How to create a hair care routine that works for you
Follow this back-to-basics approach for healthier-looking locks.
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The key to achieving and maintaining healthy hair is having a hair care routine that centers around the things your hair may need based on your hair type, as well as how you style, treat it, and the current state your hair is in. For instance, you’ll want to address heat damage if you frequently style your hair with hot tools. And if your hair is dyed or bleached, you'll want to focus on depositing moisture that was stripped away by chemicals.
Whether you have straight, wavy, curly, or kinky hair, it’s important to have a set routine that caters to your hair's needs to maintain or improve your hair's health. To break down what the ideal hair care routine looks like for each hair type, we spoke to Jennifer Rose, the master hairstylist and owner of Frohaus in Jersey City, New Jersey.
What makes up a basic hair care routine?
To start, Rose suggests washing your hair at least once a week to maintain a healthy scalp and clean hair. If you exercise often or use a lot of styling products, bump that to at least twice a week to avoid an odor from sweat or buildup. Next comes your products. From her 20 years of experience, Rose recommends the same simple hair care routine to all of her clients: shampoo, conditioner, and a styling product.
Shampoo: A shampoo is vital to keeping your scalp free of sweat, flakes, product buildup, and other debris that may accumulate between washes. The same goes for the entire shaft of the hair, as the strands can get coated in products that clog and weigh down the cuticle (the outermost layer of each strand of hair) and repel much-needed moisture from absorbing in. For a proper cleanse, you want to lather the shampoo at your roots and let it run down through your ends as you rinse it out. This way, you’re focusing your attention on the scalp and roots that need it most, but still cleaning the hair shaft, too.
Conditioner: Conditioning is the next step and is equally important because it aids in re-sealing the hair cuticles to keep moisture locked into the hair. Without this step, your hair may feel drier or appear frizzier. Focus conditioner on the middle to ends of your hair, avoiding the root, where it can contribute to hair looking greasy.
Styler: The styling product you choose depends on your desired styling outcome as well as how you treat your hair. If you typically use a hair dryer, flat iron, or curling wand, you should use a heat protectant or a blow-dry cream. If you opt for air-dried or low-heat straight, wavy, curly, or kinky styles, like wash-and-gos or twist-outs, go with a gel or mousse to smooth and/or define your natural hair.
In addition to your basic routine, you can make some habitual and product changes to improve your hair’s health. First, Rose suggests getting trims every 10 weeks to avoid breakage from split ends that can travel up the hair shaft. You can also swap your cotton towel for a microfiber one when drying your hair, as cotton can cause frizz, disturb curls, and strip hair of moisture. Another idea to improve your hair is to try sleeping on a silk or satin pillowcase or wear a headscarf or bonnet to bed to help retain moisture and avoid friction. Rose urges against sleeping on wet hair, too: “You can get mildew in your hair overnight from leaving your hair wet for eight to 10 hours and that is so harmful to the hair.” Of course, reducing your use of high-heat tools can be very helpful in achieving healthier hair. Frequent and improper use of hot tools can cause severe heat damage, lead to breakage, and result in weak, dry, brittle hair.
While these routine rules apply to all hair, you can alter your regimen based on your hair type to maintain healthy hair and achieve the best results for your desired hairstyles.
How can you determine your hair type?
Hair types are classified as straight, wavy, curly, or kinky (also called coily). Inspecting the shape of a singular hair strand without alteration from tools or products can help you determine which of these types you have.
Straight hair: This hair type grows out of the scalp with no wave or curl and stays straight down to the ends. While wet, straight strands typically fall flat to the head without any wave or shrinkage.
Wavy hair: This type is very similar to straight hair in that it mostly falls flat to the head when wet, but it has a loose, tousled appearance once dry.
Curly hair: This type forms S- or W-shaped curls or loops directly from the root that can either be tight or loose. These ringlets have ample volume and require a lot of moisture to stay frizz-free. Curly hair usually shrinks up and appears shorter when dry than it does while wet.
Kinky: This type is made of super-tight, S- or Z-shaped coils you could wind around a chopstick. Some of these spirals even form in a zig-zag shape directly out of the scalp and are prone to shrinkage while drying.
What is an ideal hair care routine for straight or wavy hair?
Following the basic routine, you’ll want to choose a shampoo and conditioner first. Many people with straight or wavy hair opt for heat styling to add volume or texture to the hair. If that sounds like you, go with a moisturizing shampoo and conditioner to restore moisture in the hair strands that can be stripped away. Before you wield your hot tool, you’ll want a good heat protectant for your styling product. This coats the strands and keeps the tool from scorching your hair. At the same time, if you can, you want to limit the number of times you style it per week to limit damage.
If your hair leans wavier and you want to play that up—or if you want to lay off the heat—look for a styling cream that claims to define waves or add texture to the hair. Waves can also be achieved by braiding the hair and letting it settle overnight and unraveling the plaits the next day.
What is an ideal hair care routine for curly or kinky hair?
Less is more when it comes to applying products on curly and kinky hair, Rose says. For shampoo and conditioner, curls and coils can benefit from a set that claims to moisturize. That extra moisture will help keep the curls frizz-free and defined, as well as make it easier to detangle the hair.
Rose recommends looking for styling products that are lightweight and water-based, like mousse, styling foams, and gels, as opposed to thick hair creams and butters that can weigh down your hair and prolong drying time. To make sure you're getting a water-based item, look for "water" as the first ingredient on the label. Many cream-based products that are marketed to curly hair often contain heavy oils like coconut oil or castor oil that typically don’t allow hair to dry fast enough or even at all, Rose says. Using these products can lead to frizzy or wet-looking hairstyles because the product doesn't full absorb or prevents the hair from drying thoroughly. Using water-based products allows the hair to dry in a timely manner, as well as reduces frizz, increases shine, and encourages natural curl definition for those twist-outs, braid-outs, and even wash-n-gos. To ensure these styles are set and completely dried, Rose recommends using a hooded blow dryer or adding a diffuser attachment to a handheld one and setting the heat to "low," as kinky and curly strands are far more delicate and susceptible to damage than they seem.
What if your hair is bleached or dyed?
In addition to your hair type, the chemically altered state of your hair—i.e., if you’ve dyed or bleached it—is worth considering when choosing products as well. You should opt for a color-safe or color-depositing shampoo and conditioner to preserve your desired hue.
The lighter your hair color, especially if you’re very blond, the more moisture and protein your hair will need because the hair shaft has been altered in removing its natural color. Rose recommends using purple shampoos, which can neutralize brassy or yellow tones, to help your bleached hair maintain tone and vibrancy. She also says it can be helpful to deep-condition bleached hair to restore its moisture by either leaving conditioner on for longer than the typical two to three minutes or by using a hair mask once a week. You should also be careful of how you’re styling your hair. Regardless of the type or texture, bleached hair is already in a weakened state and is more prone to breakage, so you should avoid styling with heat or pulling into tight ponytails, buns, or braids.
For hair that’s dyed darker, Rose again recommends using product lines that claim to be safe for color-treated hair. You may also need a specific regimen if your color is more extreme—much darker or very pigmented. If you dye your hair red (or another bright "high-maintenance" hue), Rose says you consider shampoos and conditioners that offer color protection to preserve the color already on the hair or are color depositing to maintain and refresh your shade. You should also wash your hair in as cool of a temperature as you can stand to keep your hair color vibrant, as warm water can hasten fading. She advises getting color touched up every six to eight weeks to maintain the desired hue.
Finally, for any color-treated hair, Rose recommends using a UV protection product, such as hairspray, to keep the sun from altering your color.
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