Monday, October 15, 2012

How to Diagnose Hair

Thanks to all the members of the Wavy Hair Community who gave me input on this post.

Diagnosing your hair is a tricky business, but at some point we all will have to do it.  I recommend that people do not use cones in the beginning stages of CG until you get to know your hair.  Using cones just gives you one more variable to consider when diagnosing hair.  It is complicated enough when you are learning to read your hair without the extra variable.

Smart people introduce one product at a time.  That way if there is a problem, it is easier to figure out what caused it.  I have a bad habit of trying several things at one time.  Do as I say, not as I do.

Change in Dew Points
Your very first question when diagnosing hair should always be "Have my dew points changed recently?".  You may be suddenly getting frizz because you are using products with glycerin and the dew points changed from normal to high.  Or, you may have dry hair because your dew points suddenly dropped to low and you need more moisturizing products.   

Over Conditioned:
If you your hair is over conditioned it may be very soft, mushy, gummy,dull, flyaway, lacking bounce, the bottom half of your waves may lack definition.  Your waves will be weak, sad, and wimpy. This link has a pic of over conditioned hair (needing protein). Over conditioned hair streeeeeeeeeetches in the stretch test but does not return to it's original shape.  I've heard over conditioned hair described as cotton candy hair.  I have no idea what that means, but I imagine if you have cotton candy hair, you know it.
HOW TO FIX IT:  Use only minimum moisture to detangle and use more protein, do more PTs until you are back to normal.  A sulfate wash may speed things along.

Too much protein:
Hair is straw-like, rough and brittleUnlike hair that needs moisture, when hair has too much protein it feels hard, especially when wet.  This link has a pic of hair with too much protein.  In some cases hair gets straighter with too much protein and possibly very soft.  It may feel greasy.

HOW TO FIX IT:  Do deep treatment.  Avoid protein and keep adding moisture until your hair is back to normal.

Dry, needs moisture:
 It is dry, straw-like, rough and brittle.Dry hair is very dull.  Lack of moisture causes frizz, especially in the outer layers.  Hair that lacks moisture does not stretch and breaks quickly in the stretch test (Hair that needs protein will also break quickly in the stretch test.) Your hair may not clump well, lack definition, and tangle easily.

Did you recently add a new product that might be drying your hair?  Ingredients that can cause dryness include, but aren't limited to:  Epsom salt (magnesium sulfate)  drying alcohols (like the kind in hairspray),  and ACV rinses. Most hairsprays and mousses can be drying.  Glycerin and other humectants can be drying in low dews.

HOW TO FIX IT:  Deep Treatments, lots of moisture.  Stop using any products that are drying hair.  See my post on how to deal with dry hair.

Needs protein:
Limp curls that lack bounce.  Waves that don't seem to be able to support themselves.  Your hair may be frizzy, lack shine, lack definition, and may not clump properly.  Hair that needs protein will break quickly in the stretch test.  (Hair that needs moisture will also break in the stretch test.)  When hair needs protein, it snaps when you pull your fingers through it, even though you are using plenty of conditioner/moisturizing ingredients.
HOW TO FIX IT:  Do protein treatments and/or add protein to your daily routine.

Needs Protein and Moisture.
Keep in mind that your hair may be low on both protein AND moisture, especially in the beginning stages of CG.  It might not be either/or, it could be both.

Product build up:
If your hair has product build up it has frizz that looks like you rubbed your hair with a balloon or stuck your finger in a light socket.   Your hair looks heavy and coated and has a fake shine.  It looks wet when dry.  It is limp and weighed down. It may look dull.  Product build up tends to show up slowly after the addition of a new product.
Even if you only use CG products, you can get build up.  What will cause build up on your hair may not build up on other people.  Conditioner can adsorb (stick) to the outside of hair and build up.  Other things that can build up include, but aren't limited to silicones, polyquats, aloe, shea, jojoba oil, castor oil, mineral oil, and petrolatum.

HOW TO FIX IT:  If the build up is waxy build up or hard water build up, an apple cider vinegar rinse or citric acid rinse will remove the build up.  If you don't normally low poo, try a low poo.  If you low poo on a regular basis, use a sulfate shampoo to reset your hair.  Some people find they need to continuously rotate products to prevent product build up.

Hard Water Build Up-   An ACV rinse or a Citric acid rinse will remove some hard water build up.  To remove lots of hard water build up, you will need a cheleating shampoo.  Cheleating shampoos usually say "hard water" or "swimmer's" on the name or label.  They usually contain EDTA.  Swimmers and Hard Water shampoos are most often sulfate shampoos.  I use the Ion Hard Water shampoo once a month.  It is technically a low poo, but contains C 14-16 Olefin Sulfate, which some find to be as harsh or worse then any sulfate. 

Links with more info on diagnosing hair
The Fine Art of Protein and Moisture Balance for Black Hair Care
Pittsburgh Curly:  Protein vs. Moisture (linked above)
Curltalk Thread:  How to gauge your hair's condition?
The Long Hair Community:  What's wrong with my hair? (broken link?)
Curltalk Thread:  Learning to read your hair?  (post 4)

The Long Hair Community link appears to be broken. From what I can remember (I haven't read it in years), it suggested you do a single sulfate wash, don't use conditioner, and then access your hair's condition.  I'll leave the link here in case there it is just temporarily broken.  


  1. Wow! a great information I got, how to diagnose my hair. Thanks for sharing this.

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  3. It's such a tough work to have beautiful hair. So much time to spend on it.
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  4. Is there a possibility of causing more damage by over-moisturizing? I enjoy using shampoos that help give some "oomph" to my hair but is their a possibility of over-moisturizing?

    1. If you are using shampoo every time you wash your hair, you are less likely to over-moisturize your hair. Over-moisturized hair stretches too much. Hair that is stretched too much will be damaged.

    2. But can shampoos heavy loaded with humectants over-moisturize hair? Like this Grandma Agafia Recipes Honey Bath Soap: Aqua, Sorbitol, Sodium Cocoyl Isethionate, Sodium Methyl Cocoyl Taurate, Stearic Acid, Mel, Hyssopus Officinalis Extract, Calluna Vulgaris Extract, Rhodiola Rosea Extract, Organic Rosa Canina Oil, Parfum, Benzyl Alcohol, Benzoic Acid, Sorbic Acid.

      I think something is wrong with my hair a day after shampooing. I don't think they stretch too much, but I'm not sure.

    3. Humectants in shampoos are usually not as much of an problem as humectants in things left on hair like gel, leave in conditioner, etc. If humectants in shampoos were causing a problem, it would most likely cause frizz in humid weather (sticky summer or rainy weather)or dry hair in dry weather (dry winter or desert). It is in the realm of possibilities that humectants in shampoo could over moisturize your hair, but it is unlikely.

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