Film-Forming Humectants: Nature's Secret to Long Lasting Moisture
May 9th, 2019
By now, I think it’s safe to say that everybody and their mother is familiar with the LOC method for moisturising kinky/curly/textured hair. This widely accepted method prescribes that when moisturising afro hair, one should begin with a Leave-in/Liquid first, and then layer on an Oil, followed by a Cream to seal (or vice versa depending on preference and hair type). Like many others, I too, have subscribed to this method over the course of my healthy hair journey, and for the most part it has served me well. I will say, however, that using this method on my hair type was never without its shortcomings.
I have normal-high porosity hair. And at 20+ inches of length (and growing), I can safely say my hair is closer to the high end of the porosity scale than the normal end. And, as grateful as I remain for the LOC method and how much sense it makes (in theory), in practice, it has never seemed to deliver the kind of lasting moisturising results my hair wants. Heck, needs.
Over time, and with a lot of research and experimentation, I discovered what I’ve experienced to be an alternative and in some ways superior (yet complementary) method to the LOC method. In all my research, all roads lead to one group of magic ingredients.
Plant Gels. Or more broadly put, film-forming humectants.
What are Film-Forming Humectants & What makes them such superior moisturisers?
Now, I know most of us are already familiar with humectants and their water attracting properties. But film-forming humectants are plant extracts that, unlike glycerin or honey, do not only actively grab onto water when it is present in the atmosphere, but also trap it within the flexible film it coats your hair in, making it difficult for water to pass through, allowing it to resist dehydration. The reason for this being that these plant extracts are significantly more complex in their chemistry than your standard humectant. The presence of these additional molecules are what allows them more room to store impressive amounts of the water they attract.
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How do they benefit different hair types?
High porosity Hair - typically struggles to hold on to moisture/ feels dry even though you use oil or lots of (leave-in) conditioner. The film the plant gel creates over high porosity hair essentially cocoons each strand with a strongly water attracting and holding layer that lasts for dayyyysss. This way, your hair can maintain the same level of juiciness throughout the week without having to layer multiple products every single day.
Let’s put it this way. Have you ever wondered how aloe vera, a desert plant, can thrive and be so succulent in a dry climate? If this film-forming humectant can keep an entire plant hydrated and nourished in an environment that is almost entirely devoid of water, consider the wonders these humectants can do for hair that needs help retaining moisture.
Fine & Low Porosity Hair - The film that plant gels leave on the hair are extremely lightweight when compared to a lot of multi-ingredient products on the market. This is especially great for hair that is easily weighed down by products (i.e. fine hair), and low porosity hair that struggles with products sitting on top of the hair.
Hair that is prone to tangles - Plant gels are suuuuper slippery. And to us textured haired folk, slip is golden. The level of slip you’d get from using plant gels will significantly cut down your detangling and styling time, as well as minimize breakage that occurs as a result of manipulation. So, they can also help you along on your length retention goals.
Dull Hair - To top it all off, film-forming humectants create a flexible smooth clear film on the hair, that does not only leave your hair smooth to the touch (even when dry) but also reflects light well and creates the appearance of natural shine.
Not like we needed any more reasons to love them, but they also mix well with other ingredients, so you can use them in addition to your favourite oils & butters. While the oils and butters will create a waterproof barrier to slow water loss from your hair, a plant gel will assist the oils in this as well as offer a strong water-attracting layer.
Common Film-Forming Humectants & Where to find them
I have starred the easily attainable ones that are “gel/mucous” producing
The good news is, many of these are easily available in supermarkets or online in their raw plant form. So, for those of you who are avid DIY-ers, experimenting with these ingredients will be a dream - whether you decide to work with just one or make a cocktail of gels from a few of them. If you’re just not about that life then you can also find them in cleansers, conditioners, leave-ins, and even styling products. If you want the tangible benefits of these humectants, however, be sure to pick up leave-on products that contain the plant gels especially, or better yet, products with them higher up in the ingredients list, or with an ingredients list that is largely made up of them.
How to use them for your hair type
It’s always a good idea to start off with clean hair that has already been deep conditioned, however, you can also follow this exact method at any time, provided your hair doesn’t already have much product on it.
If you have high porosity hair that has the tendency to take on more water than it needs or can handle, you may want to soak up any excess water from your hair first with a microfibre towel or cotton t-shirt. But, regardless of your hair type, the goal is to start with ever so slightly damp hair so as not to dilute/water-down the benefits of the plant gel you will be using. Particularly their slip and frizz minimising properties.
Step 1: Apply plant gel(s) or plant gel based commercially available product of your choice
If you have a dense head of hair don’t be afraid to use enough to coat the entire section you are working with. Remember, the idea here is that you’re not likely to repeat this process for several days
Step 2 (Optional): Apply a butter or leave-on cream with a film-forming humectant
For High porosity hair that is medium - coarse in thickness (i.e. not fine): Go with a cream that contains butters, conditioners, and film forming humectants for the extra assist in slowing moisture loss. I tend to use this solely on my ends as that's where they are highest in porosity, but there's nothing to say you can't layer this over the entire shaft if your hair needs it.
For fine high porosity hair: Try a lotion containing, conditioners, film-forming humectants, and oils (instead of butters) so your hair isn’t too weighed down. If your hair responds well to heavier butters, you can use them but be careful not to be too heavy handed
For low porosity hair: You may want to skip this step altogether - especially if your hair is fine and has been deep conditioned well already. However, if your hair is coarse and or dense and you would benefit from an extra layer for added weight, then try a film-forming containing leave-in with even fewer oils & conditioners (or products with them lower down the ingredients list). This should help you avoid the issue of product build-up on the hair shaft.
Step 3: Style and go
Most of these plant gels will give you great definition that will allow you to wear your hair in a wash n go style if you want, and the slip will offer a manageability that will make it quick & easy for you to do other styles if that’s what you prefer.
We hope this helps, and we’d love to know how it works for you, so don’t be afraid to leave us a comment below.