Friday, 1 July 2011

Beginners guide to healthier hair

I got some much appreciated input from the lovely members of UTT on this! Thank you to everyone from UTT who are reading this right now.

I am adding this to the Page-section because I think (Hope) it will be a good place to start no matter your length or ambition.

Beginners guide to healthier hair
To start with, I probably need to clear up a common misconception: Hair is dead. Hair is as dead as dinner plates and cell phones. The only part of the human hair that is alive is inside the follicle.
Advertisements lie. Quite frankly it’s amazing that smart and cynical people will believe the ridiculous advertisements and wannabe quasi science that companies use to sell their products.
No one (At least that I know) would believe a dishwashing soap could actually repair your plates, but yet people happily buy “repairing and reconstructing” hair products.
Products don’t work that way. All they can do is give your hair a nice shiny gloss, coat it in silicone or keep it moisturised. Certain oils and henna will do some deeper work but we will get to that.

I like to use a metaphor of growing hair that is an old fashioned barrel containing water. The height of the water is symbolising the quality of your hair and each of the planks symbolise each a factor in growing it. For instance, it doesn’t help that you overdose on vitamin C if you have bad circulation and a good circulation doesn’t help if you are suffering from bad stress.

Because the only living part of the hair strand is inside the follicle, your hair is at the strongest it will ever be the second it leaves your skin. From then on, it will slowly but surely deteriorate from mechanical damage, sun, wind and chemical damage. There is no stopping this process unless you lay completely unmoving, never touching your hair in zero gravity and total darkness. Of course some handling and treatment is worth the damage: The mechanical damage of putting your hair in a protecting updo and the conditioning from a nice treatment.

To make sure your hair is at its absolutely strongest and healthiest when it leaves the follicle, take a good critical look at your life style and nutrition.

Life style
There is a good reason that even with all the advances in medical technology and science, that one of the first things a healthcare professional does is to take a look at you. Your hair, skin and nails are a good indicator of your life style and general health.
Do you get enough sleep? Are you stressed? Do you have a hobby or something in your life that makes you really happy? Do you smoke? Drink? Do you have any illnesses and if so, are you keeping it medicated and controlled? Do you get regular fresh air and exercise?
Healthy, happy living shows itself. In your hair as well. A great way of putting it is that hair is far down the body’s pecking order. Meaning, that if something is going bad such as poor nutrition or circulation, your hair is one of the first things to suffer. Personally I went through a year long period of high stress and even though I didn’t realise I shedded extra at the time, I now have a thumb-thick amount of very noticeable regrowth. If your body suffers, your hair will show.
A lot of times it can be hard to motivate yourself for lifestyle changes, but I find “Its good for your hair!” is a simple, understandable and powerful motivator.

To use the previous barrel-symbolic, there is no reason to overdose on single vitamins or minerals to grow your hair. I have previously written an article on the vitamins and minerals necessary for hair growth and a piece on why the popular mega dosing on biotin is unnecessary, arrogantly stupid and not least dangerous.
The best nutrition for growing your hair is a solid, balanced and well rounded diet. That means the “dull”, mainstream diet advice that most people can’t be bothered to follow. No weird fad diet will help you grow really healthy hair. The “advice” that will circulate on health and hair forums from time to time how gojiberries/water chestnut/sea kelp/avocado/whatever suddenly helped someone boost their hair growth is pretty useless unless the food source contains something you are missing already.
Eat lean protein, leafy vegetables, fish, fresh fruit, and roots and try to avoid junk food, trans fats, refined sugar and white flour. The “boring” nutrition advice is the way to go. If you feel insecure about your nutrition, take a good solid multi vitamin of an old and well-known brand. Don’t go for any new “fad” supplement that gives you high doses. Supplements needs to stay supplements and not the entire basis of your intake of vitamins and minerals.

The [Bleeping] obvious
One of the things that really irritate me on hair forums is when people start posts about the heat or chemical abuse they put their hair through and then ask for advice on how to fix it. It’s pretty simple: Either you stop doing these things to your hair and grow it as healthy as possible, or you keep doing it and suck the consequences up. There is no magical product to nullify damage done.
I seriously don’t understand what kind of reply people are looking for when they post “How bad is blow drying three times a week?”
“Acme Ion Tech blow dryer on setting 3 will halve the damage”
 “On a scale on 1 to 10, its about a 5,7”
“If you just use Acme Super Protein Product and hemp oil once a week each it will heal it!”
No. These answers are pretty pointless.
Stop believing what shampoo ads tell you. Damage done cannot be repaired, only covered.

Minimise mechanical damage
The next thing to take a critical look at is the tools and accessories that you use for your hair. Start by throwing all elastics with a metal clamp out. They catch and break your hair. From now on, only buy the “glued” elastics. Although they don’t seem to be as strong as the metal clamped ones, the damage isn’t worth it.
Invest in a wide toothed comb and some strong, quality accessories. The tangle teezer is widely praised for being gentle on your hair. Accessories people rave about include the Flexi 8 and Ficcare. They might seem pricey but they are very versatile and so strong they will stay put in your hair instead of slipping, pulling and causing headaches. Also be aware that a brush really isn’t necessary to detangle your hair. A comb is just as good and does less mechanical damage because the teeth are wider apart. Maybe this is mostly for the curly-haired, but you can get a long way on detangling your hair by using your fingers instead of a comb.
Run a finger over your tools and accessories to find rough edges that will damage your hair. Buy some fine sandpaper; it’s a very cheap way to make things more hair friendly. If not, use a normal nail file to buff down all sharp edges.
Remember that just because something is labelled “Hair friendly” doesn’t mean it actually is. “Hair friendly” is not a regulated term in the accessory world. It’s a phrase used to sell hair accessories and not a genuine stamp of higher quality.
Another very important step to minimise your handling-damage is to be gentle. A great tip I once read was to always detangle in front of your mirror so you can keep an eye on how hard or soft you actually handle your hair. It can be a real eye opener!
A great tip that seems unfortunately overlooked is to never, ever do deep treatments on days/times where you might be in a hurry. After a deep treatment, the microscopic “scales” on the hair strands are roughed up from the conditioning and not as smooth as usual. They need some time to return to their normal, flattened state. A lot of people will notice this by their hair being “hard to handle” right after a treatment, but that is the completely natural reaction. It’s best to go to something low-handling and non-fancy like a simple braid or directly to the sleep-style you wear. It can be tempting to do a deep treatment right before a date or party to get that beautiful, shiny and freshly washed mane in a fancy up do, but do it the day before instead.

With the percentage of the day we spend sleeping, there is a lot of damage to be done or prevented from putting a little thought into how you sleep with your hair. Depending on how you sleep; Restless, side, back etc you can find a braid or bun to sleep in comfortably. Keeping your hair contained will protect it from rubbing, being caught under you and minimise the detangling necessary the next morning. Experiment with pillow covers to lessen the friction. Silk or satin will decrease the friction a lot and is also presumable better for the skin. For the longer haired that sleep with a braid, it might be worth covering the top third of the sheet with silk or satin.

Stretch your shampoo
Shampoo is not necessary to clean your hair. Lots of people have grown amazing healthy and non-greasy heads of hair over the years without using shampoo. But cosmetics companies know that people believe shampoo is absolutely necessary and happily enforce the idea because they can sell more products that way. (They especially keep the “shampoo twice” idea alive since it obviously makes you use and thus buy more of their product)
Shampoo is very drying on both your hair and your skin. Try reading up on alternatives to using shampoo. Indian herbs are widely praised. WO (Water only) and CO (Conditioner only) are almost mainstream on longhair forums. Of course you are not able to switch from normal shampoo user directly to the alternative methods. It takes a long time to gradually phase out shampoo (In my own case, about a year) but start off slow: Switch one shampoo each week with a CO wash. If we say shampoo stays on your scalp and hair for 5 minutes for each wash, in one year you save your scalp and hair over 4½ hours of shampoo soak. This might not sound like so much, but multiply it with the age of your hair. It all adds up.
Personally, I am not “anti shampoo” but I don’t see why I should use a harsher method when a milder cleaning method is just as good at keeping my hair perfectly clean.

Leave in products
I’m a firm believer in leave in products. They keep my hair styles sleek, styled and under control (Something that people often comment on) They somewhat protect your hair from environmental influences, keep it moisturised and easier to detangle and handle.
There are many different options to try: Leave in conditioner, oil, aloe vera and some even use a diluted regular conditioner. Experiment to find an option you are comfortable and happy with, this will depend on your hair type and health.
During the summer, I like using products that boasts UV filter to prevent my hair from bleaching in the sun. I know these are not as efficient or reliable as real sun screen, but it’s better than nothing.

I find it slightly amusing when people proudly brag of their 245 $ digital ceramic zinc-ion-technology flat iron, their expensive salon bought shampoo and conditioner range  Professional Reenergising Vitalimax Pro-Vitamin containing organic truffle oil, Venezuelan cocoanut extract and genuine pearl protein with repairing Photozyme Complex Molecules © and the Hair Repair Stimulating Enzyme Therapy © Icy Shine heat protection spray with genuine bamboo flower seed keratine that “Definitely conditions hair when you flat iron it!”
…And their hair still looks like crap because they shampoo twice, barely conditions once (Don’t want to weigh that hair down! “You should only condition the bottom half of your hair, you know!”) backcomb “for volume”, then flat iron to kill waves and finish it off with a blast of styling spray enough to fumigate the entire house.
It’s not the one, magical product that gives you healthy hair. It’s the small, well thought through daily effort. Just like with so many other things in life: There is no magical bullet.
A good advice I once got was to always buy the medium price range. Too cheap and you get what you pay for, too expensive and you pay for brand names or pretty packaging. The truth is, there are only so many things you can really do to hair. Too many fancy ingredients are simply in there to look good on the bottle and dazzle people with wannabe science, doesn’t actually affect the hair and simply end up as expensive foam in the drain.

Up dos
Putting your hair up protects it from tangling, being whipped in the wind, being bleached in the sun, being dried up rapidly and maybe most important from getting caught in chairs, seatbelts, backpack straps and jewellery.
A slightly creepier argument is that it keeps random strangers from fondling your hair which some people seem to think they have the right to. I’m guessing it’s the same people who feel they have the right to grope pregnant bellies and anything else they find interesting (And whose parents really should be ashamed of themselves…)
Personally I experience it mostly with old women. Always the same line: “Uh, I used to have long hair like that too!” and then comes the wrinkly old grabby hands of questionable hygiene directly for my hair without asking for permission. Yikes.

S&D is “longhaired weirdo” talk for search and destroy, where you look through your hair/ends and snip off all individual hairs showing damage. It can be pretty time consuming if you do it in one long, thorough sitting, but it is definitely worth the effort! I keep a scissor by my computers because that tends to be where I find myself idly playing with my braid and having some minutes to spare. I find that the contrast between the bright screen and my hair is amazing for locating damage.
It’s something that is pretty overlooked but I guess the best way to describe the importance is to imagine your hair being the size of branches and you take one bundle of branches where you break them in halves and the other bundle you carefully saw them across. Imagine shaking the bundles around and you will understand that the rough broken branches will easier catch and further destroy the other branches, where as the sawed ones will glide more smoothly.
This is why your hair always feels better after a trim: Your ends are “sharp” and your hair tangles less which makes handling easier and more fun, which again makes you happier with your hair and more patient with it, which again decreases the damage you do with handling.
The opinions on how to choose a scissor varies: Seems half the people believe that any scissor is good enough and the other half believes in expensive specialised scissors. I belong to the other half, but by the end of the day what really matters is that you don’t abuse your scissor with anything else than snipping hairs and that you actually get your S&Ds done.

There are so many cool things you can try for your hair. Cassia, apple cider vinegar rinses, so many different oils, Indian herbs, tea rinses, egg yolks, honey, catnip, deep treatments from various fruits and vegetables, sugar scrubs to exfoliate your scalp and I could go on… There is always someone trying something really strange for their hair and documenting it on a forum somewhere.
Experiments are fun!
Some people go a completely different way such in their hair care and have amazing heads of hair. No conditioner at all, only oil and ACV for example. There are many options to make your hair healthy and happy!

Hair typing
Link. Different hair types like different treatments and have different needs. It can be very useful to know your hair type and compare your routine and methods to other people with the same, or approximately the same type as you. Fine hair likes different treatments than coarse hair and curls like different handling than straight. If you’re insecure about where to start, it can be a great help to see what other people with the same hair type as you do and what works for them. Just be aware that this isn’t an exact science and two routines will never be the exact same, neither will the results.
Some times people seem to “fight” their natural hair and force it to be something it isn’t. Seeing other people rock a hair type like your own can be truly empowering. All heads of hair have their very own special beauty.

And finally the most important tip to growing longer hair…
Don’t cut it.
Most people seem to be tempted to cut sooner or later. Personally I think its basic psychology: If there is something in your life you can’t change (easily) like your job, your financial status, your relationship, your family, your weight, your appearance or whatever it could be bothering you, you will often look for a “quick fix”, something you actually can change. Of course cutting your hair doesn’t actually solve anything and some time later, you will still be you with your job, your financial status, your relationship, your family, your weight, your appearance or whatever it could be bothering you, just with a shorter hair cut that now has lost its novelty.
So think before you get in that stylists chair: Is it really, truly the hair that bothers you and you want to change?
Of course there is nothing wrong with wanting change, but chances are you can take the urge out on something else. Try some nail polish, some new makeup, some new clothes or having some fun with your *other* hair (wink wink, nudge nudge) there are plenty of options in colour and “cut”. If you just feel like trying something new for a while it won’t set you back months or even years of growing.
I always advice people to have some fake hair to play around with: A shorter wig, a wig piece in fun colours or maybe some fake bangs. Some times, no matter how much you like your hair, it can be fun to change it. And fake hair doesn’t cause regret.
When you go for trims, it’s a good idea to actually know your growth rate. That way you don’t get tempted to nod and think it sounds right when someone tells you to trim so-and-so much every so-and-so week. For instance with a number being tossed out there a lot of one inch every 6 weeks “to make your hair grow faster!” I would end up at minus one inch growth per year. Yikes.
I dispute the whole idea by the way. Trimming makes your hair generally better looking and easier to handle which makes you happier with it. Trimming doesn’t make your hair “grow faster”. There is not connection between the ends and the roots since hair is completely dead. The follicle has no idea what is happening down the length. Damage does travel up the hair strand but not to a degree that makes it fall apart or ruin it like it’s commonly described.

Thursday, 30 June 2011

Wednesday the 29th of July

I have really been doing the benign neglect lately. I do enjoy the fact that my hair is so low maintenance that I can get away with putting it up and ignoring it, WO washes and a CO scalp wash once a week or so.

Yesterday I did a thorough deep conditioning and dipped with ACV after. It actually felt good to give my mane some attention.

I like that I can give it as much or as little attention as I feel like and it’s happy no matter what.

There is a Wear your hair up challenge-thread on UTT that made me think maybe I should do a practise your up do-challenge with myself and practise each of the updos I can do and like for a week or so each.

Anyways. Right now I’m curled up on the couch watching the second season of X-files (Another gift from my loving hubby) with my laptop and a glass of wine. I hope to get some work done on a beginners guide to healthier hair.