Glycerin is found in most hair care products; such as leave in conditioners, deep conditioners and styling creams. It is a humectant so it draws moisture from the air to coat the hair strands. Products containing glycerin usually soften the hair leaving it more manageable and nourished. It also gives the hair great shine and can help bring out your natural curl pattern. Glycerin is great for detangling as it provides an oily, slippery feel. Vegetable glycerin for instance is produced from plant oils such as palm, soy and coconut. My experience of using glycerin has been both positive and negative at times. It is an ingredient that should be used according to the needs of your hair or style.
Styling verses moisturizing
I regularly used glycerin when I had a TWA (teeny-weeny afro) as it kept my hair shiny, brought out my natural curls and kept my hair supple and full of moisture. At this stage my hair wasn’t long enough to style into twist-outs or braid-outs. I didn’t have to worry about maintaining my styles for days at a time or keeping my manipulated curls shaped to my preference. I filled my spray bottle with a quarter glycerin and the rest water, so it was a simple spray and go regimen.
However, as my hair grew and I started experimenting with different styles I found the heavy use of glycerin to be a hindrance. I would go to work with a defined twist-out but end up with a fluffy fro by the end of the day. It took me a while to figure out what was causing my twist-outs to fail and not last long. My hair felt well moisturized and healthy, but I wasn’t achieving the styles I was aiming for. Plus towards the end of the week my hair felt constantly damp, like it simply never dried properly after wash day.
Only when I stopped using glycerin and simply used shea butter and water did my twist outs last. My hair also remained moisturized but not damp on the surface. Moisture should really penetrate the strands, not weigh them down. In my early days of being natural I used to think damp hair equaled moisturized hair. The two are not the same. Damp hair is hair that simply hasn’t dried, it is not a true measure of how moisturized the hair is. When your hair is fully dry but still feels moisturized, that indicates it is nourished thoroughly.
Products that contain glycerin
The same also applies to products that contain a heavy amount of glycerin. The first ingredient listed is the one with the highest concentration, this is usually water. Then the ingredients that follow usually indicate the next highest to the lowest concentrations. Products with a rich amount of glycerin may not be conducive to long-lasting twist outs, especially in the summer months. Your hair type may also determine how much glycerin is best. What works for one naturalista may not work for another, some hair types may frizz up more easily with glycerin than others. The porosity of the hair, the level of thickness and the style you are trying to achieve are all factors. Some hair types can take more glycerin than others and the style may still last despite it. Do what works best for your hair, read labels carefully and consider if a glycerin heavy product is effective for your hair. It may work well for keeping your hair moisturized but not as well for styling, especially if you live in a high humidity climate.
I also discovered that glycerin has a direct effect on shedding. I would usually discover a lot of shedding when styling my hair or taking out a protective style. Though it is normal to experience a high amount after wearing a protective style (as shed hair accumulates over time) it increased if glycerin was used. When the hair is constantly damp or sightly moist, the strands are in a weaker state. It is the same when washing the hair. Although, the hair is more manageable when wet, it is also weaker and has to be handled extra carefully.
If the hair is weighed down with glycerin, it will increase in dampness over time and become more delicate. If you continue to do your usual amount of styling and manipulation, the hair is more likely to succumb to pulling and tearing. I used to apply a heavy amount of glycerin to my hair before putting it in a protective style. This was to ensure my hair remained moisturized while it was put away. However, with tight braiding, twisting and even sewing, installing protective styles can involve more manipulation than usual. Weighing the hair down with glycerin can be detrimental and make the protective style do more harm than good. Glycerin can still be used but judge the amount to use. If I’m using a product with glycerin, I will only apply a very small amount, as it goes a long way.
Wash regularly to prevent buildup
If you are using products with a fair amount of glycerin it is best to wash or co wash your hair once a week. This will prevent a build up of glycerin and weakened hair over time. When using glycerin most days, if my hair was not washed by the end of the week I experienced more shedding than usual. I believe the buildup caused my hair to become more fragile. After wash day I found shedding was reduced dramatically, as my hair was no longer weighed down.
When the hair is moisturized, the strands should still be allowed to breathe. Once the hair becomes coated with moisture instead of filled with moisture, it is time to wash it. If you are having problems maintaining your twist-outs, or are experiencing more shedding than usual, examine your products and your use of glycerin. Wash regularly to prevent buildup and you may find that these things improve.
What has your experience been using glycerin or products that contain glycerin? Please share in the comments below.