In a recent blog post, I shared how to determine your wavy hair type. I had mistyped my own hair for a long time, and that resulted in me thinking products ‘should’ work for my hair that didn’t. If you missed that post, definitely go check it out to double-check that you’ve got your hair type correct.
Once You Know Your Hair Type, How Do You Know What Products To Use?
Now you know what your hair properties are – hooray! That’s great…how do you know what products to use now though, right? That’s what this blog post is all about!
What products your hair likes primarily will come down to four factors.
- How much protein to use
- How much moisture you need (or can tolerate)
- How often you’ll need to clarify your hair
- How much hold you’ll need.
How Much Protein Each Hair Type Needs
Here is a chart that I made for my How I Know When My Wavy Hair Needs Protein blog post.
How much protein your hair needs is based on a combination of your hair porosity, and your strand thickness. Here’s a chart so you can find how much protein you should need.
If your hair type is listed as needing light or very light protein, I’d recommend avoiding protein in your styling products that stay in your hair. Common examples would be leave-in conditioner, cream, mousse or gel. If there is protein in your leave-in products, those will be a big impact on your hair because they stay on for so long.
If your hair doesn’t need much protein, using a deep conditioner with some protein (rather than a protein-heavy treatment) once a month or so, while keeping the rest of your products protein-free may be a good option. Or you could try using just a shampoo or wash-out conditioner with protein, but not using protein treatments.
If your hair is listed as having heavy or very heavy protein needs, you may use a shampoo, rinse-out conditioner and leave-in products that contain protein, and you may even need to do protein treatments in addition to all of that!
If your hair needs moderate protein, you’d be in-between those two ranges. You may do something like monthly protein-heavy treatments and a shampoo and rinse-out conditioner that contain protein, but avoid protein in your leave-in products.
How To Fine-Tune Your Hair Protein Routine
For all hair types, you’ll have to experiment a little to find the exact balance of protein that works best for you. When you’re first experimenting with your exact protein needs, I’d recommend erring on the lighter side, and slowing building up your use of protein while paying close attention to how your hair is acting.
Often when you start to get a bit too much protein, your curl clumps will stay really skinny, and your gel cast will be unusually hard to get rid of. If you experience this, I’d dial back the protein a little.
If you give your hair way too much protein, you can get ‘protein overload’ which is when your hair starts to feel stiff and brittle, or if it becomes very tangly (your hair may act similar to cotton getting stuck in a strip of velcro). Sometimes protein overload also makes hair unable to clump, and the hair won’t align well, it can sort of look like cotton candy.
To correct protein overload, do a clarifying shampoo and use a protein-free deep conditioner. Hopefully, if you slowly build up your protein use over time you can avoid protein overload while still finding the ‘sweet spot’ for how much protein your hair likes.
There are also different sizes of proteins, so you may have to experiment with products that use proteins that are the right size for your hair type. For example, amino acid and hydrolyzed proteins are small, while gelatin is medium to large, and soy, oat, corn and wheat are examples of larger proteins. Your hair may do better with small proteins or large proteins, depending on your hair type.
According to The Science-y Hair Blog, coarse hair strands do best with smaller proteins. Very damaged hair may do better with medium to large proteins. Fine to normal hair thickness may do best with medium to large proteins.
My protein routine:
My hair is fine and low to average porosity, so it falls in the ‘heavy protein needs’ category. I use shampoo and conditioner every wash day that includes protein. I sometimes use styling products that have protein, but some of my favorite mousses don’t contain protein, so I don’t always have protein in my styler.
I do protein treatments anywhere from 2-4 times a month, but my hair definitely behaves ‘best’ when I do them weekly. If I go more than a week between protein treatments, I often see a BIG improvement in my hair after the protein treatment. I just get too busy sometimes. While that’s the routine I’ve settled on, it took experimenting with less protein and slowly building up before I got there.
I found that when I gave my hair more protein, it looked and felt better. I’d often have my best hair days after a protein treatment, so I slowly experimented with doing them more frequently. If your hair reacts positively to protein once, that doesn’t mean you should give it tons more, necessarily. Experiment slowly to avoid protein overload.
How Hair Porosity Impacts Moisture Needs
Low porosity hair is great at locking water into the hair strands. If you have low porosity hair, you won’t need as much moisture or conditioner as people with higher porosity hair. In fact, you may find that your hair gets weighed down easily if you use too much moisture. Low porosity hair has a hair cuticle that lays flat so it feels more smooth. It isn’t as likely to tangle and won’t need conditioner to be easy to manage.
High porosity hair accepts water quickly, but it also loses moisture quickly. High porosity hair will need more conditioning, and it may need help locking the moisture in, as well (with oils or other emollients). High porosity hair has hair cuticles that are raised, so it can require more conditioner to keep hair from tangling.
How Hair Strand Thickness Impacts Your Hair’s Needs
For most people with wavy hair, your hair strand thickness is the biggest factor in determining how ‘heavy’ of products you can use. Finer hair is more easily weighed down, and that can cause your curl pattern to be more delicate, too. Meaning, your hair can go straight easier than thick or coarse wavy hair.
If you have coarse hair, you can probably tolerate some heavier products, while if your hair is fine, you need to stick with light products. If your hair is fine to medium, you’re likely to do best with hard hold styling products, as your hair strands may easily collapse under their own weight if they’re fine, rather than maintaining their wave pattern. I have a whole blog post on how to take care of finy wavy hair.
If your hair strands are thick to coarse, you may find that your hair responds better to gels or mousses that have lighter hold, and you may be able to maintain your curl pattern longer without products. Some people with thick, durable hair can even skip styling products and still maintain their style. These people may use just a leave-in conditioner or curl cream.
Related post of mine: Why wavy hair sometimes feels heavy and how to fix it. This post also covers how to tell if your hair products are heavy.
How Your Hair Type Impacts Build Up
Your porosity is an important factor in determining how often to clarify to remove buildup. Low porosity hair gets buildup easier because it isn’t as good at letting products in. The cuticle can be tightly closed causing products to sit on top of the hair (resulting in buildup) rather than getting inside the hair. If you have low porosity hair, you’ll want to clarify more than someone with higher porosity hair.
If your hair is fine, it may be harder for some ingredients in haircare products that have larger molecules to get into your hair, so you may be more prone to buildup.
In a nutshell, finer hair will need to clarify more often than thick hair, and lower porosity hair will need to clarify more often than high porosity hair. My hair is fine and lower porosity, and I clarify about twice a month. For more on clarifying, see my post how often to clarify wavy hair.
How Your Hair Density Impacts Your Hair Care Routine
Hair density is a big factor in determining how much product you’ll need. If your hair is low density, you’ll want to use a smaller amount of conditioner, gel, etc vs someone with dense hair.
Your density may impact your hair styling preferences some, too. People with lower density hair may prefer less definition and smaller curl clumps. For low density hair, having big curl clumps that are well defined can leave their scalp more visible than having softer, less defined waves.
People with dense hair may be more likely to focus on getting better definition rather than volume, as higher density hair will have more natural volume on its own.
Your hair density can also play a role in what haircuts work well for you. People with denser hair may be more prone to getting ‘triangle hair’ if they don’t get layers. People with low-density hair may opt for fewer layers to give more volume.
Other Factors Which May Impact What Hair Products Work For You
We’ve now covered porosity, strand thickness, density and how those factors impact what works for your hair. I believe that for most people, those three factors are all they need to concern themselves with.
However, I do think there are others who have unique sensitivities or allergies that need to be considered. I will say, I do think it is common for newbies to incorrectly decide that they have one of the problems below, when the true problem is a lack of knowing their hair type or how their hair type impacts their hair care needs.
My belief is that it’s best to really be positive that you have your hair strand thickness, porosity and density right and if you are using the right products for your hair type (and using the right amount of product, clarifying often enough, etc) before questioning the issues below.
Some people have hair that is protein sensitive. Now, our hair is largely made up of protein, so it naturally ‘gets along’ with protein pretty well, and all hair needs some protein. A common misconception is that if your hair is protein sensitive, then it just hates protein and you should just avoid it entirely. This is incorrect. Again, all hair needs some protein.
If you have experienced protein overload frequently, this has two potential causes. One is that you are just using too much protein for your hair’s needs. Anyone can experience protein overload if they use to much. So experiencing protein overload frequently doesn’t necessarily mean that your hair is sensitive to protein, you could just be using protein when your hair isn’t in need of it.
However, it’s also possible for hair to be sensitive to certain types of protein. Not all proteins are the same size. Some proteins in hair products are small and are meant to penetrate the hair strand. Others are bigger and are meant to create slip and reduce damage, or to bind to the outside of the hair strand to fill in any spots where the cuticle is damaged.
Some people have hair that likes small protein but not large, or vise versa. If your hair is protein sensitive in this way, you’ll benefit from learning if your hair likes big or small proteins, and sticking with protein sources that are the right size for your hair type.
I’d recommend this video for more about protein sensitivity based on hair thickness. Also, Afope Atoyebi is an awesome channel, she’s a trichologist with lots of scientific information about hair!
Coconut sensitive / coconut oil sensitive
Some people love using hair products with coconut, others say coconut makes their hair feel like straw. I found an Allure article that quoted a dermatologist saying that coconut oil penetrates deeply inside of hair, which can reduce the space left in the hair strand for water, which can leave it more dry than not using the coconut oil to begin with. It suggested that coconut oil make work best on high porosity hair.
Some people say they are allergic to coconut, so it irritates their hair or scalp if they use it in hair products.
Some people say they experience flash drying with hair products that contain aloe. Aloe is said to have properties similar to keratin (which is a natural protein found in hair). So if you don’t need more protein and use a product heavy in aloe, it may cause a reaction similar to protein overload. It’s also possible to be allergic to aloe.
Methylchloroisothiazolinone (MCI) and Methylisothiazolinone (MI) are common ingredients found in different hair products. They’re preservatives that can help keep hair products from getting bacteria, yeast or fungi. However, they’ve become known as “the itchy M’s” because they seem to cause irritation or mild allergy reaction in some people. If you have sensitive skin, you may be more inclined to be bothered by these ingredients.
Humidity or Dew Point
The humidity level and dew point where you live may also impact what products work for you. Humectants are a category of hair care ingredients that work with humidity to help keep water in your hair. One really common humectant is glycerine. Humectants only work to moisturize your hair if the dew point is at the ‘right’ weather conditions.
If you use humectants when the air is too dry, they can cause the air to ‘steal’ water from your hair, leaving your hair dry and brittle. if used in very humid conditions, your hair can take in too much water from the air, causing your hair to swell and frizz. Because high porosity hair lets water enter and leave the hair shaft more freely, higher porosity hair is more likely to be sensitive to humectants and weather properties.
If you want to learn more about humectants, humidity and dew point I’d recommend this article from NaturallyCurly.com.
Of course, personal preference is also a factor in what hair products you will feel work well for you. For example, some people really prioritize having very soft hair, so they won’t like any product that leaves their hair feeling like there is product in it.
Meaning, even if a product “works” to make their hair look good, if it doesn’t feel good, they’ll still feel like that product is a bad match for them. That’s completely valid, but it’s not necessarily about hair type..someone else with the exact same hair type may see the same product as working well just due to the differences in their personal preferences.