Beauty Basics: Healthy Hair

On those mornings when your 'do just won't cooperate, the rest of the day tends to follow suit. A stubbed toe, a speeding ticket, a virus that wipes out your email: It all seems to happen without explanation -- like some cosmic backlash, you've been struck by the bad-hair-day gods. But the heavens are hardly to blame. More likely, your hair's unruliness has an elemental source -- a lack of natural oils, perhaps, or unseen environmental stressors. To get your tresses into top form, you have to go back to basics. We enlisted natural-hair-care experts to deconstruct the most common hair woes. They offer up some surprising reasons why your strands might be staging a rebellion.

Hair Solutions Chart
The Problem: Hair resists styling; curls and blowouts don't last long
The Culprit: Overwashing. Natural oils and even a little dirt make hair manageable. If you shampoo your hair more than two or three times a week, says Patrick Ales, founder of the botanically based French hair-care line Phyto, you might be stripping out frizz-taming, shine-producing moisture. As for how often to wash, there's no magic number, says John Masters, owner of the New York City salon John Masters Organics. For curly or frizzy hair or a dry scalp, he recommends shampooing once every few weeks (yes, really), as long as you wet it and use conditioner to lift grime when it starts looking messy. Oily hair requires more washings, from three times a week up to daily. Also, rethink shampoo. "People use way too much," says Masters. "It dries out the hair and causes tangles." Apply just a quarter-size dollop to the scalp and massage it in. On days when you can skip the washing, take advice from New York City-based stylist Eva Scrivo: "Touch up the front and crown of the head by misting a little water on each section, following up with a blow dryer."
Try: Phyto Phytoprogenium Shampoo, beautysak.com; Jonathan Product Redo Freshen-Up Mist for Hair & Skin, sephora.com

The Problem: Hair looks limp, lackluster, and dull
The Culprit: Nutrient deficiency. Since hair doesn't contain any living cells, most of us assume it's "dead" and that there's little we can do to liven it up. Not true, counters Masters. "It doesn't have nerve endings, but you can still nourish it at the root," he says. Products containing organic herbs and essential oils will stimulate circulation in the scalp and balance oil production." This, in turn, affects hair's sheen, volume, and manageability. And don't underestimate the effects of your overall health on your mane, says Ales. "Anytime there's a metabolic change in the body, it shows in your hair. When you're tired, it can get dull. When you're healthy, it finds its shine again." Eating a balanced diet supports your hair (see Beauty Food), while using nutrient-rich hair-care products, especially those with the antioxidant vitamins A, C, and E, keeps damaging factors like pollution, poor water quality, and sun exposure from causing problems.
Try: Jane Carter Solution Nourish & Shine, janecartersolution.com

The Problem: Color is flat; strands break easily
The Culprit: Unhealthy dyes. Used in many salon and home hair dyes, the ingredients ammonia and PPD (p-Phenylenediamine) expand the hair shaft and help color stick, Masters explains. But by manipulating your hair's natural structure, dyes make it tough to maintain a shiny, healthy-looking 'do. (Worse yet, frequent exposure to the chemicals has been loosely linked to higher incidences of certain cancers and respiratory problems.) But a healthier dye job is possible, says Scrivo. "We can now color hair without ammonia and get the same results," she says. Health-food stores stock many ammonia-free/low-PPD hair color, while an increasing number of salons offer vegetable-based dyes. Scrivo uses ammonia-free Herbatint in her salon and has seen healthy hair regrowth in women whose hair has been weakened by harsher colorants. Following color application, Ales recommends applying a nourishing hair mask to help smooth and coat the hair cuticle and give it additional shine and resilience.
Try: Tints of Nature Permanent Hair Color, naturesstore.com; Nature's Gate In Living Color Hair Masque for Color-Treated Hair, natures-gate.com

The Problem: Hair looks brassy, streaked, and frizzy
The Culprit: Too much sun. Even when the temperature is hovering around freezing, sun damage incurred many months ago can still wreak havoc. "Unlike the epidermis, which undergoes continuous renewal, UV-damaged hair shafts cannot spontaneously repair," says Ales. Too much UV exposure weakens the hair's keratin (protein) and causes melanin oxidation, or discoloration, resulting in brassiness. Although chemical SPF products help mitigate the damage year-round, Masters favors using a sun hat or a nourishing hair pomade with beeswax, plant butters, natural oils, and/or vitamins to act as a physical barrier between hair and the sun. "The greatest SPF for your hair is a chic hat," seconds Scrivo, who also suggests asking your stylist about applying a clear glaze that coats the hair shaft and offers another layer of protection from the elements.
Try: Rene Furterer KPF90 Fluide Hydratant, beautyexclusive.com; John Masters Organics Hair Pomade, johnmasters.com

The Problem: Roots feel oily, while ends are too dry
The Culprit: Not brushing enough. In the days before women had easy access to thousands of hair-care products, a nightly hair-brushing session was de rigueur. As it turns out, our forebears were on to something: Brushing helps move oil from hair's roots to its ends, conditioning strands evenly, protecting them, and eliminating the tangles that can lead to breakage down the road. Scrivo advocates investing in a Mason Pearson hairbrush, a traditional, London-made model crafted with boar and nylon bristles. Though it's expensive, it'll reduce your need for deep-conditioning treatments and frequent washings, she says. As for great-grandma's prescription of a thousand strokes a night? A bit excessive, says Scrivo. "Brushing for five to ten minutes before bed is enough to prevent breakage and foster a healthy shine."
Try: Mason Pearson Junior bristle and nylon brush, beauty.com

Beauty Food for Hair
Mirrors don't lie: Your reflection indicates what's occurring internally, say experts. "When you have skin and hair challenges, the body is letting you know it needs help," says Lisa Petty, a holistic nutritionist and author of "Living Beauty." Model-turned-nutritionist and chiropractor Joey Shulman, author of "The Natural Makeover Diet," agrees: "External symptoms like brittle hair are good clues," she says. Boost your intake of the following nutrients and start seeing results in weeks.

Fortifies the hair and promotes growth. Food sources: beans, dairy products, eggs, fish, meat, and poultry.

Oxygenates blood and boosts circulation in the scalp. Food sources: asparagus, dried fruit, egg yolks, legumes, red meat, dark leafy greens, and whole grains.

Omega-3s (Essential Fatty Acids)
Prevent dryness and add moisture. Food sources: flaxseeds, sardines, soybeans, walnuts, and wild salmon.

Strengthens the hair cuticle, boosting strands' elasticity. Food sources: cabbage, celery, and steel-cut oats.

Vitamins A, C, and E
Fight free-radical damage caused by aging and the environment. Food sources: carrots, dark leafy greens, and sweet potatoes (vitamin A); citrus, kiwi, and strawberries (vitamin C); almonds, avocados, nut oils, peanuts, and sunflower seeds (vitamin E).

Text by Tess Ghilaga

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Comments (4)

  • ASemi 18 Jan, 2012

    I enjoy all the information on all beauty and health issues. I am a suffer from dry, itchy scale, as well as flat thin hair. I have tried so many shampoos and conditioners, as well as styling products. I have found a shampoo and condition for now that works, though I would like to see if there are any others that have suggestions on what shampoo and conditioner, as well as styling products that wont dry or leave my hair flat. Any help at this time can help. Thank you.

  • Elizsafox 15 Oct, 2010

    I agree with washing being necessary - even for very dry and curly hair like mine. If I don't wash it 3 times a week it looks as though it is unclean. On another note, not everything can be explained through diet. There are many things we cannot control such as hormones and this can explain hair and skin issues as well. Yes, strive to have a healthy diet, but it isn't a panacea.

  • chazah 1 Aug, 2008

    Sorry, but I don't agree with washing your hair only every few weeks. Someone who suffers from dandruff and a dry scalp will have more problems if they don't keep it clean. Also your hair will smell as it holds odours and it will even look very unclean [ugh!!!]. I think that new shampoo's, conditioners, hairsprays, tints, etc.... should be more gentle, ingredients more natural, but effective to protect and nourish the hair and put the shine back in. And the biggest natural beauty treatment for hair is feeding it from the inside with good healthy wholesome foods, eaten daily. Nothing beats the feel and look of freshly washed and lightly fragrant hair, that has a good cut.

  • pbb062649 1 May, 2008

    My error: re the above comment. It wasn't Patrick Ales of Phyto who suggested shampooing once every few weeks, it was John Masters.

    Apologies to Mr. Ales, and I hold with the rest of my opinion regarding Mr. Masters opinion. Shampooing only once every few weeks is a few weeks not often enough!

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