How do I get the hair I had in India?
November 11, 2019 4:25 PM   Subscribe

I recently spent a month in India, where my hair was all soft and wavy with lots of body. My hair is usually stick straight, fine and thin, and often quite dry (but so fine that any product makes it look limp and even thinner). My best guess is the high humidity was what made my hair look so nice. How do I replicate that back in dry Australia?

Photo of my hair in its usual context.
Photo of my hair in India. (It was like this the whole time! It was magical!)

It's also possible it was something about the water, maybe... For one thing, I could only wash it in cold / lukewarm water instead of hot, because most places I stayed didn't have hot water. And maybe the water hardness is different. I was using my usual shampoo/conditioner though.
posted by lollusc to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (25 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Regarding the water hardness: did you notice any difference in how well your shampoo sudsed up? If it was much easier in India to get big soapy suds than it is in Australia, then it likely is a hard water issue, in which case you should look into getting a water softener for your home (if you own your own home). If you're in an apt or other situation where you don't have control over the water, then you may wish to consider washing your hair with filtered water in the sink and leave the shower for regular washing but not for your hair.
posted by acidnova at 4:30 PM on November 11, 2019 [1 favorite]

No, I definitely have soft water at home. Things suds up well, and I've never ever had to de-calc the kettle or coffee maker, which I had to do frequently when I lived in hard water areas.

If anything, the water may have been hard in India (I think the shampoo didn't suds as much).
posted by lollusc at 4:42 PM on November 11, 2019

(Other info about my usual routine in case it is relevant:
- I wash my hair about twice a week max, otherwise it gets very dry and frizzy
- I use head and shoulders shampoo, and Tresemme conditioner.
- I use some kind of fancy leave-in treatment for dry hair from my hair salon about once a week.
- I just let the hair airdry after washing. I do blow dry my fringe though.
- I try not to rub my hair with a towel. I just pat it gently. )
posted by lollusc at 4:51 PM on November 11, 2019

Did you get more dietary fat in your diet than you get back home? My hair does better with high fat, and I felt like my food was swimming in ghee/butter when I was in India.
posted by thegreatfleecircus at 4:55 PM on November 11, 2019 [3 favorites]

My hair is always nicer when I'm in tropical places with only cold showers, and I suspect it's the water temperature that's key because this happened even when I lived in Cairns which is also tropical, and I take the same shampoo with me. I don't have any actual science™ to offer you though, just this anecdote.
posted by nomis at 5:13 PM on November 11, 2019 [1 favorite]

I'd go with nutrition as well, maybe... It's a bit of woo maybe but one of the few things I tried from my Health Food Store days that sorta did what it said was the Hair & Nail sort of supplements. I keep my hair short so not so sure about that anymore, but can still tell if I'm eating well based on how fast my nails grow. So... if you can wave away water or humidity, diet is a possibility.
posted by zengargoyle at 5:14 PM on November 11, 2019

I also have fine, straight hair, and I've lived in both very humid and very dry places. I really think it's 100% the humidity. (I do recommend this shampoo, but it can't replicate humid air.)
posted by pinochiette at 5:14 PM on November 11, 2019 [17 favorites]

After you rinse out the shampoo and conditioner with hot/warm water and are pretty much done with your shower, do a final rinse with the water as cold as you can stand. This apparently seals the cuticle so the strands don't frizz.

Source: am Indian American, live in a high humidity climate, have a love-hate relationship with my hair.
posted by basalganglia at 5:19 PM on November 11, 2019 [5 favorites]

If that's as wavy as you're looking for, you might look into blow drying with a big finger diffuser on a low setting instead of letting it air dry. That would whatever wave is there the best possible chance of setting. At least in the US, it's relatively inexpensive to get one that will fit on most hair dryers. On days you don't wash, at least for me, just somewhat wetting it down is enough to make the diffuser magic work again. My hair is not straight ever, but the diffuser gets it to full-on curly, so... it seems like at least in theory it should help. Possibly also a little of a light/flexible hold styling product?
posted by Sequence at 5:24 PM on November 11, 2019

(One thing I wonder about - unless they have radically reformulated Head and Shoulders, it's very drying. When I was younger I was convinced that I had really, really bad dandruff, and it turned out that what I had was really, really drying shampoo that was messing up my scalp. I use very ordinary Pantene shampoo and conditioner and am not notably dandruffy anymore.)
posted by Frowner at 5:32 PM on November 11, 2019 [17 favorites]

I recently switched to using only conditioner (Tresemme Botanique Nourish Replenish on the internet's recommendation) without shampoo and feel that it has left my hair much less frizzy without looking oily. My hair is shorter than yours (boring medium-length typical male haircut) but I know of some women with hair your length who have also found success with this.
posted by Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug at 6:08 PM on November 11, 2019 [2 favorites]

One way to test if it was the humidity in your environment having a positive effect on your hair is to try using a humectant to attract more moisture. Glycerin is something some natural hair folks like to use, and there's a recipe for a DIY humidity spray on this page. Glycerin is cheap and you won't need very much for the recipe.
posted by oneirodynia at 6:13 PM on November 11, 2019 [1 favorite]

I’d vote with 100% environment, in this case humidity. How in the world would the food you eat affect your grown out hair? Maybe over several years with long hair but otherwise it doesn’t seem possible. I’d explore with a competent hairdresser products to help mimic the look you are going for.
posted by JenMarie at 6:23 PM on November 11, 2019 [11 favorites]

I’d be curious to see what your hair would do if you ditched the sulfate/silicone products you’re using for ones without (as those with curls, like myself, often do). The goal of such a switch is to maintain the natural moisture of one’s hair, which encourages waviness/curliness.

Look for information about the “curly girl/guy method” for more information about what to look for/avoid.
posted by ocherdraco at 6:30 PM on November 11, 2019 [2 favorites]

+1 basalganglia, with different reasoning: cold rinsing can let conditioner 'condition.'
posted by Iris Gambol at 6:37 PM on November 11, 2019

Hello hair buddy! I always air dry and I agree it's the drying conditions. I've just switched over here from "summer" hair like in your India pic to "winter" hair like your other one - less curly and alive and more straight and dead. I've not found a way to keep my same routine but have better results...
posted by london explorer girl at 1:52 AM on November 12, 2019

I have hair that will wave with encouragement or humidity but air dries pretty straight especially when it’s long. I found I can create waves using the plop method for drying curls. I use a lightweight antifrizz serum first. Can’t hurt to try!
posted by Waiting for Pierce Inverarity at 3:52 AM on November 12, 2019

How in the world would the food you eat affect your grown out hair?

Through the oils in your scalp which get distributed through your hair when you brush it. I wasn't suggesting some mysterious alchemy. My skin is also practically instantly less dry when I'm getting more dietary fat. It's a very stark difference, which is why I brought it up as a possibility. YMMV.
posted by thegreatfleecircus at 5:55 AM on November 12, 2019 [4 favorites]

I have drastically different hair while at home during humid summers and dry winters. I also have to be more careful about rinsing the conditioner out of my hair with cold water during the winter (since I'm taking a hotter shower) or my hair will get very frizzy - so, it's likely both factors. I would look for a more hydrating everyday shampoo and conditioner, it made a world of difference for me.
posted by DoubleLune at 7:28 AM on November 12, 2019

Seconding and thirding the Curly Girl method, which is all about getting moisture into your hair and keeping it there. It's for wavy hair as well as curly, despite the name.
posted by telophase at 9:03 AM on November 12, 2019 [1 favorite]

I would also suggest don't use Head & Shoulders. I also used to have a flaky scalp until I stopped using sulfate-containing products, and started massaging conditioner into my scalp.
posted by exceptinsects at 10:19 AM on November 12, 2019 [1 favorite]

It's not very fun, but rinsing your hair with cool water really, really helps. Like, the colder the better. If you hate cold showers (I don't blame you) maybe try rinsing out your conditioner in the sink -- does your kitchen sink have a hand held sprayer? Those work good. A large plastic cups works too though.

Nthing not using Head & Shoulders unless absolutely necessary, also there are sulfate-free dandruff shampoos out there.

For a very noticeable improvement quickly, get a bottle of Olaplex 3. Do weekly treatments for a month, then once a month after. It's $28, but the bottle should last you 6-8 months, maybe more. Just apply to dry hair (ends only), pin it up or put on a shower cap, leave for an hour, then shampoo and condition as normal. Vast, immediate difference, I wish I had started using this sooner.
posted by ananci at 12:29 PM on November 12, 2019 [1 favorite]

So I've washed my hair twice since this question, which meant I could experiment a little:

First time: used cold water, with usual shampoo & conditioner: maybe a little bit softer, still straight, still drier than in India.
Second time: used cold water, with conditioner only: so soft! not dry at all. Still straight though. But a huge improvement. So the head & shoulders clearly isn't helping matters. (I was still using it in India, though, so that's not what was going on there).

I do have actual (dermatologist-diagnosed) dandruff though, not just a dry scalp. I've used head & shoulders for about 20 years, and occasionally I switch to something else, and every time the dandruff comes back after a couple of weeks. When I use it, I have zero dandruff.

I will look for a sulphate-free anti-dandruff shampoo (the supermarket had some sulphate free shampoos, but they didn't claim to be silicone free, and they didn't have an anti-dandruff one. And they seem to start at like $18 a bottle, which is a bit off-putting). Meanwhile will see if I can get away with only using shampoo sometimes and using conditioner-only for most washes.

I tried the curly girl plopping drying method, and it seemed to make zero difference at all.

I've tried anti-frizz serums and leave-in conditioners, and stuff that supposedly helps your hair wave etc in the past with no effect.

I ordered the Olaplex 3 stuff. When I can figure out where to buy glycerin I'll try that.

I don't think it was dietary fat. I eat a pretty high fat diet at home. In India I think I probably ate less fat, since I had almost no junk food the whole time, and most meals were rice with dal (and yes, the dal probably had ghee in it, but it didn't seem like a ton, and I definitely cook with a lot of butter and oil at home).

It seems pretty clear that the waviness was due to the humidity, but it looks like I can get my hair softer and less frizzy, anyway.
posted by lollusc at 5:28 PM on November 17, 2019

I don't know if Alberto VO5 is available in Australia, but they are sulfate free and have a specific anti dandruff option (in addition to a lot of generic moisturizing versions). I swear by 'em. In the US they are about $1/bottle, so even if it's no good for you, you're not out much.
posted by basalganglia at 6:18 PM on November 17, 2019

So I thought I'd post back in here because I think I've solved it. Doing the "curly girl method" as recommended by some people above really gets those waves to show up. I'm still experimenting with the best compromise between softness and lots of waves and how to avoid frizz but my hair is much closer to what I wanted it to be, and it gets better every time I wash/style it. Some recent pictures for comparison with the earlier ones above.
posted by lollusc at 9:20 PM on February 8

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