From trying new skincare to learning makeup techniques, being a beauty editor involves lots of trial and error, never more so than when it comes to hair.
Washing, treating, cutting, styling... There are so many different things that can affect hair health and if there's anything I've learned in the industry, it's that I've been getting most of them wrong.
How difficult is it to wash your hair? you might ask. Do I really need to switch up my haircare routine? But trust me, tweaking these seven small things has done my hair the world of good. Once broken, split, dry and difficult to manage, my hair is slowly but surely seeing the benefits and has become softer, healthier, stronger and longer. Read on to uncover the most common hair mistakes and the tiny adjustments I've made to achieve my best hair ever.
Washing Hair Less Often
We've all heard the rumour that washing hair too often isn't great for the condition of your scalp and lengths. But the truth is, everyone is different. "Your scalp and your face have the highest density of oil glands," says consultant dermatologist, Dr Anjali Mahto, "so you really have to treat your scalp in the same way as you would your face." Dr Mahto says that how often you wash your hair isn't a one-size-fits-all matter; it's about what your hair (whether dyed or keratin treated, for example) can tolerate. If your skin is very oily, for instance, you might need to wash your hair more often.
I'm prone to a flaky scalp and thought that frequent washing could make my scalp drier. In fact, the opposite is true for me, and not washing my hair often enough had been causing the issue. "Fifty percent of people suffer with dandruff," says Dr Mahto. "If you get a build-up of dry skin and flakes, that can impact how glossy your hair is coming through. Build-up and oxidation can potentially damage the scalp, too." My solution was to wash my hair more frequently: three times a week. I love The Body Shop Ginger Anti-Dandruff Shampoo, £9.50, and Conditioner, £9.50, which eradicate flakes and make hair soft and manageable.
Wrapping wet hair in a towel
Wrapping hair up in a towel to absorb water is something most of us do post-shower but it could be doing your hair more harm than good.
Trichologist Jane Mayhead at The Private Clinic says that when hair is wet, the elasticity increases. "This allows the hair to stretch more. If you apply items or styles that stretch the hair and leave it to dry, unnecessary tension can be put onto the hair and this can lead to snapping and traction."
Whenever I wrapped my hair up in a towel, I'd feel my hair strands being pulled and snapped, and upon unravelling, I'd always notice stray hair strands which had fallen out. I'd suggest investing in a microfibre towel, such as Aquis Lisse Luxe Hair Towel, £35 (a game-changer for me) or the Coco & Eve Microfibre Hair Towel Wrap, £19.90. Both wick up water fast and combat frizz as they reduce friction. Use the microfibre towel to gently squeeze out excess water, rather than wrapping or rough-drying with your head upside down (another no-no). If you don't want to spend anything, an old cotton T-shirt works a lot better than an old bath or face towel, which can often be rough to the touch.
Not Squeezing out water before applying conditioner
There's a reason why hairdressers squeeze excess water from your hair before applying conditioner at the backwash and since following their example, my hair has never felt softer.
Sopping wet hair can dilute any product you apply post-shampoo and act like a barrier between hair strands. Giving your hair a gentle squeeze after rinsing out your shampoo will allow whichever conditioner or hair mask you follow with to work much better. Right now, I love Pantene Hair Biology Mask De-frizz & Illuminate, £6.99, for smoothing frizzy roots and imparting shine, and L'Oréal Professionnel Série Expert Pro Longer Lengths Renewing Conditioner, £14.95, which makes dry hair seriously soft. My trick is to leave the product in for the duration of the shower so that it has time to fully absorb before rinsing out.
Using A Different Conditioner and Shampoo
If you don't have any scalp issues, this one isn't a deal-breaker. But if you're prone to scalp issues such as flakes or itchiness, it's a top tip.
"A lot of people who have scalp issues will use an anti-dandruff shampoo but then apply completely different conditioner, for example something else that they have to hand," says Dr Mahto. "From the clinical data that I've seen, if you use products that are formulated to go together, what you find is that the ingredients that are in the shampoo stay in the scalp for longer, which means you're going to see longer effects."
Using a targeted shampoo and a regular conditioner means you're more likely to wash out most of the anti-dandruff ingredients. "There's no point using a shampoo that's going to get rid of the dandruff and then a conditioner that's going to neutralise or wash that stuff out," says Dr Mahto, who always uses matching shampoo and conditioner (Head & Shoulders) to get the best out of her hair.
Using The Highest Setting on the Hairdryer
The highest setting on your hairdryer exists for a reason: to dry hair fast. But blasting hair with extreme heat will only result in split ends, broken strands and frizzy roots. It's why professional hairstylists take a good while to rough-dry your hair in salon: they're using a medium or low heat to preserve your lengths.
If your hair is prone to splitting or you use straighteners and other heated styling tools after blow-drying, it pays to spend a little longer drying your hair on a low heat setting. The trick is to squeeze out as much water as possible (using the aforementioned microfibre towels or a cotton T-shirt) before reaching for your hairdryer. Over time, your hair will look healthier and longer, something I can vouch for.
Another key thing to remember here: if your split ends are too obvious to ignore but you want to grow your hair out, don't hold off on a trim. Split ends will only travel further upwards and your hairdresser will suggest cutting off more hair to salvage your lengths.
Always using sulphate-free shampoo
I have coloured hair so every stylist I know has recommended a sulphate-free shampoo to prolong my colour, as they are super gentle and non-stripping. But I also use lots of hair products, such as serums, heat protection and dry shampoo, and sometimes sulphate-free shampoo just doesn't cut it.
Sulphates have a shady reputation but they aren't all that bad, according to experts. In fact, they're often very beneficial. "Sulphate shampoos act as surfactants (result in a lather) and remove pollution, dirt, grime and other things you come into contact with," says Dr Mahto. She continues: "Many of us use products in our hair and on our scalp. If you break those things down properly, such as hair wax, hairspray and heat protection spray, you do need something that's going to remove all of that residue. If you don't, that is going to impact your scalp health, oil production in your scalp and have a knock-on effect on your hair."
If you aren't reactive to shampoo with sulphate ingredients, don't ditch them just yet. Instead, bag one that eradicates all traces of dirt and build-up without completely stripping your hair. I like Head & Shoulders Supreme Strength Anti-Dandruff Shampoo, £4.99, which Dr Mahto also champions, and L'Oréal Elvive Clay Oily Roots Shampoo, £4.99.
If you're after a sulphate-free surfactant, I really rate OUAI Medium Hair Shampoo, £22, which is highly moisturising, smells incredible and is also available for fine and thick hair types.
Brushing Hair When Wet
Hair is really vulnerable to damage when wet, as it becomes more elastic and prone to snapping. That's why it's never a great idea to drag a hairbrush through your lengths. This goes for every hair type and texture, especially very curly hair. Instead, experts recommend a wide-tooth comb, such as Only Curls Pink Shimmer Comb, £8, which glides through hair without snagging. Start at the ends to detangle and then work your way upwards so that you don't put too much pressure on your strands. Since swapping my paddle brush for a comb to distribute my trusty Redken One United Multi-Benefit Treatment, £19.50, from root to tip, my hair is virtually free from broken bits.
article by Jacqueline Kilikita for refinery29.com