Use a Leave-In Conditioner
Applying a conditioner to your hair is like doing the job your scalp is supposed to do when sebum is not cutting it. Leave in conditioners do the job of keeping your hair moisturized in between washes. For most curly-haired girls (and others with really dry hair), adding a leave-in conditioner to your regimen is an absolute must. Because there are definite downsides to washing the hair every day, if you have dry, damaged hair, you will need to find another way to add moisture back in. This is where a leave-in conditioner comes in.
Leave-in conditioners contain some of the same ingredients that are found in regular conditioners but are not meant to be washed out and are generally lightweight, so they do not weigh your hair down. There are water-based leave-ins (for those who require only minimal mid-week moisture) and cream-based leave-in conditioners as well. Remember, you are looking for something that will mimic the action of sebum on the hair, so using products like serums and glossers may make your hair feel smooth, but they are not truly conditioning the hair.
If your hair is on the drier side and you would like to incorporate leave-in conditioners, then I recommend the following based on your hair type:
– Straight or wavy hair (color or heat damaged in particular)- apply water-based leave-in conditioner immediately after shampooing and conditioning to wet hair. If you are shampooing 3–5×/week, then no additional use is necessary during the week.
– Curly/Kinky chemical-free/natural hair: apply water or cream-based leave-in conditioner after shampooing and conditioning 5–7× during the week. Choose your leave-in conditioner based on the density of your hair. Follow with oil to trap moisture in the hair.
When applying, make sure to drench the ends of your hair in conditioner as this is the part of your hair that is least likely to be coated with protective sebum. Your leave-in conditioner should leave your hair feeling softer, and you should immediately notice less breakage from styling. If this is not the result you are getting from your leave-in, keep searching until you are satisfied.
Apply Conditioner to Your Hair Before Swimming
Swimming is a fantastic activity to engage in; it’s relaxing and provides an excellent cardiovascular workout. However, the chlorine in pools can be incredibly damaging and more drying than even the worst sulfate containing shampoo. This is one of the reasons that women with really curly or kinky hair rightly shy away from swimming regularly. The adverse effects of swimming can be minimized by washing the chlorine out of the hair immediately after leaving the pool though this may not be enough if water alone dries your hair.
If you (or your child) has dry or damaged hair and are planning to hit the pool soon, consider the following routine to minimize damage during your next pool visit:
1. Apply a thick conditioner to your hair before entering the pool. Leave in conditioners work but definitely do not protect as well as a rinse-out or deep conditioner. Obviously, you do not want to apply something that will create a lot of suds in the pool, so play around with different products beforehand. The closer to pool time that you apply it, the better off you will be. A thick, hair grease can be applied as an alternative as this will prevent any water and damaging chemicals from penetrating your hair but will not necessarily keep your hair moisturized. You will also likely require a clarifying shampoo to wash the petrolatum out of your hair.
2. Rinse your hair after you exit the pool; this will get as much chlorine out of your hair as possible.
3. Plan on shampooing and deep conditioning your hair either the same day or the next day to help replenish the moisture that your hair has lost in the pool.
With these tips in hand, you no longer have to worry about your hair getting in the way of a good time!
Add Regular Protein Treatments to Your Regimen
Almost anyone reading this article will benefit from incorporating protein treatments into their regimen, some more than others. Protein treatments and protein-containing conditioners are marketed toward people with damaged hair and often use the words “repairing” or “reconstructing” in the title. As I am sure you are aware, our hair is made of protein, specifically keratin. Over time, harsh styling habits break down keratin leaving the hair susceptible to breakage. If you were able to look at a strand of hair under a special microscope, you would actually be able to visualize small holes dotted throughout the hair, and the more holes present along with the hair, the weaker it is.
Enter protein treatments. These products contain small, or hydrolyzed, proteins that are small enough to enter the hair shaft and temporarily fill in these gaps. This results in hair that is stronger and can also lead to the appearance of fuller hair. The great thing is, the more damaged your hair is, the better they work! That’s because if there are more holes to fill in, the more noticeable the results will be.
Protein treatments should be applied with heat, which lifts up the outer portion of the hair allowing protein treatments to penetrate more deeply into the hair.
How often you use protein treatments depends on the extent of your hair damage. For hair that’s been severely damaged, protein treatments once weekly for at least 1–3 months is ideal. However, most women can likely get away with using protein treatments once every few months. Women with thin hair will benefit from using protein treatments more frequently. This is because they are often missing an elusive third layer of the hair shaft, called the medulla, which means damage to the innermost portion of the hair shaft is more likely. Personally, I try to make sure I do a light protein treatment on my hair every week.
One potential downside to protein treatments is that they can occasionally make the hair feel dry and straw-like. If this is true for you, then you will need to follow with a deep conditioner or a really rich moisturizing conditioner after every use. The benefits of a protein treatment only last until the next shampoo, but with regular use, you will experience less breakage which will allow your hair to grow thicker and longer. Who wouldn’t love that?
Search Google or YouTube for Help
It’s not often that you hear a doctor refer patients to Google for help. While googling medical conditions can send you into a downward spiral of inaccurate self-diagnoses, googling hairstyling tips can be quite helpful for those who are newbies when it comes to styling their own hair.
There is one unspoken rule to achieving healthy hair, and that is getting to know your hair inside and out. Most of us cannot afford to have a stylist take care of our hair on a weekly, much less daily, basis so part of your new haircare journey will have to involve getting up close and personal with your hair.
For many who will read this article, this will seem intuitive, but the truth is, many of my clients have spent most of their lives doing minimal hair care in between stylish appointments. This means that when issues arise-such as breakage, thinning, or difficulty growing hair to long lengths, these women are at a loss about what to do. That is what eventually leads them to my office.
During these appointments, I do what I have done in this article- I give them a long list of hair tips and products that they should abide by to improve the health of their hair. When I get the deer-in-headlights look at terms like “weekly deep-conditioning” and “bi-weekly protein-treatments” that is when I know that a little more guidance is needed.
The great thing about Google, and in particular YouTube, is that you can find a video on almost anything. If the beauty aisle is too daunting and you need to get a deep conditioner recommendation, you can find someone with similar hair giving a detailed review on your product of interest. If you need to figure out how to style your hair for a special event, there’s undoubtedly someone on YouTube who can walk you through that too.
Of course, everything you find online has to be taken with a grain of salt. Many of the most prominent YouTubers are paid to endorse hair and makeup products so this may lead to biased reviews of hair products. Influencers, the name was given to men and women who get paid to use their social media pages to sell products, can make tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars by making videos like these, so the incentive to be biased is real.
When approached correctly, Google and YouTube can be powerful tools that provide a wealth of resources. It is so very important for every woman to feel comfortable taking care of her own hair. For many women, there is almost no way to achieve healthy hair without taking this step. It is of particular importance to curly-haired women who will need to apply a conditioner every day to prevent breakage. If nothing else, I want women to walk away from this article feeling empowered with understanding that they control their own (hair) destiny.
Reconsider Potentially Harmful Ingredients
Have you ever wondered who polices the safety of your cosmetic products? What most people do not know is that ingredients in nonprescription cosmetic products sold in the United States are not tightly regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This is in contrast to the European Union, which actually does a good job keeping a close eye on the products their citizens are using. In the United States, harmful ingredients must be brought to the attention of the FDA by consumers like you and me. If there are enough complaints, then the FDA may politely ask companies to avoid using these ingredients in their products, but more likely than not, they will not check to see if the ingredients are removed. It is only on the rare occasion that the FDA will actually ban an ingredient. However, even this is tough to enforce. This is because when a company provides an ingredients list on the label, the only code they are following is the honor system. In other terms, this means that companies can choose to be open about all the ingredients or they could leave them off altogether.
While I do believe that the vast majority of ingredients found in cosmetic products are absolutely safe, I will use this chapter to shed light on some of the ingredients that have been associated with some controversy. Unlike the ingredients I have discussed in other chapters, these ingredients are not necessarily harmful to your hair, but are controversial because of potential side effects they may have on your body.
CONTROVERSIAL PRODUCT INGREDIENTS
1. Methylisothiazolinone (MIT): though this ingredient is banned in Europe, it is a common ingredient found in many shampoos and conditioners sold in the United States. It is popular among manufacturers because it helps extend the shelf life of the products, so they don’t expire or spoil too quickly. Despite this upside, they are also a common cause of allergic reactions. Not sure if you are allergic to MIT? If you find that your scalp starts itching every time you wash it, check your label to see if this is the culprit and opt for an MIT-free alternative.
2. Parabens: Like MIT, parabens are common ingredients used to extend the shelf- life of many cosmetic items and foods. Parabens are controversial because of their hormone-like activity. In animal studies, parabens have been shown to act very similarly to estrogen in the body BUT are much weaker than normal estrogen (like 10,000–100,000 times weaker). In these studies, animals are exposed to very large doses of parabens, much larger than the doses we find our products. It is unclear if this has any significant impact in terms of diseases and the human body gets rid of parabens within an hour on average. So far, there is no evidence of any negative effect on the body, but more and more companies have started removing them from their products to be on the safe side. You can tell if your product has parabens by merely looking for the word in your ingredients list (like methylparaben, ethylparaben, etc.)
3. Phthalates- This is a sneaky one because you will rarely see phthalates plainly listed on an ingredients label. Instead, they are usually listed simply as “fragrance.” In some studies on mice, phthalates were shown to lower testosterone levels in the body, but like parabens, the overall impact on the human body is unclear. Phthalates are also being used less frequently because of heightened awareness by consumers.
4. Sodium Lauryl Sulfate- I have already discussed the drying effects of SLS in this article, but you should also be aware that this ingredient is a common cause of skin irritation. People suffering from dandruff are more likely to react to this ingredient. If you’ve tried avoiding MIT and you still notice an itchy scalp that gets worse after shampooing, then make sure you look for a shampoo that is SLS free.
It is important to do your research on any product you use. You may find that you have been using products with these ingredients for years with no issues. If you prefer to be on the safe side, many products do not contain these ingredients and can work just as well for your hair.
Consider Firing Your Stylist
A stylist is like a best friend, a therapist and a doctor all rolled up in one. For many people, they are not just stylish, they are family. Which is why what I am about to say will be hard to hear: Fire your stylist. Or at least think seriously about whether you should get a new one.
Stylists can be amazing; they offer hand-holding and can teach you how to take care of your hair properly. They also have access to products that frankly are not available to the general public which can result in beautiful results that you just can’t seem to achieve at home. A great stylist can do what few can: keep your hair looking great and healthy, but in reality, great stylists are limited.
If you are loyal to your stylist and are dealing with recurrent hair breakage and thinning, then your stylist may be part of the problem. Not on purpose of course, but you know what they say about good intentions. Most stylists want to make their clients look their best, but this may come at the cost of the health of their hair. Not sure if you should be on the hunt for a new stylist? Answer a few questions below:
1. On balance, does your stylist discuss ways to camouflage your thinning hair (weaves, clip-ins, updos) instead of discussing methods to improve it?
2. Does your stylist continue to perform harmful styling habits (flat iron multiple times, use bleaching agents, leave the relaxer on for longer than necessary) even when you repeatedly ask them to stop?
3. Does your stylist ignore you when you say you are experiencing pain from a styling treatment (e.g., burning from relaxer treatment or during flat ironing, tight extensions, etc.)?
4. When you ask for tips on taking care of your hair at home (including tips on how to do routine hair care that is also available at the salon), does your stylist refuse to teach you and insist you continue to receive all your hair care from them?
5. When you experience a bad outcome from a harmful styling treatment, does the stylist try and deflect all blame back onto you?
6. Does your stylist regularly exceed recommended application times for permanent styling treatments such as chemical straightening and hair coloring?
If you answered yes to two or more of these questions, then you may need a new stylist. Consider asking friends for recommendations and try out new stylists for minor services such as a wash and blow-dry. You’ll likely be able to tell after one treatment if the stylist is one who thinks critically about hair. A great stylist prioritizes the long term health of your hair over the short term appearance. If you are not educated about what healthy hair practices are, a lousy stylist may convince you that harmful styling habits are actually good for you. Your stylist also shouldn’t be afraid to tell you no when you insist on bleach blonde color that is certain to worsen your hair’s damage.
It is not uncommon for my patients with hair loss to report back that their stylist was unwilling to adjust their hair care regimen to improve their hair’s health. Hairstyling should not be a one size fits all. A stylist should be able to do an assessment and tailor your hair care specifically to you, just as a doctor would. The stylist-client relationship is truly a partnership and one that pays off dividends when done right.
Avoid Tight Hairstyles
When it comes to hair loss, one of the most vulnerable areas to lose hair is along the temples. It is here that most women notice hair thinning after pregnancy, as they age, and when wearing tight hairstyles. The first two cannot be avoided, but fortunately, the last one can. Tight hairstyles, including tight ponytails, braided extensions, weaves, dreadlocks, and wigs, can all pull out the hair over time. While some women can wear beautifully braided hairstyles again and again with no issue, for most people this will lead to hair loss with repeated use.
One of my favorite phrases is “hair loss begets hair loss.” And what I mean by this is the exact styles that we use to cover up hair loss are often the same ones that make hair loss worse. Wigs are notorious for pulling out hair along the hairline, especially when they are glued in place. Over time, dreadlocks can also pull out the hairline, especially when they are freshened up on a regular basis. While this keeps them looking “neat,” over time, this can pull out the hair and gradually move your hairline backward.
If you are used to wearing one of these styles and have not experienced hair loss (or you have, and it’s just a little bit), then that is great. Early on, hair loss from tightly braided styles is reversible and will grow back with just a little TLC. If you have noticed thinning hair for only a few years, without any shiny bald patches, then it’s possible that an over the counter treatment, like minoxidil. Over time, however, the hair loss can be severe and permanent. At this stage, often the only thing that will grow the hair back is a hair transplant, and those cost anywhere between $10k-$30k. Ask yourself, are your extensions really worth all that? While you are reading this article focusing on improving the strength and length of your hair, do not forget about your hairline. Here are some easy tips you can follow to minimize stress to this sensitive area:
1. Avoid applying extensions to chemically straightened hair. Chemically straightened hair is already weakened, so it makes sense that adding extensions increases the chances of hair loss.
2. Consider extensions that apply less tension to your hairline, like low buns and loose ponytails.
3. Use a satin-lined wig cap and draw it forward, slightly past your hairline to minimize breakage.
4. If you wear dreadlocks, extend the time between touch up sessions so that you are re-twisting less often.
5. Before adding weaved extensions, braid cornrows in a horizontal or circular direction around the scalp, instead of vertically, from front to back, to minimize pulling the hair backward away from the hairline.