Have you ever noticed that your hair changes with the seasons? In the summer, for instance, you may swim in chlorinated pools or salt water, or maybe you—and your hair—spend a lot of time under the sun’s harmful UV rays. But in the winter, hair faces a different set of challenges, especially if you live in a cold climate.
For starters, there are the constant transitions that we make from the cold air outside to dry heat indoors. “This combination wreaks havoc on hair during the entire winter season,” explains Lisa Watson, ND, of the Integrative Health Institute in Toronto. “Spending time indoors during the winter is similar to using a blow dryer on your hair, all day, every day; it strips the natural moisture and results in split ends, fly-away hairs and overall dryness.”
With winter weather comes the cold winds, which Karuna Sabnani, ND, of Karuna Naturopathic Healthcare in New York City, says also strips moisture from the hair. And to protect ourselves from the cold and wind, we wear those snuggly winter hats—another source of damage.
“With hats, we are pulling our hair as we take them off, and we are not allowing our hair or scalp to breathe,” Sabnani says.
And then there’s the need for hair dryers, lest we freeze our hair. All of these factors can contribute to dry, damaged winter hair, which, as Watson explains, “lacks the natural oils that give it a smooth, shiny, healthy appearance.”
So, how do you keep your locks healthy and happy as winter sets in?
Just Add Oil
There are natural conditioning treatments that can help replenish lost moisture, and the best comes in the form of oil.
“Moisture is going to come from oil, and there’s a lot on the market, including things in the kitchen that you can use like coconut oil,” Sabnani explains. She recommends rubbing it into the palms and then into the ends of the hair (without pulling) in the evening, and washing it out the next morning. Or add coconut oil to your hair, wrap it in a towel and watch a movie or read a book before washing it out. Sabnani also suggests using a deep moisturizing leave-in conditioner after washing and conditioning the hair.
Watson is another big fan of coconut oil. “One of the best things you can do during the winter months is to commit to a regular routine of conditioning your hair with a light oil, such as coconut oil,” she says. “Use it as a hot oil treatment weekly, or as a leave-in treatment after washing your hair to replenish the lost oil.”
Sabnani adds, “You can purchase specific hair treatments, such as argan oil, which is more expensive but great for hair.” Some products include jojoba or evening primrose oils as well as extracts from various herbs such as tea tree, nettle, rosemary, chamomile, juniper and hyssop.
Change Your Routine
There are some simple changes to your hair care routine that can go a long way towards healthier winter hair.
One is to wash your hair less frequently, as washing tends to strip oils. “Nothing beats the natural oils in your hair, which moisturize and also help to repel toxins,” Sabnani says. She recommends washing hair one or two times per week and using lukewarm water when doing so, as hot water can be drying.
If you think your hair will look too oily without frequent washing, Watson recommends using one of the powder- or spray-based dry shampoos that are available. “This can help minimize washing and keep hair looking fabulous between shampoos,” she says.
Another change can be to cut back on heat styling. Some women use both a hair dryer and a straightening device, both of which are extremely harsh and drying.
Try forgoing the hair dryer and let your hair dry naturally as often
as possible. You can do this by washing your locks in the evening,
letting them dry naturally before bed and straightening them in the morning.
“And when you do blow dry, try to use a cooler setting,” Sabnani says.
Watson recommends a periodic apple cider vinegar rinse to remove buildup from repeated use of styling products and oils. “Consider doing this at least once a month so that your hair’s natural beauty can shine through,” she says.
Last but not least, use a satin pillowcase. “Satin is one of the best natural fibers there is,” Sabnani explains. “It’s smooth, so the hair slides off it, preventing breakage.”
That funny looking head massager might not be just a gimmick after all, says Sabnani, who recommends massaging the scalp regularly to promote circulation. This produces more natural oils and relaxes the scalp to promote hair growth and health. She recommends doing so especially after removing your hat.
A natural-bristle brush or a wooden comb can promote better circulation to the scalp. “It will also help distribute your hair’s natural oils from the root to tip, improving the overall moisture balance and giving your hair a natural healthy appearance,” Watson adds.
In addition, hair should be fed from the inside. Ginkgo, best known for boosting brain circulation, promotes blood flow to the hair follicles as well; it is sometimes combined with saw palmetto, long used to support hair growth. (Centella asiatica is an herb that also encourages circulation, while Polygonum multiflorum has traditionally been regarded as a hair restorative.)
MSM is a natural form of the sulfur needed to create keratin, one of the main proteins found in hair. Green tea extract encourages the production of collagen, another key protein, especially when used with vitamin C. And apple polyphenols help the body fully utilize riboflavin, a B vitamin, and the mineral silica in supporting hair health.
Don’t let this winter become a series of bad hair days. A little TLC can help your hair stay healthy straight through until spring.