Chances are, winter has already wreaked havoc on your hair. "Harsh conditions like cold and wind strip the cuticle (the outermost layer of the hair strand), making it rough and susceptible to dryness and static," says Harold Brody, M.D., clinical professor of dermatology at Emory University in Atlanta. (When properly hydrated, the cuticle lies flat, sealing in moisture and giving hair shine.) But there's no need to hibernate until spring: Hair-care experts have shared their tried-and-tested tips with us on preventing the dry, static-prone (and hat-head) hair that's all-too-common during the winter months.
1. Be gentle with wet locks. Dehydrated hair is more likely to break when brushed, explains Eric Fisher, owner of the Eric Fisher Salon in Wichita, Kan. To protect hair after showering, lightly spray ends with a leave-in conditioner (opt for Pantene Detangle Light Spray Conditioner, $4.30; at drugstores; or Biolage Fortifying Leave-In Treatment, $13; 800-6-MATRIX) to help make strands more pliable. Then comb tresses gently with a wide-tooth comb and blot with a soft towel (vigorous rubbing can cause further breakage).
2. Shampoo every other day. This helps prevent the natural scalp oils from being stripped, explains Stuart Gavert, a bicoastal colorist at the Peter Coppola Salon in New York City and Gavert Atelier Salon in Beverly Hills, Calif. On days when you don't shampoo, give your scalp a thorough rinsing and massage with your fingers; it's enough to keep hair clean and your scalp invigorated -- even for oily types or after a sweaty session at the gym. Can't bear not sudsing up? Opt for Wen Cleansing Conditioner ($28; chazdeanstudio.com), a moisturizing cleanser that uses a mix of natural essential oils and extracts like menthol and rosemary to cleanse. Or work a pea-size amount of moisturizing shampoo through the roots only, and then rinse well.
3. Smooth your hair's cuticle. Dry, jagged cuticles reflect light poorly, making strands susceptible to winter dullness. Ending your shower with a cold-water rinse and/or your blow-dry session with a blast of cool air (most dryers have a cool setting) can help smooth and seal the cuticle. Also look for products with labels that contain words like "illuminate" or "shine." (Our favorite: Paul LaBrecque Replenish Cuticle Sealant, $16; 888-PL-SALON.) Using just a drop, rub evenly on the hands and work through the hair moving from back to front and avoiding the roots. Another option is to get a glaze or gloss treatment at your local salon, Gavert says. These treatments, which cost about $75, add shine that lasts up to eight weeks.
4. Pamper strands once a week. All hair types can benefit from a moisture boost. If your hair is fine and limp, treat it weekly with light conditioning products like Revlon Miracle in a Tube Hair Treatment ($10; at drugstores). Or use more intense conditioners if you have thick, curly, frizzy or extremely damaged hair. Best hair bets: Frédéric Fekkai Hair Mask with shea butter ($22.50; 888-F-FEKKAI) or Redken All Soft Masque with avocado oil ($11; 800-REDKEN-8).
5. Nourish tresses with the right food. What better way to combat Old Man Winter than with Mother Nature? Natural, intensive moisturizers like aloe, jojoba or avocado oils, and shea butter (found in moisturizing shampoos and conditioners) can hydrate and revitalize the driest strands. "When added to products, these ingredients can help avoid that squeaky-clean feeling -- a sure sign that your hair is overly dry," says Raymond McLaren, a stylist at New York City's Bumble and bumble salon. Two of the best drinks for winter hair are Bumble and bumble Alojoba Shampoo and Conditioner with aloe and jojoba oil ($16 each; 888-7-BUMBLE) and Clairol Herbal Essences Moisture-Balancing Shampoo and Moisturizing Conditioner with aloe ($3.29 each; at drugstores).
6. Tame flyaways. Dry air can cause static, making even well-moisturized hair wild on a whim. Pancho, a stylist at the Pierre Michel salon in New York City, suggests carrying a few unscented anti-static dryer sheets (such as Bounce) with you in the winter. "Pass one over the top of your head to immediately calm flyaways," he says. Not laundry day? Anything that adds weight to the top strands works. This ranges from a spritz of hairspray to hand or facial moisturizers. Distribute a tiny amount evenly over your palms (just enough to make them slightly damp or slick), and then run your hands over the top, flyaway strands only.
7. Learn how to fight hat head. Your first mission: Buy cotton hats -- they generate less static electricity than wool or acrylic (if you're worried about warmth, wear a loosely tied cotton bandana or scarf under a wool hat). And always wait until hair is completely dry (or has cooled off from a hot blow-dry) before putting on a hat. Otherwise your hair will be set in the position in which it dried or cooled. If you have long hair, use a clip to pull hair toward the top and front of your head before putting on your hat. That way, when you take off the hat and remove the clip, you'll have more volume.
-- Additional reporting by Geri Bird
Styling product 101
Before you style your locks, use this guide to figure out which product you should be using.
For short, styled hair, use gel on wet hair to give volume and hold; molding paste on dry hair for texture, hold and a matte finish; styling lotion before or after drying to increase texture and get movable hold (go easy and avoid roots, though, since too much will make hair greasy-looking) or wax for pieciness and a noncrispy strong hold. Product picks: Rusk Being Strong Gel ($18; 800-USE-RUSK), Bumble and bumble SumoTech molding compound ($18; bumbleandbumble.com), L'Oréal Studio Line FX Toss Styling Lotion ($3.49; at drugstores) and Clinique Shaping Wax ($14.50; clinique.com).
For fine, limp hair, use root-lifting spray to give volume (apply to roots before blow-drying) or mousse to add volume and hold (before drying, use in small amounts on the roots only). Product picks: Aussie Real Volume Root Lifter Volumizing Styler ($3.79; at drugstores) and ThermaSilk Maximum Control Mousse ($3.49; at drugstores).
For curly hair, use serum to smooth the cuticle and add shine or straightening lotion to make blow-drying straight easier -- and the results last longer. Product picks: Wella Liquid Hair Cross Trainer Straighten or Define Curl ($11; wellausa.com), Aveda Hang Straight ($16; aveda.com) and Physique Straight Shape Series Contouring Lotion ($9; at drugstores).