Get the Facts Behind Why Black Hair Is So Dry

Cross section of hair follicle
Courtesy Henry Vandyke Carter [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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 approach hair care with a less-than-positive attitude.

Why Is Black Hair Dry?

The simple answer to the question of why black hair is typically so dry: 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.

Everyone's scalp produces oils. Imagine traveling on a straight road versus a road with lots of curves. You'll reach your destination more quickly by taking the straight path, but every 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 feel the need to shampoo more frequently. In curly hair, however, oils don't have it so easy; it's harder to navigate their way through zigs and zags, twists and turns.

Diagram of a Hair Follicle

If you review the cross section of the hair follicle pictured here, you'll see that individual hair strands are made up of several parts.

The outer layer, or cuticle, is just one part that suffers any time heat or chemicals are applied to it. Although the cuticles on curly hair can be twice as thick as those on straight hair, they're not indestructible. The inner layer, or cortex, is also prone to damage and abuse. 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 the 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. (Don't worry, this science lesson is nearly over!)

It can be tough dealing with hair whose natural tendencies seem to make it more challenging to style and to retain precious moisture, but when you become more knowledgeable about the why, 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 -- chemicals 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.

How to Combat the Dryness

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 feel 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
  • 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; otherwise, caring for your mane only on occasion doesn't do your hair much good at all. With a good routine in place, your tresses shouldn't feel as dry.

And that concludes this brief science lesson!