Why did my hair suddenly change, and how do I fix it?
August 2, 2013 10:38 AM   Subscribe

Two weeks ago my hair type suddenly... changed. Or something happened to it. It went from smooth and shiny to coarse and frizzy and feeling like it's coated in conditioner that hasn't been washed out, yet horribly dry at the same time. I feel as though I've tried everything. Help?

I can't for the life of me figure out what changed-- I've used exactly the same products for months. I colored my hair about three weeks back but that was with the same product/shade I've been using since January.

A couple of weeks ago I dried it after showering as usual, but it felt crispy at the roots. Further drying resulted in this awful feeling of it being dry and crunchy all the way down to the tips, but somehow horribly greasy-feeling at the same time. It's driving me crazy. I even called the town office to see if the water treatment plant was doing anything different, but it doesn't sound like they have.

I've tried an apple-cider vinegar treatment/rinse and also used Curelle Build-Up Remover Treatment (which I used to use after swimming to combat chlorine) to see if it was a matter of build-up. No change. I've tried an overnight treatment of Sebastian Potion #9 (something I used in the past to restore my hair after a Japanese straightening process - 7 years ago), which helped for the following day and then it reverted back to awful. I've tried a treatment of mayonnaise and avocado which usually does nice things. I've used the Nexxus Humectress Leave-In Spray. Nothing. Even my daily leave-in oil (Joico K-Pak) that I've used for years seems to make it worse. I've switched to a sulfate-free shampoo and that hasn't helped.

This is driving me crazy because the feel of it is so awful. Any ideas as to what might have caused it or how to fix it? I have limited access to high-end hair products just based on my location (all the ones I listed above I had in my cabinet from years ago), and ordering something online will take a couple of weeks. But if there are any drugstore or kitchen remedies I can try them right away. Help!
posted by mireille to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (36 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
My hair texture changed after my hysterectomy and as my hair came in grayer and grayer. I went from having poker straight hair to pretty wavy and curly hair.

I'm having fun with it, but it doesn't sound like you're very happy.

You might want to go to a dermatologist, you may have a fungus, or some other issue with your scalp.

Or head out to a good salon and have them check out your hair. I was thinking Trichology, but chat with your doctor.

A poorly acting thyroid can account for changes in hair texture and in skin dryness.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:43 AM on August 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

I like using Epsom Salts with my shampoo. My hair has never felt so good since I've been doing this.
posted by JenThePro at 10:50 AM on August 2, 2013

Switching to sulfate-free shampoo without also making sure you're avoiding silicones in your conditioner could make your hair feel like it's still coated in conditioner -- but the apple cider vinegar rinse should take care of that. You could repeat that to see if there's any change.

The change sounds pretty sudden to me for something that affected your whole head of hair, not just the hair at the roots (which would be where hormonal changes would show up.) Did you get a lot of sun recently? I think likeliest explanation is that the latest coloring was just too much for your hair, or perhaps got left on a bit longer than usual.
posted by asperity at 10:51 AM on August 2, 2013 [6 favorites]

Yes, the plural of anecdote is not data, however...some people (including me!) have noticed changes in their hair (from smooth to frizzy/fuzzy) while taking vitamin supplements such as B5. Any chance you changed vitamins? Also, yes, hormonal changes like menopause can affect hair texture, too.
posted by skye.dancer at 10:55 AM on August 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you still have the box from the coloring treatment you used, see if it says anything about "new improved formula!" or whatnot. Also I would do an internets search of product name plus formula change problems or something similar if you havent already done so.

Also, long shot but maybe something sedimentary broke loose in your water heater? That might explain why repeated washing wont make it better. Maybe try a single wash and rinse with bottled or distilled water? or rainwater if that is an option.
posted by elizardbits at 10:56 AM on August 2, 2013 [3 favorites]

Try washing your hair with bottled water?
posted by spunweb at 10:58 AM on August 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

I can't help with the sudden change, but I can tell you that a mix of honey and coconut oil left on my hair for about half an hour before washing out really helps with the dryness for me in the winter. Plus you'll smell positively edible.

(Wait, maybe I can help-- are you drinking enough water? Has there been a sudden change in humidity? Sometimes my hair gets like this if the air is really, really dry. In winter in Sweden, for instance, my hair CONSTANTLY felt "coated" and gross and dry and crackly.)
posted by WidgetAlley at 10:59 AM on August 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

Yeah, an overnight change in your whole head of hair really can't have anything to do with medical conditions; hair is dead. I'd suspect the dye, except that your hair seems to have been o.k. for a while after it and then suddenly gone ooky.

It sounds like you've tried a LOT of different treatments and it might be that at this stage the hair is just overwashed. Perhaps you should just try going for a week eliminating shampoo and just using a simple conditioner once a day. That might give your scalp a chance to get into a happier balance with the oils it produces (although chances are the hair will feel greasier for the first four days or so).
posted by yoink at 11:00 AM on August 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

Probably not, but any chance you're pregnant? My hair pretty much instantly became a frizzy ball of tangles when I got knocked up.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:01 AM on August 2, 2013 [3 favorites]

Maybe your hair product went bad? This sort of thing happened to me when the leave-in conditioner I'd been using apparently spoiled, maybe due to the hot weather. I panicked and tried a bunch of different products before tracing it back to this.
posted by wondermouse at 11:01 AM on August 2, 2013

I bet it was the box color. Could have been a bad batch. And the fact that your products are old probably doesn't help, either.

It sounds like your hair is dry and overproducing sebum (thus the crispy, yet greasy feeling). Do you deep condition?
posted by sm1tten at 11:02 AM on August 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

Could it be a change in your water? The hardness/softness of it?

I recently bought this showerhead to try to combat the hard water in my city. Maybe that would help? Honestly, I can't tell if it's helping my hair, but it sure isn't hurting.
posted by pyjammy at 11:07 AM on August 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

FWIW, I also started using DevaCurl No-Poo along with One Condition, and it helped a lot. They sell them in small travel-sized bottles if you want to give the line a try before spending much on a big bottle. Now I alternate that with all the products I was already using, and my hair is back to normal. Definitely get rid of your years-old hair products - the stuff does go bad eventually.
posted by wondermouse at 11:08 AM on August 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

Could it be a change in your water? The hardness/softness of it?

I can testify that showering in really soft water makes your hair feel like you poured the conditioner on after you turned off the shower--no matter how long you rinse for.
posted by yoink at 11:09 AM on August 2, 2013 [3 favorites]

I could have written this question about a month ago - my normally soft hair suddenly got dry and tangly and really crunchy. It was so horrible and I was starting to really get down about it. I still don't know why it happened, but I started using this leave-in cream at night and it's back to normal - I also use Phyto 9 during the day. These products aren't cheap but I'm so happy to have my hair back!
posted by ukdanae at 11:09 AM on August 2, 2013

This is kind of horrifying to think about in retrospect but that happened to me when we were renovating our house. Have you been painting a bunch of rooms?
posted by something something at 11:10 AM on August 2, 2013

Have you been swimming in chlorinated pools? Have you been out in the sun a lot?

My hair has taken a beating this summer from swimming and doing outdoor activities. It's usually in good condition but it's kinda fried right now. I got it back into good shape (at least it feels and looks better) by doing the following things:

1. Drugstore shampoo that is meant to restore and repair or add moisture. At the moment I'm using Vidal Sassoon. (Available at Walmart, Target, etc.)

2. Fructuis leave-in conditioner. It's called Sleek and Shine. It works. My hair goes from fried and brittle to soft and shiny. I repurchase this stuff when it's empty. I am fickle with my products but I actually go back to this stuff.

3. Argan Oil (Agadir brand)
posted by Fairchild at 11:14 AM on August 2, 2013

How old are you? The texture of hair changes as you age; mine changed significantly at 39.
posted by DarlingBri at 11:15 AM on August 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

This can be hormonal, have you experienced any other weird body stuff lately?
posted by windykites at 11:20 AM on August 2, 2013

Response by poster: So many variables here that I hadn't thought about. I think I'll try washing with distilled water tomorrow and see if that rules anything out. I'm going to look up the hair color batch thing too-- I bought two boxes at the time and have the other one at home. After the water experiment I think I'll try to not wash it for a couple of days. Ugh.

Never even occurred to me that the old stuff would go bad, will toss that all tonight. And nope, not pregnant-- but I'm going to be 37 at the end of this month, though I'm not sure how that happened either. No major hormonal changes yet, though!

I haven't been in a pool lately, and while it's been hot and sunny, I wear a big floppy sunhat when I'm outdoors these days. It has been more humid here lately but nothing dramatic-- I've never had this kind of reaction before, and I live in a rather dry climate for most of the year. I know what works for me when my hair gets a bit dry but this is really absurd. The "soft water" effect that yoink describes is the worst part! Thanks so much for all the ideas so far.
posted by mireille at 11:21 AM on August 2, 2013

Also, not sure if you're in an apartment house or private house, city or suburb or rural, but you might want to see if there has been any municipal or private construction anywhere along the water lines to your house. Not sure how you'd go about finding this out in a large metro area but in suburbs or rural areas you should be able to see copies of municipal utility maps at the town records office.
posted by elizardbits at 11:34 AM on August 2, 2013

Did you recently change your diet in a drastic way? Fast? Get a bad case of stomach flu and stop eating for days? Protein, fats and B vitamins are all important to hair health.

Anything super-stressful happening in your life recently? I don't know that this would account for the texture change but it would account for the oiliness.

I found that my hair started getting prematurely gray and coarsening at the same time my thyroid started going downhill...If this keeps up I would suggest making an appointment with your doctor and getting a full blood panel just to be sure it's not your thyroid or something else on the inside that's to blame.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 11:39 AM on August 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

Some things I know of that can cause that kind of texture in hair: under-conditioning; too much protein (if your hair doesn't like products with protein); hard water; damage caused by coloring, chemicals, drying, etc.

If it's an issue of hard water, you have to get the mineral build-up out of your hair. As far as I know, this is best done with EDTA, an ingredient you can find in something like this clarifying treatment from Ion. Standard clarifying shampoos won't work for this. My hair gets frizzy, dull, crispy, and icky-feeling with hard water, and improves a lot with this treatment.

Maybe the last color treatment was one too many? If it's damage, lots of deep conditioning treatments and possibly some protein treatments will help, along with avoiding the hair dryer for a while. My favorite deep conditioning treatment is coconut oil. It's cheap and effective. Joico makes a keratin protein treatment that I've seen good reviews about. I've used the generic knock-off and been happy.
posted by moira at 11:41 AM on August 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Yeah, I did change my diet pretty drastically a month ago-- basically cut out all "white" foods (bread/potatoes/pasta/rice) and subbed in vegetables/salads, dramatically increased proteins and fats (have lost 3 pounds or so already and my IBS is better than I can remember). Seems like that would help hair health, or do I have that wrong?

But yeah, I've been dealing with a large stressor which began about the same time this started (a month-long audit for the company I own).

And funny you mention it, elizardbits, but there was a great deal of road construction a block over from my house-- they were putting in a new sidewalk on a long street. Not sure if they would be anywhere near a water line or one that affected my house, but that's a possibility too.

I do have coconut oil on hand. Should I try the distilled water thing before a treatment? Probably a good idea to rule in/out the water part first.
posted by mireille at 11:47 AM on August 2, 2013

Is it possible your house or building has a water treatment system you're unaware of? More likely if you rent, but could be possible even if you own. If so, it might need maintenance or replenishment. It sounds like a pH or mineral content issue.
posted by charmcityblues at 12:00 PM on August 2, 2013

A wash with distilled water wouldn't rule out hard water build-up, but might rule out other water issues.

If it was me, I'd start with an EDTA clarifying treatment to see if anything improved. Improvement would point to hard water or a particular product causing build-up.

If there was no improvement, I'd assume damage and move on to deep conditioning for a few days, and then try a protein treatment later on to see if that offered an additional boost.

(Also, I wanted to second that washing with a sulfate-free shampoo could be a problem if you are still using products with silicone. It could definitely cause a gunky, unwashed feel.)
posted by moira at 12:07 PM on August 2, 2013

In my experience, box dye hair damage has been both cumulative and sudden, unfortunately.
posted by pocketfullofrye at 12:08 PM on August 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

Our town had a ph problem with their water supply in a big way once- peeled the paint off of cars, supposedly- so there might be something to that. I swam in a pool that had really bad chemicals and it fried my hair, too (along with my swim suit, and then they shut the pool down 30 minutes later.)

So you never know, but it might be worth calling the city or the local hospital to see if they know anything about a caustic soda spill in the water supply or something.
posted by small_ruminant at 12:50 PM on August 2, 2013

Adding to the water change argument, when they started to chlorinate the water here my hair got very unruly. As far as I can tell, one of the chlorinating stations is right outside my neighborhood. Ugh.

Going low carb didn't change my hair really, though I did lose a bit more than usual after my first big loss. The graying that started before has slowed down, even though mid-thirties graying is common in my family. 37 is a PITA.
posted by monopas at 1:03 PM on August 2, 2013

I shifted my diet towards more fat and while it helped me lose weight, I feel it messed up my hormones somewhat. I got a lot drier for some reason. I think this is partly because of excess Omega 6, which is readily available in most diets.

Basically, if you've upped your intake of omega 6, you need to balance with omega 3. It might have something to do with that.

It could be a lot of variables, but for me, that was the only thing I changed that really changed my hair and scalp texture in particular.
posted by Dimes at 1:15 PM on August 2, 2013

is there dust drifting in the air from the nearby construction? anytime I work with drywall around the house it gets in my hair and makes it horrible.

though, if some sort of hair dye or product is causing the problem, it may be compounded by all the treatments you are trying. It may be a good idea to let the hair rest for a few days before putting more stuff in it.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 1:20 PM on August 2, 2013

Maybe you are about to start greying. That changed my whole regimen.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 3:37 PM on August 2, 2013

Response by poster: *Update* I probably shouldn't have but I couldn't stand the feeling of it anymore, so I bought a container of spring water and washed/rinsed with it. It's about 80% better! Feels soft, lays nicely, just a bit dry towards the ends still.

I don't know what to do about it moving forward, though. It's not feasible to wash with expensive water. I'll contact the town again after the weekend to see if they know what the problem is. In the meantime I'll just give it a break and not wash it until Monday, maybe do a coconut oil treatment on Sunday night.

Thanks for all of your ideas and help!
posted by mireille at 4:11 PM on August 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

There are shower-attached water filters (these filter out mainly chlorine) and water softeners that may be affordable.
posted by moira at 7:23 PM on August 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

My hair was exactly like this when I lived in an apartment in a part of town with really hard water. It got to the point where my (bleached, blonde) hair was getting a greenish-beige, crunchy tinge. I finally got this clarifying treatment from Sally's and it helped a ton... for $3 it is definitely worth a try.
posted by celtalitha at 11:05 PM on August 2, 2013

Re: the diet changes - are you sure you're not in ketosis? That is a big stress on your body which could easily have an effect on your hair.
posted by Acheman at 3:53 AM on August 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

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