Shine, volume, body–it all happens when your hair is resilient to everyday torture. Here's your best defense against damage.
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Although hair starts as a living cell, the part you see is actually a dead fiber, which naturally degrades with time, says Michelle Blaisure, a certified trichologist (hair and scalp specialist) for Bosley Professional Strength hair care. Technically, hair fibers can’t be rebuilt after they’ve left the follicle, but you can fortify and protect the hair’s outer cuticle layer with proper care. The result: silkier and healthier-looking strands overall.
1. Keep Your Scalp Clean
“Dry shampoos are great for a second or third day, but they don’t take the place of a shampoo,” Blaisure says. “There’s a whole microbiome of bacteria on the scalp that needs to be cleansed on a regular basis; otherwise you’ll get build-up that could affect growth.” When you do cleanse, which should be at least twice a week, depending on your hair texture, go for a mild yet strand-fortifying shampoo like Redken Extreme Shampoo ($35; ulta.com). For colored or chemically treated hair, use an even milder option, such as Bumble and Bumble Gentle Shampoo ($26; bumbleandbumble.com).
2. Be Gentle with Strands
“The more gentle you can be with your hair, the stronger it’s going to be,” Dr. Bank says. “Because you’re not fully able to repair breakage once the hair has left the scalp, it’s really about not adding insult to injury.” In other words, be especially careful when your hair is wet and in a fragile state; for example, gently squeeze freshly washed hair rather than rub with your towel. And when blow-drying, be mindful not to pull or tug your strands too taut with your brush. (Here's how to wash your hair to prevent breakage.)
3. Switch Up Your Style
We all have a go-to do, but wearing your hair in the same style every day can actually harm the strands. “Parting the hair a certain way or wearing it in a ponytail with a rubber band repeatedly for too long can cause breakage,” Blaisure says. Extensions and weaves are no exception. Stressing the same strands over and over weakens the hair follicle itself, which can even lead to hair loss over time. If that does happen, go au naturel for six months to give your hair a rest, Blaisure says. (These are the three worst hairstyles for hair health.)
4. Use Conditioner Religiously
“Using conditioners will help strengthen and coat the hairs, reinforcing them from the outside against damage,” Dr. Bank says. Invest in a deep-conditioning treatment that contains rice extract and protein, like Nexxus Keraphix Damage Healing Hair Reconstructing Treatment ($30; target.com), which helps strengthen and repair the hair shaft. Aim to use it at least once a week, Blaisure says. On days when you don’t use a regular conditioner, make sure to protect your ends with a lightweight oil-based serum or spray.
5. Protect It from Heat
If you regularly heat-style or spend a lot of time outdoors, it’s crucial to arm your strands with thermal protection beforehand. Après shower, run a UVA- and UVB-protective primer through damp hair before reaching for the blow-dryer and distribute it evenly from mid-lengths through ends. If you plan to use a straightening or curling iron, spritz a multiuse protective spray, like Kenra Platinum Luxe One Leave-In ($25; ulta.com), on dry hair before styling. (Give your hair a break from hot tools with these no-heat curls.)
6. Cut Off Damaged Ends
Since the ends are the oldest and therefore the most-worn part of your hair, getting them snipped regularly will help prevent the strands from fraying, Blaisure says. When you notice the ends beginning to split, it’s time for a trim—usually every six weeks or so, depending on your hair length.