Hair damage happens to the best of us, and while we assure you that hair does grow, it can feel like forever in the meantime. Once your hair has sustained damage, it tends to start a vicious cycle that needs extra care and attention to keep in check. If you’re a blow-drying aficionado or a color junkie, pay close attention, and abide by these five rules to ensure that you get the most out of your hair’s health.
Get regular haircuts.
The old “4-to-6 weeks between each haircut” adage may be a little outdated, but for damaged hair, it is absolutely imperative that you trim your hair regularly. You’re probably clinging to any length you have, but the longer you go between haircuts, the farther the damage spreads. It sounds like something out of a sci-fi movie, but when you have dead ends, they start to work their way up the shaft of each strand. That’s right—left too long between trims, fairly innocuous split ends spread upward, which means you’ll end up having to cut off way more than you bargained for at your next haircut.
It sounds like common sense, but we tend to manhandle our hair more than we even realize. Everything from shampooing and brushing to the way we braid can compromise fragile strands, so gentle, conscientious care is key. Use the pads of your fingers to gently massage shampoo into your roots and scalp rather than putting too much muscle into it, and try to shampoo in a way that doesn’t create tangles. Avoid brushing hair while it’s wet—opt instead for gentle detangling with a wide-tooth comb while you still have conditioner in your hair—and skip the heat tools as much as possible. We know: If you love soft curls or a super straight look, it’s almost impossible to stay away, but try limiting your usage to once or twice a week rather than every day.
Know your ingredients.
There is an overwhelming number of products on the market that purport to be beneficial for damaged hair but actually do more harm than good in the long run. Choose sulfate-free shampoos—sulfates are harsh soaps that rough up the hair’s cuticle and create a drier, frizzier texture. Avoid styling products with isopropyl alcohol, a popular ingredient in styling products, which strips moisture from hair. Look instead for plenty of natural oils, like argan, olive, and coconut, and be wary of products heavy in dimethicone and other ingredients ending in “-cone.” These silicone agents coat the hair and give the appearance of sleekness and health, but the effect is temporary and builds up on the hair over time, causing damage.
Use protein sparingly.
Let’s talk about “too much of a good thing.” Hair is made of a protein called keratin, and keratin conditioners and styling products work to replace the strengthening protein stripped from your hair through heat styling or color damage. But while there’s no such thing as too many moisturizing treatments or DIY hair masks, protein is way too easy to overdose on, and when you overdo it, it makes hair that much more likely to turn brittle and break off. Proteins can still be beneficial, but limit your use to one protein-rich mask a week, and only use keratin styling products every few washes.
Protect your hair from the elements.
When we think damage, we think damage from hot tools and color treatments, not necessarily from other external factors… say, for example, the seasons. While temperate springs and autumns tend to be kinder to hair, summer’s exposure to sun and water can wreak havoc, as well as winter’s brisk winds and dry air. These variables seem challenging to avoid, but there are a few preventative steps you can take to minimize damage. Hats are a simple solution for both seasons—beanies in the winter, sunhats in the summer, and all the more reason to better your hat collection. Saturate your hair in conditioner before you hit the pool or beach, and always be sure to keep the hair adequately moisturized when the weather is chilly.
Read more from Daily Makeover: How to Distract from a Bad Haircut