Winterizing Your Hair Care

Last Editorial Review: 1/31/2005

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!

"Just rub it lightly on your hair and it will remove the static," says Chavez.

Slightly more conventional is using a natural boar bristle hairbrush with a wooden handle, which Harris says can also reduce static.

When it comes to styling winter hair, a few quick product switches may be all you need to combat most problems. For Harris, it starts with substituting a hair cream for your usual styling gel.

"Styling creams now trump the gel market because they add moisture to the hair, make it more pliable, and give it better elasticity so it's less likely to break -- all extremely important in winter," he says.

In fact, when choosing any winter hair styling products including holding sprays, Harris says avoid high alcohol content, which can be drying to hair. Likewise he says avoid putting fragrance directly on your hair since its alcohol content can also cause your tresses to look and feel dry and brittle.

Most importantly, limit your time under a blow dryer -- good advice all year round but essential in winter, he says. To do that and still effectively style your hair Harris says use a towel to gently blot about 20% of the moisture content out of our hair, then hit it with the heat, stopping the moment your hair is dry.

To cut down on the proverbial "hat hair," experts say pull longer locks into a pony tail high on your head, or push short hair straight back, before putting on the hat. Pushing hair against the way your style should fall, says Chavez, will help it spring out with bounce once the hat is removed.

To ensure that it does, he also suggests carrying a travel sized dry-hair texturizer that adds instant body.

Harris says if you styled your hair with a cream product, adding just a few drops of water to your hands and rubbing them through your hair can refresh the style.

Shampoos and Color Treatments: Your Best Choice for Hair Care

While conditioning and styling products may help hold your style, celebrity and fashion stylist Jamal Hammadi says choosing the right shampoo may net you perhaps the biggest winter hair payoff.

The reason: "Shampoo forms the basis of the way your hair is going to react to conditioners and styling aids, and it impacts how your hair will behave in all kinds of climates and conditions," says Hammadi. He has tamed the tresses of many hot celebs including Julianne Moore, Kirsten Dunst, Heather Graham, Maggie Gyllenhaal, and Naomi Watts.

For Hammadi, the more natural a product is -- and the fewer chemicals it contains -- the better off your hair will be, winter or summer. His all-time favorite natural ingredient -- shea butter -- is now also a popular skin care treatment.

"Shea butter is the quickest, most effective way to get damaged hair into good condition, and keep healthy hair from becoming damaged," says Hammadi, who adds that he's been using this natural trick on some of the catwalk's most famous fashion heads for more than 15 years.

Not surprisingly, he recently spun his passion into a line of hair-care products he calls HamadiShea. In addition to shea butter these products also contain ginger milk and soy as well as essential oils such as ylang ylang, bergamot, and lemongrass, which he says helps open the hair cuticle so the moisture can be absorbed. And it's not a bad aromatherapy treatment for those blustery winter days when you're stuck inside!

Taking an entirely different approach to shampoo formulation is legendary New York City hair stylist Robert Craig. He pioneered a line of products designed to work with your water type -- hard, soft, or very hard -- and in this way help hair behave a whole lot better, especially in winter.

"Through the years clients told me over and over that the shampoo that just did wonders for their hair in New York City, didn't do the same thing when they traveled to Los Angeles or Florida or even Europe," says Craig.

Ultimately, he figured out why: "It wasn't the hair that was changing, it was the water," he says. More specifically, it's mineral content. Ranging from "soft," which had very few dissolved minerals such as calcium , to "hard," which had some, to "very hard," which was mineral-heavy, the differences, says Craig, were enough to increase or even cause a number of hair problems including static electricity, lack of body, and even dry, coarse, and brittle hair.

His solution: A travel kit of hair shampoos designed to work optimally according to the three basic water types -- and a free package of test strips to help you figure out which one to use where!

"You would be amazed at the difference that pairing your shampoo to your water type can make in terms of how your hair behaves particularly in winter," says Craig.

If you're used to coloring your hair, particularly adding highlights, all our experts say winter is a good time to give it a rest. Since it's the lightening process that does the most damage to hair, the less stress you put on your tresses in winter, the better they will look when spring and summer rolls around.

In the meantime, however, you don't have to suffer with drab, dull hair. Stylists say warm up your look with a change of hue -- and add less intense "low lights" (highlights closer to your base hair color) for eye-catching pizzazz with minimal damage.

"Try a rinse in a warmer shade of your natural color to bring out highlights and brighten your look," says Chavez.

Craig also makes a line of no-peroxide, no-ammonia hair color that can help you highlight almost any shade of hair from dark brown to light blonde, color gray with any highlight shade you choose, and put "low lights" in almost any color hair -- all without any risk of damage.

"In fact, our color is actually good for your hair and can help condition it," says Craig.

Regardless of the product you use, if you color your hair in winter Chavez says always cover your head when outdoors, and always use a shampoo and conditioner for color-treated hair.

Colette Bouchez is the author of Your Perfectly Pampered Pregnancy: Beauty, Health, and Lifestyle Advice for the Modern Mother-to-Be.

Published Jan. 17, 2005.

SOURCES: Nick Chavez, owner, Nick Chavez Salon, developer of Perfect Plus Hair Care Products on QVC, Beverly Hills, Calif. Marc Harris, owner, Salon Marc Harris, Boston. Jamal Hammadi, celebrity stylist and runaway hair designer, creator, HamadiShea hair products. Robert Craig, stylist, creator, Robert Craig shampoos and hair coloring.

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