Feature Archive

Winterizing Your Hair Care

Experts say harsh winter weather and a change in temperatures can be hair's No. 1 enemy.  Here's why -- and what to do.

By Colette Bouchez
WebMD Feature

Reviewed By Brunilda Nazario

From hat hair to static electricity, split ends to dry frizz, when winter weather hits, a bad hair day can last an entire season. In fact, even if you live in a moderate climate, experts say you're still susceptible to hair-raising changes as the seasons pass.

"The environment can have some of the most damaging effects on hair in both summer and winter, but in winter it's often worse because people generally don't take as many precautions to protect their hair," says celebrity stylist Nick Chavez, owner of the Nick Chavez Beverly Hills Salon and a QVC hair care expert.

Sun exposure (which can be as intense on a ski slope as it is on a beach) combined with a blustery winter wind (which can snarl hair) as well as snow, rain, and icy cold (which makes hair brittle and dry) can all come together to create some pretty bad winter hair days, says Chavez.

What's that you say? You plan to spend all your time in the ski lodge with a hot toddy -- and not a ski pole -- in your hand? Not so fast snow bunny -- winter is still your hair's enemy. The reason is indoor heating, which experts say can be something akin to spending an entire afternoon under a hair dryer!

"It's not quite as dramatic as the damage would be from that, but it certainly gives you an idea of what indoor heating can do to your hair," says fashion runway stylist and Boston salon owner Marc Harris.

The good news: No matter what's causing your winter hair woes, you can take both protective and replenishing steps. At the top of the list for most stylists: regular use of a thick, rich, moisturizing conditioner with a few key ingredients.

"For me, the product has to contain essential fatty acids and humectants -- not only because they are best at moisturizing hair, but because they help attract and hold moisture in the hair, which can be a real challenge in winter weather," says Harris, who developed his own line of damage control hair products available at Salon Marc Harris, his Newbury Street salon. His key ingredients: soy protein and panthenol - must-haves, he says, to control winter hair.

For Chavez, whose Perfect Plus line of hair care products are sure sellouts for electronic retailer QVC, the key to choosing the right conditioner has everything to do with knowing your hair type.

If you are blessed with thick or curly African-American hair, or ultra thick, heavy Asian hair, Chavez tells WebMD you need a thick, heavy conditioning hair pack -- a deep treatment you leave on for about a half-hour, once or twice a week. But because these hair types generally hold oil at the roots -- one reason the rest of the hair can seem so ultra dry -- Chavez says it's especially important not to condition the area closest to the scalp.

"You should always apply product beginning 2 inches away from the scalp and pull it through the hair to the ends," he says.

If your hair is very fine, thin, and flyaway, Harris says avoid the conditioning pack -- it's just too heavy even for severely damaged hair. Instead, he says, use a regular conditioner every time you wash your hair, supplemented with a light conditioning leave-in spray.

"But it has to be very light or it will weigh down fine hair and make it flat and limp," says Harris.

Chavez suggests the new "dry oil" sprays. These mostly-silicone based products go on dry so they don't weight hair down, but still offer a layer of protection against the elements.

Both Harris and Chavez also suggest supplementing your store-bought products with all-natural treatments of vegetable oil. Harris' choice is safflower while Chavez prefers olive oil.

In either case, they say simply put a few drops of the oil in the palm of your hand, rub until skin "glistens," then starting at the bottom and working upwards, run your fingers through your hair.

"You can do this after you dry your hair, or between washings -- when you come in from the cold or anytime your hair looks very dry -- it really works," says Harris.

Another tip: Chavez says every time you put on hand cream, touch the ends of your hair and scrunch to help deposit a bit more moisture where it's needed most.

Static Cling and Other Hair Styling Snafus

As anyone who's ever tried to pull socks out of a clothes dryer can tell you, static electricity can be a powerful force. But sticky socks are the least of your problems when compared with what static can do to your hair.

The remedy is the same one you use on your laundry: a fabric softening dryer sheet like Bounce!