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Glycerin for curly hair- benefits, downsides and alternatives

For the curly-haired ladies out there who constantly struggle with hair dehydration issues, glycerin can swoop in a savior- when used correctly, it can transform your frizzy lackluster curls into glossy, defined, and well-moisturized spirals. However, it does come with some caveats.

In this comprehensive guide, I’ll teach you everything you need to know about glycerin for curly hair. We’ll explore what it is, how it works on curls, plus best practices for your unique texture. I’ll also troubleshoot common issues like humidity-induced frizz and effective alternatives to glycerine.

What is Glycerin and How Does it Work?

Glycerin, also known as glycerol is an odorless, syrupy liquid derived from plant oils or animal fats. Known as a “humectant,” glycerin attracts and retains moisture from the air into hair strands. Unlike silicones that coat hair, glycerin penetrates the hair shaft to plump strands with hydration. The result? Softer, springier curls minus crispy ends and frizz.

The glycerin helps bind stray strands together to prevent frizz and encourage curl formation. It gives your curls the moisture they crave, creating glossy ringlets that hold all day.

Benefits of using glycerine on your curls

Glycerin offers some great benefits for curly hair when used properly:

Retains Moisture

Being a humectant, glycerin binds moisture into hair strands by pulling it from the surrounding air. This helps keep curls hydrated, springy, and frizz-free. Properly moisturized hair displays defined, separated curl clumps.

Enhances Curl Definition

By attracting moisture into the hair cortex, glycerin helps plump up strands to reveal their fullest texture potential resulting in enhanced curl formation, bounce, and coiled definition from roots to ends.

Offers a Long-Lasting Hold Factor

When paired with the right accompanying stylers and gels, glycerin provides a flexible long-lasting hold. Your flawless curly shape can persist for days rather than shrinking up or falling flat shortly after washing.

Seals Moisture-saturated Cuticles

Glycerin saturates into damaged areas of the hair including the cuticle layer. This helps create a protective barrier to seal in moisture and nutrients for healthier hair overall.

pH Balancing Abilities

Most types of glycerin have a pH right around 7 making it compatible with your hair and scalp’s natural pH levels. This pH-balanced environment nourishes hair and scalp, unlike harsh cleansers.

Conditions dry scalp and reduce dandruff

According to a study, using glycerine-based products or applying diluted glycerine as leave-on scalp treatment has been shown to mitigate dry scalp conditions and a significant reduction in dandruff. This can be especially helpful for curlies since curly hair is more prone to dandruff.

How much glycerin to apply? (based on your Curl Type)

While glycerin is a godsend for thirsty curls, not all products are created equal. The amount of glycerin you need depends largely on your curl type.

Wavy Curls (Type 2)

If you have wavy or loose curls of type 2, lighter glycerin formulas around 10-15% would be ideal. Look for glycerin-based leave-in conditioners instead of thicker creams, which can weigh down delicate strands. Focus application from mid-lengths down, avoiding roots.

Medium Density Curls (Type 3)

The sweet spot I’ve found for my medium-density curls is around 18-22% glycerin content. This gives enough humectant power to maximize springs without greasiness. Creamy stylers tend to work better than liquids to encourage coiling. Apply from roots to ends after showering, scrunching up toward the face.

Thick/Coarse Coils (Type 4)

Those with ultra-tight 4C coils can rock heavier glycerin levels up to 30% for serious definition. Look for custards over creams to avoid buildup. Rake through sections with a wide-tooth comb for even distribution from scalp to ends. Let air dry for bouncy, defined ringlets.

Is it safe to Apply pure glycerine directly to your hair/scalp?

Instead of relying on the glycerine content in hair products, you can apply pure glycerin directly to your curls and scalp without worries. Just make sure to dilute it beforehand.

Best practices to apply pure glycerin on hair

  • Dilute the glycerin with water at a 1:4 ratio. Pure glycerin is very concentrated and can overload your hair with moisture.
  • Shake the glycerin/water solution well and apply it to damp, not soaking wet hair. Focus mostly on the mid-lengths and ends.
  • Glycerin can have a sticky texture, so apply sparingly – a little goes a long way. Use about a teaspoon of diluted glycerin per section of hair.
  • If your hair is fine or gets easily weighed down, mix in a touch of lightweight gel or mousse to the glycerin to help with frizz.
  • Let your glycerin-treated hair air dry or diffuse gently – avoid rubbing, blow drying, or toweling techniques that can break up curl clumps.
  • Set your curls with a frizz-fighting serum or holding spray once the hair is about 80% dry. This helps lock in the moisture captured by the glycerine.

Be wary of using too much pure glycerin or overdoing treatments as this can lead to glycerin building up on your strands and feeling crunchy or sticky.

No matter where you land on the curl spectrum, always start with only a dime-sized amount, adding more as needed. You want moisture balance, not soaking strands. Pay attention to the weather forecast too because air humidity makes a huge difference which brings us to the next section-

When Not to Use Glycerine

While glycerin transforms lackluster locks in arid climates, things can take a downturn in humid conditions pretty quickly.

Characteristic of its humectant nature, glycerin always tries to pull moisture from the environment into your hair regardless of humidity conditions. While in dry weather, this moisture boost is beneficial for hair, but when the humidity gets above 65%, that extra moisture can overload strands already swollen with water molecules from the moist air and can often lead to hygral fatigue.

Cue frizz, undefined clumps, and poufy curls – not the look we’re going for!

Glycerine-free alternatives in highly humid conditions

When humidity creeps up, switch to glycerin-free styling products to avoid overloading your curls with moisture, look for alternatives like:

  1. Aloe Vera Gel – which smooths and defines curls minus the humidity frizz issues of glycerin. It contains moisturizing elements like polysaccharides but minimal humectants.
  2. Honey – a natural humectant, but is not as aggressive about pulling in air moisture as glycerin. It’s pH balancing and antimicrobial properties also nourish hair.
  3. Leave-In Conditioners – focused on moisturizing dry hair through occlusive oils instead of drawing moisture in. Argan, coconut, and olive oil-infused options offer hydration without pulling in humidity.
  4. Protein Treatments – to strengthen hair against swelling in humidity. Rice water rinses add both protein and vitamins.
  5. Curl Creams and Gels– to maintain definition and hold in damp weather by locking in moisture. Apply to soaking hair and let fully dry to set curls in place before scrunching out any crunch.

Apart from the above mentioned seek out oils high in ceramides like argan, coconut, and marula. Additionally, liquid silicones like dimethicone and amodimethicone coat the cuticle to block moisture absorption (and thus frizz).

My Top Glycerin based hair Product Recommendations

Cantu Shea Butter Define & Shine Custard – This glycerin-spiked custard blends shea butter, honey, and coconut oil for major definition. Build up a grape-sized amount through strands post-shower, then let air dry.

If you want to splurge on a salon brand loaded with glycerin, invest in one of these all-star options:

Briogeo Curl Charisma Rice Amino + Avocado Hydrating Crème – Just a dime-size smoothes and defines from roots to ends while fighting frizz. A little goes a long way!

Moroccanoil Curl Defining Cream – This glycerin-enriched cream boosts elasticity for bouncier, frizz-free coils. The argan oil adds even more hydration.

Final Thoughts

Hopefully, you now understand why glycerin is so revered in the curly girl community. When used properly, it has the power to transform frizzy coils into flawless spirals. Just keep humidity levels in mind, and pick your products accordingly. With the right routine, you can unleash your inner curly-haired goddess, no matter the forecast!

I wish you the very best on your haircare journey – we all deserve amazing hair days ahead! Let your unique texture shine through.

Dr Hamdan Hamed Abdullah

Dr Hamdan Hamed Abdullah

Dr. Hamdan Abdullah Hamed MBChB, co-founder of, is a UAE-based board-certified dermatologist. Committed to natural hair care, he's been quoted in MSN, Yahoo, The Mirror UK, Daily Mail UK, Chronicle Live, Gulf News, among others. He specializes in natural hair care, supporting individuals with a range of hair textures to achieve their hair goals