Much like me, my hair hasn’t had a break since adolescence. From flat irons, curling wands, blow dryers and the wrath of my stylist armed with foils and bleach, it’s been put through the wringer for years. That is, until lockdown. Since last March, my hair has been freed from all its former tormentors. It’s washed every two to three days. It’s blotted gently and air-dried. It has had the luxury of hydrating hair masks every week due to sheer boredom. It’s been coloured once with ammonia-free dye (again, boredom), but not bleached (the more damaging of the two, IMHO). And most of all, I don’t style it anymore, unless I have a particularly important Zoom call. While I didn’t set out to repair my damaged hair during this lockdown, I’ve noticed it’s improved.
And even though my thick, wavy hair can sometimes end up looking like that of Dog the Bounty Hunter when left to its own devices, I suspect it’s getting healthier from the lack of prodding and wondered what I can do to maximize this break even more. I decided to chat with Dr. Jeni Thomas, global science communications leader for Pantene and P&G Hair Care and Justin German, Pantene spokesperson and stylist for some dos and don’ts to repair damaged hair during lockdown.
Here’s what to do to repair damaged hair:
Wash less, plan more
Does washing your hair less make it healthier? Well, if you’re curled up with day-three lockdown hair in a scrunchy right now, pat yourself on the back, because it is good for your hair. Thomas recommends washing every other day but does acknowledge that it depends on your hair type. If you have hair that is naturally on the dry side, she recommends washing once or twice a week. “I would plan out my hair week similar to a meal plan,” says Thomas. “On the first day, wash and blowdry. On the second day, reach for [hair] oil, a shine spray or dry shampoo depending on what your hair needs. For the third day, I recommend putting your hair in a high pony or top knot and throwing [it] in some hair accessories.” Among the ways to make my hair healthier, doing less seems like a no-brainer.
There are some exceptions where washing less might not be better, like if you have an irritable scalp. “The build-up of oil on the scalp contributes to irritation – the oils degrade when they are exposed to the air, and for some people, the degraded oils can be irritating,” says Thomas. “So, washing often helps lessen the chance of scalp oils degrading.”
If you’ve already been air drying your hair for the last year, keep up the good work. (Read: Doing nothing). “Anytime you have a chance to cut back on blow drying is good,” says German. “You can put your hair in loose braids or a loose top knot to make waves.” However, he says to avoid pulling it back into a ponytail, as that can cause breakage.
Add a shot of cold
If you want to blowdry, use a cold shot of air at the end to mitigate hair damage. “This helps to cool hair so it better matches room temperature,” says German. “This helps slow hair from absorbing humidity from the room (which will undo a smooth look you just created with the blow-drier.”
Respect wet hair
Wet hair is delicate hair. Thomas explains that’s because the elasticity is greater which means it stretches. “If you’re pulling on wet hair, it can snap,” says Thomas. She recommends using a detangling spray or leave-in on wet hair, and to be careful brushing. She also recommends brushing gently while you’re still in the shower: “Take a wide-tooth comb or detangling brush into the shower, after you’ve finished shampooing and conditioning, start combing at the ends and working your way up.” Another option? Brush your hair out when you have a deep conditioner in. Oh, and she says to avoid tying your when it’s wet, as that can lead to breakage, too.
Towel dry gently
To repair damaged hair in lockdown, you’re going to want to rethink your towel technique. You may have heard that the fibres in towels damage your hair, and blotting with an old T-shirt trumps a good old-fashioned towel dry. Thomas says it depends on the towel. “The fibres in a T-shirt are generally softer than a regular bath towel so they don’t create friction and a cotton T-shirt absorbs water quicker as well,” says Thomas. “Microfibre towels are also a good choice for being gentle and highly absorbent.” Either way, don’t go crazy with the rubbing, and opt for microfibre or a piece of cotton jersey (a.k.a. an old Taylor Swift T-shirt).
Be a regular masker
Thomas recommends using a deep conditioning mask on your hair once a week. “If someone has highly textured hair that’s on the dryer side I would rinse and condition my hair every time [I do a mask] and shampoo just once a week,” says Thomas.
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You‘re in lockdown, you‘re bored, you want to repair damaged hair. It‘s the perfect time to put that old “100 strokes a day” adage to the test, right? Wrong. “Brushing introduces friction – think tiny scratches on hair’s cuticle,” she says. “So use the brush to do what you need it to do to your hair, then stop. The old-school ’100 strokes a night’ is an old-wives tale and can do more harm than good.”
When you brush, reach for nature bore bristles as opposed to plastic or steel. “A paddle brush is a good way to stimulate your scalp by doing circular motions,” says German. “This helps people with a dryer scalp. It will exfoliate the dry skin and stimulate the scalp. Bore bristle brushes are my go-to for styling.”
Get beauty sleep
Try loose braids before bed, so when you take it out it provides a wave and also protects the hair at night. “Another way is to pineapple your hair by using a headscarf or snood wrapped around your head,” says German. “This will also help protect your style.“ A silk or satin pillowcase can also help cut down on friction and is a good option for people with hair that has a tendency to break easily. A bonus: “Your hair won‘t be a mess when you wake up,” says German.
Here‘s what not to do:
Unless it‘s a special occasion, try to opt-out. “Heat can cause a ton of damage to your hair,” says German. “Often, we’re setting our flat iron or curling iron at far too high of a heat setting, when a lower setting can do the job just as effectively. Constantly using high-heat won’t keep the form you want time after time as they break down your hair, so it doesn’t respond as well and will always need high heat.” He says it’s even worse if you colour your hair, as heat has a tendency to dull your shine and your colour. “If you bleach [your hair], the heat can cause yellowing when it is so hot it breaks down the proteins in the strand.”
If you still like it hot, adjust the temperature to medium on styling tools and don’t hold the blow dryer directly against your strands: “It should be at least one to two inches away from the hair, if not more, at all times.” German also stresses that you should always use a heat protectant.
Use ice-cold water
Another tip that’s been floating around is that an ice-cold shot of water on hair at the end of a hot shower will seal the cuticles and make it shinier and healthier. But Thomas says there’s no science behind it. “A cold shot of water does not close the cuticle — the cuticle is not like a window that can open and close,” says Thomas. “It can actually lead to deposits of hard water salts on your hair.”
Take supplements (for hair, that is)
There are probably a million things on the market right now promising better hair, but most of them aren’t necessary. “From what I’ve seen and discussed with medical experts, oral supplements and diet changes work only when someone is deficient in key nutrients for hair – like iron and vitamin D,” says Thomas. “The nutrients in your body impact the fibre as it forms deep in the follicle, but they cannot help the portion of the fibre that is exposed to the world. This is why it is important to use nutrient-rich products that can help restore what fibers lose over time.”
Heres what’s neutral
DIY hair masks
Yes, you could have a whole Pinterest board prepared to repair damaged hair. If you’re feeling crafty, knock yourself out. But manage your expectations. “Homemade masks have been around for ages because they do have some ingredients in them that act like conditioners for hair – like lipids and omega oils in avocados,” says Thomas. “In addition to ingredients that can do good for hair, they have a lot of other stuff that hair doesn’t need – that can mean too much weight or smells you don’t want.”