The Stupid Simple Guide to Identifying Heavy And Lightweight Curly Hair Products

September 20, 2022

 by

Verna Meachum

Photo of wavy fine hair along with lightweight curly hair products

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Are you struggling to find the perfect hair products for your fine, wavy, or curly hair? Perhaps you’ve experienced the frustration of your hair feeling burdened by heavy products and are uncertain about the concept of lightweight alternatives.

If you’ve ever found yourself perplexed by the terms “lightweight” and “heavy” in the context of curly hair products, then this guide is tailored to address your concerns.

Lightweight curly hair products are specially formulated hair care products designed to address the unique needs of individuals with curly or wavy hair types. These products are characterized by their use of carefully selected ingredients that provide essential moisture, hold, and styling benefits to curls without causing excessive weight or buildup.

Making an informed choice about selecting these types of products requires knowing what’s inside the bottle; that’s when knowledge becomes your ultimate power tool. I’ve teamed up with a friend who holds a PhD in Chemistry specializing in hair science, to break down the complex world of ingredients.

Let’s dive right into the ingredients.

Identifying Lightweight Curly Hair Products

Image of a wavy haired woman smiling with lightweight curly hair products to the left of her.

It’s important to understand the distinction between heavy molecules and lightweight molecules, as the molecular weight can significantly impact how the product interacts with your hair strands, affecting everything from hydration to curl definition.

Heavy molecules vs. Lightweight Molecules

Curly hair types possess unique structural features that distinguish them from other hair types.1 Natural, untreated curly hair is particularly noteworthy due to its fine texture, characterized by small curl diameters that render it susceptible to becoming weighed down.

Individuals with these distinctive hair characteristics seek specialized, custom hair care products made from natural ingredients. These products are designed to not only style and manage curls but also define their natural shape.

In today’s market, consumers are increasingly discerning about the products they choose for their curly hair. They scrutinize INCI listings 2 on product labels to ensure they exclude undesirable ingredients.

Small Molecules vs. Large Molecules

Cosmetic ingredients are either adsorbed or can penetrate the hair cuticle layer. They bind hair surfaces using chemical bonding, but this bonding depends upon their chemical nature. 3

Molecular weight and structure play an important role in how well these products work on your hair.4 Certain ingredients are small, while others are large and have higher molecular weight.

For example, glycerin is a small polyhydric alcohol while petrolatum is a heavy hydrocarbon derived from crude petroleum.

The molecular weight and size are important factors to consider when formulating a product, as they will determine whether the molecule is suitable for the hair type or consumer. 5

To achieve the best results, those with fine curly hair should avoid heavy molecules with large molecular sizes. This may include both natural ingredients and synthetic ingredients.

Silicones are frequently used in skin and hair care formulations. They are man-made synthetic polymers, having a hydrophobic (oil) nature. 4 They are also heavier and have a dense feeling which can make a heavy coating on the hair surface.

Likewise, synthetic cationic polymers are large molecules (heavy molecular weight) that bind to hair surfaces via electrostatic chemical bonding. 6,7

Best Lightweight Products For Fine Wavy And Curly Hair

I will categorize this list, but please note that it won’t be exhaustive. I’m only including the best curly hair products that I personally know to be effective for fine wavy and curly hair.

Clarifying Shampoos

If you have fine hair, clarifying your hair is a must!  A good clarifying shampoo will help remove build-up from your scalp and hair without stripping away moisture.

To learn more about clarifying your hair and how often you should do it, check out my blog, ‘How To Clarify Curly Hair: The Ultimate Guide.’

Chelating Shampoos

A chelating shampoo is similar to a clarifying shampoo, but it is specifically formulated to remove hard water minerals from your hair.

If you live in an area with hard water, I highly recommend using a chelating shampoo at least once a month.

For more information on how to deal with hard water, check out my blog, ‘The Curly Hair Survival Guide To Chelating Shampoo.’

Shampoos

Shampoos play a fundamental role in your wash day routine as they are designed to cleanse your scalp and hair, removing dirt, oil, and build-up.

When shopping for shampoo, always look for ones that are sulfate-free and silicone-free.

Dry Shampoos

Dry shampoos are a great option for those days when you don’t have time to wash your hair. They work by absorbing excess oil and adding volume to your hair (win, win!).

Conditioners

A regular conditioner for fine wavy and curly hair can be used as a deep conditioner. Just apply it to your wet hair and let it sit for 5-10 minutes before rinsing it out.

Leave-In Conditioners

A leave-in conditioner does not work for every fine curly head, but if you find one that works for you, it can be a game changer! These leave-in conditioners will help to add moisture and definition to your curls without weighing them down.

Deep Conditioners

Deep conditioning is not necessary for every curly head, but if your hair is feeling dry or damaged, a good deep conditioner can work wonders.

To read more about deep conditioning and all the science-y stuff behind it, check out my blog, ‘Is Deep Conditioning Necessary for Everyone with Curly Hair?

Protein Treatments

Here’s a quick tutorial on how to use a neutral protein filler.

Video credit: Meghan Szablak

All hair is made up of a protein called keratin. Your hair needs protein to be strong and healthy, but sometimes it can be damaged by things like heat styling, coloring, and environmental factors. A protein treatment can help to repair this damage and restore your hair’s strength.

I typically recommend doing a protein treatment once a month, but if your hair is particularly damaged, you may need to do it more often.

If you have fine or thin hair, consider adding protein to your routine. It can help make strands look thicker and stronger. If your hair appears limp or stringy, this could be an indication that it needs more protein.

Foams & Mousses

What is the difference between foams and mousses? It’s all about consistency. Foams and mousses are both comparable, with the exception of foams being generally lighter than mousses, which have a texture similar to whipped cream.

Mousses provide more control. Foams, on the other hand, tend to be very light and airy and provide less hold, making them a good option for those with fine hair. Mousses and foams can both be used to add volume and texture to your hair.

If you have fine, thin, or limp hair, a lightweight foam or mousse can help to add volume and body. Just be careful not to go overboard – too much product can weigh down your hair and make it look greasy.

Gels

Gels are one of the most popular products for fine wavy hair. They can provide definition and hold without making your hair feel crunchy or stiff. Choose a gel if you want your waves to last between washes, to keep frizz under control, or if you’re aiming for well-defined waves.

Hair Sprays

Hair sprays can be used to help keep your style in place, add shine, and tame frizz. If you have fine hair, these hairsprays will not weigh your hair down. Make sure to read the instructions for the best results.

Oils

If you have fine hair, you may be wondering if it’s okay to use hair oils. The answer is yes! Just be sure to use a lightweight oil that won’t weigh your hair down.

Hair oils have a variety of advantages, but you just need to know which one to choose, how to use it, how much to apply, and when.

Don’t confuse hair oils with serums as they are not the same thing; they serve quite distinct purposes.

A serum is a styling product that should be used on dry hair to control frizz, and most add shine to the hair’s surface. Hair oils, on the other hand, are more treatment-focused.

Below is a short list of ingredients that are heavy molecules and should be avoided.

Ingredients Curly Hair Should Avoid

  • Petrolatum, White Mineral Oil, and other petroleum products
  • Silicones, Dimethicone, Silicone wax, Elastomers
  • Natural butter, such as shea butter (a minute amount is OK to be used, however, a high dosage can cause a heavy and greasy feel
Lightweight Curly Hair Products infographics

Product Texture

Another important component in causing curly hair heaviness is the product texture. A conditioner or hair mask with high viscosity and firmness contains a greater dosage of ingredients that add body to your hair.

These ingredients are either polymer or long carbon chain fatty wax. For both, their higher concentration may cause a heavy feel upon applying to natural non-chemically treated curly hair.

A product with a gentle, lighter, and fluid texture is more appropriate for curly hair.

Examine the INCI list

By examining a product’s INCI listing,2 you can get an idea of what it is made of and how it might affect your hair.

Please pay attention to the FIRST FIVE ingredients on the list. It should not contain any such ingredient that may be problematic for curly hair.

It should not have the following ingredients in the first five:

  • petrolatum
  • white oil (i.e. mineral oil)
  • natural oils (i.e. castor oil)
  • butter
  • silicone or silicone derivatives

What Ingredients are Good for Curly Hair?

Water-based (hydrophilic) ingredients are preferred for curly hair.

Here are some key ingredients:

These ingredients do not a form rigid coating and are easy to rinse off. The product should also be lightly textured for ease of application and a lighter feel.

What Is Fine Hair?

Fine hair refers to the diameter of each individual strand. Fine hair is not the same as thin hair.

You can have fine hair but have a lot of it (which would be considered thick). Or you can have fine hair, but not a lot of it (which would be considered thin).

So, fine hair is a description of the diameter of your hair, not the amount of hair you have (that would actually be called, density).8

Also, hair that is extremely fine is the most vulnerable of all hair types, and it can be easily damaged.

Fine Hair vs Thin Hair

The density of your hair and the thickness of its strands are the primary factors that distinguish between fine hair and thin hair. 8

Thin hair means that you have a small number of strands on your head. Fine hair, on the other hand, can refer to both a small number of strands and strands that are thin in diameter.

So, you can have fine hair, which is thin in diameter, and/or you can have thin hair, which is fine in diameter. 8

Confused yet? Let’s break it down even further.

If you have thin hair, it means that you have a small number of strands. This can be due to genetics, aging, or a variety of other factors. 9

If you have fine hair, it means that your strands are thin in diameter. This is usually due to genetics, but can also be due to damage from over-processing or heat styling.

You can have both thin and fine hair, or you can have just one or the other.

Conclusion

There are a variety of lightweight curly hair products available on the market, and you have all the information you need to choose the right ones for your hair type and needs.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution; it often takes a combination of different approaches to find what works best for you.

Depending on your individual curl type, you might need to experiment with a few different products before you find the perfect formula for your locks because even the products you use every day can produce different results each time.

Please, pay attention to the INCI listing. 2 The bottom line is that lightweight curly hair products will need to contain lighter and smaller molecules so that your hair will not get weighed down.

FAQs

Is it a true statement to say, “Lightweight products are usually water soluble and thinner in consistency when compared to heavy products, and that they tend to have few or no sealing ingredients, which are ingredients like oils and butter?”

This is a somewhat true statement. It is very true that curly hair will become heavy and weighed down very easily when loaded with oils, silicones, or heavy molecules (higher molecular weight polymers).

However, the key here is consistency. Products with higher viscosity and firm consistency may not be ideal for fine naturally curly hair.

Formulators tend to make it lighter and more fluid to avoid any level of heaviness and deliver a good curl definition, and in essence, using lighter and smaller molecules for curly hair is the best way to go about it.

How can I hydrate my curls without weighing them down?

Anyone with curly hair knows that finding the right balance of hydration and curl definition can be a delicate dance.

Too much moisture and your hair will be weighed down; too little and your curls will be dry and frizzy. So, how can you achieve happy, healthy curls? 

The answer, my friend, is in the balance. Here are my top tips for hydrating your curls without making them feel heavy or greasy:

1. Skip the leave-in conditioner. Instead, leave in some of your regular conditioners as a leave-in conditioner. This will add lightweight moisture to your curls without weighing them down.

2. Focus on the ends of your hair. This is where most of the damage occurs and where your hair needs the most hydration.

3. Avoid using products with silicones or heavy oils. Silicones can actually make your hair feel drier in the long run by creating a barrier that doesn’t allow moisture to penetrate.

4. Don’t overdo it! A little bit of product goes a long way when it comes to curly hair. Start with a small amount and increase as needed.

Is avocado oil and vitamin E good for fine curly hair that is easily weighed down?

Avocado oil is a lightweight oil that is rich in essential fatty acids, which can help moisturize and nourish the hair without adding excessive weight.

Vitamin E is known for its antioxidant properties, which can contribute to a healthier scalp and hair.

When using these ingredients, it’s essential to apply them sparingly to avoid overloading your fine curly hair. You can consider incorporating a few drops of avocado oil or a vitamin E-infused product into your hair care routine, focusing on the ends and avoiding the scalp.

Experiment with the amount of product to find the right balance that works best for your specific hair type and needs.


References

  1. Cloete, E., Khumalo, N. P., & Ngoepe, M. N. (2019). The what, why and how of curly hair: a reviewProceedings of the Royal Society A475(2231), 20190516. ↩︎
  2. https://www.personalcarecouncil.org/resources/inci/ ↩︎
  3. Cruz, C. F., Costa, C., Gomes, A. C., Matamá, T., & Cavaco-Paulo, A. (2016). Human hair and the impact of cosmetic procedures: a review on cleansing and shape-modulating cosmeticsCosmetics3(3), 26. ↩︎
  4. Cruz, C. F., Costa, C., Gomes, A. C., Matamá, T., & Cavaco-Paulo, A. (2016). Human hair and the impact of cosmetic procedures: a review on cleansing and shape-modulating cosmeticsCosmetics3(3), 26. ↩︎
  5. Dias, M. F. R. G. (2015). Hair cosmetics: an overviewInternational journal of trichology7(1), 2. ↩︎
  6. Pfau, A., Hössel, P., Vogt, S., Sander, R., & Schrepp, W. (1998, January). The interaction of cationic polymers with human hair. In Macromolecular Symposia (Vol. 126, No. 1, pp. 241-252). Basel: Hüthig & Wepf Verlag. ↩︎
  7. Hössel, Dieing, Nörenberg, Pfau, & Sander. (2000). Conditioning polymers in today’s shampoo formulations–efficacy, mechanism and test methodsInternational journal of cosmetic science22(1), 1-10. ↩︎
  8. Bouabbache, S., A. Galliano, P. Littaye, M. Leportier, F. Pouradier, E. Gillot, S. Panhard, and G. Loussouarn. “What is a Caucasian ‘fine’hair? Comparing instrumental measurements, self‐perceptions and assessments from hair experts.” International Journal of Cosmetic Science 38, no. 6 (2016): 581-588. ↩︎
  9. Marsh, J. M., Gray, J., Tosti, A., Marsh, J., Gray, J., & Tosti, A. (2015). Healthy Hair: Form and FunctionHealthy Hair, 1-28. ↩︎
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