Give hair a helping hand with our expert self-care & haircare tips for healthy locks now & in the long term
From heat-styling products and bleaching to harsh shampoos and general stress – life can ask a lot of our hair and scalp, so it might be time to treat them to a little TLC.
Whatever your styling routine, there are a few healthy lifestyle and haircare tricks we can all benefit from. We spoke to some experts in the field, to create the essential guide on how to improve your hair health and choice of hair products. Read on…
What is healthy hair?
First things first: what is healthy hair? “Healthy hair is strong, smooth and shiny,” says celebrity hairstylist Mark Hill. Basically, it’s the hair that everybody longs for.
What are signs of damaged hair?
Even if we take precautions, at a certain point our hair can still show small or more significant signs of damage from daily wear and tear.
“Split ends, brittle texture and excessive tangles are some of the most common signs of hair damage, as well as frizzy, brittle hair,” says celebrity hairstylist Bernardo Vasconcelos.
Can we avoid hair damage completely?
Put simply: no. Sara Alkazraji, trichologist and owner of Ilkley Moor Trichology Clinic, explains: “Unless the hair is virgin-type hair (it has never been treated in any way), it’s likely to have been damaged to some extent.
“This damage can be caused by colouring; use of heat; incorrect brushing; daily weathering and UV rays; hair applications, such as elastic ties and hair extensions; and tight hairstyles – and that’s only touching the surface.”
In short, to get hair looking and feeling healthy, it’s all about damage limitation.
How can I get my hair healthy again?
1. Beat the heat
“When you expose your hair to heat during styling, its moisture levels change. Hair becomes dry and damaged,” says Mark.
Sara agrees: “Our hair is actually dead and made up of a hardened keratinised protein. Once heat damage is caused it cannot be repaired. Try to minimise the use of heated appliances, allow hair to dry naturally when possible and use heat protection products.”
2. UV Protection
Just like your skin should be protected from the sun’s harmful UV rays, your hair needs to be shielded, too.
“Exposure to the sun can have a damaging effect on hair. UV rays can have a bleaching effect because they oxidise melanin, the hair pigment cells,” explains Sara.
“These harmful rays can also damage the hair’s structure and weaken the disulphide bonds responsible for its strength. This can leave hair feeling dry, brittle, damaged and weak.
“It’s important that we protect hair from the harmful effects of UV rays and replace the moisture we can lose during hot weather.” She notes that curly, textured and frizzy hair types are particularly at risk.
Using a good shampoo and conditioner can help put back moisture and prevent hair from becoming porous. Another way you can sun-protect your tresses is by spritzing with a UV spray.
“Spray over partings to avoid scalp damage too,” advises Mark. If you’re out in the sun for a prolonged period, or if it’s the kind of heat that could cook an egg on the pavement, pop on a wide-brimmed hat for extra protection.
3. Reduce breakage
In the same way your temper can fray, your hair has its own breaking point, too. Hair that’s over-processed, dry and damaged by heat and bleach are particularly at risk. Luckily, there are steps you can take to help prevent future breakages.
“Wet hair is a lot more fragile than you think,” explains Mark. “If you take one strand of wet hair and stretch it, it stretches by a third of its original length and breaks. If you drag a comb through your hair when it’s wet, breakage can easily happen.”
Brushing your hair may help prevent tangling and knotting and make hair look smoother, but don’t be fooled into thinking that it makes hair healthier.
“Brushing your hair too often in the wrong way, with incorrect tools or when wet and in a fragile state could cause damage to the hair’s shaft and cuticle scales, leading to permanent hair breakage,” says Sara.
“Always take care when detangling hair; be gentle and use a wide tooth comb working from the ends of the hair towards the root.”
Overly dry hair is also at risk. “If your hair is dry, it’s easier to suffer breakage, especially towards the mid-lengths and ends. Make sure you always use a conditioner after shampooing and once a week use a conditioning treatment to maintain optimum moisture levels,” adds Mark.
4. Let your hair down
If you like to keep your hair in a messy bun or ponytail, it’s important not to put too much pressure on the hair for long periods of time. “This can put strain on the hair along with your follicles, and even cause breakage,” says Sara.
“Always use cotton or silk hair ties and avoid elasticated bands as these can damage hair.”
5. Eat well
You get out what you put in and a poor diet can produce poor quality hair. Sara says: “Our hair cells are the second fastest growing cells in the human body. However, unlike our liver, kidneys and heart, hair is not an essential tissue.
“Essential tissues will always receive nutrition first and our non-essential hair cells will always come last. When we become deficient in certain nutrients – by cutting out food groups or doing extreme ash diets – our hair can be greatly affected.”
Make sure you feed your hair its essential building blocks. “Hair needs complex carbohydrates for a slow release of energy and, in order to grow, iron, alongside the body’s stored iron (serum ferritin). It also requires the amino acids in protein.
“Many of us don’t eat enough daily protein to provide our hair with the building blocks it needs to grow strong. Without enough protein, hair can feel brittle and weak.”
Bernardo advises adding hair-friendly foods, such as fatty fish, spinach, sweet potato, salmon, oysters and carrots to your plate.
While increasing our dietary intake of the good stuff, we need to ensure we cut out the not-so-good stuff, too. “Diets high in sugar, salt and processed food can cause a flaky scalp,” says Sara. “Simply reducing them can help solve the problem.”
6. What’s a healthy hair washing routine?
How often you wash your hair and what shampoos and other products you use depends largely on your hair type, texture and lifestyle.
Sara advises washing your hair every one to two days. “So-called ‘overwashing’ won’t strip hair of its natural oils or cause hair to fall out.
“Conversely, skipping washes won’t cause your hair to self clean. In fact, it could lead to a build-up of oils, dust, dirt and dead skin cells, causing scalp irritation and blockages around the hair follicle.
With regard to the amount of shampoo to use, she says: “This varies depending on how much hair you have. For the average head of hair, a squeeze of shampoo the size of a 10p piece should be sufficient to wash the hair adequately.”
As a general rule, the more expensive the shampoo, the less you need. “Salon shampoos tend to be more concentrated, so you need to use less compared with cheaper DIY shampoos,” she says.
“Key to maintaining your hair’s strength, elasticity and health is selecting a shampoo and conditioner that suit your unique hair type.”
Take note that coloured hair requires special cleansing. “Bleaching damages the bonds inside the hair, causing them to weaken and break, and when the internal structure of the hair is compromised, strands are more likely to split and snap,” explains Limoz Logli, celebrity hair colourist and founder of Chelsea’s exclusive Limoz Logli Salon.
And keen swimmers beware. Sara says: “For all hair types, it’s essential to always wash hair with a good cleansing shampoo and moisturising conditioner, especially after swimming, to combat the drying effects of chemicals in the pool.
“Plus, water with high levels of copper can leave blonde hair with a green tinge; and when copper is mixed with chlorine they combine together to produce a very noticeable green tone,” she says.
7. Strength & condition
Using a good conditioner suited to your particular hair type after shampooing can help keep hair feeling soft and hydrated.
“Conditioner helps replace lost moisture, detangles, smoothes and adds shine,” says Mark. “But those with oily hair should only put conditioner on the mid-lengths and ends of their hair if it’s fine or if their roots tend to get a little greasy."
While it’s impossible to completely eliminate stress from our high-paced lives, it’s important to note its impact on our hair.
“Times of extreme stress or long periods of stress can disrupt our metabolism. Stress can impact our diet and our immune system, and affect the life cycle of our hair,” says Sara.
“This disruption can cause an increased number of hairs to prematurely enter the shedding stage of the hair’s growth cycle. Hair becomes thinner, finer and you’ll see more hairs in your combs, brushes, the shower plug or on pillows.”
While this stress response should settle back to normal and your hair recover, if shedding continues or you become worried about hair loss, contact a trichologist or your GP for advice.
“One of the most underrated ways to promote hair health is by boosting blood circulation,” says Limoz.
“Practising regular at-home scalp massages helps stimulate blood vessels to supply more oxygen and nutrients to your hair follicles. Scalp massage boosts the metabolism of the papillae at the base of your hair follicles and supports the anagen hair cycle (the growing phase), making hair grow longer.”
He continues: “Poor blood circulation implies inadequate nutrition to the hair follicles. They ultimately fail to function properly, which can lead to the production of short, brittle hair strands.”
Sara adds: “Scalp massage can also help increase sebaceous activity, secreting more oil onto the hair and keeping it soft and supple.”
10. Keep flakes at bay
A lot of people suffer with an itchy, flaky scalp which often flares up without warning – but what could actually be causing it?
“Ill health, physical and emotional stress, hormonal changes, poor scalp hygiene, and a poor diet high in sugar, salt, processed food and bad fats could all be to blame,” says Sara.
“Dandruff is most commonly caused by a microorganism called malassezia furfur, a fungus which is naturally found on the scalp.
“While many people assume the flakes are caused by dryness, they could be due to changes on the scalp, such as excess sebum creating an optimum environment for fungal growth. This could be the real cause of any irritation, itching and inflammation.”
Exfoliating the scalp and shampooing regularly will help prevent the build-up of oils on the scalp to keep itching, flaking and irritation at bay.
11 products to help you get your hair healthy again
Do your locks need a helping hand? These are ourstrand-strengthening picks.
Check out our full range of hair products.
Best hair mask
Try: Toni & Guy Hair Mask Damage Repair
• Size: 200ml
• Leave on wet hair
• For damaged hair
For intense reconstruction and fibre strengthening, this rich treatment has been specially formulated for damaged hair. Smooth on wet hair and rinse after three to five minutes for softer, smoother, stronger tresses.
Best leave-in conditioner
Try: Philip Kingsley Daily Damage Defence Leave-In Conditioner
• Size: 125ml
• Protects against UV rays
• Heat protection from styling tools
Spray through mid-lengths and at the ends of wet hair after washing to boost your hair’s elasticity and glossiness. As well as shielding it during heat-styling, the rich formula instantly detangles to help prevent breakage, improving manageability and bounce.
Best heat protector
Try: Arkive The Prologue Hair Primer
• Suitable for vegans
• Cruelty free
• Certified B Corp
Simply spritz this smart, heat-activated primer onto wet hair to protect it before heat styling and later, from the sun’s harmful UV rays. With the delicious scent of tomato leaf, rhubarb and palo santo wood, it smells as good as your hair will look.
Best damage repair serum
Try: L’Oréal Paris Elvive Bond Repair Leave-In Serum
• Size: 150ml
• Suitable for all damaged hair
• Uses a citric acid complex to strengthen
This leave-in serum is suitable for all hair types as a final step in your haircare routine. Its citric acid complex targets damaged hair leaving hair stronger, shinier and heat-protected.
Best for hair loss
Try: Regaine For Women Regular Strength Minoxidil 2% Scalp Solution - 1 Month Supply
• Size: 60ml
• Suitable for adults age 18-65 years
• One month of treatment
Proven to treat common hereditary hair loss and general hair thinning in women aged 18-65 years, this unique and trusted formula works by aiding blood flow to the cells in the scalp which grow hair. Simply apply 1ml to the affected area twice daily. Always read the label.
Best hair supplements
Try: Viviscal Women’s Max Strength Hair Growth Supplement
• Take two tablets a day
• 30 tablets per pack
While a balanced diet is always best, this food supplement is scientifically formulated to target the many factors, including post-pregnancy, menopause and stress, that can impact hair health. It contains biotin, zinc and marine protein complex to help maintain normal healthy hair growth from within.
Best dry shampoo
Try: Batiste Naturally Dry Shampoo Coconut Milk & Hemp Seed Oil
• Sulphate free
• Vegan friendly
• Invisible finish
• Natural cleaning power
Refresh your hair with this 100% natural plant-powered dry shampoo. With coconut milk and hemp extract formula, it calms flyaways and frizz, and gently removes excess oil, instantly restoring bounce between washes. Spray onto sectioned hair before tumbling with fingers and lightly brushing through.
Best scalp exfoliator
Try: Kristin Ess Instant Exfoliating Scalp Scrub
• Cruelty free
• Colour and keratin safe
• Free of sulphates, parabens, phthalates and silicones
Consider this scalp-loving scrub under-hair skincare. It removes flakes, product build-up, excess sebum and hard water deposits from the scalp. The result: a cleaner, healthier canvas for hair growth, thanks to its gentle, sugar-based exfoliation that keeps the scalp’s natural moisture barrier intact.
Best textured hair care
Try: Function of Beauty Coily Hair Bundle
• Sulphate free
• Cruelty free
• 100% vegan
• Bottles made with recycled materials and recyclable
The custom brand that allows you to create the perfect mix of shampoo and conditioner for your unique hair type, hair moisture level and hair goals. This bundle is specifically aimed at those with coily curls. With flaxseed oil to promote a healthy scalp and intensely nourish hair, it’s formulated with Jamaican black castor oil to moisturise and revive coils.
Best curly conditioner
Try: Aussie Bouncy Curls Butter Hair Mask
• Cruelty free
• Vegan friendly
• Recyclable plastic jar
Sometimes your hair needs extra TLC. Use either as a rinse-out mask or leave-in cream. A big scoop of this vegan hair mask will detangle, nourish and deeply condition wavy and curly hair. Infused with a blend of jojoba, coconut and Australian macadamia nut oils, hair is left hydrated, silky soft, and as bouncy as a kangaroo.
Best no-snag hair ties
Try: Invisibobble Traceless Hair Rings, 3 Pack
• Strong grip
• Suitable for all hair types
Designed for everyday style and maximum comfort while reducing damage whatever your hair type. The unique and smooth spiral shape applies uneven pressure around the ponytail. Tugging, pulling, split ends and breakage are nixed as you put in the ties, wear and remove them.