Cold, dry winter weather is basically your skin’s worst enemy. Unsurprisingly, it’s not so friendly to your hair either.
Just as dropping temperatures can lead to skin dryness and irritation, they can suck the moisture out of your strands, making them more susceptible to breakage. On top of that, there are a few common habits that could increase your chances for hair damage.
In order to find out what we’re doing wrong when it comes to winter hair care, we went straight to the pros. Read on to find out the absolute worst things you can do to your hair when frigid weather strikes.
1. Going outside with wet hair
You’ve probably heard it before: Don’t go outside with your hair wet or you’ll catch a cold. While that may not necessarily be true, there’s still reason to avoid heading out the door with your hair sopping wet.
“Think about it - when water turns to ice, it expands,” colorist Jehnna Mahoney at Kennaland Studio told HuffPost via email. “When the hair is wet and you go outside in freezing temperatures, the water crystallizes and expands, physically breaking the hair.”
It’s true. When the weather outside reaches extremely low temperatures, your wet hair can freeze and break.
To prevent that from happening, Galloway, also a colorist at Kennaland Studio, suggested washing your hair at night before bed so it’s dry by morning or investing in a blow dryer (if you don’t have one already).
Just remember, whenever you’re using heat tools, use a protecting spray. Mahoney recommended that everyone use creams and balms typically meant for curly hair, especially if you’re feeling your strands are dry or brittle.
“Curly-hair products are designed with more moisture to hydrate and still give protection and memory to hold whatever style or texture you are going for,” she said. “If you have fine hair, I recommend using a smaller amount. Think dime-size, depending on density. For this, I recommend Evo Liquid Rollers Curl Balm, Davines This Is a Curl Building Serum and Hairstory Hair Balm.”
2. Not conditioning enough
“Overall, all hair should receive more hydrating masks and treatments” in cold weather, Ebony Bomani, a master cosmetologist and an educator for the Mane Choice, said in an email.
All the stylists we spoke to agreed that conditioners, serums and leave-in treatments (we’re fans of Davines hair masks) are a must for keeping your hair healthy during the cold months.
Mahoney said she’s a big fan of hair oils, which can “nourish, hydrate and replenish hair and act as a barrier to protect it from further damage from the dry air and winter fabrics.” She also said oils can provide some style and texture to hair, which is always a plus.
“Apply pea-size or less amount through lengths of the hair to define curly and wavy textures, and brush through for smooth, sleek styles,” she said. “My go-to oils and serums, regardless of hair texture or density, are May 11 hair oil, Iles Formula Haute Performance Finishing Serum and Davines Oi Oil.”
Keeping your hair well moisturized can also help combat dreaded hat hair and static, Galloway said. Both of those can be remedied by using a combo of leave-in conditioner (applied to wet hair, from midshaft to ends) and serum (to dry hair), which helps create “a barrier to tame the static,” she added.
3. Washing with superhot water
Very hot water can dry out your skin, as well as wreak havoc on your hair and scalp.
“Superhot water is drying all around, for your skin, scalp and, of course, the hair,” Mahoney said. “Rinsing your hair with moderately hot or warm water helps to maintain hair health without freezing you out of the shower and won’t cause further dryness.”
As Bomani noted, extreme temperatures, both cold and hot, “can snatch the moisture from your strands, causing them to possibly become dehydrated, which will cause frizz, dullness and ultimately breakage.”
4. Overwashing your strands
Overwashing can lead to dryness in your hair and scalp, Bomani said, which “means a tight, flaky scalp as well as brittle, breaking strands.”
“On the flip side, overshampooing can cause your sebaceous glands, the glands responsible for producing oil, to become overactive, which will cause your scalp to be oilier than usual,” she added.
How often you wash your hair depends on your hair type. “Tighter curls tend to have fewer cuticle layers than straighter hair textures, so it’s more susceptible to damage and dryness,” Bomani explained. “I’d recommend actually shampooing every two to three days for straight or wavy textures, every four to five days for curly hair, and once per week for highly textured hair. However, there are always exceptions.”
She and Kirsten Patterson, a stylist at the Songbird Society, agreed that washing hair every day is generally too much.
“Everybody’s scalp is different. Some people have to wash more often if they have an oily scalp, but oily scalps can be caused by overwashing. You’re basically stripping your scalp of oil so often that you are sending a message to your body to make more oil,” Patterson said.
Based on her experience, Mahoney said, most people use too much shampoo and “just rub hair in a knotted, foamy mess, causing mechanical damage as well.”
Her top tips? “Apply shampoo more like you would conditioner, running fingers through the hair, massaging the scalp and detangling the lengths as you go. Then [apply] conditioner, only from the midlengths, combing through to the ends. I recommend keeping a wide-tooth comb in the shower and a clip to clip hair up while the conditioner soaks for the length of the shower.” (She likes Evo’s the Therapist hydrating shampoo and conditioner and Hairstory’s New Wash.)
5. Using too many alcohol-based products
If you’re looking to keep moisture in your hair, alcohol-based products aren’t necessarily your best option.
According to Mahoney, alcohol-based products ― like some hairsprays, heat protecting sprays, texture sprays and even salt sprays ― are definitely one thing you can use too much of in the winter.
“Alcohol is added to sprays so the product dries quickly and doesn’t ruin or change the shape of the style,” she said. “When we are combating winter dryness, it’s best to avoid these.”
There are a few alcohols ― notably ethanol (or ethyl alcohol), propanol, isopropyl alcohol (or isopropanol), denatured alcohol (or alcohol denat) and benzyl alcohol ― to look out for on product ingredient lists. As reported on Naturally Curly, these alcohols can strip moisture from your hair.
But some alcohols are known to help with moisture, according to Essence, such as cetyl, stearyl, cetearyl, myristyl, behenyl and lauryl alcohols.
6. Not choosing the best hat
Obviously, hats are a go-to accessory for keeping you warm in the winter, but some people have wondered whether hats can damage hair.
Not only do they give you major hat hair, but it has also been said that the repeated friction of putting on and taking off your hat can lead to breakage. Additionally, hats can sometimes make your hair look greasier, and they don’t always let the scalp breathe.
“Winter hats - like beanies, ear muff bands, etc. - cause the hair to mat and tangle, then rub together, causing breakage,” Mahoney said. “We need to keep our heads covered regardless, though.” (For what it’s worth, she suggested choosing tight-knit fabrics or cashmere, for its “smooth, almost silky quality.”)
But don’t stress too much.
Patterson said a hat shouldn’t cause too much damage unless you’re wearing one all day, every day, without giving your head a chance to breathe. She recommended switching up your part before putting on a hat or beanie to prevent your hair from getting too flat and also suggested using leave-in conditioners to help with static control.
“Avoid or minimize contact with wool, cotton and similar fabrics to avoid snagging or tearing of strands and the zapping of moisture,” Bomani said. “Whenever possible, opt for hats that are lined with silk or satin so your hair can glide about freely and hold on to its moisture.”