Keeping dry natural hair moisturized can be a challenge because there’s no one failure-proof way that works for all. There are however different natural hair systems and wash day routines that naturalistas, hair stylists and chemists have come up with over time to help us keep our coils and kinks plump, soft and moisturized each day.
I’ll discuss the 5 most popular methods in this post so you can decide what methods work best for your lifestyle and hair type. I’ve tried them all being natural since 2012 so I can speak directly to their effectiveness for myself with 3c hair and my munchkin who’s more of a 4b type girl.
In this post you'll find:
Why Your Hair Dries Out
To understand how to moisturize your hair and keep it moisturized, you’ll first want to know why it gets so dry. You hair should stay relatively moisturized and healthy on its own as it produces sebum, an oil secretion from your sebaceous glands, to do so. However, our daily life affects how much of that sebum we retain as well as our curl type.
Things that can dry your hair out include:
- The weather: the sun dries it out, cold air dries it out
- Shampoo: this strips our hair of its natural oils
- Daily hair care and manipulation: just by styling and running your fingers through your hair
- Heat from curling and straightening irons
- Chemical treatments change the makeup of our hair strands making it more difficult to retain moisture
- Curl type: tighter curls can mean that the sebum from your scalp doesn’t always make it down to the end of your hair if it’s long
And the list goes on and on. The pillow you sleep on, your diet, your hair’s porosity, everything and anything can affect your hair’s needs when it comes to moisture. It’s a lot to figure out in order to moisturize hair but the methods discussed below will show you how to keep hair moisturized under almost any condition.
How to Keep Hair Moisturized
The best way to moisturize natural hair is to be consistent. No matter what method you choose to go with, as with most things in life, you’ll have to keep it up. Now, you can switch up the methods from time to time to keep your hair surprised and to determine which method ultimately works best for you. But the longer you go between moisturizing your hair, the dryer it will get. So moisturize your hair using the methods below at least every other week (I do my full wash day routine weekly since I only exclusively wash and go) and be consistent.
Does consistency mean that you will have to moisturize your hair daily? For me, it doesn’t. I will address how often you need to moisturize your hair using the methods as I describe them below but for the most part, I find that if you moisturize your hair properly at least once per week, you can get away with a mid-week refresher without having to add daily moisture. Of course, if you’re protective styling, things change and I will talk a little about that later. Let’s get to the methods.
1. Pre-Poo as a Deep Moisturizer for Hair
A pre-poo is an all-natural oil-based treatment applied to your hair as a natural hair moisturizer before you shampoo or go through your wash day routine. The science is behind this is that your hair usually becomes fatigued by the long and arduous process of shampoo, condition, deep condition, then moisturizing and styling your hair on wash day.
When water enters your hair follicle, it expands and then contracts as it dries. This process is hard on your hair and can lead to it weakening and becoming prone to breakage. A pre-poo helps to alleviate some of that by using oils that penetrate your hair to add essential vitamins like Vitamin E to your hair. This helps to strengthen and protect your hair from what’s to come.
For this reason, it’s important to use an oil that is penetrating to the hair as some oils are too thick and so sit on top and only coat the hair. That’s not to say that those oils aren’t beneficial for your hair, but not as pre-poo. You can use them at the end when it’s time to seal in all the wonderful moisture you just applied to your hair.
To pre-poo your hair, use a penetrating oil such as:
- extra virgin olive oil
- cold-pressed coconut oil
- avocado oil
- babassu oil
- hemp seed oil
- palm kernel oil
- argan oil
- sunflower oil
You only need one oil, nothing else. Apply enough oil to completely coat your hair and cover with a plastic cap or steam cap for at least an hour. Some people do this as an overnight treatment before wash day while others heat the oils and do this as a hot oil treatment 15 minutes before they shampoo. It all depends on the amount of time you have to spend on this.
2. Deep Conditioning
Deep conditioning your hair weekly or biweekly at least is another great way to keep dry hair moisturized. You’ll typically cleanse your hair first whether using a shampoo or just cowashing your hair with conditioner. Then, apply a deep conditioner to your hair and allow it to penetrate for at least 15 minutes under a steam cap.
A couple of deep conditioning hacks for you. First, I like to deep condition my hair on dry hair. I view it like a sponge… when it’s already wet, it doesn’t soak up much of the deep conditioner (DC) to get the effects through and through. This could be a good or bad thing so test out and see what works best but I always deep condition my hair on dry hair.
That can mean that I’ve shampooed it early in the morning and allowed it to air dry then applying my deep conditioner or applying it to dry hair that hasn’t yet been washed. One could argue that my hair would have too much oil and product on it for the DC to penetrate so there’s also that.
Secondly, if you’re the type to stay away from shampoo then I highly recommend an apple cider vinegar rinse before you deep condition. This is a natural way to cleanse your hair of any oils and product residue so your scalp is clean and ready for your DC.
3. LOC Method of Moisturizing Natural Hair
Now we’re getting into the actual steps you will take to moisturize your hair on wash day. To moisturize your hair, you really only need water. Water adds moisture. But then water will evaporate pretty quickly so you’ll need a way to keep that moisture in without keeping your hair wet. This is where your moisturizing natural hair products will come in.
The LOC method stands for Liquid Oil and Cream. This is the sequence you’ll apply your moisturizing products after you’ve cleansed and conditioned your hair. The liquid represents your lightest moisturizer, usually in the form of a water-based leave-in conditioner.
Your first moisturizer should always be water-based because water penetrates the hair better than oils and creams. Oils and creams build on the moisture added and help to seal all that hair moisture in. So for me, this method might look like
- Kinky Curly Leave In Conditioner or tgin Green Tea Super Moist Leave-in Conditioner
- A natural, penetrating oil such as argan oil or hempseed oil
- Cantu Leave-In Repair Cream or Jane Carter Curl Defining Creme
I’ve written before on the Cantu Repair Cream. I absolutely love the Argan oil one linked above and can’t believe how amazing it is for such an incredible value.
You want to spend some time sectioning off your hair to apply each product, making sure all strands are coated. Move quickly or re-wet your hair as you move from section to section. Then get in there and massage the oils in to stimulate your scalp. Finally, seal all that off with your sealing oil or butter-based styler or curl defining cream.
This method is supposed to really lock moisture into your hair when followed weekly. You should only need a midweek refresher if you need to lay your edges or if you wear mostly wash and gos like me. I’ll talk more about my midweek refresh later on.
4. LCO Method
The LCO method is very similar to the above, you’re only swapping the oil and cream-based steps in the sequence. If you do this, you’ll want to use a heavier oil like castor oil to seal in moisture instead of one meant to penetrate the hair. I find this method works best for me since I am usually pre-pooing with a penetrating oil first.
I still use the same leave-ins listed above. Then I follow with any of the two cream-based moisturizers listed in my LOC method as well. Finally, I seal in my moisture with a whipped shea butter that I make myself. It is made using oils that also seal in moisture along with shea butter. I’ve been using this moisture sealant for years, it’s a go-to staple for me.
5. Protective Styling
Protective styling is another way to keep your hair moisturized longer. This is especially great if you’re trying to grow out your hair. You can have a look at my daughter’s hair growth journey as she exclusively twists her hair every two-three weeks.
Some will say that this is not a complete protective style as a protective style means that your ends are tucked away from the elements. A perfect protective style is cornrows under a wig. However, you can see that even putting your hair in twists or braids can be protective because after initial manipulation, it will be handled less than needed for a wash and go or other short-term hairstyle.
A quick protective style is to wear your hair in a bun after you’ve completed your wash day routine with either the LCO method, the LOC method, deep conditioning or pre-pooing. You can keep your hair tied away in a bun for a week, only refreshing the edges as necessary. Then take down and wash your hair.
As you can see, protective styling on it’s own isn’t necessarily going to help keep moisture in your hair but if it’s all you’re doing, it is definitely better than wearing your hair out exposed to the elements all week in between wash days.
Midweek Refresher: How to Hydrate Natural Hair
Unless your hair is tucked away in a protective style, then you should ideally be going through your wash day routine once weekly. You can get away with every other week at a minimum but I wouldn’t stretch it any longer than that. So what’s the routine for daily hair moisture maintenance?
Sleep with a satin bonnet or pillowcase every single night. Cotton pillowcases will only dry your hair out and can even snag your hair causing split ends and breakage due to friction. You want to keep your hair away from cotton at nights, especially if you’re sleeping in a cold room like I like to do.
When you’re taking down your hair each morning, apply a small amount of penetrating hair oil to your finger tips. This will help to not disturb your curls too much as it allows your finger to glide over your strands. If your style is in tact, shake and go honey!
If your style needs a refreshing, use a water-based moisturizer to spritz it and bring it back to life. I like to keep this essential oil concoction on my dresser for spritzing as necessary. Remember that water will evaporate quickly so after water, you will want to apply a gel, sealing oil or butter over your spritz to seal in the moisture. Use a little as you would have already drenched your hair in this stuff on wash day and only need a refresher.
And that my friends, is how you keep natural hair moisturized. Any questions? Here’s munchkin and I in out homemade satin bonnets.