What should I do with my hair
August 18, 2014 6:16 PM   Subscribe

Not happy with my hair lately. I'm having lots of breakage which turns to frizziness if it's not flat ironed. I am a low maintenance person but I like having long hair. It's just past my shoulders and is naturally dirty blonde and lately I have gotten some grey. It is mostly straight but has a slight wave. (Female, early 30s)

I had been doing a mix of highlights and lowlights, and like the way it looks usually, but is this adding to my breakage? I like how it can grow out quite a bit between coloring sand my roots don't show too much, (can't afford the hairdresser every 2 months) but am looking for new ideas. I have always been a blonde but maybe if I stopped doing the highlights it would be healthier? I am not crazy about how it looks without some sort of color, my natural dirty blonde color is quite dull looking and now that some grey is showing it needs something extra.
I rarely style it with heat and am careful with detangling it, but I have had the breakage issue for a long while now. Maybe I just have brittle hair.
Also, I'm 6 1/2 months pregnant, and even though everyone says their hair was awesome during pregnancy, mine doesn't seem to have reacted this way. I am also not looking forward to losing a bunch of it after the birth, as seems to be common from hormones. I really don't want to have to cut it all off since I have been growing it out for a couple of years now.
Need help with:
- Suggestions for colors & techniques that will be low maintenance but still look good without causing too much damage. Don't want to go too dark but have to start covering some grey. Prefer to stay blonde if I can.
- Any treatments to prevent further breakage and minimize it? Most products I tried haven't done much
- Any other suggestions for keeping hair looking healthy. It just looks damaged right now.
posted by photoexplorer to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (15 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
curly girl might work for you. The before and after pics have tons of amazing transformations from folks with wavy (not just curly), brittle damaged hair.
posted by geegollygosh at 6:25 PM on August 18, 2014

I couldn't find anything for mostly straight (only a tiny bit of wave in it) hair on that site.
posted by photoexplorer at 6:45 PM on August 18, 2014

Hey - your hair sounds like mine! I just had a keratin blowout and am liking the results. It's kind of a baby step towards a full-on keratin treatment. The hairdresser coated my hair with keratin and then flatironed it. Now that a week has passed, my hair is a little less curly and looks shinier. This lasts about four weeks, and the full keratin blowout supposedly lasts four to six months. I'm super low-maintenance and rarely blow-dry my hair (especially not in summer!) so I'm enjoying the fact that my hair looks kinda blown-dry and shiny even when it air dries.
posted by kinsey at 6:45 PM on August 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

I had big amounts of shedding and breakage a few years ago (related, I think, to birth control pills). Not to blow my own trumpet, but I have a routine down now that is working really well for me. A few things that I changed/learned:

1. My hair has been much much much healthier since I instituted a zero-heat-styling policy for myself. I don't use a flat iron or a hair-dryer ever (well, I do use a hair-dryer for protein treatments, but I never use it normally). This sounds extreme, but it just goes to show you how desperate I was to turn around the situation. I also only ever comb my hair, not brush, and I only use a wide-tooth comb. I comb carefully, using fingers to get any tangles out - I never pull the comb through my hair harshly. I also wear my hair up when possible, as wearing it down can cause wear and breakage (I use a Ficcare, which I think I bought on Metafitler's recommendation, and which I now always recommend).

2. I do regular protein and moisture treatments (info here, for instance, although I don't know how scientific/accurate that site is). I find I need both to keep my hair balanced. I use Aphogee Two Step (here) every couple of months, and a half-dime-sized amount of Neutral Protein Filler (here) added to my leave-in conditioner a couple of times a week. Also, I use my leave-in (moisturizing oils and a bit of protein) after I shower every time (ears down - not on my scalp). I will smooth coconut oil on my hair and apply heat for absorption if my hair is feeling dry. My hair is noticeably stronger and less brittle than it was before.

3. I use essential oils for hair growth on my scalp (this blend - "Chrome Dome", from Essential Wholesale). Because those are essential oils, they need to be heavily diluted with a carrier oil before application (coconut oil, jojoba, or whatever). I massage the mixture into my scalp a few hours before washing my hair (some people leave it in, but I have finer hair so it leaves my hair too greasy for comfort if I don't wash it out). I have found when I use this regularly I have noticeably more hair growth and less shedding (and a scientific study indicates that this is common - the massage probably helps as well as the oils themselves). I had the best results when I mixed the essential oils into a carrier oil blend with Indian herbs (I used this one, this one, and this one.

4. I use henna and cassia on my hair regularly, which helps my scalp (really cuts down on scalp itch), and also helps make my hair stronger and ridiculously shiny. The one I use has Indian herbs in it (here), and I mix in some cassia obovata powder. I think the herbs really help my scalp health and hair growth as well. Unfortunately for you, this will stain your hair darker/reddish, so you might not want to do this. However you might have success with just cassia (which either won't affect your color, or may turn it golden if you hair is light enough), or with cassia and amla (amla may tone down the golden of the cassia to a more ashy shade). If I were you, I'd try cassia (possibly with amla), and see if it gives you any color, and/or helps your hair health. I'd try it once a month (or once every two weeks) for a few months before you decide. You mix it up with water into a mud, leave it for 8-12 hours in a warm place (to dye release), and then put it in your hair, doing your best to coat every strand (helpful to section your hair first, wear plastic gloves, and have a helper if possible! - also it's messy!). Wrap your cassa-ed hair up in saran wrap, put a beanie over it, possibly apply heat (hair dryer, etc.), and wait for some hours, and then rinse out.

5. I use anti-fungal shampoos. I have seborrheic dermatitis, so this helps me in particular, but it might help you too. I think ketoconazole (Nizoral) has been shown to promote hair growth.

6. Depending on how much time you have and how motivated you are, you might want to lurk at Long Hair Community (LHC). I lurked there on and off for several years, and learned a lot about easy ways to encourage hair growth and healthy hair.

7. Things I do not do anymore:
a) I do not have regular trims: despite internet folk-wisdom, trims every 8 weeks never seemed to make my hair grow faster or whatever they were supposed to do. I only trim when the ends are noticeably ratty (2-3 times/year, maybe half an inch/time).
b) I do not buy vitamin supplements: I used to be religious about taking biotin and MSM, and eating gelatin. I never really determined whether this worked, and the cost added up after a while, so I fell off the wagon on this one.
c) I do not buy expensive products for my hair: beyond what is listed above, I don't really use products on my hair. I definitely don't use "salon" products, which I think have small concentrations of helpful things at high prices.

Several years later after all of the breakage, my hair is now at mid-back, and still growing, so all of these things work well at least for me. YMMV on all of this, of course!
posted by ClaireBear at 7:12 PM on August 18, 2014 [11 favorites]

I think that's the beauty of having long hair, because it is so low maintenance once it gets to a certain length. I've enjoyed having long hair because I am so low maintenance with it. Well.. honestly my hair was at its longest and healthiest when I was doing cardio and eating lots of healthy oils and fats. Such as eating avocado, olives, olive oil and salmon. Actually eating the food of course, not supplements or anything. Also, I currently use Aubrey Organics Honeysuckle Rose shampoo and conditioner. They are moisturizing and smell pretty good. They also last a good while, probably the same as traditional shampoo but they don't have SLS or whichever it is. There's also styling products, I use the Curl b5 design gel if I want to do a wavy scrunch or something, but I'm sure there are other products. I usually try to keep my hair up half the time and down the other half, as well as brush every day. I don't shampoo my hair every day, probably every few days and I try to massage my scalp before bed after brushing. It's relaxing and it probably stimulates hair growth *shrug*

Don't put your hair up after washing, let it air dry as often as possible. And if you are styling, I rarely blow dry but I do straighten my hair using a flat iron on occasion, maybe once every other week. I get best results on as low a setting as possible so it's not hot to the touch after immediately passing it through. Basically, I ponytail the majority of my hair and start in small sections, flat iron my way up until my hair is straight. I also like to take a little bit of coconut oil and work it through the ends if I start to get frizzies, or even a small dab of conditioner will do as well. Honestly, I suggest you stop coloring your hair. Obviously it's your personal decision but I doubt the chemicals are good for long-term healthy looking hair. I have dyed my hair once and have not had any issues with it, and I have had it down to waist-length for years. I only just cut it a few years ago to jaw length for a change and am growing it back out because I realized I really enjoyed having long hair. It's currently a little longer than shoulder-length, possibly collar bone, and I get it cut about every 4-5 months. Before when it was waist-length, once every year or two. Good luck.
posted by lunastellasol at 8:48 PM on August 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

There are lots of reasons your hair could be brittle, from vitamin deficiencies (I think vitamin D deficiency could possibly have contributed to mine; lack of iron and other things could make a difference too) to hard water. You can see if using a chelating shampoo or a water filter could make a difference, and maybe get a screen for deficiencies. The likelihood is that it's the hair dye.

Going lighter will always involve more damage because you need peroxide to lift your natural colour. Depositing colour isn't so bad - you could do this with temporary, low-peroxide dyes or by regularly using colour-depositing conditioners - but it means staying the same colour or going darker, and you'd need peroxide around the greys anyway (because that's weird hair). There are things stylists can do to minimize damage, though, like focusing processing time on new growth and only spreading the dye down the older hair near the end. A colorist - maybe not the one you've been seeing - should really advise.

Flat ironing on a daily basis is pretty bad for hair. It's better to use the blow dryer to smooth frizz if you can't air dry. You can get it half dry on a warm setting, then blast it with cool air with the nozzle angled down to smooth down the frizz.

I feel your pain around the idea of losing any length, but imo, a shiny bob looks approx one million times better (more stylish, more professional, younger, less crazy) than two feet of broken, damaged, out-of-control frizz. I finally decided last week to get rid of three inches of straw I'd been trying to basically glue into something approaching normal hair, and it looks so much better, with much less work.

But try the chelating shampoo and soft water and others' tips above in case they make a difference, first. I agree with all (although, some people experience damage with henna, and it's not a great idea to put henna over already dyed hair; also, not sure a keratin treatment is a good idea to do right now while you're pregnant, but it does make hair look great, something to consider later.)
posted by cotton dress sock at 2:23 AM on August 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

If you are using a flat iron and a hair dryer, make sure you use a heat protectant spray. It can protect your hair from the worst of the damage from those appliances.
posted by cecic at 6:41 AM on August 19, 2014

Do you use any heat protectant ("straightening" product) before blow dry and flat iron? You really need to do that to protect your hair from the heat.
posted by radioamy at 7:06 AM on August 19, 2014

I do use a heat protectant spray, but I can count on one hand the times I have used heat on my hair in the last 6 months. This is clearly not what is doing the damage. I guess I will have to look into shampoos and special treatments. I'm overwhelmed on where to start.
posted by photoexplorer at 7:54 AM on August 19, 2014

1. Stop using sulfate shampoos. That will help enormously.
2. Wash your hair as infrequently as possible.
3. Stop using all silicone products (listed usually as 'dimethicone'). You need to stop using silicones when you stop using sulfates, as the sulfates are necessary to wash out the silicone which will build up over time if it is not stripped out of the hair.
4. There are quite a few styling products out there without silicone, coconut oil is my current favorite for smoothing and softening.

This is the no. 1 thing that helped my hair recover. The second thing that helped is not recoloring over hair. I now only color the roots, and never pull the color to the ends.

I think it is fine to keep doing the color program you have in place. You just want to avoid recoloring the same hair over and over, and less frequent coloring or very selective coloring will accomplish that.
posted by nanook at 8:19 AM on August 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

If I were you, concrete steps that I would take, in the following order, are:

1. Have a full blood work-up by your doctor, to make sure that the problems don't stem from vitamin deficiency etc. No use assuming the problem is external if it's caused by vitamin deficiencies or something similar.

2. Stop using hair dye/bleach. As cotton dress sock said, my bet is that that is what is causing the brittleness - it's pretty rough on hair. I'd try cassia or cassia/amla instead for several months to see if that changes things (and keep in mind that hair grows at half an inch a month, so it may take a while to see any changes). The cassia, or cassia/amla, may color your hair enough to replace the hair dye, and may improve the condition significantly. If so, you may be forced to decide whether you want blonde hair or long hair. You could also add a bit of henna into the mix if reddish/strawberry works with your complexion and if that's what you want: in my experience, henna provides longer-lasting strength and shine than cassia (which wears off for me within a month or two). Here is more info on cassia. I would recommend using "body art quality" henna (and the equivalent for cassia), just so you know what you're getting (I got mine at the link above). It's more expensive, but at least you have a clearer sense of what you're getting, because some of the cheaper stuff can be adulterated with metallic salts etc. (which cotton dress sock mentions).

3. Stop using any heat whatsoever on your hair: no flat iron (even occasionally) and no hairdryer. Learn to embrace your hair's natural texture. I don't know what "heat protectant" does, but I'm skeptical that it can really prevent damage from heat styling. I'd also make the switch over to a wide-toothed comb, and never use a normal brush on your hair.

4. Switch to a more gentle shampoo, and/or one that promotes hair growth. If your hair is very delicate, it might not be able to handle normal shampoos without damage. I would put conditioner on the ends (neck down), and then use a more gentle shampoo on the scalp. I personally recommend this one, which is gentle (no SLS) and also has a bunch of ingredients that may promote hair growth and health; I use this on days that I'm not using an anti fungal shampoo). Ideally the shampoo will have no SLS (sodium laureth sulfate), which is harsh on hair. You might want to try Nizoral (maybe the 2%, which is only available by prescription) to see if it helps. It likely will help shedding, but if your problem is specifically *breakage*, it might not help (and may hurt), because it's as harsh as normal shampoo (SLS, etc.). You might also want to decrease the number of times/week that you wash your hair. I personally can't recommend this, because I have to wash my scalp every day with my seborrheic dermatitis, but I have heard it works well for others.

5. Start experimenting with protein and moisture. Try protein on your hair (I recommend Aphogee or Neutral Protein Filler, as I said above) and see if it helps. If it makes it more brittle, you likely need moisture instead. You might want to try a moisturizing leave-in - maybe coconut oil, which is cheap and effective (and you only need a *tiny* bit - easy to overdo it and end up greasy!).

6. Start using essential oils on your scalp. I'd buy this mix (the smaller sizes are fine, since you're diluting it), and dilute it either into coconut oil or, ideally, this. Massage it for at least 10 minutes into your scalp a few hours before you shower.

7. You might want to try for a few months taking a multi-vitamin and possibly biotin and MSM, in case your problems are coming from some sort of vitamin deficiency. As I said, this didn't particularly help me, but it might be worth a shot if the above things aren't working.

8. Possibly try some sort of chelating shampoo, or water filter, or vinegar rinse. I don't know much about this, but if you live in an area of hard water, your problems may be stemming from the minerals in your water rather than something specifically about you. I'd look into this in conjunction with the above.
posted by ClaireBear at 8:28 AM on August 19, 2014 [2 favorites]

Coconut oil penetrates the hair shaft and increases elasticity, which will stop the breakage. Apply the coconut oil to your hair, leave it on for a while, then shampoo it out. For an intense treatment, leave the coconut oil in all day or overnight, putting your hair in a braid or bun. For maintenance, leave it in for at least an hour, preferably a few hours.
posted by lizbunny at 9:13 AM on August 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

Seconding a combination of the above via trial and error, and adding that the "squish" method, which someone suggested in a different question, has really helped with breakage, and was more effective than the general curly/no-poo advice I'd seen. The two things I focus on are using enough conditioner and not using a comb anymore.
posted by Room 641-A at 9:21 AM on August 19, 2014

After a lot of dying lately, my ends had become crazy brittle. I had 2 inches cut off, and it was still a disaster - I was beside myself. Then I read somewhere to do a protein filler before coloring, when coloring, and even when conditioning you can add to it. It has helped the condition of my hair immensely - I did a treatment the day before my last color appt, and I had the stylist apply it before the color this time. I haven't used it just as a conditioner, though.
posted by getawaysticks at 9:51 AM on August 19, 2014 [2 favorites]

Thanks so much for all your answers. No progress yet, but I have lots of suggestions to try. I have decided to keep doing the subtle color, since it seems to be breaking mostly at the root where it is not yet colored. So maybe hormones and overall health are the main reasons. I will get all these things checked after my pregnancy is over and things in my body are returning to normal.
posted by photoexplorer at 2:09 PM on September 2, 2014

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