Give me a head with hair, long beautiful hair. Wait, that is exactly what I've got going on here. I've been wanting to dedicate a post to hair care for a while to share my trials and tribulations with long hair because I think it's important to know that long, healthy hair doesn't happen over night. It takes years of maintenance, patience, and resistance (from chopping it all off!). I thought it might be helpful to share my hair's story.
I've always had long hair, with the except of a bowl haircut in the second grade (oh, the early 90s....). My hair is naturally straight and dark brown with two serious cowlicks, and at 15, I decided it would be fabulous if I got a perm. I was young, foolish, and misinformed. So I proceeded to straighten my hair everyday for the following three years. Needless to say, my hair was extremely damaged and I knew I had to make some changes to how I cared for it to get my hair back to its healthy state - especially if I wanted to keep it long, soft, and shiny. Here are some of the tips and tricks I picked up over the years to help keep your hair longer, healthier, and stronger.
1| Trimming and the Dreaded Split-Ends
Most people use 1-2 months as a guideline for trimming but I usually go by how easy my hair is to detangle when combing. The longer I go without a haircut or trim, the more difficult it becomes to comb and detangle. I usually use this as my indicator and often end up cutting my hair more often in the harsh winter. I can't speak for light-haired people, but split-ends are very noticeable on brunettes (or at least, noticeable to me since I'm always touching my hair). If I notice more split-ends than usual, I either cut them in that area by myself or get a proper trim. When getting a trim, I usually only get 1 inch off, this more or less depends on when the last trim was and how damaged the ends are.
2|Combing and Detangling
I comb my hair often. This goes a long way to keeping tangles and knots minimal. I use a soft paddle brush by Goody when combing out my entire head, but a rake comb by Goody when my hair is wet and while parting my hair. It's important to develop a general schedule for combing; I comb my hair when I get up in the morning before my shower, during the shower (with my fingers when the conditioner is in), after the shower, after air-drying, after getting to work (especially if I walked to work), and before bedtime. Take your time while combing, rushing it will only pull out and cause breakage of healthy hairs.
3| Shampoo, Conditioner, and Leave-In Lotions
A washing schedule will really depend on your hair and skin type. My skin is oily-combination and I really can't go long without washing my hair. I usually wash it 5-6 times a week and always following with conditioner and a leave-in smoothener for taming fly-a-ways. I only put conditioner in from my ears downward and concentrate on the ends. The ends and areas of fly-a-ways are where I apply a smoothener lotion.
I used to use Pantene religiously, but since they altered their formula I find I wasn't getting as great results as before. Currently, I'm using L'Oreal for Kids (try not to laugh, but it's amazing for reducing tangles! and so many yummy scents!), Organix Shea Butter conditioner (really goes a long way for making my hair smooth and shiny), and got2b Smooth Operator Smoothing Lustre Lotion to detangle and defrizz (this product is amazing and I live by it - it makes all the difference in keeping my hair soft, shiny, and frizz-less). I don't use hairspray, I find it just clogs up my hair.
Hint: I find my conditioner is more effective if I wash my hair and then drain it of as much water as possible before putting in the conditioner. Leaving in the conditioner for a few minutes (to shave my legs during this time!) before rinsing makes conditioner more effective. And rinsing the conditioner out with cooler water helps even more to soften hair.
4| Drying and Styling
Avoiding heat was the most effective way to strengthen my hair after damaging it. I stopped using my blowdryer and straightener and let my hair air-dry down. I cannot stress enough how much softer and smoother my hair became for air-drying it. I do use a straightener occasionally but mainly to manage cowlicks and my bangs. When my hair was really damaged, using an old, soft cotton tshirt to dry my hair really helped minimize breakage; this is done by only scrunching your hair in the tshirt, not rubbing hair together with a towel to dry it quickly.
Keep in mind, this took a long time. I stopped using heat when I was 18 and my hair was back to its healthy self by 23 (and length). Yes, it is not voluminous but I'll take silky-soft over straw-dry anyday! (If you must use a blowdryer, use it on the cool settings).
Hint: Hair can become matted easily, especially while sleeping. Sleeping on a satin pillowcase will help reduce matting, but also keeping your hair in a loose braid while sleeping will keep it together and reduce abrasion and matted tangles.
5| Elastics, Clips, and Ribbons
A lot of people are either for or against elastics. I do like elastics for convenience and dependability but elastics do cause breakage higher up in your hair, which doesn't help if you are trying to grow your hair long. If you must use elastics, make sure they are smooth and without metal parts. Instead of a bun, try wearing a loose single braid. Placing the elastic at the end of the braid doesn't do as much damage because those ends will need to be trimmed shortly anyway. Basically, avoid messy buns that require elastics - use bobby pins and hairspray instead!
Hint: If you need to put your hair up and want to depend on it staying in place, I usually do a twisted ballet bun and use three medium sized claw clips to hold it in place. The softer the twist, the easier this hairstyle will be on your hair (vs a tight twist). Claw clips go a long way to minimizing breakage, in comparison to elastics.
1| Protection from the Elements
Depending on how much time you spend out doors, you might want to consider how this can affect your hair. Not only your skin needs protection from the sun, but it can also be damaging to your gorgeous locks! In the summer, wearing a hat can help keep moisture in and reduce damage from the sun drying out your hair. Same thing goes in the cold winter. I find the worst outdoor force is wind! I always wear a hat in the winter to avoid those cold winds which cause extreme matting, tangles, and breakage.
2| Healthy Habits
Healthy eating, exercise, and hobbies go a long way with hair care (not to mention skin and nails too!). Your hair will tell all depending on your dietary habits, so beware!
Okay, this may be what it all comes down to. Genetics. I realize I am blessed with exceptional hair genes but it could have easily went the other way; my father's hair is coarse, thick, and he went grey at 17, whereas my mother has lovely hair and is only beginning to get noticeable greys at 58. I figure we win-some and lose-some with genes, and I'm just lucky my hair is a win-win.
Hope that helps anyone having long-hair woes!
What are your hair-care secrets? Please share!