No one actively tries to damage their hair, but turns out that some parts of our regular beauty routine are doing just that. While most of us try to avoid the stuff we know is bad, there are plenty of hair habits that seem fine, but are actually the biggest culprits of dry, damaged, dull locks.
To get the downlow on how we’reinadvertently ‘effing up our coiffs, we went to hair pro Stephen D. Pullan, a trichologist at the Philip Kingsley Clinic in NYC, to find out what we need to do to give our follicles a fighting chance. From cleansing to styling, read on to learn which mane moves to avoid if you want Gisele-worthy locks.
The Move: Not Taking Care Of Yourself
What’s Wrong With It: First off, let’s get one thing straight: The health of your hair is not independent of the health of your body. “Women forget that healthy hair is dependent on a healthy body,” says Pullan. When you don’t get enough sleep, eat like crap, and are constantly stressed out, your’re going to grow a much weaker hair fiber, says Pullan, and a weaker hair fiber is more likely to be damaged by the daily abuse of heat styling and environmental aggressors.
How To Fix It: Start treating yourself right. We know, easier said than done in today’s hectic world, but even small tweaks can make a big difference. Start with your diet — there are a few foods that are well-known for boosting hair health. Just don’t expect to see results right away: Pullan says it takes anywhere from three to six months to see a difference in your hair after you adopt these new habits.
The Move: Vigorous Drying
What’s Wrong With It: Unless your mom was really strand-savvy, chances are you grew up learning that towel-drying your hair meant forcefully rubbing a towel over your head to remove every last trace of moisture. “Hair is a fiber, just like your clothes,” says Pullan. “You wouldn’t take a scratchy polyester towel and rub it really hard on your cashmere sweater, would you?” Pullan says the majority of women think of their hair as a separate entity that can repair itself, like skin can repair a wound. It’s not: Once the fiber is out of the hair follicle, it’s out there and any damage done to it cannot be fixed, only camouflaged.
“Fiber-to-fiber friction will break the hair and rough up the cuticle,” he says. “We think of the cuticle like shingles on a roof: When the shingles are all laying flat, they reflect light and you get a sheen. When they are raised, it looks dull.” According to Pullan, the more you rough up the cuticle, the duller it gets and the more extremes you need to go through to make it look better, which in turn only leads to more damage. It’s a vicious cycle.
How To Fix It: You want to take as much moisture out of your hair as gently as possible. “The worst thing you can do is to place your hair between two layers of a towel and rub,” he says. Instead, scrunch, blot, and squeeze the hair gently. The type of towel you use also makes a difference, so ditch that polyester rag and invest in a 100% cotton or microfiber one. Hey, it’s a lot cheaper then all the shine serums and conditioning masks you’ll have to load up on in order to camouflage damaged hair.
The Move: Whipping A Brush Through Your Hair
What’s Wrong With It: You know that moment when you’re in a hurry, trying to rush to get out the door, so you grab a brush and pull it through your hair? And then there’s a quick tug, some minor pain, and a whole lot of hair stuck in the brush bed? Yeah, that’s not a good moment. “Most people tend to take their brush and just hit the scalp and drag the brush through,” says Pullan. “This pulls the hair out of the follicle, snapping the hair.” This effect only gets worse when hair is wet: “When it’s wet, the hair fiber gets filled with moisture and it stretches, making it easier to snap and break.”
How To Fix It: First, switch out that paddle brush and grab a wide-tooth comb for detangling. After you’ve towel-dried your hair (gently, of course), apply a detangler — sprays for fine hair, lotions for medium hair, and creams for thick or coarse hair — to make hair slippery and allow the comb to glide through.
Pullan says you should brush your hair starting at the ends and work your way up, meaning you place the comb a few inches up from the bottom and and work through the tangles, then place the comb a few inches above that first area you started and repeat, moving up your head until you make it to the scalp. “Be sure the comb is gliding through the hair, not dragging,” says Pullan. Then, once your hair is tangle-free and mostly dry, it’s ready to take a brush.
The Move: Blasting Your Blowdryer
What’s Wrong With It: We all know that blasting hot air onto our manes is not the healthiest thing in the world, but it’s a necessary evil for those of us whose hair just looks funky when we let it air dry. That said, there is something you’re most likely doing that is making things way worse. “When your hair is wet and you are blowing hot air on it, it’s not too bad [because it’s just pulling the water moisture out], but when it starts to dry and you keep blasting that very hot air on it, you start pulling intrinsic moisture out of the fiber,” says Pullan. This, according to him, is a one-way ticket to dry, straw-like strands.
How To Fix It: This one is easy to remedy: As your hair starts to dry, simply dial down the temperature and velocity of the air you are using, until you’re on the lowest setting when your hair is all the way dry.
The Move: Going Multiple Days Without Washing Your Hair
What’s Wrong With It: This one made us sad and we’re not sure we’re 100% on board, but Pullan swore to us that not washing your hair every day is actually detrimental to your hair’s health. Put down the pitchforks, ladies, and just let him try to tell us why. “The Philip Kingsley philosophy is daily shampooing because daily shampooing removes dead skin cells from the scalp, increases blood circulation to the hair follicles, and removes sebum and perspiration from the scalp, thus making for a healthier environment for hair to grow from.”
But, but…what about all those “natural oils” everyone is always telling us are so vital to maintain optimum hydration? “Think of your scalp like your face — you want a pH balance. Dryness on the skin is not from lack of oil, it’s from lack of water moisture. Oils lubricate, not hydrate, and lubrication is something you want on the ends of your hair, where it’s needed.” Still not convinced? Maybe bacteria will change your mind: “There’s good bacteria on your scalp and bad bacteria,” says Pullan, “And, if you wash infrequently, the bad bacteria breeds faster and causes itching and dryness.” Which is why Pullan is adamant that washing your hair is something you need to do every day, just like brushing your teeth and cleansing your face. Listen, we’re not happy about it either, but the man’s a hair doctor, so he’s got some experience with this.
How To Fix It: Be sure to wash your hair using mild shampoos — mild being the key word here. That means something with minimal surfactants, less carbolic soap. Those harsh shampoos dostrip the scalp’s sebaceous glands of natural oils, which then leads to your hair producing even more oil and it all goes downhill from there. Some good news: If you simply don’t have the time (we never do), Pullan says it’s not the end of the world if you skip a day and use a dry shampoo. But, don’t skip shampooing mistakenly thinking you are doing your hair a favor, because according to him, you’re not. “There’s no such thing as overwashing your hair,” he says, “providing you are using water and a mild surfactant.”
The Move: Using Hair Accessories On Wet Hair
What’s Wrong With It: While styling your hair while it’s wet is no problem (yay!), you might want to rethink the usage of pins and elastics. “Hair, when wet, is weakened, and when an elastic band is holding it, it has a greater chance of ‘slicing’ the hair. The same with pins, to a lesser degree, especially if you are sleeping with them in,” says Pullan. How do you know if your elastics are slicing? “Simply observe the elastic band after removing it from the hair,” he says. “If there is hair on it, then it’s caused breakage.”
How To Fix It: Don’t use those hair accessories on wet hair. If you simply must use an elastic, “next time use a squeegee or terry-cloth type band, he says. “You won’t get as tight of a hold, but it greatly reduces the chance of broken hair.” Pullan also suggests you ask your stylist to look closely at your hair the next time you are at the salon. Show them the area where you usually put in an elastic, because the elastic “might not have broken the hair, but it may have weakened it enough to be susceptible to breakage if any strain is put on it at a later date.”
The Move: Not Giving Your Hair A Break
What’s Wrong With It: Just like you sometimes need a day (or a whole weekend) to just lay on the couch and bingewatch Scandal while downing foods that don’t require you to use dishes or utensils, so too does your hair need the occasional lazy day. Heat styling your hair every day and not giving it a little extra TLC will lead to more stress and eventual damage to your mane, which just leads you to having to go to even more extreme measures each day to make your hair look presentable.
How To Fix It: Designate at least one day a week as a day of rest for your hair. Lazy Sundays are ideal for this, or any day where you don’t need to be out in public and don’t feel the pressure to make your hair look “done.”
Your hair spa day should go like this: Apply a pre-shampoo treatment to dry hair and let it do its magic for at least 10 minutes or up to 45 minutes for really dry, damaged hair. Wash your hair with a mild shampoo, then “over-condition” your hair, says Pullan (i.e., put in way more conditioner than you normally would, saturating the hair shaft). Wash the conditioner out, but not all the way out — you should still feel a little bit of it left in your stands. This is why it’s important to do this on a day when you’re not going to be styling it, because all that moisture is going to weigh the hair down and make it look a little limp. Fine for when it’s just you and your cat, but not the best scenario if you’re going to be with actual human beings and want to look groomed. Use a microfiber towel to squeeze and blot moisture from the hair, then wrap it into a turban and let it sit, allowing the fibers to pick up the remaining moisture from the hair. Let your hair air-dry and sit for the rest of the day untouched. The following day, after your daily wash, your hair will be soft, supple, smooth, and so easy to manage.
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