Don’t Go Broke Buying Expensive Products
The beauty aisle in any pharmacy or grocery store is a beautiful array of multicolored hair products meant to appeal to the aesthetic inclinations of women everywhere. I have personally been known to reach and grab the products with the most beautiful packaging, especially when I knew less about what to look for on the ingredients label. Back then, I also spent a lot of money just out of a pure desire to try as many products as possible, even when I had products at home that worked just fine. It was almost like an addiction. I had become a certified “product junkie.”
After reading this article, I want to urge you to avoid the desire to purchase tons of products. If this is the first time that you are going to try to “go healthy” regarding your hair care, keep a few things in mind before you go to the hair store:
1. Go to the store with a plan. Check out non-biased sources for recommendations on products for your hair type and research the ingredients online. Every woman, especially if your hair is dry or damaged, should have a reliable product from each of the following categories:
Rinse out conditioner
Leave-in conditioner/daily moisturizer
Start with these “core four” products and then go on from there. If your hair is really damaged and you need a protein conditioner, add that too. Don’t get hypnotized with things like ‘smoothing oil,’ ‘hair nutrient complex’ and other fancy-sounding products. Just stick with the basics.
2. Use the ingredients listed in this article to help guide your product selection. If you find the perfect shampoo for you and its $2, then great, you’re all set!
3. Resist the temptation to buy products just because they are expensive; they still may be damaging to your hair. Obviously, there are some expensive products that are quite amazing but do your research first and don’t be guided by price alone.
4. Be patient! It may take months, even a couple of years before you find the right set of products for your hair, but if you’re not satisfied, keep looking. The ideal shampoo should leave your hair feeling clean, but not dry. The ideal deep conditioner should make your hair feel nice and soft and allow it to retain that level of moisture for at least a few days.
Determine Your Ideal Shampooing Frequency
Shampooing and conditioning are the cornerstones of any healthy hair regimen. The first step in building your hair care routine is determining your ideal washing frequency. This is an important question because hair-washing is not a one size fits all type of routine. Sebum, the moisturizer produced from our scalp, really likes to attract dirt. It has a much easier time coating straight strands than wavy or curly strands. As a result, people with straight hair may notice their hair feeling limp and oily within 24 hours of their last shampooing. Women with really curly hair often have an issue with their hair feeling too dry, mainly because sebum has a harder time moving down the length of curly hair. For this reason, curly hair does not feel dirty as quickly as straight hair and also takes longer to feel limp. As such, it does not require frequent washing.
Shampooing is a “necessary evil.” It cleans the hair, but by stripping away the hair’s sebum, it also leaves it in a vulnerable state. Before you embark on your plan to optimize your hair regimen, you will need to optimize your shampooing frequency. If you have long, straight hair but are suffering from breakage, you can try washing your hair every other day instead of every day or alternating between a regular shampoo + conditioner and washing with conditioner alone.
Those with wavy hair may be able to get away with washing their hair 2–3 times per week, while those with curly hair may shampoo as little as once every 1–2 weeks. Sometimes these changes as the seasons change and you may find that shampooing your hair more often is a must in the summertime, while you can get away with longer shampooing intervals during the winter months. Try to always pay attention to the signals your hair is giving you and remain flexible.
I generally recommend that those with fine, straight hair shampoo their hair once daily predominately with a sulfate-free cleanser and those with tightly curled hair shampoo a minimum of once every two weeks. I do not recommend going longer than that between shampoos because deep conditioners and protein treatments tend to work better on freshly washed hair.
Are you considering adding a dry shampoo to your regimen? Dry shampoos work well to sop up sebum and often contain ingredients like cornstarch or rice starch. Incorporating dry shampoos can be useful for occasional use, as they avoid the damage that can occur from re-wetting the hair, but will not remove heavier oils left on by styling products. However, over time, the ingredients from dry shampoo build up and may require removal with a harsher shampoo to clean the hair so I would not recommend them for curly hair
Apply Oil to Your Hair Before Washing
I know what you’re thinking: why on earth would I apply oil to my hair before I shampoo if the whole point is to clean it?
As I mentioned in Chapter 3, shampooing the hair is a necessary evil. When sebum, the natural protective oil produced by the scalp, coats the hair strands, it attracts dirt. Hair products, like gels, mousses, and conditioners do the same thing. Over time, this dirt and grease build-up and require a proper cleansing to get rid of the film. This is where shampooing comes in. But the mere act of washing the hair is dangerous in and of itself.
When water hits your strands, it causes immediate swelling of your hair. The scientific name for this process is “hygral fatigue.” If your hair is weakened for whatever reason, rapid swelling can lead to sudden breakage as well as tangling of your hair. One effective way to combat this process is to apply an oil to your hair immediately BEFORE you shampoo.
If you want to get your hair squeaky clean, then maybe you want to skip this step, especially if your hair is really dirty and you’re okay losing a couple of extra strands. If your hair is not too dirty and you’re finding yourself in a period of excessive hair breakage, then this is an easy step to include in your wash day routine.
When it comes to research, coconut oil is the only oil that’s been shown to prevent hygral fatigue but it is likely that many oils work just as well. This is because the particles that makeup coconut oil are small enough to penetrate into the hair shaft. Avoid thick, viscous oils like castor oil as chances are you won’t be able to wash this away cleanly. Consider oils like grape seed, jojoba, and olive oil instead if you prefer to avoid coconut oil. Try it during your next wash and consider making it a permanent addition to your routine if you like what you see!
Make Sure to Keep Your Dandruff Under Control
In the quest for healthy hair, dandruff can be quite the annoying foe. Most people are familiar with the type of dandruff that leads to annoying small flakes on your favorite shirt, but dandruff can be much worse than that. Many people have dandruff that leads not only to thick flaking but hair loss and bleeding on the scalp; we dermatologists call this seborrheic dermatitis. In these instances, it is best to see a dermatologist for prescription treatment.
So what if you fall somewhere in the middle and you think your dandruff is keeping you from having healthy locks? Here are a few suggestions:
1. Consider slightly increasing how often you shampoo your hair. For instance, if you wash your hair three times a week, consider going up to five times a week. If you shampoo your hair once a week, consider upping to twice a week. Washing the hair more often actually can help keep dandruff under control. You should only follow this recommendation if you…
2. Use sulfate-free dandruff shampoo. This task is much easier said than done. Most dandruff shampoos are formulated with sulfates to increase cleansing power, which as I mentioned, helps control dandruff. However, if you are going to increase how often you shampoo, it will be important that you find a sulfate-free dandruff shampoo so that you do not damage your hair in the process. You can alternate between a normal dandruff shampoo and a sulfate-free shampoo if you find that the sulfate-free shampoo is not doing the job.
3. Don’t convince yourself that dandruff is just a sign that your scalp is dry. While it is true that scaly skin is often dry skin, the same is not true for the scalp. Dandruff is actually caused by a commonly found yeast called Malassezia, which probably lives on all of us and dandruff is a sign of our body’s unique response to this yeast. However, only some of us will develop dandruff even with the same amounts of yeast on the scalp. All of this is to say, it is not enough to simply apply oil to the scalp in hopes of getting rid of dandruff, you must treat the cause. In the long run, it will do wonders for your hair.
4. Be patient. There is no cure for dandruff, so you will have to be prepared to treat it in the long run.
Condition Your Hair Every Time You Wash (With or Without Shampoo!)
As I have mentioned several times before (because it is so important!), our scalp produces a natural moisturizer, called sebum, which helps protect our hair strands. In fact, for those with tightly curled hair, it is essential to replace the action of sebum through the use of a daily conditioner.
You can think of conditioners as synthetic sebum, as they are literally designed to mimic the action of sebum on the hair strand. So if your hair is not getting naturally coated by sebum, then manually applying it to the hair will do wonders.
Not only will a conditioner protect your hair, but it also helps to balance out the negative charge left behind by shampoos and prevents hair breakage. By balancing out the negative charge left behind by shampoos, conditioners help to leave the hair soft and shiny. Conditioners can also temporarily mend split ends by bringing together two layers of your hair shaft. Aren’t they just magical?
While conditioning the hair after shampooing is a must, more frequent use can be helpful for those with really dry hair, especially curly or damaged hair.
One way to pack more conditioning into your hair care routine is to wash your hair with conditioner alone. Conditioners actually have mild cleansing ability, so if your hair is not too dirty, this is a reasonable option, but this won’t work for everyone. If your hair gets greasy quickly, you will definitely not want to wash with conditioner alone; in this case, opting for a gentle shampoo makes more sense.
If you want to play around with washing your hair with a conditioner alone and skipping shampooing, start slow. I usually recommend two conditioner-only wash sessions for every one shampoo + conditioner cleansing session for my patients with dry or damaged hair.
Some shampoos are branded as “co-wash” shampoos; this means that they are formulated more like a conditioner, and can be used in place of a standard rinse out conditioner for this intended use. Over time, however, overuse of conditioners can lead to a buildup (remember, they attract dirt, just like sebum) and eventually shampooing is needed to get your hair clean. For women who choose to add conditioner-only washing sessions to their regimen, the occasional use of sulfate-containing shampoos is necessary to help rid the hair of buildup. Additionally, I do not recommend washing with conditioner only before a deep conditioning or protein treatment session because these will likely be less effective.
Look for These Ingredients in Your Conditioner
Conditioners are awesome, and I hope by now I have convinced you of that fact. So what should you look for in a conditioner?
HIGH-YIELD CONDITIONER INGREDIENTS
1. Stearyl alcohol or cetyl alcohol: even though you see the word alcohol, these ingredients help to soften the hair. They also help minimize friction in your hair so that your hair is less likely to tangle and split. If you like your hair to feel soft and smooth after you wash, then check your conditioner for these ingredients
2. Dimethicone: This is a type of silicone which helps the hair feel smooth and look shiny after use. Dimethicone is commonly found in smoothing serums, leave-in, and rinse out conditioners because of these very properties. Some people choose to avoid silicones because they can leave a thin film on the hair that can be undesirable.
3. Hydrolyzed keratin/collagen/elastin etc.: When you see these ingredients in a conditioner, it means that it has protein in it which can add additional strength to your hair. However, sometimes protein can make the hair feel a little drier, even if it does seem stronger. If you prefer that your hair feels as soft as possible, then you should avoid these ingredients in your conditioner except for when you are specifically doing protein treatments. Protein treatments often have higher amounts of these ingredients than protein-containing conditioners.
4. Citric acid, benzoic acid, glutamic acid, etc.: these acids help leave a positive charge on the hair which reduces flyaways and frizz. These are great ingredients to look for if you are looking for your hair to be more manageable and shiny.
There are many other ingredients that can make a conditioner perfect for you so don’t be dismayed if your favorite conditioner is missing these ingredients. However, if you are new to your healthy hair journey and don’t know where to start, use this list as a guide to help you navigate the ever-dreaded beauty aisle.
Deep Condition Your Hair Regularly
Hair that has been damaged by bleaching, relaxing, hair coloring or by any other method is often dry and brittle. It has a more difficult time holding onto and retaining moisture that either comes naturally from the scalp or in the form of a conditioner. For people with healthy, minimally damaged hair, a simple washing regimen consisting of shampoo + conditioner probably works just fine. However, if you’re reading this article because you’re a) experiencing difficulties getting it to grow long or you’re b) noticing more breakage, then that regimen is simply not enough.
Enter the role of deep conditioners. These are more intensive conditioners that are designed to stay on the hair for extended periods of time. They are often intended to be used with heat, which allows the scales of the hair cuticle (think of them like shingles on a roof) to lift up so that the conditioner can penetrate more deeply. So while the benefits of a regular conditioner may last a couple of days, the benefits of a deep conditioning treatment can last for a week or longer. Regular use of a deep conditioner helps mend split ends temporarily and provide more resistance to breakage from daily grooming. You can mix your deep conditioners with oils to provide an even more intensive moisturizing experience.
I typically recommend adjusting how often you deep condition based on your hair type or hair condition:
– Healthy naturally curly/kinky hair- deep condition at least once weekly.
– Damaged naturally curly/kinky hair-deep condition twice weekly for a few months if you are new to moisturizing your hair and your hair is in need of TLC. Add a protein treatment once weekly during this time
– Healthy naturally straight/wavy- a deep condition once monthly
– Damaged naturally straight/wavy hair-alternate deep conditioning and protein treatments every other week for three months until health is restored
Space Out Chemical Styling Treatments
The great thing about hair is that it’s always growing. But sometimes the worst thing about hair is that’s always growing, ugh! This is an issue when you’re an avid fan of permanent styling treatments like relaxers and hair coloring. That’s because, every few weeks, like clockwork, you realize that you’re due for another treatment.
Let’s say you’ve read my chapters on how harmful these treatments can be, but you’ve determined that cutting them out completely is just not possible. Then one thing you can do is to space out how often you get these treatments. On average hair grows about ½ an inch per month, sometimes more, sometimes less. It’s much harder to limit the application of relaxer or hair color to a small ½ inch strip of hair than it is to limit it to a 1½ inch strip. Getting frequent touch-ups increases the risk of damaging the hair that has already been treated because it is accidentally being treated twice. Spacing out treatments also gives you more opportunities to strengthen your hair between touch-ups with protein and deep conditioning treatments.
Certainly, all of this may be much easier said than done, but it’s yet another simple tweak to your hair care regimen that could pay dividends in the long run.
Wear Buns More Often
Without a doubt, my favorite hairstyle for women working their way back to healthy hair is a classic bun. A bun is great for two reasons:
1. It keeps hair from dragging along your shoulders and getting snagged on clothing
2. It protects the ends of your hair which are prone to get damaged
Additionally, because a bun looks excellent even when “messy,” women are less likely to use damaging styling tools to achieve this look. When done correctly, buns should not be tight or held back with multiple clips. This can lead to hair breakage and defeat the purpose of protecting the hair.
If you’re looking to grow your hair longer, you will need to emphasize protecting the most vulnerable part of your hair, the ends. If you are looking to grow your hair out, I recommend wearing your hair in a bun about 90 percent of the time and doing a more fun style on the weekends or during special occasions.
An alternative to buns is braided styles that tuck in your ends such as Dutch or halo braids, and high ponytails that don’t drag against your clothes.