Healthy Hair 101

Ask any woman to name her favorite piece of clothing, and you will get little hesitation. Whether it’s a perfect fitting pair of jeans, a simple black dress or a cashmere sweater, there is one piece in every woman’s wardrobe that stands out from the rest. We treat these items with the utmost care, dutifully following the washing instructions, replacing missing buttons and storing them in safe places.

Secrets to Silky, Shiny, Lustrous Locks

By Julianne Hale

The same due diligence is required for our hair. Long or short, curly or straight, pulled back or worn down; a woman’s hair can define her look. Regardless of how women choose to wear it, proper care and maintenance are imperative for keeping locks looking beautiful.

Today women fill their bathrooms with all manner of hair care products as well as curling irons, hair dryers, hot rollers and straightening irons. Choices regarding these products and styling aids have consequences, both good and bad. Additionally, lifestyle choices including diet and exercise impact how we look, including our hair. What do women need to do to get the ideal results for the appearance and health of their hair?

Choose What’s Right for You

“Choosing the right products is all about individual hair type,” explains Beth Cox, stylist and colorist with Level 10 Salon in Chattanooga. “Everyone needs to use a shampoo and conditioner, even women with fine hair. Sometimes they tend to shy away from conditioners because they believe it will weigh their hair down. This is not necessarily true. People should look for products that are specifically designed for their hair type.”

Know the Importance of Ingredients

Once women have pinpointed products designed for their specific type of hair, they need to take a look at the ingredients listed on the bottle. Jamie Stafford, master styles director and salon educator for Hair Benders in Chattanooga, explains, “Women should look for products free of sulfates, sulfites and gluten. These ingredients tend to break down hair color faster and break down the effectiveness of thermal conditioning treatments.” Stafford warns women not to buy shampoos and conditioners based on their scent. He says, “Often times store-bought shampoos are loaded with alluring scents and tantalizing fragrances that women choose based on the smell, not on the products themselves. The smell test is not a good way to choose a shampoo or conditioner—it’s all about the ingredients.”

The Moderation Mantra

When it comes to hot tools such as curling irons and flat irons, moderation is best. Jamie Stafford recommends keeping the use of such tools to a minimum. He says, “We don’t recommend using flat irons and curling irons every day. Hot tools should only be used three times per week.” There are alternatives to these products. Stafford explains, “We [at Hair Benders] teach our clients how to incorporate different styling methods into their daily routine. We recommend learning to use a round brush with a dryer for daily styling instead of a flat iron.” Stafford also emphasizes the importance of the quality and proper use of hot tools. He says, “Using titanium or ceramic hot tools is a must. They must be used appropriately with a smooth consistent motion. Some clients make the mistake of holding a hot tool on one area for too long or going over the same area many times. Modification and fluidity in movement are a must when handling hot tools.”

Prep for Pretty

Ceramics or other high-grade styling tools do less damage to the hair,” says Mindy Hales, owner of Chloë Hair Colour & Design, an AVEDA Salon. “What matters more is the product you use before heat styling. If you are using heat-based styling tools, always, always use conditioner and a prep product for protection. Beth Cox also recommends agadir oil, a leave-in conditioner available in salons, as one of many types of prep products available on the market today.

Keep It Simple

Contrary to popular belief, proper daily hair maintenance does not require an arsenal of expensive hair care products. Jamie Stafford suggests a simple routine. He says, “We recommend using salon quality shampoo and conditioners when you wash your hair and a daily leave-in conditioner. In addition, once every two weeks, color clients should get a deep conditioning treatment to keep their hair healthy, shiny and lustrous.” Extra care should be given during times of extreme weather in order to protect the hair. Hats are helpful in either extreme to protect hair from wind, sun, cold and heat damage.

Understand Lifestyle Choices

The lifestyle choices made by women often impact the health of their hair. Runners, bikers and swimmers, for example, face unique challenges where their hair is concerned. Beth Cox warns women about sun exposure. She says, “The sun can be hard on the hair, and women do not always realize how much they are exposed to it.” Cox advises using a shampoo that has UV protection to prevent sun damage. Women who spend time on motorcycles, in boats and letting the wind whip through their hair in convertibles need to be wary of the havoc the wind can wreak on their hair. Cox explains, “Wind can whip the hair around and cause the ends to tear. Wearing a hat can reduce this risk. Women with long hair should pull their hair into a tight braid or loose ponytail at the nape of their necks to prevent damage to the ends.”

Maintain a Healthy Body

Proper protection, high quality products and regular maintenance can keep hair healthy and shiny, but they are not the only components of a healthy head of hair. The hair is an extension of the body and, as such, the health of the body has a direct impact on the health of the hair. Just as proper nutrition is required to keep your body functioning at an optimal level, so is it required to keep your hair healthy and shiny. Pamela Kelle RD, LDN, nutrition therapist and registered dietician, explains the link between nutrition and hair. She says, “Nutritional health is evident in a person’s hair. Silky, shiny, bright hair is a hallmark of a healthy diet.” Kelle warns, “Someone who follows a very low calorie or restricted diet can experience dramatic hair loss.” Other common causes of hair loss among women include stress, menopause, thyroid issues and certain medications.

Feed Your Hair

Whether they are in perfect health or suffering through a stressful situation or medical condition, women can improve the health of their hair through proper food choices. Pam Kelle suggests, “A diet rich in antioxidants, whole grains and vegetables will improve the overall condition of the hair. Antioxidants protect cells against damage. Antioxidant rich foods include fatty fish such as salmon, barley, bean sprouts, spinach, beans, whole grains, flax and pumpkin seeds and nuts such as almonds.” The foods that you should avoid to keep your body healthy should also be avoided to ensure optimal hair health. Kelle explains, “Limit caffeine and alcohol which dehydrate and can make hair dry and brittle.” Kelle also recommends avoiding highly processed foods because they lack the nutrients that protect the hair, nails and skin.

Vitamin and mineral supplements can go a long way towards improving hair health, but they are not a solution. Kelle explains, “Vitamins can be helpful to improve hair’s texture and appearance but only to a point. We only absorb a portion of the nutrients we take in, and unless you are deficient in that particular nutrient, consuming more will not make your hair healthier.” Kelle does recommend taking B vitamin supplements. She says, “B Vitamins especially biotin, zinc and lecithin can be found in most vitamin/mineral formulas and may be helpful to improving hair growth and texture.” Ultimately, says Kelle, hair health, like overall health, boils down to lifestyle changes. She explains, “Dietary changes need to be made and continued over a lifetime. You won’t see immediate results but they are the results that will last.”

Like your favorite cashmere sweater, your hair is something to take even greater pride in and great care of. Proper maintenance, protection, and the use of high quality products, along with proper overall nutrition will ensure that your hair remains as healthy, shiny and beautiful as it can be.

Julianne Hale and her family reside in Cleveland. She earned a Bachelor of Science degree from Illinois State University and then an MBA from the University of Phoenix. Julianne is a member of the Chattanooga Writers Guild, is married, and has three children.

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