Hygral fatigue is a term that you often hear in the curly world today. I had promised a friend many months ago to write a post on this very topic, but it wasn’t until a dear friend of mine experienced it firsthand that I went onto my drafts of posts. I was surprised that a term that was unfamiliar to many has become quite popular.
It’s interchangeably used with over conditioning (using an excessive amount of moisture causing hair that’s deficient of protein), but we understand it to mean that it’s caused by using an excessive amount of water. I feel that we’re often left confused by the terminology itself.
Let’s address some of the basic breakdowns:
- Is hygral fatigue an interchangeable term for over conditioning? No.
- If you are over conditioned are you also experiencing hygral fatigue? No.
- Is your hair also over conditioned while it’s hygral fatigued? Yes! (Hence the confusion!)
I prefer the terminology called Excessive Water Hydration Syndrome over the term Hygral Fatigue simply because I am a literal person. Hygral Fatigue earned its definition from the term “hygral expansion.” The definition of hygral expansion is:
“Hygral expansion measurements of woven wool fabrics are influenced by the way in which wet fabric, after relaxation in water, is dried. If the wet fabric is dried directly in an oven, the hygral expansion values are relatively low, but if the fabric is allowed to dry under ambient conditions before oven drying, the values are relatively high (and closer to the "true" values). An interlaboratory trial conducted using thirteen commercial worsted fabrics includes a statistical analysis of different methods for determining the magnitude of hygral expansion. The fabric drying conditions have an important bearing on the magnitude of the dry dimension, and this in turn influences the hygral expansion value obtained.” [Text Source.]
A study of the hygral expansion of wool and yarns is discussed here:
“An experimental study is reported of the hygral expansion behavior of a wide range of laboratory produced and some commercially produced wool woven outerwear fabrics. A fabric hygral expansion apparatus simultaneously measures changes in fabric length and fabric moisture regain which occur when the relative humidity of the ambient environment is altered. Fabric and yam hygral expansion curves are analyzed and discussed in terms of the following parameters: hygral expansion coefficient (slope of the initial linear part of the hygral expansion versus moisture regain curve), hygral expansion at 25% regain, and hygral expansion at 30% moisture regain. F bric hygral expansion behavior depends largely on the magnitude of the weave crimp. The effect of weave construction on the fabric hygral expansion is very small at high moisture regains; at low regains, plain-weave fabrics tend to show slightly higher expansion than the corresponding twill structures of similar crimp magnitude. The effect of fiber properties on hygral expansion behavior has been examined for a series of wool plain-weave fabrics produced from yams of the same linear density.”
Hygral Expansion of Woven Wool Fabrics. [Text Source.]
If I were to take a piece of yarn, soak it repeatedly, never let it dry, etc.: it breaks down the strength of the yarn itself. Sound familiar?
It’s understandable how a person could have applied this rhetoric to the issue that was being experienced by textured hair in terms of excessive swelling of cuticles and water retention.
In layman’s terms: let’s say you have been co-washing daily, sealing in moisture at night (by heavy misting), refreshing, etc. and never allowing your hair to simply be dry; to be short and blunt. Your hair is never dry, you manipulate it, and eventually your hair has began to experience this phenomenon.
I equate this to a plant who gets overwatered. If our curls are like plants who need to be watered than we also can get drowned too! This is what happens when you simply use too much water. Porous hair — especially— will have a higher risk of this happening because it’s easier to penetrate than lower porosity hair. Lower porosity is repellent to water, but porous hair is absorption to water.
Just like too much moisture, protein, etc. can lead to issues: so can too much water as well. Now that we’ve settled what has caused this issue — whether it be too much washing, continually soaking refreshes, etc. or another application that is causing your hair to be soaked excessively: let’s learn more and fix It!
A major factor is that I feel that we need to make a distinguishing difference between over conditioned and Excessive Water Hydration Syndrome.
Over conditioning is a synonym and interchangeable term for over moisturized hair. It can occur by using too many protein free products, warmer weather, and is more likely to happen to finer haired girls. When your hair is over conditioned: you have an imbalance of excess moisture and deficient protein. It is NOT caused by using too much water and is NOT hygral fatigue. If you have symptoms of over conditioning: do a strand test, see if it stretches then snaps, and do a protein treatment. If you haven’t been using excessive amounts of water than you are simply over conditioned. Over conditioned hair has a feeling of being gooey, limpness, and and fluffiness without weight.
The confusing aspect is that when our hair has excessive amounts of water and is experiencing Excessive Water Hydration: it does becomes over conditioned. It’s an effect of the hair becoming weaker.
People who are experiencing both may present with similar symptoms: the cause and reasonings are extremely different. The lack of tangible information is also difficult for most people to realize that they’re different.
If you are not exposing your hair to vast amounts of water: you simply are over conditioned. You will find numerous sources online for remedial practices for over conditioning. In this post: I will address the remedy for over conditioned hair, as it is a major issue affecting those whose hair has been affected by excessively retaining water.
If you have been exposing your hair to water: you do indeed have Excessive Water Hydration Syndrome or as commonly known as hygral fatigue. That also means you’re over conditioned due to one of the many effects of continuously having your hair in a weak, hyper moisturized, and fragile situation.
A big question I feel is exactly why you become over conditioned. Here is a similar to the effect of chlorinated water upon hair that I feel is an excellent example for the scientific mind!
“Chlorine removes natural oils covering hair resulting in loss of hair shine and flexibility, as well as making them more susceptible to mechanical damage. Reaction of chlorine with keratin results in creation of water-soluble chemicals and weakens chemical bonds between fibres forming hair shafts. Also chlorine can get between the hair fibres. As the crystallization process develops inside the hair, the chlorine crystals can separate the hair fibres disrupting structural integrity of hair shaft. Once the bonds are broken, the hair becomes weak and ends of the hairs split. Chlorine salt crystallization process may also affect the hair cuticle. The cuticle is an outer layer of very hard, dead cells over the hair surface. If the chlorine gets between the scales it could push up the scales; therefore, making it rough and prone to damage or breakage. These flaked cuticles reflect light poorly and so the hair fibre looks dull, dry and may feel rough when touched [iv].” [Source Text.]
With the chlorine example: your hair is physically weakened and degenerated by the chlorine — as illustrated here. In the case of hygral fatigue: it’s simply that your hair has been become immensely weakened; similar to why I used this an example.
In actually: you have been perpetually moisturizing with water (a main moisturizing agent) and conditioning agent while your hair is a fragile state. It’s often why you may notice hair breakage — especially in the nape area which is generally the area most likely to break due to friction. The excessive hydration has left your hair unable to soak in nutrients, weakened, and in need of being balanced.
How do I know if I have this?
- I soak my hair excessively: i.e. either by washing everyday, long misting, letting it be wet, etc.
- My hair stretches long at its snap test and then snaps which shows I am deficient of protein.
- My hair feels limp, soggy, and like it has no structure. It is gooey feeling.
- My hair has broken or feels like I am danger in breakage.
If you answered yes to all of those than you have it.
How do I rectify my Excessive Water Hydration Syndrome?
- Stop wetting your hair. I’d recommend to wash every 3 days until your hair is normal. Your hair is strongest in a dry state. Try to refresh doing Smaster’s versus a mist — so your hair stays dry. Your hair is weakest when its wet.
- Pre-poo using coconut oil. Why coconut oil? As you see below: coconut oil is one of the best oils for helping your hair during times of over conditioning and for repelling water. While all oils are hydroponic (repellent of water): no oils are more adept for this situation. As I expressed months ago: coconut is proven to the best oil for retaining protein in our hair — which is what your hair is struggling for right now, as well as to stop from swelling. I’d recommend to separate your hair, detangle gently, and let it rest for at least 45 minutes with a heating cap of some favor. During this time: make sure to use a detergent.
“Beneficial effects of coconut oil on prevention of combing damage on different types of hair have been established by protein loss and water retention measurements In. vivo, salon-based, half-head tests confirm these beneficial effects. Beneficial effects were also observed on chemically (bleached) and thermally (treated with boiling water) damaged hair. In addition to providing lubricating film, it is hypothesized that coconut oil used as a prewash penetrates endocuticular material in the intercuticular region and reduces its swelling propensity. The penetration of water into the intercuticular region is prevented by hydrophobic film at the edge of the cuticle. Both these effects prevent the lifting of the surface cuticle and its breaking by the force exerted by the comb.” Effect of Coconut Oil on Prevention of Hair Damage. [Source Text.]
3. Just like when your hair is over-conditioned: it’s integral to start your journey with a clarification. Personally, I don’t mind if you use a traditional sulfate or a SLES (the gentler
St and less irritating form of SLS; i.e. sodium coco sulfate which is derived form SLS and coconut oil) in your clarifying journey! There’s also shampoos with olefin sulfonate such as Giovanni Tree which show improvement at removing Polyquats. Whenever your hair is over conditioned: it’s always important to clarify to strip excess moisture and start over. I’d recommend washing twice depending upon hair type. At this point: you should have pre-pooed for at least forty five mins and or overnighted depending upon your regimen. I personally prefer to pre-poo same day.
4. Once your hair is washed: do a strand test. When hair is over conditioned, it will stretch a lot. If you’re coarse: I’m going to recommend a protein treatment such as Curl Junkie’s Repair Me (since keratin is easily accepted), but go with what proteins your hair likes. If you’re fine: I’ll recommend hydrolyzed grains such as wheat and oat since they’re the strongest. Medium can play in between. Repeat protein treatments weekly until your strand test no longer stretches.
4. When it comes to stylers: you need to squeeze out excess moisture. After STC: use a shirt or microfiber towel to absorb moisture then follow up with styler(s) of choice, squeeze, repeat, then diffuse dry. You want to eliminate any additional wetness from your hair. I’d recommend a nice protein leave in. Right now: your hair is protein craving.
Basically, the recovery will mimic over conditioning except that you need to be hyper diligent about your hair being left in its fragile state (wet). Protein treatments, shampoo (look for betaine), squeeze out excess moisture, and try not to excessively manipulate it. As much as this isn’t fun right now: it will get better! It really will!
I would not advise of plopping your hair and also use discretion about co-washing until your hair is balanced. Since your hair isn’t being properly moisturized while it’s being “drowned,”: it likely won’t recover evenly.
5. Regularly strand test a few extra regions as you recover. If you feel that your hair needs extra protein, but not a full strength treatment (e.g. gelatin or something else) than you can also try implementing a protein rich rinse out into your routine once you feel comfortable again. I advise against co-washing until your hair is evenly strand testing and no longer experiencing a limp and elongated feeling to it. As mentioned above too: oils in general are good to keep your hair from absorbing too much water, but there’s some oils which are moisturizing. Coconut oil’s ability is specialty is what helps aids the recovery of over conditioning.
How can I avoid this happening again or happening at all?
A major factor of why this happens is because I see something called “full wet down refreshes,” (basically drenching the hair in the shower to refresh), being porous (meaning your hair is absorptive), and simply always having a wet head!
Over conditioning is a lot more common than we realize. I think when we go onto these journeys: we don’t realize that frizz isn’t always a sign of dehydration, but often of buildup and also a sign of over conditioning! These two issues go hand in hand, I believe, since the person may believe their hair’s woes is from lack of moisture versus being out of balance.
A great way to prevent this happening is to always assume frizz is a sign of dehydration. You also need to question, “What did I do when this started? Did I up my moisture? How is my hair actually feeling? Have I lost curl?” Do a strand test, see if your hair breaks while dry if you pull a strand, and if you feel like your hair has lost its suppleness.
It is important to feed your hair the moisture it needs! My hair loves when I mist it! I have genuinely dry hair, but I know my routine would easily over condition many girls. Just like I have dehydrated hair by others’ regimens. It’s important to know what doesn’t work, keep a memory log (by memory or log), and know what you’re doing. It will get better, I promise! Not only will your hair recover, but you’ll know what’s wrong too!