How do I know if my hair is “healthy”? This is a question everyone, including your stylist, may answer differently. In my opinion, healthy hair is most easily achieved by having a balanced diet and a good maintenance regimen. There is no specific prescription for healthy hair, but I help my clientele to maintain their beautiful natural, relaxed, weaved, and/ or color treated styles by regularly trimming their ends, educating them about the correct products to use to keep their hair and scalp cleansed, moisturized and free from negative buildup, and having regular consultations to improve their personal knowledge of their own hair type and maintenance requirements. If you are not sure about your level of hair health, I have devised a few short “tests” that will help you identify any issues and help address them:
1. Does your hair shed excessively? Through natural renewal, we all lose 50-100 hairs a day, if you are seeing more than that in your comb, brush or down your drain your hair may be reacting to stress from any number of factors ranging from improper combing/ detangling techniques, extreme heat or even exposure to certain medications or medical issues. The good news is most causes of shedding can be treated without resulting to an extreme haircut when handled as soon as the issue arises.
2. When you examine a single hair from root to ends, does it feather, divide or split at any point and if pulled gently does it break or chip? A healthy strand of hair should be strong, smooth and uniform in size from root to end, curly or ethnic hair differs because it may be slightly thinner along the shaft where it coils and/or bends, but if you see breaks or splits in the hair you may need a trim or strengthening/ conditioning treatment.
3. Does your hair appear or feel dry after you’ve shampooed, conditioned and applied styling aids? If your hair is excessively dry you may be using the wrong type of products or too much heat and you may require treatment to correct a moisture imbalance issue. In addition to proper products and styling, you can hydrate your strands by eating foods rich in protein, omega-3 fatty acids, and iron. Choose salmon, sardines, nuts, avocados, and flaxseeds for healthy shiny hair. Drink plenty of water, staying hydrated prevents your hair from drying out. Avoid smoking, the smoke from cigarettes can end up damaging and drying out your hair.
4. I’ve done EVERYTHING I can, including getting a trim and my hair still looks/ feels damaged?!?! This may be an indication that you have an issue with porosity. Porosity is an indicator of how damaged your hair is. The “pores” are really tiny cracks in the protein structure that weaken hair’s natural defenses. Porous hair has increased moisture loss, lower natural lipid content, and is more prone to breakage and split ends. Porosity is dramatically increased by chemical processing such as perming, relaxing, coloring, or bleaching the hair. A 2008 study showed that even just one minute exposure to hair bleach caused a significant number of pores to open in the hair.
Porosity Test: Fill a glass or bowl with room temperature water.Take a couple strands of your clean hair and put them in the water. Clean hair is important. If you have oils or products on your hair, it will alter your results. Watch it for 2-4 minutes. If your hair sinks immediately, it has high porosity.
Unfortunately, once hair becomes porous, there’s not much you can do to physically reverse the damage. However, using a good conditioner and frequent deep conditioning treatments can provide temporary relief. Deep conditioning using the indirect heat of a hooded dryer or steamer to open the cuticles will allow the moisture to penetrate the hair shaft and reinforce some of the fissures. If you are at home and don’t have a hooded dryer, you can apply your conditioner and processing cap then use a blow dryer to heat your conditioner while it is on your hair. Use lighter styling products, because reducing build up is key. I also like to recommend following a deep conditioning with dimethicone containing leave in conditioners because they’re effective at trapping the moisture inside the hair.
5. Does your hair appear dull, dry, lank or lifeless? If your hair is straight or loosely waved, consider a deep conditioner after every wash for a while. The same is suggested for curly or kinky hair types, but you can also try use heavier butters and oils like shea butter and olive oil to seal in moisture. Also consider your hair’s pH balance. You want to incorporate products with low pH, which means ones that are acidic. This will help flatten the cuticle and also seal in moisture, when your cuticle is closed it will reflect light hence making hair appear shiny. Other things to try are adding aloe vera gel or juice to your leave-in conditioner or spray bottle mixtures. You can also add 1/3 cup of Apple Cider Vinegar to 1 liter of water as a rinse after washing your hair. This mixture will detoxify any pollution in the hair and seal the cuticle making your hair appear smooth, shiny and full.
DaStylist Tip: As with anything, patience and good everyday practices will always be your best route back to a healthy head of hair, because an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure! However, if you’ve run the gamut of home remedies and your hair is not responding, it may be time to visit a professional for further assistance. The longer a hair issue is allowed to go unaddressed the greater the likelihood of having long term damage.