Val Answers Your Top Haircare Questions
A: 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.
Q: Since I hit my 40s, my hair has become more brittle and frizzy. Is it because I'm perimenopausal?
A: 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.
Q: 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.
A: 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.
Q: I have "not exactly" hair: not exactly curly, not exactly straight. I'm not exactly sure what products I should use. Suggestions?
A: 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
Q. 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?
A: 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.