You wash it, brush it, blow-dry it, straighten it, curl it, and/or put all kinds of products in it. There’s no question your hair goes through the ringer on any given day. Before you know it, your tresses can show signs of damage, from split ends to uncontrollable frizz—and the older we get, the more it naturally thins out and looks dull or damaged, even without over-processing, says Elisa Hills, co-founder of the hair care line BLNDN.
The good news is you can reverse the damage. Your game plan: Stopcommitting these common mistakes, and follow the fixes recommended by top stylists to bring your hair back to life.
1. You Wash Your Hair Every Day
As a general rule, hair should be washed as often as needed, says Amy Abramite, creative director and stylist at Maxine Salon in Chicago. For most stylists we talked to, that’s every two to three days. Any more, and you risk stripping your hair of its natural, protective oils that keep it shiny and healthy, Hills says. This is especially true for people who color their hair, as over-washing can dull the vibrancy of their color, says Constantine James, a celebrity hair and makeup expert in Chicago. Of course, there are other factors involved. If you work out and sweat a lot, you may not be able to wait three days, Abramite says. In that case, try rinsing with water, scrubbing the scalp, and conditioning your ends only, says Paul Norton, a Joico celebrity hair stylist in Los Angeles. If you’re dealing with a super oily scalp, look into a hydrating shampoo and conditioner, James says. It sounds counterintuitive, but your body may be producing more oil due to dryness—attempting to naturally fix the problem. Second, invest in some dry shampoo to extend the time between washes. James likes TRESemme Fresh Start ($6.09; drugstore.com), which soaks up oil and gets rid of odor—without any weird powdery residue.
2. You Use Too Much Conditioner
To avoid greasy strands, apply conditioner on the ends of the hair, where it truly needs hydration—not the scalp, Abramite says. Start with an amount about the size of a dime (yes, a tiny dime), and try to disperse it evenly throughout the hair. If needed, up the amount, but never exceed a quarter size. “If you’re using a half-dollar size of product, you will definitely be spending a lot of money on shampoo and conditioner and not doing much for your hair,” James says.
3. … and the Wrong Shampoo
Sulfates, the cleansing agents in shampoos, “have become the gluten of the hair world,” says Erika Wasser, founder and CEO of Glam & Go. There’s a lot of hype around ‘em—some of it valid, some not. While they don’t pose any serious health hazards, some people find these chemicals dry out hair, skin, and scalp, or strip away color, Abramite says. If you’re seeing tangling, frizziness, and split ends, try a sulfate-free shampoo, which can clean your hair gently. Just keep in mind it won’t get as sudsy as a regular shampoo, she says.There are plenty of budget-friendly options: Wasser and Abramite suggest the L’Oreal Paris “Ever” collection (starting at $6.99; drugstores). For higher-end options, James recommends Pureology Hydrate Shampoo ($28; ulta.com), LuxeOrganix Argan Oil Shampoo and Conditioner ($39.97 for two 8-ounce bottles; amazon.com), or Joico Color Endure Shampoo ($14.99: joico.com).
4. You Never Use a Deep Conditioner
It may sound like an unnecessary step, but the pros we spoke with all recommend using a deep conditioner—especially if your hair is dry, damaged, or split from coloring or heat styling, Abramite says. Use a treatment, like Joico’s K-PAK Reconstructor ($19.99; joico.com), at least once per week, Norton says. “Get in the habit of pampering your hair, and you’ll notice it behaves and looks better.”It’s a non-negotiable if you color or process your hair, Hills says. “Use a deep conditioner the week leading up to and after any chemical process—it’ll help prepare your hair for battle, seal the hair cuticle, and prevent breakage.” And contrary to what many people with thin or fine hair fear, the right mask will not weigh your hair down, says Hills, who recommends BLNDN’s Repair You mask ($48; blndn.com).
5. You’ve Been Using the Same Shampoo and Conditioner Since High School
Wasser likens your hair-washing routine to your workout: “By spin class 2,567, your body’s pretty used to it,” she says. Similarly, your hair gets used to shampoo and conditioner—and then the products start to leave behind a residue. If you’re loyal to one routine, she suggests using Neutrogena’s Anti-Residue Shampoo ($4.72; amazon.com) once every month or so to give your hair a clean slate.If you’re more non-committal, keep a few different formulas in the shower to use depending on how your hair feels, Wasser suggests. Feeling dry? Work in a deep conditioner. If it’s feeling limp, use a lighter formula. Frizzier than usual? Use a moisturizing one. “You know your hair—listen to what it needs,” she says.
6. You Brush Your Hair When It’s Wet
Wet hair is much weaker than dry hair, so treat it carefully. One of the worst things you can do is tug a brush through it, forcing tangles apart, Wasser says. Instead, try brushing your hair before hopping in the shower to work out knots and air out the roots, James says.During your shower, consider using a wide-toothed comb to work the conditioner through your strands. After, use a comb to work out tangles from the bottom, working your way up to the roots for the least damage, Norton suggests. Bottom line: Use a brush only on dry hair and a wide-toothed comb on wet hair.
7. You Roughly Towel Dry
This isn’t the worst you can do, but it’s definitely not the best. After showering, don’t vigorously rub your hair with a towel—gently blot instead, Abramite says. “Blotting will not rough up the cuticle and cause frizz.” Want to go the extra mile? Use a paper towel to dry your hair. Norton says this is the most gentle, if not the most practical, method possible.
8. You Use Too-Hot Tools
Whether your hair is fine and thin or coarse and thick will determine which heat setting will get the job done, Abramite says. So it’s fortunate that most hot tools, like straighteners and curling irons, come with adjustable temperature settings.Don’t crank it to the hottest setting right off the bat. Wasser says to start at 300 degrees. If you’re getting the desired results, stay there. If not, gradually turn up the heat until you do. Typically coarse hair requires higher temps than fine hair. And no matter what, always use a heat protector (more on that soon). As for those wet-to-dry hot tools intended for use on damp hair? They’re a no-go: “Never use hot tools on wet hair,” Abramite says. “It can burn the hair.”
9. You Skip Heat Protectant
These get a 100-percent “yes” from the stylists. “It’s like asking if you need an oven mitt to pull something out of the oven,” Wasser says. Spraying a heat protector on your hair proactively protects hair from heat damage, plus it seals in shine, calms frizz, and keeps hair from becoming dry, Abramite says. She likes L’Oreal Sleek It Iron Straight Heatspray ($4.99; ulta.com). Wasser recommends Redken Satinwear ($19; ulta.com) or Redken Pillow Proof Primer ($24; ulta.com).
10. You Use Too Many Styling Products
You only need three products, Abramite says: a protectant, a styling product (like a mousse for volume or an anti-frizz cream for sleekness), and a finishing product (like hair or texture spray). Use cremes and oils sparingly, Wasser says, and only apply to the mid-shaft through ends—a little goes a long way.
11. You Avoid Haircuts
While the six-week rule is definitely not set in stone, most people need a trim about every three months; for others, it’s shorter or longer, Wasser says.Trying to grow out your hair? As soon as you start to notice split ends or the ends seem “see-through” or brittle, it’s time to take action. “The damage will just continue up the shaft, so by the time you [eventually] go for a cut, you’ll end up having to cut more than you would have if you’d just bitten the bullet with the trim,” Wasser says. Really afraid to take off length? Ask for a “dusting,” James says. Yes, it’s a thing. “This technique is to go through sections and lightly—just about a millimeter length—clean up your ends.”
12. You Overdo Chemical Treatments
Allow yourself two per year at most (aside from coloring), Norton says. “I don’t believe the chemicals are harmless, and they aren’t great to breathe in on a regular basis.” James also suggests spending your money on heat protectors, irons, and conditioning treatments instead of relaxing or straightening treatments. If you must, only do relaxers every six to eight weeks, or ideally, up to 12 weeks. The more frequently you do it, the greater the chance of breakage or damage, says Tina Deeke, a color specialist at Maxine Salon.
13. You Don’t Correctly Describe What You Want
The most important thing to remember before you visit your stylist: Bring photos. And be careful of buzzwords: “Just because you’re describing what you think is a ‘natural’ look with ‘warm undertones,’ doesn’t mean the stylist is on the same page,” Hills says.Moreover, listen to—and trust—your stylist. If they say something is tough to do with your hair type, believe them—they’re usually right, Hills says. And ask them about the upkeep involved with any particular style or color. Be clear about how much time you want to dedicate to your hairstyle, whether you’re open to using products, and how many, James says. If it sounds like too much work, it probably is.