Be Fair to Your Hair

Soft, shiny hair: what everyone wants, but few have.  Did you know that "taking care" of your hair can actually hurt it? So can the sun. Find out how to repair damage to your hair and keep it from looking limp and dull.

We're constantly looking for ways to have healthy, manageable hair. But sunlight, dyes, and even washing and grooming can do a number on hair, turning what should be shiny and healthy into a dull and brittle mess.

Be Fair to Your HairPeople who spend time outdoors may notice that their split ends increase and their hair becomes more wiry and coarse. Environmental factors such as sunlight, rain and pollution weatherbeat the hair, injuring its keratin (protein) fibers, according to Sergio Nacht, PhD of Advanced Polymer Systems, Inc. The sun's UV rays erode the cuticle - the outer layer of the hair shaft that protects inner layers such as the medulla, where hair color arises. Sun bleaching also breaks down melanin pigment in the medulla, and as melanin decreases, the hair dries out and loses strength, becoming stiff, brittle, and breakable.

Anyone who has ever had a perm won't be surprised to hear that the chemicals used aren't terribly good for your hair. Certain substances so severely break down chemical bonds in the hair that people with perms may suffer maximum UV damage with just a few hours of sun exposure. Permanent hair dyes also do damage, loosening the cuticle, so that the dye can enter the medulla to replace natural pigment. This disruption of the cuticle harms the hair shaft. Semipermanent dyes, however, can actually protect the hair somewhat. They do not penetrate the hair shaft as deeply, and, if the dye is darkening the hair as opposed to bleaching it, the red and blue tints in the dyes can actually absorb some UV radiation.

Brushing, shampooing and drying also exact a toll. The more you manipulate the hair, the more you damage the cuticle, says dermatologist Zoe Draelos, MD, at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, NC. "The old rules of brushing 100 strokes a night and shampooing every day were wrong," she declares. "We should only do what's necessary for styling and scalp hygiene." In addition to being more laissez faire with your hair, use these strategies to combat the wear and tear of every day living.

Hats offer great protection for your hair. They also help keep you cool in the summer and warm in the winter. A broad-brimmed, opaque hat gives the best protection for your hair, and will help protect your face, ears and neck as well.

Sunscreen doesn't stick to hair very well, but if your hair is thinning, it can offer protection for your scalp.

Heat Drying
Give your hair a break from heat styling whenever possible. Never hold a hair dryer too close to your head, and keep it moving at all times.

Washing and conditioning
Shampoos and conditioners with Panthenol, a precursor of vitamin B-5, can repair hair breakage. Since sun removes protein from your hair, shampoos and conditioners that contain keratin, egg protein or collagen will temporarily smooth the cuticle, eliminate static electricity, and make hair shinier and softer.The longer a conditioner remains on the hair, the better protection it will give, so opt for leave-in conditioners with added UV protection.

Look for styling products that contain UV protection. Although their effectiveness is limited, they can help a little. Massaging a product completely into the hair is best, as opposed to applying it only to the roots or tips, because the entire shaft of the hair is coated.

Published on September 6, 2006