Winter Hair Care

By Chandra Orr

July 8, 2011 6 min read

Dry, brittle, frizzy hair that won't hold a style? It's a common winter woe, but those untamed tresses have more to do with your hair habits than they do with the cold weather. If you want lustrous locks, lay off the perms and dyes, and put down that flat iron; skip the shampoo for a day or two.

"One of the most common misconceptions about hair is that it is alive. In fact, hair is nonliving and does not heal itself once it is injured," says Dr. Zoe D. Draelos, consulting professor at Duke University School of Medicine and fellow of the American Academy of Dermatology. "Women need to understand that the very things that they do to hair to make it beautiful will end up damaging the hair's structure and ultimately affect its appearance. Once the hair is damaged, it cannot heal itself, except through new growth at the scalp."

You've heard it before; the less you do to your hair the better. Over-processing, over-styling and over-washing are the quickest ways to turn that manageable mane into a tangled, frizzy mess.

As the chemicals and heat take their toll, the protective lipid layer of fat on the outside of the hair cuticle is removed -- and it's this protective layer that's responsible for making hair shiny.

"Hair looks dry and damaged when the cuticle on the outside of the shaft isn't lying flat," explains stylist Joey Noufal, founder of Noufal HairColor Studio. "This can happen naturally with curly hair or as the result of chemically treated hair or winter dry-weather hair."

In addition, heat from blow-dryers and flat irons can cook the hair, stripping it of its natural moisturizers; it's a condition known as "bubble hair." When water in the hair is heated and turns to steam, bubbles form in the hair shaft and undermine the cuticle, which leads to frizzy ends and breakage.

"Dramatic temperature changes are hard on hair," Draelos says. "Think of hair like a piece of steak. It starts out nice and soft and flexible, but when you cook it, the steak changes texture and becomes hard. Similarly, hair transforms when exposed to heat over time, resulting in brittle hair."

Add to that frequent shampooing, which robs the scalp of natural oils, and it equals a limp, lackluster look.

So what's a girl to do? Ease up on perms and dyes. Change your styling habits. And add an intense conditioning treatment to your weekly routine.

"Hair needs to be hydrated with extra conditioners or a conditioning mask in the winter months so it stays healthy and not dry," Noufal says.

Noufal has the perfect recipe for rehydrating dry, brittle hair: Mix 2 tablespoons of mayonnaise, 2 tablespoons of avocado and 1 tablespoon of olive oil to form a smooth paste. Apply the mixture to wet hair, and cover your hair with a shower cap or a plastic wrap. Heat the hair for 10 minutes under a blow-dryer, and then let it cool for 10 minutes. Rinse and shampoo as normal.

"The mayonnaise, avocado and olive oil have natural oils that are great for dry hair, and the avocado is loaded with vitamins B-6 and E, which increase strength and shine," Noufal says.

To maintain those healthy, hydrated tresses, consider the four cardinal rules of winter hair care:

1) Shampoo less often, and do it correctly. Shampoo is primarily meant to clean the scalp and can damage hair if overused. Remember that the drier your scalp the less often you need to shampoo. When shampooing, wash your scalp to remove oils, and then let the shampoo run through the hair. Follow with a moisturizing conditioner applied to the ends of the hair only, not to the scalp.

2) Choose the right shampoo. Swap your summer shampoo and conditioner combo for one with extra moisturizers. Two-in-one shampoos that clean and condition the hair are also good choices. Look for products that contain dimethicone, which has been shown to reduce static electricity for better shine and manageability.

3) Ease up on the styling products. In the summer, humidity can interfere with the top layer of hair, so you may need more styling gel, texturizing pomade or smoothing cream to get the desired effect, but in the winter, heavy products can weigh down hair, making it less manageable. Instead, opt for a few drops of smoothing serum to help strengthen and protect hair while adding shine and gloss.

4) Protect hair from heat. When possible, skip the blow-dryer and let hair air-dry instead. If you must use a blow-dryer, start on the lowest heat setting first, and then gradually increase the heat to avoid dryness and damage. Opt for curling irons and flat irons with built-in temperature controls, and use the lowest setting possible to get the desired look. When straightening hair with a ceramic iron, put a damp towel in the device to protect your hair from the direct heat -- or swap the flat iron for a large-barrel iron to create huge loose curls. The look is less severe -- and more forgiving on dry, damaged hair.

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