Does Glycerin Work for Curly Hair?

glycerin in curly hair products

I wish the answer was a straightforward yes or no. The truth is, it depends primarily on the environmental conditions where you live. Through trial and error, I have learned that styling products with high amounts of glycerin definitely do NOT work on my hair in extremely humid conditions. (I’m sad about that, because a LOT of great hair products contain glycerin.)

I live in New Orleans, and like many curly girls here, I had completely written off curl definition and hold in the extremely hot, humid summer months. When I first moved here from Atlanta, I had very long hair, but I never wore my curls out. I had too much hair and it was too hot, so I always wore buns or braids. Then life happened and I cut my hair into a pixie. This past summer was the first time I’ve had to deal with making my curls look presentable in extreme humidity, so I began paying attention to ingredients.

I noticed that whenever I used a styling product with a large concentration of glycerin (in the top five ingredients), my hair went wild. Day 1 hair was always ok, but after that the frizz was out of control, even with deep conditioning. I’d always heard that glycerin was a good humectant for curly hair, that it balanced the moisture levels in the hair and kept the cuticle smooth. Turns out that’s true, except in extremely humid or dry climates. I found this info from NaturallyCurly.com:

While glycerin has an immense ability to attract moisture to the hair it also has the reverse effect. Everything is about balance. On extremely humid days too much moisture can be attracted to your hair causing the hair to swell and frizz. However, on low humidity days (cold, dry days) where the surrounding air is more dry than your hair, the opposite occurs.

This explains why, when I lived in Atlanta, which has lower humidity than New Orleans, products containing glycerin made my hair very smooth and defined. Here in New Orleans, those same products don’t work.

Glycerin is a humectant, which means it attracts moisture from the environment to your hair to keep it moisturized. However, if the air is very moist, the humectant can attract too much water to the hair, causing the hair shaft to swell and the cuticle to lift. Raised cuticles = frizz.

When I turned to glycerin-free products, or those that listed glycerin far down in the ingredient list, my hair behaved completely differently. I had noticeably less frizz and more defined ringlets.

This, my friends, is why I’m so thankful there are so many curly hair products on the market now. One product definitely does not serve all needs. It really is about trial and error, paying attention to your hair, and knowing what’s in your products.

What’s your relationship with glycerin? Love it? Hate it? Let me know in the comments below!

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