Hair Hydration & Moisturisation: An Extra Or A Necessity?

WrittenbyLuat Duong
Last updated

Hair hydration and moisturisation are often viewed as nice-to-have but not necessary steps in a hair care routine. While there are plenty of moisturising products promising luscious locks, some argue that our hair is designed by nature to keep itself moisturised without the use of these products.

With the abundance of such products and contradicting information on the topic, it might be difficult to decide: does hair need extra moisturisation or is it just a nice-to-have luxury?

In this blog post, we will explore the topic of hydration and moisturisation more in detail.

Hydration vs. moisturisation

There seems to be some confusion around hydration and moisturisation in the online space. While they are similar and often used interchangeably, they are not the same thing.

Hydration means adding water to a substance, in this case, the hair. Like skin, our hair also needs water to thrive and maintain good health. Hair fibers contain up to 32% water on average, and if it drops significantly, hair can become dry, brittle, and more prone to damage and breakage. In short, the role of hydration is to restore the hair’s water content.

So, what is the role of moisturisation then?

This is where a lot of the confusion seems to come from. Some define it as the act of sealing the hair after hydration in order to prevent water from evaporating. But often, the term moisturisation refers to adding water and sealing it in.

Regardless of the terminology used, to keep hair hydrated and/or moisturised, water needs to be added and prevented from evaporating.

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Common factors that can make hair dry

As mentioned above, hair becomes dry and brittle when its water content drops. There are several reasons why this happens, and it is important to find what causes the dryness to combat it effectively. Sometimes the problem can be fixed as simply as avoiding hot tools, other times, it is a more complex issue.

Here are some of the most common factors that can contribute to dry, brittle hair:

  • Colder temperatures
  • Exposure to direct sunlight
  • Using the wrong products/ingredients
  • Use of heat tools without a heat protectant
  • Buildup of hair products
  • Frequent swims in chlorinated and saltwater

In addition, certain medical conditions can also lead to dry hair, including but not limited to:

  • Hypothyroidism
  • Hypoparathyroidism
  • Anorexia Nervosa
  • Menkes Syndrome

Do you really need moisturisation in addition to your natural oils?

A common argument against moisturisation is that the scalp produces its own natural oils called sebum. While it does provide the hair with moisture to some extent, there are other factors that need to be considered.

For one thing, natural oils might not be able to travel to the ends of the hair. That’s especially the case for curly hair or hair that’s very long.

For another thing, modern styling practices, hot tools, and processing can strip the hair of its moisture. Our natural oil production might be able to cope with everyday wear and tear to some extent, however, human hair is not equipped to deal with all the adversities of modern life (styling, pollution, UV rays, sudden changes in temperature, etc.)

Keeping your hair hydrated and moisturised is especially important in winter. The water content in the air is typically less during these times, so you might need extra hydration to provide adequate water to the hair for optimal growth and overall well-being.

While hydrating and moisturising hair is an essential step of a good hair care routine, it is important to find the right products and techniques that work best for you to avoid issues like overly oily hair or product buildup.

How to keep your hair moisturised


How to best hydrate and moisturise your hair can depend on many factors like your hair type, lifestyle, or the environment you live in. However, the fundamentals remain the same in most cases. Let’s take a closer look at these basics below!

Use the right products

Finding the products that work best for your hair type is crucial to keep your hair hydrated and moisturised. While heavier formulas are usually an excellent option for curly hair, those with a finer texture may want to opt for lighter solutions.

Unsure what your hair type is and what products to use for it? Why not take a look at our comprehensive guide on hair types?

Wash your hair gently

The right shampoo can vary from individual to individual, but there are some general guidelines that can be helpful regardless of your hair type. For example, it’s best to limit the use the shampoo on the scalp, as cleansing agents and rubbing the strands can be damaging to the cuticle – the outer layer that helps retain the moisture in the hair. It is also advised to avoid sulfates and harsh chemicals that can strip the hair of moisture and might cause irritation.

Don’t skip conditioning 

Many view conditioning as an optional step. While those with hair prone to oiliness might need less product and lighter formulas, they can still enjoy the benefits of conditioning. Among others, the role of conditioners is to reduce friction and static load between the hair strands. This helps to avoid damage to the cuticle, thus preventing dryness – a welcome benefit for all hair types.

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Protect Against Sunlight

Exposing the hair directly to the sunlight can lead to loss of moisture and leave the hair dry. It warrants the use of sun protection when you are going out. Vitamin E oil or heat protectants containing it can both be of great help in fighting damaging UV rays. Furthermore, using caps, scarves, and hats can also offer similar protection.

Use Masks For Further Nourishment

A deep conditioning solution or mask goes a long way toward nourishment. These can be especially helpful in winter months when our hair is exposed to cold weather outside, heating inside, and lower humidity levels in general. DIY solutions made of oils and other natural ingredients can be a good option. But if you are looking for something more convenient and potentially more effective, ready-made products might be a better option.

Not sure how to pick one for yourself? Then read on, we will discuss it more in detail below.

What ingredients to look for? 

From shampoos to conditioners to masks, there are a variety of hair products that promise hydration and moisturisation. While you may look for different things in different types of products, if you are after moisturising properties, there are a few ingredients to look out for.


Water is the first thing to look for in a hydrating and moisturizing product. As mentioned above, the point of hydration and moisturisation is to restore the water in the hair, therefore, it is a necessary ingredient in any product with such claims. 


A humectants are a group of chemicals that attract water from air and surroundings to increase water absorption by hair. They are essential ingredients in all hydrating and moisturising solutions. Examples of humectants include glycerin, honey, sorbitol, alpha hydroxy acids, propylene glycol, and hyaluronic acid.


Emollients are oily compounds meant to seal the cuticle and smoothen its surface. Examples of emollients include soybean oil, argan oil, soybean oil, sunflower oil, sweet almond oil, and grapeseed oil. In addition to sealing the water in, some natural emollients also provide the hair with the required nutrients, including proteins and vitamins.

Popular ingredients and their potential problems

Now that we have discussed the crucial ingredients of any hydrating/moisturising product, let’s take a closer look at ingredients that might be problematic.


Parabens are added to hair care products because they act as preservatives and increase the shelf lives of the products. These chemicals can lead to a number of conditions including skin irritation and neurotoxicity and thus are best avoided.


Tirclosan is another example of a preservative that can be harmful to the body. Regulatory authorities have banned its use in antibacterial soaps, but these are still found in hair care products. It is a carcinogen and can potentially disrupt the endocrine system of the body. Triclosan can be responsible for a range of problems including cancer, weight loss, immune system issues, and infertility.


Formaldehyde is also a preservative and commonly found in hair care products such as conditioners and shampoos. It is also a known carcinogen that can be absorbed through the skin and cause harm to the body. Other conditions that can arise because of formaldehyde include asthma and dermatitis.

Heavy occlusive oils

Heavy occlusive oils such as petrolatum have large molecules. Trapped on the outside of the hair strand, they coat the hair profusely and act as excellent moisture retainers. 

That said, as they are hard to wash away, regular use of these oils can deposit a heavy film on the surface of the hair, blocking all external moisture sources from taking effect. So ironically, what was meant to moisturise the hair might end up leading to chronic dryness.


Silicones are one of the most common ingredients in products that claim to be moisturising. Just like heavy occlusive oils, they can retain moisture by coating the hair. However, they can also block any external moisture from penetrating, especially if used long-term.

Natural oils such as argan, olive, or coconut oil can be good alternatives to silicones and heavy occlusive oils.

Final Words

Hydrating and moisturization should not be considered a choice but rather something important for the well-being of hair. Although our body has a natural moisturizing process in place, it isn’t always equipped to deal with the adversities of modern life. While selecting the products for hydration and moisturization, it is important to find the right combination for your hair type.

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The information we provide is not intended to mitigate, prevent, treat, cure or diagnose any disease or condition. If you have any concerns about your health, please consult your doctor.


Luat Duong

Luat Duong is a Copenhagen-based writer and content strategist specializing in hair loss and health. His work has been featured in MyHealthGuide, The Right Hairstyles, and Woman's Era. He is a graduate of Vaasa University. You can connect with him on LinkedIn.