Note: anti humectants are not suitable for curly hair as they will block out moisture.


So, how do you attract water to the hair? We do so with humectants.

Humectants hydrate: Think of them as the foundation; they should be applied first. Humectants attract and bind water, resulting in bouncy curls that retain their formation and are less prone to breakage.

Dry and brittle hair is a sign of curls needing humectants, often caused by the sun, heat, dry air, or low humidity, depending on climate. Hydrating would come in the form of a leave-in conditioner.

Ingredients that act as humectants include~

  • glycerin- smooths + increases shine

  • honey-good for damaged hair

  • urea- moisturizes + softens hair + scalp

  • panthenol- shine, strength, soften hair

  • aloe- strengthen + repair, may promote growth,

  • lecithin- smooth, moisturize + refortify dry, damaged, or brittle hair

  • hyaluronic acid- hydrates, plumps, equalizes high porosity hair, reduces frizz,

  • salicylic acid-alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs), such as glycolic acid and lactic acid- dandruff care, soothes, eliminated build up

  • propylene glycol- should be avoided, can cause hair loss, breakage + irritation by removing oils

  • honey- hydrates, detangles, strengthens, hair growth, antimicrobial

  • sorbitol- binds oil and water molecules together making hair nourished and healthy, locks in moisture

Both humectants + emollients promote moisture. Emollients are thicker due to oils; humectants have a thinner consistency. Emollients nourish and protect, humectants simply hydrate.

Emollients nourish + protect: think of them as sealers.

Emollients consist mostly of lipids, such as natural oils and waxes and prevent moisture loss.

They increase~

  • softness

  • hydration

  • smoothness

  • flexibility

Ingredients act as emollients include~

  • shea butter locks in moisture, provides UV protection + smooths.

  • coconut oil- can repair everyday damage, improve texture, and restore hair health, manage a dry, itchy scalp.

  • jojoba oil- can smooth, strengthen + grow hair, add shine, tame frizz.

  • castor oil- can help with hair growth, nourish + strengthen strands, protects against breakage.

  • isopropyl palmitate hydrates hair + scalp, improves elasticity + shine.



What about occlusives?  They are also sealers.

Occlusives offer protective barriers like emollients, but occlusives tend to be thicker and are waxes or oil based.

They help~

  • moisturize

  • form a protective barrier

Ingredients act as occlusives include~

  • beeswax- smooths, adds shine, locks in moisture

  • cocoa butter- high magnesium gives hair the elasticity + strength

  • carnauba wax- adds shine to hair

  • mineral oil- moisturizes + lubricates

  • petroleum jelly- barrier

  • dimethicone/ silicone- moisture + slip, can cause build up possibly leading to hair loss


Something you will hear me say over and over in the Curlcraft course is ~ "You need to know where you're going in order to get there."

The quickest way to get somewhere is to know where you are going. This holds true, whether you are cutting or styling, because it will determine your path. Since products will vary in weight due to the ingredients or oils used in them, the first thing you will need to know is whether your client wants to build volume or collapse it, because understanding this will help you moving forward without running into issues.

  •  Ask questions

  •  Determine the best path for each client

  •  Offer solutions to them

  •  Create a plan for them specifically

  •  Never stop learning!

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