Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Modern Tips for Growing Beautiful Hair

Yesterday, I posted some tips I'd read from an Edwardian era article. Today, I thought I'd share some tips I've gleaned from modern hair experts. I've gathered these in researching how to improve my own locks.

These tips will work if your hair is short or long. They are especially important, however, if you are attempting to grow your hair long - or at least longer than the style you are currently wearing. Longer hair must be treated as if it were a fine silk fabric or an antique lace heirloom. This doesn't mean you need to spend a lot of time on long hair; in fact, shoulder length or longer hair often requires less ''fussing" than short hair does. But, when you do handle your long hair, you must do it gently, gently, gently!

1) Purists argue that our hair can neither be healthy or unhealthy, because it is composed of non-living cells. But, in truth, these non-living cells are formed from living tissue, and they reflect the general state of our health. They also reflect the specific health of our hair follicles. Nutrition, exercise, blood flow, stress, thyroid conditions, medications, hormonal changes, illnesses -- all of these things affect the way our hair looks and feels.

Purists' objections aside, we all know what someone means when she says, "My daughter has a healthy head of hair," or "My hair hasn't been looking healthy lately."

Our hair is so significant a clue to our health that doctors can diagnose certain medical problems by examining a few strands of our hair underneath a microscope.

Some people with long hair claim that they have a weak point in their hair -- a band of about a half-inch to an inch of weak growth all around their hair at a certain place down the length. They attribtute such a weak point like this to a month when they had the flu or didn't eat well or were under extra stress.

If you want to begin a regimin to improve the quality of your locks, begin by examining them in good (preferably natural) light. Once you have identified your hair's strengths and weaknesses, you will know what you need to work on.

2) In light of point one, the first key to having lovely hair is to attend to the basics of good health. Don't be a fanatic here. Just eat reasonably well, get fresh air when you can, exercise appropriately or at least move your body as you tend to your home or garden, rest when needed, and take a simple multi-vitamin/multi-mineral supplement.

Be sure to follow the new recommendations for having sufficient Omega 3 and Omega 6 oils in your diet. While we don't want to clog our arteries with too much fat, too little oil can interefere with our body's normal functioning, as well. This, in turn, intereferes with the health of our hair. Three signs that we may not be getting enough beneficial oils in our diet are brittle hair, brittle nails, and sagging, dull, unhealthy looking skin.

There are many hair vitamin formulations on the market, as well as suggested vitamin regimins for beautiful hair floating around on the Internet. If you are reasonably healthy and eat fairly well, you probably don't need anything more than a daily vitamin/mineral supplement. If you do decide to use a product specifically formulated for hair or if you want to follow a specific hair vitamin regimin, do your research. Also, check with your doctor before beginning. Some vitamins are toxic in excess, so be sure you know what you are doing.

If you notice a sudden change in your hair's texture, moisture, or thickness, consult your physician to see if there is an underlying medical cause.

3) The American Academy of Dermatology says that the first obvious sign of hair health is the shine. When hair shines, that means that the scales along the cuticle (the protective coating of each hair strand) are smooth and flat against the hair shaft. Becuase they are smooth, they reflect light. This is what makes hair gleam. When the cuticles are damaged by sun, chlorine, saltwater, dying, perming, straightening, or too vigorous a brushing, the scales become damaged and stick out, away from the shaft. This not only weakens the shaft, it makes the hair look dull. The rough scales do not reflect the light and the hair lacks luster.

You may risk a little cuticle damage in order to achieve a specific hair goal. For example, you may adore the lightening effect of the sun. Or, you may want the extra body that a perm can give your hair. Or, you may want to cover up gray with a dye. To you, it may be worth giving up a little shine in favor of attaining color or curl. If so, remember that these processes actually work by damaging your hair. When you repeat the processes over and over, the damage can multiply. So, be extra, extra gentle with hair that has been exposed to the elements or to chemical processes. In particular, be sure to condition it properly. If it becomes too damaged, try a hair style that will allow you to give your hair a rest from the elements or from the chemical processes for a time. At any rate, don't be disappointed if your processed hair doesn't have the same gleam as unprocessed hair. Accept the benefits of the chemical proccesses or sun exposure for what they are.

Brushing the hair too much or too vigorously can damage the scales on the cuticle, just as the elements and chemial processing can. That's why some experts believe that with today's better shampoos and more frequent washings, we should forget the old custom of brushing our hair one hundred strokes every mornig or night.

In a Victorian-era book I read, the heroine combed her hair to make it gleam, rather than using a brush. If you wear your hair down, you may want to run a wide-toothed comb through it a few times a day, rather than always relying on your brush.

4) Use natural boar bristle brushes and wooden combs. Wooden combs can be a little pricey, so you may have to save up your pennies to buy one. In the meantime, use a wide-toothed plastic comb. If you must use plastic, try to find one that desn't have any rough edges or seams. You may be able to smooth away a rough place with a little sandpaper or a nail file. The goal is to have a comb that will not pull roughly on your hair.

Natural hairbrushes are more affordable than good wooden combs. Goody's makes inexpensive boar bristle brushes. You can find these boar bristle brushes in drugstores, grocery stores, and places like Wal-Mart.

5) NEVER brush your hair when wet. When your hair is wet, it is at its most vulnerable. Use a wide toothed comb to get tangles out and to part your hair when it is wet.

6) After you wash your hair, don't rub a towel through it with vigor. Instead, gently press the towel up and down the length of the hair to absorb the dripping water.

7) Obviously, the ends of our hair have been around the longest of all the length of the strands. If you do have long hair, remember that the ends of waist-length hair represent four years of growth. In hair terms, that's a long time. So, be extra gentle with the ends of your hair. Trim the ends regularly to eleminate split ends. A split end weakens a hair strand and splits the shaft. Apply extra conditioner to the ends if your ends are dry.

Regular trims will also hold the line of your hair, thus keeping it from looking scraggly or falling as flat as it otherwise might. Short hair needs frequent trims. Have it trimmed every four to six weeks in order to maintain your style. If your hair is longer, you might be able to get away with having your hair trimmed only once every three to six months. If your hair is fine and long, you will need to have it trimmed more often than if your hair is coarser and longer. If your goal is to grow your hair long, find a hairdresser who will follow your directions to trim the ends only. A scizzor-happy stylist can easily snip away your efforts to get to a longer style. Remember, if you get your hair trimmed two inches, that represents approximately four months of growth.

Having said that, don't be afraid to have a couple of inches of damaged hair trimmed, even if you do desire to eventually reach a style that is longer than the one you are currently wearing. Going from a shorter style to a longer one takes patience. Remember, your goal isn't just length, but healthy length. There's only so much you can do to repair damaged hair. If you leave it in your length, it will always be a weak spot. If you want to end up with a "crowning glory", you may have to cut away problems areas first. Then, if you take care of your hair, the hair you grow will be healthy and strong. Think quality over length.

8) Your hair is programmed so that each strand has a certain life cycle. After that, it's pushed out of the way to make room for a new hair to grow. Thus, your head is always letting go of some strands and growing new ones. Losing up to about 100 hairs a day is perfectly normal. As mentioned yesterday, if you see a change in your hair's normal pattern or it comes out in clumps, then it's time to consult your physician.

9) Make sure the follicles of your hair have adequate blood flow. This means a) take care of your overall cardio-vascular health. b) take proper care to eliminate an overly flaky scalp c) gently massage your scalp, using the balls of your fingers and not your fingertips. d) get your heart pumping a little as you go about your work or you exercise and 3) brush your hair with your head bent over to let the blood flow to the scalp.

Advocates of the old 100 brush stroke method see brushing as a way to bring extra blood flow to your head. (You don't have to bend over for this method; you just brush gently down the length of your hair). If you are afraid of damaging your hair, you might achieve this with thirty or forty strokes instead of the full one hundred. I do use the 100 strokes method, but not every night.

10) Few of us today are prepared to completely throw away our blow-dryer. However, it's a good idea to experiment with different ways to do your hair so that you don't have to use a blow-dryer every single day. Try old-fashioned curlers. Or, learn how to scrunch your hair and let it dry naturally. Mature women should be especially careful when it comes to blow drying, as our hair tends to be thinner and more fragile than when we were younger.

If you choose to blow-dry your hair, you may find it helpful to use a diffuser. This is particulary true if you want to maximize your hair's natural wave or if you want to protect a perm.

11) If you are in the habit of washing your hair every day, try to stretch that out. See if you can go at least every other day or once or twice a week. Some people find that they can refresh their hair between shampooings by rinsing it with water. Or, they occasionally leave off the shampoo and use conditioner only. Neither of these methods works well for my fine hair. I put my hair back with clips or use some other method so that my hair looks decent for two or three days between shampooings.

12) When shampooing your hair, don't pile all of your hair on top of your head. That only causes knots. Instead, put the shampoo on your scalp, wash your scalp, and then work the shampoo down to the ends. If your ends are very dry, rinse out the shampoo so that it doesn't get on the ends. Or, put a little conditioner just on the ends before you begin the shampoo process. Then, once you've shampooed, use conditioner on the rest of your hair as you normally would.

13) If your scalp tends to be oily or normal, but your hair ends tend to be dry, don't put conditioner on your scalp. Instead, start it about ear length and work it down to the dry ends of your hair.

14) Sleep on a satin pillow case. Sally's makes these pillowcases. Or, if you can find a good satin or nylon material, you can make a similar pillowcase yourself. A satiny pillow case reduces the tug on your hair when you sleep at night.

15) You don't need to spend a fortune on hair products to have beautiful hair. I know many people with lovely locks who use shampoos, conditioners, gels, and sprays that you can buy in the drugstore. The key is to experiment until you find a product that works with your hair's texture and moisture level.

If a $.99 bottle of Suave makes your hair gorgeous, why spend twenty bucks on a salon brand shampoo? On the other hand, if you are having a specific problem with your hair, a stylist may be able to recommend a certain product line that will take care of it. In that case, you may decide the more expensive products are worth the cost.

You can also get some good products from a beauty supply store for a fraction of the prices that salons charge. If one of the clerks seems particularly knowledgable, cultivate an acquaintance with that clerk so that you feel comfortable asking the clerk for advice. Often, a beauty supply store clerk can give you good input about which products and techniques are best for your specific hair. But, make sure the clerk really knows what he or she is talking about.

If you find that you love a certain hair product but it ceases to work for you after a time, try using a clarifying shampoo once a week or so. This often takes care of any product buildup that may affect the way your favorite shampoo or conditioner works for you.

16) Hair attracts dust and pollen. Occasionally, this dust can make our hair look prematurely dirty, in which case we need to brush or wash it out. If your hair is long, your hair may even attract so much dust and pollen that it makes you sneeze!

You see; there was a reason why women of yesteryear tied kerchiefs around their hair or wore little house caps when they did housework. I seldom give a thought to protecting my hair as I tend my house and garden. One of my goals is to remember to take better care of it when I am working at home. I especially want to keep this in mind when cleaning something that is above my head. For example, I don't want to shower dust on my hair when using a long-poled duster to sweep away cob webs or to clean the ceiling fan.

If you find that your hair is attracting dust or getting damp and sweaty when you work, try putting it up. If it's too short to put up, try a forties style kerchief with the knot tied in the back.

17) Don't style your hair into a do so tight that you can feel it pulling. Many a woman has found her hair thinning, espeically at the temples, because a ponytail or an updo ripped the strands from their follicles. If you wear your hair up or in a ponytail frequently, learn how to do it properly so that you can prevent unneccessary pulling. Never use an ordinary rubber band. Use one that is coated and made specifically for hair. Scrunchies are sort of out of style now, but they are one of the most-hair friendly ways to pull your hair up in a ponytail.

18) Some sun highlights in our hair can be charming. But, as mentioned earlier, UV light does more damage to our hair than we realize. If you spend a lot of time outdoors, look for conditioners that offer UV protection. Or, wear a hat or a scarf over your head. Remember, if your hair is very long, you will have to put your hair up to get full protection from a hat.



Terri said...

Elizabeth, I am thoroughly enjoying these articles for long hair. My hair is naturally curly - though not as curly as it was when it was shorter. Have you come across any special information for those of us with curly hair who desire to grow it out? Or any resources to which you can direct me?

Elizabeth said...

Yes, there is a book called, "The Curly Girl" or something like that. There used to be a website with some articles in connection with curly hair. I can't remember the name of the site very well, but I remember that I learned from it some tips for dealing with my slightly wavy hair. The book divides hair into groups beginning with a slight natural wave and moving up to the tightest curls and offers tips for how to make the most of each type.

I will be researching this again, myself. I intend to do another article or two about hair, and I will discuss hair's natural curl and texture in those articles. I'll be sure to include some tips for curly girls just for you!