Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Hair Confessions

I love my hair.

I couldn't have made this statement my entire life. Actually, for quite a good bit of it I was cursing the universe for giving me what I considered to be flat, lifeless locks that seemed to absolutely refuse to cooperate with any attempts at styling. My roots were always greasy. My ends were always dry. Curls were an impossibility. In a lot of ways I had every right to be unhappy with the way that my hair looked and felt.

What I didn't realize, though, was that I wasn't born with terrible hair. I was just taking care of the hair I was born with in all of the wrong ways.

Here's how I learned (the hard way) to turn things around.

Hair Grievance #1 - Washing My Hair to Death.

Growing up I didn't think all that much about the types of products I used in the shower. If it smelled nice, I was pretty much there. Little did I know that the super cheap shampoo my parents were buying (sorry mom) was basically destroying my hair.

How is that, you ask?

Let's take a step back and talk about the sudsy stuff. There are what feels like a gagillion shampoo formulas on the market. Clarifying, color saving, curl enhancing, nourishing, volumizing…the options are seemingly endless. My advice? Forget what you're being marketed on the front of the bottle, and start familiarizing yourself with the ingredients list on the back.

Shampoos are all composed of the same basic elements: detergents, which remove dirt, oil and build up,  conditioners, to smooth the hair shaft, pH balancers, and preservatives. While there is something to be said for each of these parts of the formula, the chemicals which fall into the detergent category make the biggest difference for me in choosing a shampoo. If you've heard the buzz around "sulfate-free" shampoos, this is what they are referring to. The cheapest, and therefore most commonly used detergents in shampoos are known as sulfates. They're usually one of the first ingredients listed, and easy to spot out. Sodium Lauryl Sulfate is the most common and also the harshest sulfate, while Sodium Laureth Sulfate is slightly gentler.

While sulfates can help to rid your hair of product build up, they can also strip it of its natural and essential oils. If you're someone who washes their hair on a daily basis, this can ultimately leave you with frizzy, brittle hair that not only looks dull and lifeless, but is also prone to breakage. Sulfate-free shampoos will still get the job done without being quite as drying. If you don't want to make the switch completely, you can also keep two formulas in the shower to rotate through from day to day.

Speaking of daily hair washing, if you can break yourself of the habit, your hair will greatly benefit from getting a break. Washing your hair every other day gives it a chance to replenish those natural oils we talked about. A little dry shampoo will help you to keep things looking fresh on the off days. If this seems way out of your comfort zone, try skipping every third day to start.

Hair Grievance #2 - Skipping the Conditioner

My scalp has a tendency to get oily, which means things can go from good to grease ball in way less time than I'd like. Straight, dark brown hair is also totally unforgiving when it comes to hiding dirtiness. My logical thought was that conditioning hair like mine would only weigh it down and make it look dirtier. 

Surprise. I was wrong. I mean, all types of wrong.

All hair, especially if it's long enough to reach your shoulders, can benefit from being conditioned. Not only does conditioner nourish the hair strand, it also smoothes the cuticle, helping to reduce frizziness. If you're worried about weighing down your hair, there are tons of lightweight formulas out there. At the very least you can always use a spray-on leave in conditioner or detangling spray after you towel dry.

A weekly deep conditioning mask is also an awesome way to give your hair a little extra TLC. If you've been particularly aggressive with heat styling, spent a day at the pool, or otherwise been more abusive towards your hair than usual, hair masks can be a godsend.

Hair Grievance #3 - Constantly Sporting a Ponytail

I'm still not the best at this one, but I'm working on it (no one is perfect, right?). I have a habit of always pulling my hair back, be it into tight buns or ponytails. When I'm running around like a madwoman in the office I can't help but want it to be out of my face and out of the way.

Still, always pulling your hair into tight restrictive styles, or constantly heat styling can be seriously damaging to your hair. Ponytails, for example, can weaken the area that is being compressed, causing the hair to more easily break at that point. You are also putting constant pressure on the hair follicle and your scalp.

My advice? Let you hair down! Let it air dry once in a while. Give your hair a chance to go au-natural. If wearing your hair down isn't practical for whatever your daytime routine is, try to switch up the point at which the hair is gathered (i.e. the base of your neck, to one side, or maybe at the top of your head) and to do so loosely.

LBB's Happy Hair Cheat Sheet
  • Use a gentle, sulfate free shampoo, especially if you wash your hair on a daily basis. 
  • Give your hair a break from washing. If every other day seems out of your comfort zone. Try skipping every 3rd day.
  • Condition your hair. Even if your scalp is oily, your ends need love.
  • Try a deep conditioning mask once a week to give your hair some extra pampering.
  • Leave your hair down. Skip the heat styling. Let it go au natural once in a while!

Through lots of research and experimentation I've been able to transform my hair into something I can say I truly love. It's healthy, it's happy, and while it's not always so cooperative (at least in the curl department), I can at least say that I now know how to make it work for me.