Tresses looking and feeling stressed? Stay calm. Given that pretty much anything and everything we subject our hair to on a daily basis does some kind of damage, occasionally ending up with dry, lackluster strands is almost inevitable. "The most common causes of heat damage include chemical processes such as color and chemical relaxers, as well as heat damage from using hot tools daily. Environmental factors, such as hard water, UV rays, and even extreme cold, can also cause damage," says Susan Ford, master stylist and creative director at Asha Salon Spa in Chicago. The good news: There are plenty of things you can do to bring your locks back to life. Here are six of the best things you can do when your dry hair needs some extra TLC.
Use a hair mask weekly
Yes, the shampoo and conditioner you’re using regularly are very important, but there’s a third player that should be part of your standard haircare routine. Ford suggests making a hair mask a weekly thing. She recommends looking for moisturizing formulas, with ingredients such as shea butter, coconut oil, and avocado oil. While these won’t actually repair any damage (more on that in a minute), they will add plenty of moisture. This, in turn, will make the hair look and feel softer and smoother, always a good thing. [Try Hair Food Avocado & Argan Oil Smoothing Hair Mask ($3; walmart.com).] Plus, well-hydrated hair is less likely to break and snap when you’re brushing or styling. Top tip: Letting a mask sit on your hair for even a few minutes is helpful, but to really up the ante, apply on damp hair, then pop on a shower cap and leave on overnight. The shower cap locks in heat, helping the ingredients better penetrate into the hair (and keeps your pillowcase from getting gunky). Rinse out in the morning and you’re good to go.
Look for bond builders
It’s very hard to actually undo hair damage once it’s done, but a growing category of products promises to do exactly that. Bond building treatments work by actually repairing the protein bonds that break when hair is damaged. They rely on various proprietary ingredients, so it’s hard to point out exactly what ingredients to look for, notes Ford. Your best bet is to seek out products that specifically call out bond repair, like Olaplex No.3 Hair Perfector ($28; sephora.com). One of the OGs in the category, this can be used weekly or as often as three times per week, and works in just 10 minutes. We’re also fans of Amika The Kure Multi-Task Repair Treatment ($28; revolve.com), which has been clinically tested and shown to repair hair by 74 percent after just three uses, thanks to its bond-cure technology.
Shield strands from heat
Your daily blow-dry (and/or time with the curling iron or straightener) can be a major source of damage, but the fix is super easy. All you have to do is mist damp hair with a heat protectant before you reach for any of your tools; this is the best way to protect it from the damage caused by the high temperature of the direct heat, says Ford. One to try: TRESemmé Thermal Creations Heat Tamer ($5; ulta.com). And, easier said than done, but the less often you rely on your hot tools, the better.
Schedule regular haircuts
Again, another simple fix, but one that many people fail to do. “Make a habit of pre-booking your haircut appointment for every six weeks. This will keep you on track to maintain healthy ends and prevent breakage and split ends,” says Ford. Split ends may seem innocuous, but not only can they make your hair look damaged and frizzy, if they travel further up the hair shaft they can cause more serious damage. Set a reminder in your phone, pre-book when you’re at the salon, do what you have to do, but make regular trims a non-negotiable habit.
Think about sun protection
Breaking news: It’s not just for your skin. UV rays can both dry out your hair and cause color fading. Ford says the best defense is to wear a hat whenever you’re in the sun; you can also try a sun-protective leave-in spray. She likes Aveda Sun Care Protective Hair Veil (spritz it on dry hair) ($33; aveda.com). It will both help shield your hair from the sun, as well as act as a protective coating to help prevent drying and potentially damaging saltwater or chlorine-laden pool water from seeping into your strands.
Be careful when brushing
Overzealous, improper hair brushing is a very sneaky source of mechanical damage...and something we may be doing daily without even realizing it. A few important brushing rules to follow. One, start by brushing your hair from the bottom, down. If you start at the roots and brush downward, you end up pushing any knots to the ends and can wind up with one huge snarl at the very part of the hair that’s already the most fragile and prone to breakage. Starting at the ends and working your way up eliminates this risk. Two, brush your hair before you shower, since the act of shampooing can potentially cause more tangles. And finally, post-washing, make sure to spray on a detangling spray or leave-in conditioner before brushing; this will give the hair some slip and minimize how much you need to pull and yank to eliminate knots. We can’t get enough of the multi-tasking Odele Leave-In Detangling Tonic ($11; target.com), a clean, affordable formula, that not only detangles, but also hydrates and protects hair from heat and pollution.