Friday, September 2, 2022

Why Does My Hair Cling Together When Wet, But Not When Dry?

You know how your hair tends to be less frizzy and more "together" and agreeable when it is wet, and then when it dries, all that friendly togetherness vanishes!? 

It's not all friendly togetherness, there is... tension. (Oh, the drama)!

In elementary school or on wherever you get your science educational fun - maybe you floated thread or paper clips on the surface of a glass of water. Same thing.

Behold, a dry paintbrush, and the same brush when wetted. Nothing was added to the brush other than tap water.

Dry paintbrush, in all its fluffy
glory
This happens (in part) because of surface tension between the water molecules in your hair. Water molecules tend to be attracted to each other, and can behave almost as a film (think of insects that move on the surface of water leaving little saucer-shaped "dents" in the water with their legs).
Another part is cohesion - the water is attracted to the surface of the hair and that attraction also creates something like a temporary film.

That tension and cohesion vanishes with the water, because it was an effect of the water.

There are a few things you can learn from this to help you understand how to manage hair as it dries!

1) Hair is usually more clingy when wet, the more water is attracted to it. Water is more strongly attracted to porous hair (heat-styled, highlighted, permed, relaxed, permanently dyed), but also to hair with some conditioner in it (or used on it). Clingy wet hair can be a good thing 
Wet paintbrush, this is the
same brush

because you can rely on the way that wet hair (and the temporary hydrogen bond-formation that occurs when wet hair dries) dries in the shape it was set while wet, to dry more clinging-together. If that's something you want. 

2) Hair is less attracted to water when it is low porosity, or when it has product residue (styling products, excess oils). 

3) Hair might be less likely to stick together if it is quite coarse (relatively large in diameter), dehydrated, tangly or damaged. That's a flexibility issue, and it's difficult for water alone to pull the hairs together.

Apply this:

- If your hair tends to frizz as it dries, that can be managed by:

- Reducing the other charge-interactions going on (use a rinse-out or leave-in conditioner or styling cream. This also reduces friction and static. I'm pretty sure you already knew that.

- Use a styling product that creates a longer-lasting film (gel, mousse) - I'm 99% certain you already knew that too. 😀 

- Reduce friction. Reducing friction can reduce volume - so if volume is your goal, then reduce friction only where you don't want frizz or extra fluffiness. Water is overcoming the tendency of friction in our hair to spread it out (create frizz), while wet - the water's actions can be stronger than friction's. Reducing friction with emollients (oils, shine serums, styling creams) can help your hairs stay together longer.

- Do something during styling that presses hairs together, with more or less tension depending on your hair's tolerance and your desired result. A comb, brush, or your fingers pressed together, for example. Just like you would squeeze the bristles of the paintbrush to form it neatly before drying.

- If your hair doesn't like to stick together when wet:

- A clarifying shampoo or a hard water shampoo might help if product residue or hard water residue is the problem.

- Using conditioner and working it into the bulk of your hair may help to improve flexibility. Think of how you have to work "wet" ingredients into dry ingredients when baking. It takes some physical effort. Hair is not entirely different, it is helpful to squeeze, squish, press, comb conditioner (and water) into hair for good mixing and coverage.

- A deep conditioning, oil treatment or protein treatment might be what your hair needs to feel its most flexible. I repeat - this is about flexibility! Hydration and flexibility go together. These address both, depending on your hair and your choice of treatment.

- Do something during styling that presses hairs together, with more or less tension depending on your hair's tolerance and your desired result. A comb, brush, or your fingers pressed together, for example. Just like you would squeeze the bristles of the paintbrush to form it neatly before drying.

- Some hair naturally doesn't cling together when wet. Coily hair (Type 4), textured hair (kinking hair) or very coarse, medullated hair can fall into this category. This isn't a by-product of product residue, it's a feature of the hair itself. A few paragraphs up friction was mentioned. 

- If your hair doesn't like to cling together when wet (and with conditioner in it), and that isn't a result of product residue or hard water, then you might need to introduce a little friction or "grip" to your hair. Ingredients like shea butter or cocoa butter, modified starches, plant gums (acacia, xanthan, guar), and clays are examples of ingredients that add some grip to hairs so they can cling better when wet. Look for those in a conditioner or pre-washing treatment.

 

 

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