Having the right balance of moisture and protein levels in your tresses helps them maintain an ideal porosity and promotes strong, healthy strands. But you have to use the right products. Beneficial hair-washing products maintain the balance between protein and moisture and keep your hair healthy. Unfortunately, when you don't use the right products, your hair can suffer reduced elasticity and breakage. One common cause of hair breakage is hygral fatigue.

What Causes Hygral Fatigue?

Now that you understand the need for protein/moisture balance, the question remains: what is hygral fatigue? Simply put, hygral fatigue is the damage to the hair cuticle that results from the hair shaft repeatedly expanding and contracting as it absorbs water. When hair is wet, the hair cuticle takes on water, swelling to accommodate the increased volume of liquid within the shaft. While some expansion and contraction is a natural part of natural hair's lifecycle, excessive levels of liquid can cause hygral fatigue. The result is damaged hair cuticles and low-elasticity strands, which can lead to a weaker strand structure and increased breakage.

While any hair type can experience hygral fatigue, your hair may be more vulnerable to its effects, depending on its hair porosity. If you don't know your hair's porosity, you can use this hair porosity test to figure it out in just a few minutes. High-porosity hair is characterized by strands that are open at the hair shaft. High-porosity hair absorbs and releases water more easily through the cuticles, leading to an increased risk of hygral fatigue. Some common mistakes that lead to hygral fatigue include:

  • Repeatedly wetting already wet hair before it has dried completely.
  • Using moisturizing shampoo and conditioner on half-dried hair.
  • Overusing conditioners and other moistening agents.
  • Overusing hair masks and or other types of deep-conditioning treatments.
  • Relying heavily on conditioner products without protein.

Read: 12 Steps to Thicker Hair

Signs Your Hair May Be Experiencing Hygral Fatigue

So how can you actually tell if your hair is experiencing hygral fatigue? The end result of hygral fatigue is breakage resulting from damage to the hair cuticle, but your hair will give you many warning signs of a protein imbalance before that happens. Some key signs of hygral fatigue to look out for include:

  • When saturated with water, hair has a gummy feeling when pulled.
  • Wet hair has an unnatural elasticity, stretching unnaturally long before breaking.
  • Curly hair struggles to maintain structure.
  • Curls are poorly defined and weak, indicating that the protein that supports the structure of curly hair is diminished.
  • Hair feels light and insubstantial.
  • In severe cases, you may experience breakage as your hair's weakened protein structure struggles to accommodate the absorption of water into the cuticle.

Related: Hairstyles for Wet Hair That Won't Break Your Strands

How To Prevent Hygral Fatigue

When taking steps to avoid hygral fatigue, remember that maintaining a balance of moisture and protein in your hair regimen is the key to healthy, natural hair. While hygral fatigue is a protein-based imbalance, moisture-based imbalances can be equally damaging to your hair's porosity. Preventing hygral fatigue means paying attention to your hair's specific needs. That said, here are some good steps to make sure your hair routine is promoting a healthy protein balance:

Pre-Poo Prep

Before you get your hair wet, apply a conditioning oil, such as coconut oil, to dry strands. This can help prevent hygral fatigue by locking in moisture. Unlike conventional conditioners, most oils won't wash away when exposed to shampoo. Using an undiluted oil in addition to your regular conditioner will ensure that the oil adheres to your hair strands after washing. It acts like a leave-in conditioner, giving your hair added moisture and creating a long-lasting conditioning effect once wet hair dries.

While any oil will add moisture, research shows that coconut oil is especially effective as a deep conditioner. To bring your DIY conditioner to the next level, blend the coconut oil with a few drops of pure marula oil for extra moisturizing power and a particularly glossy finish.

Also: How to Use Dry Shampoo to Get Clean Hair Between Washes

Maintain a Protein Balance for Healthy Hair

Now that you've locked in moisture, make sure your hair has a proper protein structure by using conditioning products that support hair strength and help prevent the absorption of excessive moisture. Using products that balance moisture and protein is the treatment not only for hygral fatigue but all your hair issues. Depending on how advanced the hygral fatigue is and how much breakage you've experienced so far, you have a variety of options for introducing protein to your hair:

  • For minimal/light breakage: Use a protein-based conditioner or leave-in conditioner. VEGAMOUR's GRO Revitalizing Conditioner features Karamatin, a microencapsulated vegan b-SILK™ protein, which physically bonds to hair follicles and remains attached to strands even after rinsing.
  • For moderate breakage: Incorporate a mild-protein reconstructing product into your hair washing routine. Use weekly or biweekly, depending on the level of damage you're experiencing, until your strands have recovered.
  • For severe/advanced breakage: Use an intense-protein reconstructor, alongside pre-poo applications of coconut oil (or whatever alternate oil your hair likes best) as part of your wash day routine. You can also apply a clarifying shampoo treatment to remove old traces of product that may impair protein absorption.

Once you've corrected your imbalance, maintain healthy hair by keeping both your protein and moisture in check. Using a matched set of products, such as our GRO Revitalizing Shampoo and Conditioner Kit, is a great way to maintain the protein/moisture balance critical to eliminating hygral fatigue.

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Photo credit: Anna_Om/iStock

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