1. I have thick, dry, curly hair. Am I better off skipping shampoo, as I've heard some people are doing?
Though shampooing less frequently is okay if your hair is very dry, it's not a good idea to skip it altogether, says David Kingsley, PhD, a New York City trichologist (hair expert). Shampooing is the most efficient way to remove oil and dirt from the scalp. If you wet your hair more than once a week, wash it just once and use a conditioner the rest of the time. If you wet your hair only once a week, wash it then and use a leave-in conditioner (like L'Oréal EverSleek Humidity Defying Leave-In Creme, $9, drugstores) or a moisturizing, antifrizz conditioner (like Tresemmé Climate Control Conditioner, $5, drugstores).
Keep in mind: When styling, use a gel or antifrizz cream and then don't touch your curls, says Rita Hazan, colorist and owner of the Rita Hazan Salon in New York City. The more you fuss and play with your hair, the frizzier it will be.
2. My hair is dull; I'd like to try a gloss or a glaze. What's the difference?
Such an innocent question. It seems so simple: Gloss, glaze, which is which? But you, dear reader, have sent me down the rabbit hole. Marie Leppard, senior colorist at the Julien Farel Salon in New York City (who gives me my highlights), told me authoritatively that a gloss is a bit more permanent than a glaze. It adds shine and adjusts the tone (say, if your highlights are too bright or brassy, a gloss will subdue them), she explains. A gloss penetrates the hair's cuticle, so it lasts two to four weeks. A glaze, on the other hand, simply coats the shaft with shine and semipermanent color; it's like putting a top coat of polish on your hair, and it lasts a week or two. But here's the problem: Haircare companies use "gloss" and "glaze" interchangeably. According to cosmetic chemist Mort Westman—our ultimate resource for clarification about all things confusing in the beauty business—originally, a glaze added shine and deposited semipermanent color, and a gloss added only shine, but the word "gloss" was added to dye products because it's appealing to people who are coloring their hair.
Bottom line: If you want just shine, look for a "clear" gloss or glaze (like Frédéric Fekkai Salon Glaze Clear Shine Rinse, $28). If you're looking to boost your color or bump up your highlights, choose a gloss or glaze with "semipermanent" color (like John Frieda Luminous Color Glaze, $16).
3. What can I do about flyaway hair?
You're not just talking about your hair sticking up when you whip off your hat, right? Because if that's the only time you have flyaways, there's probably no problem with your hair's health—you're just triggering a plethora of positive electrical charges. But if it's sticking up most of the time, you've got cuticle damage, which means that the strands' outer layers are peeling up, exposing the inside fiber. An intact cuticle protects the fiber; when it's interrupted, the fiber is more susceptible to static, says Paradi Mirmirani, MD, assistant professor of dermatology at Case Western Reserve University. The best method to tame flyaways is to use a silicone-based or leave-in conditioner after you shampoo. The conditioner coats the fiber, making it less prone to static, says Mirmirani. A natural-bristle brush (not synthetic) will also help keep things under control.
Bottom line: Condition your hair to make it behave.
Keep reading: How to Banish Static for Good
4. After I dry my hair in the morning, it's straight and smooth. By the time I get to work, it looks as if I've traveled from home to the office via the Everglades. How can I avoid frizz?
I'm going to assume that you're using conventional rather than fun transportation—like a ferry or a bike—because if you're exposing your hair to humid ocean breezes or crushing it under a sweaty helmet, the only advice I can offer (and I do, wholeheartedly) is to forget about the frizz and enjoy yourself. Actually, even if you ride the bus, I hope you're enjoying yourself, but I also know what a joy-buster a headful of frizz can be. What you need, says Mark Garrison, owner of the Mark Garrison Salon in New York City, is an anti-humectant, which coats and seals hair to prevent moisture in the air from getting into and swelling the strand. Try a silicone serum, a straightening balm, or a defrizzing light cream, applied when hair is damp, to prolong the effects of your morning blow-dry, says Nick Arrojo, owner of Arrojo Studio in New York City. A light hairspray will add shine and hold.
5. How often should I brush my hair? And what kind of brush is best?
In spite of the old biceps-building 100-strokes-per-night advice, you should brush your hair minimally. Routine brushing damages the outer layer, or cuticle, of the strands, which can make hair look lusterless and frizzy, says Paradi Mirmirani, MD, assistant professor of dermatology at the University of California, San Francisco; better to use a comb with widely spaced teeth and smooth tips. But if you like the way a good brushing feels (as I do), avoid boar bristles, which generate damaging friction; instead, choose a model with plastic, ball-tipped bristles. The Goody Ouchless Cushion Brush ($7.99; drugstores) is a fine choice.
6. Is it good to brush my hair vigorously?
Funny you should ask. A stylist recently told me, after giving me what might generously be called an "energetic" shampoo, that since I have my hair washed in a salon only every five days or so, I should brush it hard daily "to distribute the oils on your scalp." (She also told me, with obvious concern, that my scalp felt "tight," which got me wondering about how loose my scalp should be. Not very, I decided.) But Philip Kingsley, a New York City and London trichologist (hair specialist), says, "It's definitely bad to brush your hair vigorously, ever. Hard brushing tends to scratch the scalp and will also tear out the hair and break it, particularly if it's long." It's fine to use a brush for styling purposes, he says, but not to distribute oils, because who wants oily hair? Dry hair is due to loss of moisture, not oil. Kingsley suggests using a conditioner after shampooing. And when you do use a brush, look for one with plastic, malleable bristles on a rubber base with vents. Ball tips on the bristles help prevent breakage, Kingsley says.
Bottom line: The less you brush your hair, the better.
7. Is there a way to protect my hair from blow-dryer damage?
Yes: Don't use a blow-dryer. But if you have to, hold the dryer as far away as possible from your hair, use a nozzle that directs the heat, and keep the dryer moving so that it's not focused too long on one spot, says Alain Pinon, stylist and co-owner of Salon AKS in New York City. He also suggests blotting hair with a towel to absorb excess water, and then applying a heat-activated product that coats and protects the hair shaft (try Phyto Phytodéfrisant, $24). And use a brush with natural bristles, which absorb some of the heat.
Bottom Line: Towel-dry your hair first so you're not blow-drying it sopping wet, and keep the dryer at least an inch away from your head at all times.
8. My hair keeps breaking; how can I prevent split ends?
This is one of those questions I'm asked with startling regularity—like three times a day. And I think there's a good reason: Unless you're a haircare zealot—by which I mean you see your stylist without fail every six weeks for a trim, you never overshampoo or overstyle with heated tools, and you wouldn't go near a chemical treatment—some breakage and split ends are inevitable. But a few suggestions from master stylist Barry Reitman at Kevin Josephson Salon in Beverly Hills can help:
- Use a moisturizing shampoo and rinse-out conditioner, concentrating the product on your split ends.
- Rinse with cool water to seal the hair's outer layer.
- Detangle with a wide-tooth comb.
- Pour a bit of shine serum into your palm and glide it over split ends.
- Be sure to dry your hair thoroughly; split ends look worse when they're frizzy.
- To camouflage the ends, apply a light heat protectant when hair is completely dry. Then use a ceramic or Teflon flatiron to straighten the bottom inch of your hair.
Bottom line: Because of normal wear and tear, you can't prevent split ends entirely. But they can lead to breakage higher up on the hair shaft, so getting regular trims is important to your hair's health, says Antonio Prieto, of Antonio Prieto Salon in New York City.
9. Will I get better results if I use the same brand of shampoo and conditioner rather than mix brands?
I put your question to my email friend (and cosmetic chemist) Mort Westman of Westman Associates, a research and development consultancy firm outside Chicago, who responded, "During my 30-plus years of working with hair products, I have never encountered companion shampoo and conditioner that produced a perceivable synergy when used in combination." Meaning: No, you will not get better results if you stick with one brand. Mort being Mort, though (always striving to paint the full picture), he added that if you do choose to use products from the same line, you might be sparing yourself what he called "fragrance conflict"—and you'll benefit from the aesthetic bonus of matching containers in your bathroom. But you should feel free to switch products without any adverse effects.
10. Will switching shampoos keep my hair from looking flat?
When we have a series of bad hair days, we tend to blame our shampoo. Is it wrongly accused? Probably, says Mort Westman of Westman Associates. "The surfactant [cleaning agent] in shampoo has a negative charge that could attach itself to the positive charges in the hair strand, causing a buildup of product. In most cases, though, there wouldn't be enough to be noticeable." But too much of any conditioner or styling product containing wax or petrochemicals (such as propylene glycol) can have a flattening effect, says hairstylist Jon Reyman.
Bottom line: If you choose a shampoo and conditioner specific to your hair type and don't overuse conditioner, you'll be more likely to avoid the itch to switch.
Keep reading: Do expensive shampoos work better than drugstore brands?
11. Is it my imagination, or does the hair on my legs as well as my head grow more quickly in summer?
There are no reliable statistics about it, but warm weather does seem to make hair grow faster, says Brian Thompson, senior trichologist (hair specialist) at Philip Kingsley Trichological Clinic in New York City.
Bottom line: It's probably not your imagination.
12. How can I keep my very curly hair straight and smooth during the summer?
A: I just want to say one word to you—just one word. Are you listening? Silicone. It's found in many haircare products. It minimizes frizz because it's water resistant, and so it prevents humidity from entering the hair shaft and swelling it. Using a shampoo, conditioner, and styling serum all containing silicone will not only control frizz but also help with detangling and shine, says hairstylist Amy Abramite, creative director of Maxine Salon in Chicago. Abramite suggests the following 12-step program for fighting frizz. I have to warn you: It exhausted me just to read it. But it works.
- Shampoo and rinse.
- Massage in conditioner. Leave on for five minutes, then rinse.
- Gently press excess water from hair with a towel. (Do not rub.)
- Detangle with a wide-toothed comb.
- Apply leave-in serum with fingers, working from ends to scalp.
- Section wet hair in two halves, top and bottom of head. Fasten top section with clips.
- Starting with the bottom section, use a paddle brush to stretch curls straight while blowing dry from scalp to ends.
- Do the same with the top section.
- Section hair again, top and bottom, fastening top with clip.
- Use a flatiron on bottom section.
- Use a flatiron on top section.
- Apply serum with fingers, working upward toward scalp.
Bottom line: With silicone-containing products and a rigorous blow-out and flatironing routine, you can have smooth hair even at summer's steamiest.
13. Not everyone wants to dye her gray hair, you know. I love mine, but it's turning a little yellow. How can I bring out the silvery tones?
I love gray hair, too. (On you. Not me.) Gray or white hair, which contains little or no pigment, sometimes yellows because it picks up pigments from the environment; for example, if you use a yellowish shampoo or conditioner, rather than a clear one, a trace of the color might be deposited on your hair. Chlorine and other chemical residues in water, sunlight, and even oils from the scalp can also give gray or white hair a yellowish cast, says Kingsley. So if your water is very chlorinated, install a filter in your shower; wear a hat when you're in the sun; and be sure to wash your hair regularly. Try products made specifically for gray hair, says Joel Warren, master colorist at the Warren-Tricomi Salons in New York City. Just don't use them more than once a week, because—no kidding—they could make your hair look bluish.
Keep in mind: Adding a few silvery highlights can mean the difference between dull and dramatic.
14. I keep seeing references to "older hair." Does hair really age?
Yes, in a way, it does, says David Kingsley, PhD. As we get older, our skin, including the scalp, tends to get drier. Scalp oil moisturizes the hair; the less oil, the drier the hair. And as it loses melanin (pigment), turning white or gray, hair tends to feel drier. It grows more slowly too, and gets finer, partly because hair growth is affected by hormones, and as we age our bodies produce less estrogen and progesterone. If you'd like your hair to remain delightfully youthful, make sure you eat well and regularly; include enough protein in your diet; exercise; drink enough water (so that you're not thirsty); and to hedge your bets, take a multivitamin, says Kingsley. By the way, he says don't be afraid to color your hair if you don't like the gray; as long as you don't overprocess, it won't do any harm.
Bottom line: Take good care of your body, and it will show up in your hair.
15. I'm allergic to permanent hair dye, but I've found that semipermanent formulas don't cover gray as well. Any suggestions?
If you're not completely gray, try highlights and lowlights; the color is painted on gray strands (to camouflage them), so the dye doesn't sit on your scalp during the coloring process. Or you could, instead, apply demipermanent color to your gray 10 minutes before you apply it to the rest of your hair, says Jason Backe, Clairol's color director (demipermanent lasts longer than semi-). The extra time will allow the gray to pick up more pigment. Backe says using an ammonia-free product that contains antioxidants will prevent your hair from being damaged from the added exposure to the dye. (He, of course, recommends Clairol's Natural Instincts, $9, a demipermanent formula that should last through 28 shampoos.)
Bottom line: Your best bet is to have a professional blend away your gray with highlights and lowlights; if you color at home, you may have to use a demipermanent or semipermanent formula more often than you'd use a permanent one.
16. Since I hit my 40s, my hair has become more brittle and frizzy. Is it because I'm perimenopausal?
Way back when I was perimenopausal, as opposed to menopausal, which you have to be before you can graduate, as I proudly have, to postmenopausal...wait a minute, what was the question? Oh, your hair. I started to say that I liked to blame everything on perimenopause: my moods, my cocker spaniel's moods, the state of my complexion, whatever. But perimenopause is probably not affecting your hair, says Valerie Callender, MD, clinical associate professor of dermatology at Howard University. Low humidity and dry heat suck moisture out of the hair, making it brittle. (Less likely causes are hypothyroidism and a protein, vitamin, biotin or zinc deficiency, says Callender.) As we age, our scalp can become drier, which can make the hair drier, too; and when hair loses its pigment, turning gray or white, its texture often becomes frizzier, says David H. Kingsley, PhD, a board-certified trichologist. Your hair needs moisture, and the best way to restore it is with a moisturizing shampoo and conditioning treatments. Use a deep conditioner once a week and a leave-in conditioner daily, says Callender.
Bottom line: Keep your hair well moisturized and it will look healthier and shinier no matter what your age.
17. How much hair loss is normal?
I have the sinking feeling you're asking because you've noticed an unusual amount of hair in the drain after a shampoo. Everyone loses between 40 and 120 strands a day, depending on how much hair you have and its growth cycle. Finer-haired people tend to have more strands than coarse-haired, so they generally lose more. But if you're used to losing around 40 a day and you're suddenly shedding 80 or more, or if your part seems to be getting wider or you're seeing more scalp, you've probably got a problem, according to hair and scalp specialist David Kingsley, PhD. Don't hit the panic button—not all hair loss is permanent, says Kingsley; it's vital to find out what's causing the loss so that it can be treated. Some of the causes: seasonal shedding, usually in the fall (no pun intended); postpregnancy hormonal changes; going on or off (but especially off) the birth control pill; losing more than 15 pounds in a month; thyroid problems; iron deficiency; and stress. Oh, and menopause, when thinning often begins. Kingsley reminds us, though, that postmenopausal thinning stops at some (genetically predisposed) point, and that women's hair tends to thin diffusely, all over the scalp, rather than in the male-pattern way. Minoxidil is the only FDA-approved treatment for hair loss in women, and in 60 to 70 percent of cases it improves the follicle's ability to produce hair, Kingsley says.
Keep in mind: If you seem to be shedding more than usual, see a doctor to determine the cause, because in many cases, hair loss can be reversed in three to six months.
18. I've always battled my widow's peak. What kind of hairstyle is best to cover it?
Lucky you! Ever since I can remember, I've wanted a widow's peak; I think it adds character to a face. But I know that trying to hide it can limit your style options. Your two best bets are heavy bangs and a far side part, says Lisa Chiccine, a New York City hairstylist. Start by applying a styling gel (like Fekkai Coiff Extra Control Styling Gel, $24, or Suave Professionals Extra Hold Gel, $4) to your hair postshampoo, when it's still wet. For bangs, be sure to use the nozzle on your dryer and blow-dry with the setting on hot and high. Use a medium round brush (preferably one with nylon and boar bristles, which will help make your bangs straight and shiny) to dry the bangs from roots to ends. For a far side part, do the same with the styling gel and the dryer settings, but use a paddle brush, which should make it easier to dry your hair in the direction you want it to go.
Bottom line: A good styling gel and a hot blow-dryer will keep your widow's peak under wraps.
19. What's the best way to cope with baby-fine hair? I don't want to color it to add thickness, or use volume-enhancing products.
It's so rare that I hear from someone who doesn't want to color or use any styling products! I can only guess at your motivation (you're a purist?), but I admire your resolve to keep it simple. What you need most of all is the right cut, says hairstylist Mario Russo of the Mario Russo Salons in Boston. Go for a shoulder-length bob with layers, which should give you a little lift and fullness. Use a shampoo made specifically for fine hair (try Biolage Volumatherapie Bodifying Shampoo, $14), and a light detangler (like Ojon Revitalizing Mist, $26)—a heavy conditioner will weigh your hair down. When your hair is almost dry, style it with a round brush and a blow-dryer on a low setting.
Bottom line: Start with a great cut; fine hair requires more maintenance than thick hair, so see your stylist regularly (every six weeks or so) for trims.
20. I have "not exactly" hair: not exactly curly, not exactly straight. I'm not exactly sure what products I should use. Suggestions?
My hair's the same; I think of it as a companion that has trouble making up its mind. But the clearer I am about what I want, the happier we are. I usually choose to go straight. I work a quarter-size dollop of a light mousse through my shampooed, towel-dried hair. The mousse adds body and hold, so that when I blow-dry my hair, it stays straight. If yours is coarse and very wavy, you might try a leave-in conditioner for softening, followed by a mousse. Then let your hair air-dry. If it's short, use a gel, which is great for holding a style because it tends to be heavier than a mousse. But it might weigh down longer hair.
Keep reading: The Best Ways to Tame Frizzy Hair