How to keep curls hydrated

Environmental factors like heat, styling and diet help to build--or break--a good curl. Learn tips for moisturizing and protecting curly hair.

Curly hair, especially if chemically treated, is easily damaged by heat, humidity, styling and environmental factors. The products that many curly-haired people use to manage their hair often cause limpness, drying and loss of shine. When curly hair becomes too dry, split ends and breakage may be the result.

Because natural oils tend to accumulate at the roots of curly hair, it is important to wash hair sparingly--and correctly. Washing hair too much strips natural oils from hair. Wash curly hair every other day, scrubbing at the scalp where the oils sit. To decrease breakage, avoid rubbing the ends too vigorously.

Good shampoos for curly hair contain transglutaminase, a curl-enhancing enzyme that also protects hair from heat and humidity. To keep hair moist and shiny, also look for glycerin-based shampoos. Glycerin is a natural humectant and water attractor that has been used for centuries after being discovered as a byproduct of the soap-making process. Glycerin has been shown to hold moisture when applied to wet skin and hair. Choosing a shampoo with glycerin will help to keep naturally curly hair moisturized.

Other shampoo ingredients that work well with curly hair are oils like sesame, olive and coconut. Wheat proteins like guar hydroxypropyltrimonium and its guar gum cousins are also great choices for curly hair care.

After washing curly hair, keep it hydrated with a leave-in conditioner that seals the cuticle and fights frizzing. For deep conditioning, use products with amino acids that replenish natural oils and proteins.

If you blow dry, adjust the settings to the coolest heat possible, and stick to the roots. Straightening irons and curling rods tend to dry protein found in the hair's cortex, so avoid these tools if possible. If you do use heated tools to style your hair, use those with a ceramic-base as they regulate heat more evenly than their metal cousins.

Excessive brushing can cause cuticle breakages, exposing the sensitive inner layers of the hair, which then lead to further damage. For thick, curly hair, wide-toothed, spaced combs work best.

When setting hair, avoid alcohol-based finishing serums and lotions. Use oil- or water-based products instead.

When shopping for shampoos, conditioners and finishing products forumulated for curly hair, look for product keywords like hydrating, moisturizing, and curl-defining. Curl-boosting, shine-enhancing and protecting are also great keywords for curly hair products.

Another factor in keeping curls properly hydrated is diet. Though hair isn't alive, the cells inside our scalps that makes hair grow is. Therefore, what we put into our bodies will help determine hair health. Drink plenty of water. Foods rich in vitamin A, like carrots, give hair health and shine. Zinc-rich foods, like spinach, also keep hair strong. Meat and shellfish contain proteins and fatty acids that keep elastic and supple. A balanced diet rich in proteins is key. Non-meat-eaters can achieve a protein-rich diet by eating nuts and soy.

Because of the thousands of products in today's hair-care marketplace, keeping curly hair hydrated is a battle for many, and confusing for some. Knowledge of appropriate moisture-enhancing shampoos, conditioners and styling products will remove some of the headache; implementing a healthy, vitamin- and protein-rich diet should help with the rest.

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