Shiny, soft, bouncy and full-of-life—healthy hair is beautiful, and not only for the way it swishes and glistens in the light, but also because of the special kind of confidence and vitality it can give you. When your hair looks good, it’s that much easier to feel good. Unfortunately, hair endures a number of things in our day-to-day lives that can leave it dry and damaged. Over-processing (perming, relaxing and straightening treatments, or frequent coloring or bleaching) is a common culprit, but even brushing, heat styling and the using the wrong products can weaken or degrade the outer, protective layer (called the cuticle), turning healthy hair into strands that are parched, frizzy and dull.
With a little know-how, however, you can easily achieve healthy hair and protect it against future damage.
Cater to Your Hair Type
Just as you use lotions made for your complexion type and shop for clothes with your body type in mind, the same should go for your hair products. Do your strands become frizzy in humidity, feel dry or coarse to the touch, or break easily? If so, your hair is likely dry. (Parched strands absorb moisture from the air, which can cause frizz.) In this case, opt for deep hydration from rich shampoos, conditioners and styling products (think creams, oils and serums). Natural ingredients that are high in oil, such as shea and cocoa butters, can be especially effective.
On the other hand, if your hair tends to go limp easily and become greasy quickly, your body’s natural oils are already doing a good job of hydrating on their own. Look for lightweight, volumizing shampoos and conditioners labeled “for fine hair.” There isn’t one single ingredient to look for, but generally speaking, volumizing shampoos contain lightweight polymers that may absorb excess oils and help add bulk to strands. For styling, choose a mousse or spray, which will help hold your style and add body without extra weight.
Skip the Shampoo
All that said, daily shampooing can strip away natural oils on the scalp and hair, leaving it dry, dull and unmanageable. Even after a sweaty workout, just a rinse will suffice. Follow healthy hair habits, and aim to shampoo about every other day—even less if hair is especially dry and frizzy.
Treat Wet Hair Gently
Your hair’s outer cuticle normally lays flat and smooth, which seals in moisture and increases shine, letting light bounce off strands evenly. But vigorously rubbing your hair with a towel can roughen up and lift the cuticle, allowing moisture to escape and frizz and dullness to set in. To keep your hair healthy, gently blot sections of it with a towel after you shower. Also be careful not to tear through wet hair with a brush or comb. Strands that are soaked with water stretch and may break easily. Instead, use a detangling brush to carefully work through small sections, from the bottom of your hair up to your roots. A light mist of a detangling spray may help your effort.
Protect Hair from Heat
If used haphazardly, high-heat blow dryers and curling and flat irons can scorch your hair. Cover the end of your blow dryer with a nozzle to keep your hair a safe distance from the heating mechanism and also to better control the air flow. Styling products provide a protective shield against the heat, so always apply something before using one of these tools, be it a cream, mousse, leave-in conditioner or heat-protecting spray (depending on your hair type). Also avoid holding a hot iron or hot stream of air on any one section for too long, and make sure hair is completely dry before using a heated styling tool; any moisture left inside the strand can cause it to overheat and suffer damage from within.
Cut Back on Chemical Processing
Perms, relaxers and straightening treatments, bleach and permanent color all penetrate the hair shaft and actually weaken the inner structure of your hair. That makes it prone to moisture loss and breakage. In general, the more you do to your hair, the higher that potential for damage. So, stick to only one chemical process at a time, and ask your technician to only work on new growth when doing your touch-up (if possible). You may also consider asking about less harsh color options—such as soy- or vegetable-based hair dyes, or blonding cream instead of bleach. To stretch out the time between colorings, which can give your hair a deserved break, consider choosing a tone that is only a couple of shades from your natural hue so regrowth won’t be as noticeable.
Shield Strands from the Elements
When you’re out in the sun, a wide-brimmed hat safeguards your skin, but it’s also a smart choice to protect your hair. Ultraviolet light can age hair and bleach its color, making it look weathered, dull and dry. If you’d rather not wear a hat, apply a sun-protective leave-in product, which functions in a similar way as sunscreen. When you reach for your favorite SPF lotion—reapply every two hours, and sooner if your skin is wet—be sure to give your locks another spritz, too.
Keep Stress Under Control
Stress can wreak havoc on your entire body, including your hair and scalp. In fact, stress is a common trigger for temporary hair loss; enduring sustained pressure or tension may cause more follicles than usual to shift to the telogen phase, in which hair stops growing and start shedding. Likewise, stress may cause a flare-up of psoriasis or eczema of the scalp, or may simply cause the scalp to become itchy and dry. So, go for a walk, take a yoga class, schedule a massage, meditate—whatever will help you relax and revitalize your mind can do the same for your hair.