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Glycerine, Friend or Foe

by Evenes Ruth Mafupa

For a natural head, glycerine or any product containing glycerine is a “use at your own risk” or is that so? Many naturals have a love hate relationship with glycerine and being one myself, I really do feel you. It has caused many a bad hair day for me when a supposed to be twist out or braid out becomes so mushy, frizzy and my hair shrinks to like 50% and as usual I end up going to plan B. So, to say I love glycerine, umm, not always I am afraid. But I don’t hate it either. It usually leaves my hair so soft and I can really feel that it is well moisturized when I spritz or spray with a glycerine containing product.


Twist out without glycerine

Twist out without glycerine

What is glycerine and how does it work on our hair?

Glycerine or glycerol  is a water soluble conditioning alcohol that has three groups of hydroxyls. It has hygroscopic molecules that absorb moisture from the surroundings which means it is a humectant. Hair is hydrophilic and it contains some amount of water naturally. Since our hair has raised cuticles, making it quite porous, much of this water moisture is lost to the atmosphere and our hair is then left dehydrated. To moisturise the hair, we need to add water but since our hair is porous, it will quickly lose any water and if this is continued, it leads to the hair becoming very weak and prone to breakage. To win the moisture battle, you will need to seal the moisture in with oil. However, you may still lose the moisture from your hair during the course of the day and that is when adding humectants like glycerine to your regimen comes in handy. Though this is a reserve for moderate to very humid climates, using a moisturizing product that contains glycerine will result in your hair getting a steady moisture supply from the air. Because glycerine has relatively small molecules compared to other conditioning alcohols, it draws water from the atmosphere to your hair gradually giving the water time to bond with the hair.


Braid out with glycerine

Braid out with glycerine


In dry climates, glycerine will draw moisture from your hair to the air leaving your hair dry and brittle so it is to be avoided at all costs. It may also strip colour from chemically coloured hair because it is a solvent for many types of molecules. Glycerine or any product containing glycerine should be avoided soon after permanently colouring hair as it may lead to loss of colour. Glycerine is not good to use when heat styling your hair, because it conducts thermal energy and this may result in a lot of heat damage to your hair. Glycerine should be used sparingly on relaxed or permed hair as this may lead to breakage. This happened to me when I was in high school. I got a perm and used glycerine undiluted on my hair and it all broke off, starting on my crown.

My experience

When I include glycerine to my spritz, I do not get a well defined twist out or braid out. Although South Africa, specifically Johannesburg is moderately humid and we experience wet weather in summer and sometimes in winter, my hair tends to be very frizzy and often shrinks when I use glycerine. I am however able to keep my hair moisturized longer, say a whole day, then I have to spritz it again in the evening. I have also noticed less breakage when handling my hair using glycerine. My hair feels so soft and has some elasticity.  Over time, I have learnt to only use glycerine products when I do not mind the frizz and most of the times my hair will be in twists or braids. These are times when moisture is number one on my list. There are days when I stay away from glycerine especially when I want to brush out my hair, wear a twist out or braid out. I always use it diluted though because being a humectant, it may cause a blister on the face if undiluted and I touch my hair and my face a lot. It is also very sticky when undiluted. So a friend indeed when used correctly at the right time but a foe at other times is glycerine to my hair.

How to use glycerine for your hair

Mix 70% distilled or previously boiled water, 20% glycerine, 1tsp conditioner or leave in conditioner and a few drops of essential oils of your choice in a heavy duty spray bottle, like the one used to spray plants in the garden. Shake vigorously and it’s ready to use.

Have you used glycerine? How did your hair respond to it? How did you use it?

All the best and keep warm this winter.




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