This Is Why Your Natural Hair Feels Dry (and How to Fix It)

Gary John Norman

Getty Images / Gary John Norman 

Once you begin learning more about the science of black hair care, you'll probably hear quite frequently about how dry our hair is. But why? Although there's nothing you can do to change the shape of your hair follicles, knowing more about why your hair is the way it is may help you accept it more easily, particularly if you (understandably) approach hair care with a less-than-positive attitude.

The simple answer to the question of why black hair is typically so dry is obvious when you think about it: it curls. Whether your hair strands are wavy, curly, kinky, S-shaped or Z-shaped, all those curves hinder your scalp's natural oils from reaching the ends of your hair. By now, we all know everyone's scalp produces oils. But it's the difference between a straight road versus one with lots of curves. You'll reach your destination more quickly by taking the straight path, because every single curve slows you down.

Each curl and coil in your hair strands slows the process of the oil traveling to the ends. In straight hair, the oils travel easily down a straight path, which is one reason many people with straight locks need to shampoo more frequently. In curly hair, however, oils don't have it so easy; it's harder to navigate their way through those zigs and zags, twists and turns.

If you review the cross-section of a hair follicle, you'll see that individual hair strands are made up of several parts. The outer layer, or cuticle, is just one part. But it suffers anytime heat or chemicals are applied to it. Although the cuticles on curly hair can be twice as thick as the ones on straight hair, they're still not indestructible. The inner layer, or cortex, is also prone to damage and abuse. For example, anyone whose hair has lost a good deal of elasticity has greatly affected the cortex in their strands.

The bulb and the shape of the hair follicles are what determine whether or not hair grows straight or curly. A hooked bulb results in curly hair—the more hooked the bulb, the curlier hair grows. Curls also grow out of a flat follicle, while straight hair grows from round ones. 

But still, it's a pain dealing with hair whose natural tendencies make it more challenging to style and to retain precious moisture. When you become more knowledgeable about the why, however, it can sometimes lead to greater acceptance. Our hair grows the way it grows, and there's no changing the follicles or bulbs (not at this time, anyway).

Even relaxers don't change the shape of the follicles—even chemicals only affect the outer layers of the hair strand, not its biological makeup at the scalp level. Knowing that your hair isn't out to get you may make it easier to deal with on a daily basis, whether you wear it natural, pressed, texturized or relaxed. Ahead, learn why natural hair can be prone to dryness, along with some expert-approved tips on how to add moisture to your strands.

Meet the Expert

  • Diane Stevens is owner of Cole Stevens Salon, a Nioxin global stylist and a Wella Professionals top artist.
  • Leigh Hardges is a hairstylist at Maxine Salon in Chicago.

Why is natural hair prone to dryness?

"Natural hair and also curly hair is definitely prone to dryness," says Diane Stevens, owner of Cole Stevens Salon. "It’s harder for the scalp’s natural sebum to travel down the hair shaft due the curves and grooves on the hair strand. Mainly because the natural oils that our scalps produce cannot coat the hair shaft easily." Naturally coily and kinky hair textures are typically high porosity due to the cracks in the hairs’ cuticle due to the curl pattern. High porosity has a difficult time holding on to all the good stuff the hair needs that is in our conditioners, treatments, and masks.

How do you care for dry natural hair?

"I tell all of my natural clients to invest in a home steamer for the hair. It pays for itself after a month of use," says Leigh Hardges, stylist at Maxine Salon. "Infuse moisture and oils into your hair every chance you get. You also may consider adding an acid rinse to your wash day routine. Apple cider vinegar or lemon juice is sprayed onto the hair after the conditioner is rinsed to help close a very open cuticle and hold in moisture."

What are the best moisturizing ingredients for natural hair?

 "Jojoba, grapeseed, hemp seed, and avocado oils absorb into the hair completely to help nourish the strands," says Hardges. "My go-to products for moisturizing dry hair is Aveda’s Dry Remedy line. It is rich with oils and emollients (many from the Amazon region)." 

dry remedy™ moisturizing masque
Aveda Dry Remedy Moisturizing Masque $42.50
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One of the reasons the black hair care market is so huge is the dryness issue. We spend billions of dollars trying to increase the moisture levels in our hair. However, our unique textures won't naturally feel the same as straight hair, so sometimes we may think our hair is dry when it's really not—we just need to understand how our hair feels when it's healthy and well-conditioned vs. how other hair textures feel. It can be a matter of getting used to a cottony-soft feel, instead of a silky soft one.

Keep your hair hydrated with regular cleansing and conditioning, a deep conditioning routine, application of moisturizing products as needed, and sealing in moisture on a regular basis.

As long as you follow a healthy hair regimen with products designed for you, your hair will probably stay very well-moisturized. The main thing to remember with a regimen is to stick to it. Caring for your hair only on occasion doesn't do your hair much good at all. With a good routine in place, your tresses won't feel as dry.

Below, some of our favorite products to moisturize dry strands.

Boots Beauty: SheaMoisture Raw Shea Butter Deep Treatment
SheaMoisture Raw Shea Butter Deep Treatment Masque $14
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This miracle-in-a-jar contains shea butter, to hydrate the scalp, as well as sea kelp and argan oil, to provide luster to strands.

Amika SoulFood Mask
Amika SoulFood Nourishing Mask $28
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This product—formulated with Amika's signature ingredient, sea buckthorn berry—can be used daily, or weekly, depending on how parched your hair is. The berry has been found to protect against the elements, making this an especially nourishing product.

DevaCurl Heaven In Hair Intense Moisture Treatment
DevaCurl Heaven In Hair Divine Deep Conditioner $28
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Specifically formulated for curly hair, this deep conditioning mask can be left on for 15-30 minutes or, as needed, overnight (just throw a plastic cap over your hair and let it do it's thing).

Ouidad curl quencher
Ouidad Ultra-Nourishing Cleansing Oil Shampoo $26
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As its name suggests, Ouidad's nourishing shampoo quenches the hair follicle, imparting botanicals and healing natural oils (chamomile, corn oil, and other vitamins) to dehydrated strands.

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