We’re all guilty of it: Abusing our hair with heat, harsh products, and rough handling—all in an attempt to force it into submission in the name of style. And not only do we destroy our strands in the process, but we’re stuck spending years (and serious cash!) trying to return our manes to their former glory.
“Hair wears down no matter what.” says DC stylist Dennis Roche. “But the more you do to it, the more miles you put on it.”
So, are we stuck in the wear-repair-repeat cycle forever? Fortunately, no. With a few easy changes to your morning routine, you’ll be on the road to rejuvenated, healthy hair. Get your shiniest, smoothest, strongest strands yet with these seven simple steps.
1. Skip the Daily Scrub Sessions
In fact, wash your hair as infrequently as possible. “It’s simple math,” explains Roche. “If you’re washing your hair every day, you’re exposing it to detergents, heat, and other abusers 365 times a year—that’s brutal on your ends.” But by washing every other day, you cut that damage in half (and save yourself some styling time, too).
To keep hair looking and smelling fresh in-between washes, try a dry shampoo spray or powder. Divide the top of your hair into several small sections so that you have access to all of your roots. Then spray or sprinkle the product on, and lightly massage into your scalp. Allow two or three minutes for the powder to absorb any oil, then brush or quickly blowdry to get rid of the residue.
Try John Frieda Luxurious Volume Anytime Volume Refresher ($6.49, drugstore.com), which is great at absorbing oil and plumping up second- (and third-) day hair that’s getting flat.
2. Find a Gentler Shampoo
Sure, a head full of suds makes you feel like you’re getting hair clean, but the detergents that create all that foam—sodium lauryl and laureth sulfates—can be super damaging. Instead, pick a sulfate-free cleanser made with ingredients like decyl glucoside, which pulls away dirt and oil without stripping hair’s natural moisture.
Not only will your new shampoo keep your hair cuticle from fraying (and causing frizz), but it will keep your hair color looking fresh and bright longer. A great pick is Kiss My Face Whenever Shampoo for Gentle Cleansing ($8.79, soap.com), which swaps harsh chemicals for all-natural organics that gently clean all hair types.
3. Get Rid of Styling Gunk
If your love of hairspray and styling products rivals that of the cast of Jersey Shore, regular shampoo alone isn’t enough to get rid of the chemicals that make your hair their home.
To stop them from making your mane knotty and brittle, try this weekly treatment: Before stepping into the shower, comb your hair out to loosen up the buildup. Apply your regular shampoo while your hair is still dry, and let it sit for five to 10 minutes before rinsing. “This helps break down the stubborn polymers otherwise left behind and makes hair truly clean and shiny,” says Roche.
4. Handle with Care
“Hair is 70% more fragile when it’s wet,” says Roche. To prevent breakage, change up the way you apply conditioner–instead of glopping it on, put a small amount in the palm of your hand and run a small-toothed comb through it. Starting at the ends of your hair, comb your way up to the top of your head to detangle. “This ensures that you’ll use just the right amount to provide the protective benefits without oversaturating, which can weigh hair down and cause it to attract more dirt.”
5. Stay Cool
Heated tools like blowdryers and irons are a must-have for most of us, but they can also seriously scald your strands. So before wielding your flat or curling iron, coat your locks with a heat protecting product like Pantene Pro-V Style Heat Protection Shine Spray ($5.97, walmart.com).
Also make sure your tools aren’t excessively hot. “Hair only needs 372 degrees to respond well,” explains Roche. “Anything hotter is abusive, especially over a long period of time.” To be on the safe side, keep your iron set to 350 degrees or less, and use the medium heat setting on your blowdryer. To avoid continuously welding product onto your hair, clean your tools every other week with dishwashing detergent to remove leftover residue.
6. Style from the Bottom Up
No matter how good the hair product you’re using, it can work against you if you apply too much or unevenly distribute it. To prevent both, Roche recommends applying a small amount to towel-dried hair, starting at the ends (which are the most damaged and usually require the most product). Gently work your way up to your roots, and start all over again if you need more. “This reduces wear and tear, plus you’ll get consistent results every time, without bare patches,” he adds.
7. Don’t Skip the Scissors
“Hair grows about six inches each year, and the ends break faster than the roots grow,” says Roche. “If it’s several years old, the longer hair has been exposed to damage for a very long time.” Even worse news? Split ends don’t just stop—they’re like a snag in your pantyhose, and will keep going until the whole strand is ruined. The only sure way to fix the damage is to commit to regular trims—every six to eight weeks, unless your hair is so fragile that it needs more frequent trimming.
What are your favorite healthy hair products and tips?