If you start researching how to best care for your hair, it may start to seem like confusing chore. So many treatments and possibilities and when to do them and how to do them and why…
There are people who like complexity in their everyday projects and there are those of us who find our complexity elsewhere. I like simple for hair.
Starting from the very basics, what do you need?
1) To clean your hair
2) To lubricate your hair
3) To provide softness
4) Protect/provide hydration (moisturize) - hydration does everything from reduce breakage to define curls to add shine and weight. Hydration is good for all hair from straight to coily and from thin to thick. Hydration keeps your hair from being flyaway and unkempt-looking. We get hydration from using conditioners to prevent water loss, from hydrolyzed proteins in products (fine, medium and less often for coarse hair), from humectants (list on this page) and from oil pre-wash treatments in normal porosity to porous hair to prevent stress and dehydration during wetting and cleansing.
5) A haircut that creates a nice outline.
That absolutely covers it in the "hair care" department. Styling can further help accomplish these tasks.
Clean the Hair
Shampoo? Cleansing conditioner? Conditioner only? Rinse with water? Choose a product that achieves what you want and need. Sometimes we need only light washing and can use water or conditioner. Sometimes you need shampoo to remove dust, dirt or excess oil or hair products.
Wash as often as you need, and as infrequently as you can. Your lifestyle has a lot to say about when you wash. If somebody with hair exactly like yours only washes it once per week but you live on a dusty road - you probably need to wash more often or your hair will start to feel stiff and gritty from the road dust.
Choose what works for you, not what somebody says should work for you and not what works for somebody else whose hair you admire. They don't have your hair and they don't live your life.
If you love your shampoo but fear it's too harsh, dilute it for a milder shampoo. Dilution works for hot sauce, it works for shampoo. Here is a post about how much to dilute your shampoo. It's fun to put a shampoo-distilled water mix in a foaming-pump bottle. And so much easier to apply!
Set a frequency for washing your hair ("x" times per week, "x" times per month, every "x" days) and stick to it. Every once in a while, see if you can go longer or if spacing your washing more closely is useful. Don't be afraid to change it up, just pay close attention to how your hair responds.
Hair that floats around in the air and acts weightless and shapeless after washing has been over-washed. The shampoo was too strong or too concentrated, or you shampooed sooner than your hair needed.
If your scalp demands more frequent washing than your hair, protect your hair by applying conditioner before washing, or doing an oil pre-wash treatment.
Conditioning the hair: Here is a post about deep conditioning. Conditioning the hair with rinse-out conditioner helps detangle while wet and most conditioners also help hair avoid tangles while dry (compared to un-conditioned hair).
Most of us need more conditioner on the ends of our hair and on the top-most layer. The ends are the oldest and most likely to rub on things and tangle. The top layer is exposed to the elements more than the under-layers.
How much conditioner you need depends on your hair, on the weather, on the season, on your activities. Some people need a lot, some need very little.
Use enough to the tangles are easy to deal with. Use enough conditioner so every section of your hair is covered.
Every once in a while, try using more or less - either in response to how your hair feels or just as an experiment.
Troubleshooting Your Routine
Is your hair acting up, acting differently, just not cooperating, feeling dry or rough or inflexible? Set up a hierarchy of possibilities to discover the right solution.
This little chart is an example - start at the top. Click the chart to enlarge!
At one stage is asks if you need a deep conditioning treatment or an oil pre-wash. The answer is probably "yes" if your hair is more tangly than usual, feeling rough or stiff or dry. These can also be signs of build-up, though - so you need to create your own hierarchy based on your hair's "personality." If build-up is a common problem for you, then rule that out first. If dryness is a more common problem than build-up, rule that out first. If your hair "likes" protein and you already avoid build-up provoking ingredients, then that might be one of the first things you try.
Learn to Respond to Your Hair
How often should you use a protein treatment or protein-containing products, or deep conditioning or oil pre-wash treatments?
- Observe! What are the benefits you get from these treatments? How long do those benefits last?
- Repeat the treatment when the benefits from the last one diminish.
- Observe again! Do you see the same benefits? Was it too much? Less benefit? If you're getting the same great result, you timed it just right. If you get a bad result, you may have repeated the treatment too soon. The same for no result.
- How about a half-treatment? Need the benefit of your favorite treatment, but not a big dose? Use a lower protein, protein product or leave a deep conditioner on for less time, do a lighter-than-usual application of pre-wash oil treatments.
- Observe the weather indoors and outdoors. More sun, hot weather, dry air, wind, sitting under a heating or cooling vent may cause your hair to require more-frequent assistance from these treatments. Coloring your hair or highlighting it will change its needs for conditioning and protein. Using henna may increase your hair's need for lubrication.
Advanced Response to Your Hair
When you develop your own routine and learn to troubleshoot for your own hair, there are 2 steps to advanced responding to your hair - think of it as "hair enlightenment."
1) Set aside what you've learned, read, or been told about hair care and only do what your hair shows you it needs. Don't ignore good ideas or be afraid to change what your'e doing when you need to. Just let your hair be your guide. If you've jumped on one hair-care bandwagon or another (no shampoo, no shampoo or conditioner, whatever), allow yourself the flexibility to walk away from that and do what works for you. Your hair will reward you when you give it what it needs and respond to it based on your own observation.
2) Don't avoid using some treatment or technique on your hair because your perception has always been that it won't work in your hair - or in "hair like yours." This attitude will prevent you from discovering some really helpful things. Keep an open mind and always experiment, make observations, and experiment some more.