Avoid bad hair days this winter
By Valli Herman
In winter, the combination of indoor central heating with weather that's bitter cold or soggy wet can turn hair into a frizzy, brittle mess of static, or a dull, limp mop immune to your styling attempts. And that's on the good days.
Winter hair is so universally vexing that international teams of scientists have studied how hair reacts to varieties of winter weather, indoors and out. In laboratories and in salons, experts are learning how to formulate helpful products and alter styling and grooming routines to counteract cold-weather extremes.
What these pros have discovered is that hair that's been chemically treated becomes particularly vulnerable to changes in humidity and temperature. According to expert John Gray, author of The World of Hair, your tresses have a built-in conditioning system called the f-layer. This microscopic coating is like a good pair of ski pants for your hair: It makes the strands naturally water-repellent, smooth and silky. Dyes and straightening treatments, however, remove that protective coating.
"Once that happens," says Gray, "the ability to control hair's water content, which is critical to the way hair looks and behaves, is grossly affected." As a result, a day of snow or rain can make your hair heavy and unmanageable.
Don't panic: Even damaged hair can regain its youthful luster with the right handling.
Tweak the Way You Shampoo
Hair needs sufficient interior moisture to counteract winter's dry indoor air and to protect it against cold or humidity outside. Charles Ifergan, a stylist and salon owner in Chicago -- a city with one of the harshest winters in the country -- suggests using a slightly lesser amount of shampoo from December through March to avoid stripping hair of natural oils. "And don't rinse out the conditioner as hard. It's OK to leave a little bit in for extra moisture," he says.
Dial Down the Hair Dryer
When it's freezing outside, it's tempting to blast your soaking-wet hair with your blow-dryer on its hottest setting, if only to warm up the bathroom. That's a fast route to damage. "You basically end up boiling the water inside your hair," says Gray. Instead, towel-dry your hair, then give it time to dry on its own. When it's just slightly damp, apply heat-protecting styling products and use your blow-dryer on a medium to low setting.
Don't Make Hat Hair Worse
Smashing hair under hats and scarves not only flattens your locks, but the trapped heat can cause the scalp to perspire, making the roots feel unclean, says Gray. That flat, greasy hair often leads to more frequent washing and heat styling. Hat hair may be unavoidable, but you can prevent further damage to the exposed dry ends by brushing them gently and making them the first place where you apply conditioner.
Step up Your Conditioning Routine
"Every couple of weeks, use an intensive conditioning mask," says Ifergan. And, after you blow-dry you hair, rub a tiny amount of conditioning oil between your palms, then apply it lightly to your hair as a finishing product.
Ultra-dry, cold weather and central heating can increase static electricity so much that hair becomes frizzy and style-resistant. Products with "smart" ingredients, such as polyquaternium-10 in shampoo and stearamidopropyl dimethylamine in conditioner, control static by depositing their helpful molecules only where needed, like on dry ends. Switching from a nylon or synthetic brush to one with boar bristles will also de-electrify runaway strands, says Ifergan.
Valli Herman is a veteran journalist who has covered international fashion, beauty and travel for the Los Angeles Times, The Dallas Morning News and other print and online publications.
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