Kara Foster loves researching and experimenting—especially when it comes to hair or nails. She'll put in the work and share what she learns!
How it all started
It’s a little embarrassing to admit, but I’m the kind of girl who always just assumed that hair care was simple. I knew the typical things that were good for my hair type (which is thick, frizzy, and curly). I made sure not to wash it every day, I avoided heat, and tried to minimize the amount of chemicals I used. Did I love my hair? No. But I assumed there was realistically only so much I could do, and was fairly resigned to the type of hair I was born with.
I stumbled on to a lot of the shockers below almost on accident. It started when I was getting into a debate with someone about whether or not it was a good idea to use coconut oil in your hair. Apparently some people loved it, other people avoided it. I started a quick Google search and was soon down the rabbit hole, being overloaded with new, confusing, and surprising information. Such as…
1) Hair porosity is a thing.
An important thing, at that. In simplest terms, porosity is essentially how porous your hair is – how easily it can absorb and hold moisture, which is determined by how tightly spaced your cuticles are (if you need a little more info on how to determine porosity, or a definition of what a hair cuticle even is, I’ll leave a link at the end for a helpful article on Healthline).
This term was completely new, and a little bit confusing, to me. I knew that hair could be thick or thin, dry or oily, straight or curly…but now I had to consider porosity, too?! It was a curveball. There are a few tests you can do to determine your hair’s porosity, and what sorts of products you should be using, accordingly. Turns out I have lower porosity hair, and have been unknowingly using all of the wrong stuff!
Since my hair was thick, and dry, I assumed I could slather on all kind of products with coconut oil, shea butter, and so forth. I was pretty surprised to learn that these types of products simply couldn’t absorb into my hair, because of the tightly-spaced cuticles, and would instead sit on top of my hair. Instead of actually moisturizing, they would just cause buildup. Which was not helpful. If you own these types of products, and have low porosity hair, I’m not saying you should panic and toss out everything in your supply closet immediately. It takes some experimenting. I started to look for products with lighter-weight oils (jojoba oil was frequently recommended, as was glycerin and honey) and noticed a difference pretty quickly. I took a picture of the current conditioner I’m getting great results with – the Whole Blends line by Garnier.
2) “Dandruff” may not actually be dandruff
I wouldn’t say that dandruff was ever a life-ruiner for me, but it was something that popped up for me from time to time and made me a little self-conscious. It was usually something I found particularly obvious if I was wearing my hair darker (I barely noticed the flakes when I was blonde), or in a phase where I was wearing dark-colored clothing.
Almost as if I was on auto-pilot, I would dutifully buy a bottle of Head and Shoulders or a similar product, and assumed that this was the only thing that could be done. In fact, when I researched dandruff and causes this was usually the number one suggestion and simplest fix.
Turns out the flakes can actually be caused by dryness, or even product buildup. All three are very different problems, with different solutions (check out a great video from YouTuber Manes by Mell, at the end of this article). Worse, is that if you’re treating the wrong cause, you’re only going to make it worse.
In my case, I’m learning that the flakes I was seeing was from a dry scalp. It was kind of a relief to me because I’ve been trying to reduce the amount of sulfate shampoos I use (they can be a little harsh, on my hair...and most of the dandruff shampoos have sulfates). I remember being worried at the time that my scalp would just get worse and worse, if I didn’t use a dandruff shampoo, but was pleasantly surprised when my scalp adapted pretty quickly to the sulfate-free stuff. No surprise, because my poor scalp was apparently just dry!
3) Protein is only good in moderation
This one actually was the most surprising to me. For the last few years, I have been highlighting my hair like crazy. It was pretty damaged. I thought I was treating it appropriately by purchasing protein-loaded shampoos, conditioners, and creams. Even my stylist was recommending this!
It turns out that too much protein will actually make your hair dry and brittle. This is apparently especially true for low-porosity hair. When you think about it, it makes sense. The stronger something it, the more easily it can break (picture two twigs – one that is strong but stiff, and another that it soft and pliable. The stronger one would snap pretty easily, with only a little force). You might be using too much protein if all of your hair products use words like “fortifying”, “strengthening” and even sometimes “repairing”.
The bottom line? It takes some getting used to, and it’s time-consuming, but you really have to pay attention to ingredients lists, and accept that it’s a little trial and error. A quick tip is that ingredients are listed in order, with those that make up the highest content first (something that was new to me). So in my case, I try to avoid the stuff that has shea butter or coconut oil at the beginning. You don’t have to drive yourself crazy, but do put a little research into your specific hair concern, and understand that it might have various causes. Fixing dry hair is not as simple as purchasing any shampoo that says it’s moisturizing, for example. Determining the cause may be complex, but luckily the solution might be pretty simple.
For me, I’ve notice a huge difference by just reducing the amount of protein, using lighter-weight oils and conditioners, and laying off the dandruff shampoos!
Sp Greaney from Ireland on October 08, 2020:
I just found out to that over using protein products isn't good. I'm also using less products in my hair care routine now. You just need to find out what works for you.
Kara Foster (author) from Canada on October 04, 2020:
Good luck Kalpana! Sulfate-free is working great for me so far.
Kalpana Iyer from India on September 29, 2020:
I have just started the curly girl method after years of straightening. I hope I find success. I am a bit relieved to hear that going sulfate-free is working for your dry scalp, because that's something that is worrying me too.