Long, flowing, thick locks used to be much more common than we see today. Some practices that promoted long hair, like washing hair once a week, are not things we’re likely to return to anytime soon. But we can look to the past and bring forth the best of natural hair care practices to make the most of what we have. Try these 10 hair care tips to minimize breakage, maximize growth, and maintain it once you get it:
1) Brush your hair 100 times a night
There’s a reason for the old wives tale to brush your hair 100 times a night; it’s very beneficial to hair health. Brushing your hair with a good quality brush from root to tip distributes your hair’s natural oils down the hair shaft and makes hair shinier, more manageable, and less prone to breakage. In fact you might be able to eliminate some hair-care products if you devoted time to brush the 100 strokes as recommended. Be sure you start your brushing at the bottom of your hair, and gradually work your way up; this will allow you to gently remove and tangles until you’re just smoothly brushing from root to tip.
2) Use a boar bristle brush
Don’t use just any brush for your 100 strokes…use a boar-bristle brush. Boar bristle brushes are more expensive than synthetic brushes, but they are densely packed on the brush and last for years. This dense construction is the secret to their being able to remove dirt, dust, and debris from hair and move your natural oils along the hair shaft, essentially giving the hair a bit of cleaning without the shampoo (you’ll want to clean your boar bristle brush regularly because of this). Boar bristle brushes have tough but flexible bristles that are wonderful for taming and smoothing even curly hair. And don’t worry, they won’t rip your hair out as long as you start at the bottom and slowly move your way up until you can stroke smoothly from root to tip.
3) Don’t brush your hair when it’s wet
Wet hair is weaker than dry hair, so don’t ever brush or use a fine-toothed comb on your hair when it is wet. After washing and towel drying your hair, only use a wide-toothed comb to detangle it if you must.
4) Police your commercial shampoo
Many people don’t realize the lax federal regulations regarding beauty products, including shampoos, beyond a mandatory listing of ingredients. It’s up to you to decide if the listed ingredients are safe for you. Many shampoos you buy at the store contain toxic ingredients, and don’t be fooled if the word “natural” appears on the bottle. The word “natural” is not regulated, and anyone can use the word no matter what the product contains. Artificial and drying scents, artificial colors and harmful detergents can damage hair, necessitating the purchase of additional “product” to fix that damage. Ingredients like sodium laurel sulfate, parabens, and benzyl benzoate (and similar) are just a few of the common shampoo ingredients that have been linked to cancer, skin irritation, and even birth defects.
But you’re probably not a chemist, so what to do? Look for ingredients you can pronounce and know what they are. And luckily there are online resources that rate the safety of products for us, like the GoodGuide, which allows shoppers to discover products that are healthy, safe, green, and even socially responsible. The GoodGuide covers everything from shampoo, food, electronics and even cars. Head to the GoodGuide and type “shampoo” into search and you’ll see a list of commercial shampoos and their ratings.
5) Avoid commercial shampoo
If you want to be super safe, don’t use commercial shampoos; some avoid using shampoo and instead wash their hair with baking soda and vinegar–see my article “Tips and Tricks to Go Shampoo Free” for more info on this method. But be aware, local water chemistry and individual hair make up plays a part in this method, and experimentation is necessary to determine what quantities of each are the right mix for your hair.
If this sounds daunting, you can make or buy your own shampoo bar or use liquid castile soap. Bars of shampoo soap generally do not contain the toxins found in commercial shampoos (but check the label) and do just as good a job (or better) of cleaning hair. Liquid castile soap is conditioning and mimics the method of washing hair with liquid shampoo products because it can come in liquid form as well as bar.
6) Deep condition once a week
A deep hot oil condition improves hair manageability and shine while decreasing breakage; it’s easy and can be incorporated in with household tasks. Simply take about 1/4 cup of a favorite oil (olive oil, coconut oil, almond oil, etc) and heat it until it is warm to the touch but not too hot to handle with your hands. Once it is warm, saturate your hair with it, from root to tip, using your fingers. Don’t be shy about it, you’ll be washing it out later. Place all your hair on the top of your head, wrap your head in plastic wrap or don a shower cap, and then wrap your whole head in a towel. The plastic and towel will trap the heat around your head, and allow the oils to penetrate the hair shaft. Ideally you want to leave it sit for a few hours, but even 30 minutes will help. When the time is up, wash as usual. You may need to wash twice to remove all the oil (if you’re using baking soda/vinegar to wash your hair, add some liquid castile soap to the baking soda mix to remove the oil–this will help greatly).
A protein mask provided by eggs or other ingredients will help decrease frizz.
7) Add protein for frizzy hair
If your hair is especially frizzy, substitute the hot oil treatment with a protein mask once a week. Mix the yolk of two eggs with a bit of warm water (not hot, you don’t want to cook the eggs). Using your fingers, massage this into your scalp and hair shaft. Wrap your head in plastic wrap or a shower cap, and then wrap your head in a towel. Leave this sit in your hair for an hour, then rinse in warm to cool water (again, you don’t want to cook the egg). You can also use a mix of bananas and avocados for this, or mayonnaise, which is just egg and oil.
8) Use leave-in hair oil
Just a few drops are all you need (using more will just make your hair oily needlessly) to impart shine and decrease frizz. There are hair oils on the market (argan oil is very popular now), but you can easily make your own with olive oil and, if you wish, some essential oil. Just place two or three drops of the oil in the palm of your hand, rub your hands together, then smooth over your hair, paying attention to the ends.
9) Treat dandruff naturally
Unfortunately, there is no cure for dandruff, which is a skin disorder also known as seborrheic dermatitis. But you can treat dandruff to manage the symptoms. If you want to avoid the chemicals found in over-the-counter dandruff shampoos, there are other things you can try.
Tea tree oil has been shown to treat dandruff. Add about 20 drops of tea tree oil to your bottle of hair cleanser, or keep a bottle of tea tree oil in the shower and use two drops or so every time you wash your hair. Alternatively, you can also add about 20 drops of tea tree oil to 1/4 cup of olive oil, rub this into your scalp, wrap your head and sleep on it. Wash normally in the morning. You can use this as a “jump start” treatment for your dandruff.
Apple cider vinegar is another safe option that has been shown to assist with dandruff. Rub apple cider vinegar into your scalp (dilute with about 50% water if you have sensitive skin), wrap your head in plastic or a shower cap, then in a towel. Leave this sit for about an hour, then wash. Do this once a week or so to keep dandruff under control.
If these options don’t work, you could choose an old fashioned bar of tar soap. Tar soap has been used as an effective dandruff treatment for hundreds of years and is still recommended by dermatologists for some skin disorders like scabies and ring worm. Tar soap is also recommended for treating lice. But it is, in fact, made from coal; it can smell bad and it can also stain light hair a darker color. Used in low doses, scientific studies have shown that tar soap is safe for treating true medical conditions but it can cause skin irritation in some, and I personally would only use it as a last resort.
10) Eat for your hair
Your hair is a barometer of health–if your hair is dull and lifeless it could mean that your body is as well. In the past people ate food that was as close to the earth as possible and we should, too. Nutrition from the full color spectrum ensures that you are getting the vitamins and minerals necessary for healthy hair. A balanced diet, including healthy oils for essential fatty acids, is important for hair health and shine. Make sure you are eating on a regular basis foods such as salmon, walnuts, and yogurt, sweet potatoes, spinach, blueberries, and more daily to get levels of protein, zinc, vitamins, and minerals needed for happy locks.
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