Since the dawn of time, hair has been considered a staple of good health, beauty, and overall wellness, so it’s no surprise if you’re feeling a little lackluster when you’re having a bad hair day, week, month, or year. Hair drapes our faces and is something that we inevitably have to deal with in some way, shape, or form every day. It can also be something that we take great pride in, not to mention put a lot of effort towards, so it’s no surprise if you’re spending hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars each year on hair care and maintenance.
Even though hair is technically dead skin cells (yep!), it still can and should be taken care of and maintained. “We are all born with a certain number of follicles and can’t naturally produce new ones, so it’s important to take care of the hair we have,” says Tina Malhotra, a stylist at Mia Wagner Salon in New York City. “For example, exfoliating the scalp stimulates blood flow and helps nutrients reach the parts of our hair that keep it looking healthy and shiny.”
Jodi LoGerfo, D.N.P., A.P.R.N., F.N.P.-B.C., a Doctor of Nursing Practice and a Family Nurse Practitioner certified in Family Medicine and Dermatology, likes to think of the scalp as an extension of the face — it’s where the living part of the hair is. For this reason, scalp care is paramount, and recommends daily scalp cleansing (shampooing) to remove dirt, sebum, and mineral buildup — something very few of us actually do. Additionally, ultraviolet (UV), or sun, protection of the scalp, especially for those with thinning hair (both men and women) is important. “That outer cuticle of the hair shaft also needs care, as its overlying surface expedites the removal of dirt and scaling and flaking cells from the scalp,” she says. “The cuticle also has important protective and barrier functions against the physical and chemical insults we put our hair through every day.”
Meet the Experts
Tina Malhotra is a stylist at Mia Wagner Salon in New York City.
Jodi LoGerfo, D.N.P., A.P.R.N., F.N.P.-B.C., is a Doctor of Nursing Practice and a Family Nurse Practitioner certified in Family Medicine and Dermatology with Orentreich Medical Group, LLP.
Bridgette Hill is a certified trichologist.
Gina Rivera is a stylist and founder of Phenix Salon Suites.
Unfortunately, many of the day-to-day habits that are incorporated into our lifestyle can sabotage the health of our hair. This can not only make it more challenging to actually achieve the results that we’re looking for, but also cause serious damage to your hair along the way. Here, hair pros share some of the worst things that they’ve seen their clients do to their hair — and what they recommend doing instead.
1. Washing your hair too often
Despite how nice it feels to have freshly washed hair, it’s not recommended to do so every single day. This is because your scalp releases natural oils that help hydrate and maintain the health of your strands, so washing the hair too often can strip the scalp of these important oils. The goal, according to certified trichologist, Bridgette Hill, is to create a balance so that the scalp’s natural cleansing and functions are allowed to remain harmonious. “Re-imagine cleansing as other products than shampoo, as simple rinsing under a shower head can be considered a gentle cleanse,” she says. She recommends apple or cherry cider-based rinses or co-washes and water-based rinses made with hyaluronic acid or with hazel as great alternatives.
2. Taking steaming hot showers
A hot shower, especially on a cold winter’s day, feels incredible, but it’s not doing any favors for your hair (or skin for that matter). Hot water strips our body, scalp and hair of those natural oils we mentioned. It also opens the hair follicles, which makes us more susceptible to breakage and damage, explains Hill. Your best bet is to take a shower in lukewarm water — or at least water that’s colder than 100°F.
3. Rocking super-tight buns
The super-sleek tight bun has definitely been making a comeback, but it’s not great for your hair, according to Hill. “Pulling the hair taught and using an elastic band can create excessive breakage and damage, not to mention a receding hairline depending on how tight you’re pulling the hair and how often you’re wearing this style,” she says. “Try to limit how often you are wearing your hair back in a super-tight, slicked bun or ponytail, and be aware of the hair accessories you use to ensure you’re not breaking the hair with the wrong types of hair bands.”
4. Brushing your hair while it’s still wet
Many people brush their hair right after they get out of the shower to prevent tangles, but doing so can actually wreak havoc on the health of your hair. This is because wet hair is more susceptible to breakage, since the elasticity is weak. Hill recommends either using a wide-toothed comb or a wide-bristle brush to break up tangles gently, and to air dry or rough dry the hair to 80-90% before using any styling, metal, or boar bristle brushes to smooth and finish. “The hair is incredibly weak when wet and using the wrong brush can cause breakage and unnecessary hair loss,” she adds.
5. Coloring the hair at home
Coloring the hair at home, on your own, and with over-the-counter products is a big problem, according to Gina Rivera, stylist and founder of Phenix Salon Suites — especially when there is a lightning process involved. “There are technical methods followed, not to mention chemistry, that professionals are educated on and utilize when lightening the hair,” she says. “If lightening formulas are used on the scalp improperly and applied by a non-professional, the results can be both severe and painful.” She recommends always seeking advice from your professional for products, engaging them for color services and seeking their consultation on issues related to scalp health.
6. Never using conditioners or hair masks
Moisturizing hair after shampooing is important, as it coats that outer cuticle and protects it from the everyday assaults we put it through, explains Dr. LoGerfo. “Hair conditioners are formulated to mimic the action of our body’s own sebum and increase hair manageability by decreasing the friction between the neighboring hair fibers,” she says. “Conditioning also increases hair’s resistance to mechanical insults induced by daily grooming and helps eliminate static electricity by depositing positively charged ions on the hair shaft, which counteract the negative charges caused by combing and brushing.” She especially recommends frequent conditioning for individuals with tightly curled hair because they may be more prone to mechanical damage in their daily hair care routines.
7. Sun exposure
Most of us know to shield our skin from the sun using protective clothing and/or SPF, however, we fail to recognize the extent of damage the sun can cause to our hair. In fact, Dr. LoGerfo points out that the sun’s UV light can damage the cuticle of the hair and can cause discoloration, dryness, brittleness, frizzing, and hair thinning. It can also change your hair color. She recommends safeguarding your scalp and hair from sun damage by using sunscreen on your scalp and applying a UV protectant to hair when in the sun. “Applying a UV protectant to your hair will help defend it, preventing it from oxidation,” she says, adding, “Color-treated hair can fade or oxidize with sun exposure. A UV hair protectant can also avert hair breakage.”
8. Improper use of heat-styling tools
You might love the way your hair looks after taking a curling or straightening iron to it, but using these heat-styling tools too often could cause damage to your hair. Hill recommends opting for newer technologies such as ionic, ceramic, porcelain, infrared, and titanium, as they are known to be more health-friendly for your hair. She also recommends keeping heat-styling tools to a maximum temperature of 375-400°F.
9. Not living a healthy lifestyles
Getting enough sleep and eating healthy are two important lifestyle habits that can affect your hair. “Insufficient sleep or poor sleeping habits have been shown to have negative consequences on the body, which theoretically can change hormone levels and could contribute negatively to your health, which can have an impact on hair and an unhealthy or poor diet is associated with hair loss and hair structure abnormalities (more study is needed),” warns Dr. LoGerfo. “Since hair follicles have a high cell turnover, if you are depriving your body of healthy nutrition or if you are deficient in proteins, fatty acids, vitamins and minerals, hair changes or loss can occur.”
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