Monday, January 2, 2023

Flash-Drying in Hair: What is it and what to do about it?

January 2, 2023

When I did hair analyses, people asked about flash-drying often. Our approach to this subject seems to be from one of two directions. Either, “What products cause this?” Or, “What hair type does this happen to most often?”

What it is:  Flash-drying is what some people call the effect of your hair drying almost immediately after washing (and conditioning). As though it did not absorb any water at all. It may not be all the hair - only some sections, or individual locks here and there.

What does flash-dried hair feel like? It can feel dry, stiff, crunchy, coated, sound rustle-y, stick together in small sections, or feel “matted” and like it wants to cling together when wet or dry.

Why?:  Products that adhere to hair, particularly those that form certain sorts of films, whether by design (it’s a hair-care active ingredient) or by default (it’s part of a plant extract or oil) can interfere with how hair interacts with water. Those actions may prevent water from absorbing - so hair seems to shed water like a duck’s feathers.

Whose hair?: Just about anybody’s! Hardly satisfying, I know. If your hair is low-porosity, it doesn’t soak up water or react well to oils and conditioners, this may happen more easily to you. Tellingly, if the top of your hair is more-porous than the under-layers, you might notice that your under-layers sometimes flash-dry but the top layers do not.

Coarse hair, and Coarse, kinking (Type 4) hair may sometimes be more susceptible to this. Gray hairs may also be susceptible, in that they are often (not always) low porosity and sometimes less flexible than more-pigmented hairs. Both Coarse hair and gray hairs are often lower-porosity.

The Wild Card is that many of the ingredients in question form films because they have electrostatic charges. And while human hair has more negative charges on the surface than positive charges - it does have both, meaning a lot of “things” can bond with/stick to hair. If you have hard water, you already have minerals “stuck” to, and in your hair - those minerals may also interact with products - or at least can often give hair a little stiffness that will make you notice product-related stiffness more readily.  Because each of us is different - each of our hair will interact with products differently. Your products can have overlapping effects or cumulative effects, too. That, “This was great the first time I used it, but now my hair feels dry and tangly!” phenomenon.

What ingredients may cause this: 

Category 1) 
Film Formers (examples)
  • Guar Hydroxypropyltrimonium Chloride
  • Polyquaternium-10
  • Polyquaternium-11
  • Polyquaternium-4
  • Polyquaternium-69 (maybe)
  • Salts (sea salt products)
  • Agave
  • Herbal extracts, teas (black, green or herbal), henna and henna blends
  • xanthan (which is made from bacteria, but I’m putting it here anyway), Psyllium
  • Proteins or plant extracts containing plant proteins. Including Hydroxypropyltrimonium-modified proteins (some that promise anti-frizz or volume, like rice protein, are especially tricky)
Category 2)
Oils and butters 

(Particularly when used alone - oils incorporated in products makes it harder to decode what is the oil vs. the product as a whole)

Oils and butters are made from a variety of fatty acids. Butters, with their higher saturated fatty acid content, are more likely to physically accumulate on hair because they melt at high temperatures - They don’t liquefy for easier washing at comfortable shower temperatures. And they also penetrate hair better - which is great unless that produces an undesirable result in your hair. 

Category 3)
  • Soap (real soap made with oils and alkali): Contains oils which may interact with hair. Also can combine with minerals in water to adhere to hair.
  • Hard water - Minerals can bond to hair and move into hair. I have a post here about hard water
  • Pool water - Minerals can bond to hair and move into hair, including those used to manage the pool
  • Sweat: Loaded with salts, proteins, and sugars, and usually combined with heat and  extended period of time wearing wet hair, sweat can contribute to flash-drying.

What to do? 

Avoid first, problem-solve later. Change 1 or 2 things at a time. Address the obvious stuff first.

For example, let’s say you used a new shampoo once and a new gel twice, and now your hair feels matted and stiff and dry. Default back to a shampoo that did not cause you problems, and don’t use that gel either. Formulate a plan.

Then add back either 1) the shampoo or 2) the gel. See what happens. Then switch. Once you understand how both work alone, try them together (unless it’s already clear that will make you and your hair very cranky).

We want to know:

1) Are those products a problem when used alone?

2) Are those products a problem when used more than once in a row?

3) Are those products a problem only when used together?

Sometimes a product that seems like a complete failure will be fine (even fantastic) if you are careful how you use it.

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  1. First - HAPPY NEW YEAR, and GLAD to see you posting!!!
    Second - I feel like my hair flash dries in parts, and is exacerbated by the fact that I henna/indigo in a 2-step process (I've done so for over a decade & I know indigo is notoriously drying to hair, but I love the natural color benefits). My hair is mixed porosity as a result bc from the root to about 1.5" my hair seems like it's high porosity and dries really fast, is frizzy, and does not show my curl pattern easily. The length of my hair (aside from ends which I trim every 3 mths) seems more normal & some low porosity, so it doesn't dry as fast. The perimeter of my hair (temples & nape especially) is like that 2" root portion, so it's frizzy & lacks definition unless I fake it by twisting it til dry. I used to pre-poo, and it seemed better, so I am returning to pre-oiling it as of today. I just don't know how to treat my mixed areas, and that flash-drying effect on the perimeter and 1.5" is frustrating. Adding to my issues is that olive oil & coconut oil pull indigo out of my hair so I'd be left with orange hair if I oil with those, plus coconut makes my hair harder, so I'm trying argan oil today. The fail is I didn't read first to know you advise it by applied to dry hair, so I did it on damp. O_o Any ideas to aid my mixed-up porosities???

  2. Happy New Year to you too, Tee! You described the behavior of your different sections of hair beautifully. Even though hair-root-areas are usually lower porosity, I wonder if the temple and nape hairs' behavior is a bit less about porosity and more about hair-width, medullation and texture. Sometimes if you have frizzy spots with hairs that are not as wide as "coarse hair," they're hair with the medulla present, which makes the hair less-flexible, less able to sport a defined curl pattern without guidance, and more frizzy. For the root-area, sometimes hair needs to accumulate some weathering, or be hidden by other hairs in the lengths, before it becomes more manageable and those hairs start to be team-players. I have some sections that behave that way - and my less-than-convenient solution is to use coconut oil on dry hair as a pre-wash treatment, only on the areas that constantly flash-dry (temple area). Coconut oil because that seems to help that area have more flexibility and soften when wet, though I can't use it all over without ending up with crunchy/stiff hair. --- Argan oil is a good choice, it has some penetrating/softening and lubricating qualities. Grapeseed oil might be too. Jojoba oil doesn't have hair-penetrating effects, but it can soften and lubricate, so it might be good to blend with other oils. You might need to try different oils on those more-difficult sections. Or even try mixing the oil with a dab of conditioner to see if that works better (still applied to dry hair before washing). If your skin is quite dry in the temple/nape area, that could actually be part of the problem, too! Dry or irritated or flaky skin isn't producing the oils that hair needs to behave well. That could be addressed by taking extra care of the skin in those areas to keep it hydrated. I hope that helps - W

    1. Great direction as always, so I'll be trying all these "nuggets" out! TY!

  3. So happy to see you posting again! Your blog is absolutely amazing and has helped me so much. Your oils section especially. Do you still do hair analyses and if not, do you know anyone who does?

    1. Hello Rs, I'm happy the blog is helpful to you! I no longer do hair analysis. I am not familiar with other providers of that service.

  4. Happy to see you posting again! How does one improve overly soft, toddler-like hair? My hair seems to sop up with water so much it stretches hair, and I fear over time that hair stretched my natural curl pattern. But again, I seem to have weightless, fluffy, barely there hair. Any advice is appreciated!

    1. Hello Olivia, Apologies for the delayed response! It sounds to me like your hair might benefit from protein, either as a treatment or in a conditioner. Fluffy, lightweight hair could be hair that needs the hydration that protein can provide to add some "weight" and a more substantial feel. If you don't have one you like already - check out the tab with "Product List By Category" for ideas. Treatments usually pack more punch into a single use, but some people prefer the more-gradual approach of protein in conditioners for a consistent and careful approach. --- On the other hand, if your hair feels dry/damaged on the ends, you might also consider an oil pre-wash treatment on the length. That can add some weight, without weighing hair down. The amount used is tiny - a small drop of the oil of your choice, rubbed between your palms and fingers until a hint of shine remains - then glide over the lengths so the ends pull together (but don't look greasy). That's a good starting point, leaving it on a few hours before washing. Both protein and oil-treatments can manage hydration and porosity. Both can also help with the "weightless hair" issue and offer unique, but overlapping benefits. Good luck! WS

  5. Love you blog post!! But i have a question about the Mielle Organics Rosemary Mint Strengthening Shampoo i feel its a very great shampoo but i feel it leaves a film and flash drys my hair should i use this shampoo weekly since i do wash and go's or switch it up to something without the flash drying ingredients?

    1. Hello Sean, Flash-drying with that shampoo (and the feeling of a film) could be caused by the Polyquaternium-10. Coconut oil could contribute to that, if your hair doesn't get along well with it, as could the castor oil and maybe (rarely) the essential oils for fragrance. It's not a guarantee that you won't get flash-drying if you avoid Polyquaternium-10 - because product behavior reflects more than a single ingredient - but it might be a place to start. Good luck! -W