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How to Troubleshoot Curly Hair in Soft Water

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I moved to Qatar from India a few months ago (at the time of this writing), and my hair has been misbehaving ever since. Here’s what I did to fix it. 

Step 1: Identify environmental/situational changes

When I was in India (Pune), my hair was used to average temperatures (between 19 to 33 °C) and freshwater. In Qatar (Doha) the temperatures range from 13 to 47°C (higher peaks and lower lows). Air conditioning is highly prevalent so the air indoors can be really drying. The water here is highly treated, so it’s even softer than the water back home. My hair felt heavy, weighed down, and sticky the first few weeks in Doha Qatar. Old products and routines stopped working. Remember, just as hard water can be drying, soft water can be moisturizing to curly hair.

Step 2: Identify changes in the way your hair looks, feels, and behaves

I experienced severe hair loss in Qatar the first few weeks but it arrested on its own. The only plausible explanation for this is that hair needed time to acclimatize to the new climate and water. Other extreme changes I noticed:

  1. Immediately after a wash, my hair felt heavy with a gummy texture.
  2. By the end of the day my curls would dry out and become frizzy.
  3. The curls were soft but individual strands of hair felt rough.
  4. My hair looked dull, no shine. 

The heavy gummy texture and the overly soft hair was a direct result of the changes in my environment. Heaviness in the hair is typically caused by excess moisture from conditioning agents in your hair products. 

 When hair feels over-conditioned try to minimise moisture in your curly hair.


Step 3: Determine elements of your routine, products, and techniques are causing your hair to feel different

My old moisture-heavy washday routines were throwing me into a state of Hygral Fatigue. According to this Healthline article Hygral fatigue may even cause dryness because damage to the cuticle impairs the follicle’s ability to hold moisture.” This explains why curly hair gets frizzy, especially when you’ve done everything to moisturize it. The irony: Too much moisture causes frizz!  Warning: any kind of overload may take many weeks to balance your hair again.

Here’s what I was doing wrong in Qatar:

  1. Using large amounts of shampoo (desperately trying to remove the greasiness)
  2. Applying too much conditioner to detangle my hair after too much shampoo.
  3. Applying hair mask, and then using conditioner after rinsing mask out. 
  4. Layering many products (Leave In+Cream+Gel) after such a moisture-heavy washing routine. 

Step 4: Change your routine/products/techniques to solve each individual problem

There are some things that were beyond my ability to change.

  • The indoor humidifier meant the air in my house was going to stay moisturized.
  • I can’t fix the water supply, which was so soft (less than 150 as per this source) that it was making shampoo lather easily but making it difficult to wash it off.

Here’s what I observed in this new soft water: Shampoo lathers easily, but is hard to rinse out. I was using too much shampoo! Most of the buildup was coming from the shampoo and conditioner in the washing routine itself. I explain more on this soft water blog here. What I could change was: My hair products. 

Here’s what I changed with my curly hair in Qatar:

  • Applying only a few drops of oil before shampoo (prepoo).
  • Minimizing moisture, like using only a leave-in conditioner directly after shampoo.
  • Replacing shampoo with ACV Rinse and clay washes from time to time. 
  • Introducing protein to counterbalance the moisture
  • Using Mousse to make my hair feel less heavy.

Because texture matters.

Be careful with the proteins you use. My coarse low porosity hair can be protein sensitive. And using new products with heavy protein and coconut was making my problems even worse! Read more about why I stopped using coconut oil here. My hair felt like it was ping-pong-ing between both moisture and protein overloads at the same time. This is what I observed:

  • Washday looked good. But the next day hair felt brittle and hard.
  • All wash days following using coconut products did not make sense until I clarified my hair to remove this layer out of my hair.

Clarify to rest your hair. It is attempting to remove all the overloaded protein and/or moisture buildup. There are many ways to fix an overload, best to reset your hair and start over. Like a do over. You can try any, few, or all of these suggestions here: 

Step 5: Monitor and adjust as needed

The soft water was moisturizing my hair, and layering of products was weighing my hair down. Since my hair is protein-sensitive, adding too much protein at one go was not helping either.  Clarifying with clay removed the gummy buildup in one shot, and minimizing moisture, adding protein gradually brought my curls back!

Mistakes I wish I had avoided

  • Investing in the latest (and expensive!) K18 leavein mask, and using it with protein stylers was sending me into a protein overload. 
  • Giving into temptation and buying Shea Moisture & Cantu products from the mall only to experience it weighing my hair down, and coconut was making my hair go nuts!
  • Cutting my hair shorter assuming my length was weighing heavy on my scalp; not having the patience to wait this out, I should’ve tried out all the solutions before cutting my hair.

You have the chance to get curly hair solutions! If you need my help to understand your curls better, book a call with me today.

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4 thoughts on “How to Troubleshoot Curly Hair in Soft Water”

  1. I have soft water and my curly hair hates it! I’ve been battling with it the last four years it’s awful, currently I’ve added bond salve my curl smith it has brought my curls back somewhat but my hair is still very soft should I avoid conditioner? Thanks

    1. Yes! Try to cut out as many moisture elements as possible. Right now where I live in Doha the water is so treated, I can’t use a mask and conditioner in one routine. And if I use either one I cannot use hair cream in my styling. It’s a permutation combination kind of game.

  2. Thank you for your article. Most curly sites seem to think soft water is better. I grew up in a hard water area and my fine wavy/curly hair was great. I now live in a soft water area so have struggled to manage it. could you explain about protein and soft water. Should I use a protein rich conditioner sometimes? I’ll take a look at your other articles. Thank you

    1. Thank you for asking me 🙂 my hair usually thrives with moisture-rich products but they were acting up in soft water. It’s just that soft water is also “moisture” and that’s why using more protein made sense for me. For your hair defnititely minimise moisture wherever possible, I would say if you use a conditioner, avoid moisture things in your styling. Or if you can just shampoo + gel, keep it as minimal as possible and let me know if that works better for you

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