The grass is always greener, especially when it comes to healthy hair. On one hand, who doesn’t want soft, strong strands? On the other, some of us came of age in the early 2000s, and it shows (stick-straight hair, anyone?). Between curling irons, flatirons, highlights, and straightening treatments, there are endless combinations of ways to customize your hair to your preferences—which can take a huge toll on it in the process.
At a certain point, you may come to a crossroads: Continue down the path of beating your hair into submission, breakage be damned, or try to make peace by living with—and seriously coddling—your damaged hair. It can be a tough call. But the latter can have some serious rewards.
For one thing, healthy hair always looks better, no matter what texture or color you were born with. And it also entails a different kind of maintenance—rather than devote an hour to straightening your hair, you, say, use two products designed for your natural 2C curls. Instead of bleach, you deep-condition. It can be hard to bring your hair back from the brink, but these women who have been there are proof that it’s worth it. Read on for their best healthy hair tips.
If You’re Transitioning From Relaxed to Natural…
In 2007, Danni Washington, a TV presenter and ocean activist in Miami, chopped her hair off after years of relaxing it at the salon. She’d been perming it since she was six years old, so she didn’t even really know what her natural texture looked like. “I remember the day that I pulled my roots back and saw that this gorgeous curl pattern was growing out of my head,” she says. “I didn’t even know it belonged to me.” It took three years—and some key hydrating products—for it to get to a place she considered healthy.
Staying hydrated was key for Washington’s hair health. “I can see and feel the difference in the health of my scalp and my hair when I’m really hydrated,” she says. “If I’m not hydrated, I’ll deal with issues like dry scalp and frizz.” Hydration, of course, works two ways. One, internally: meaning drinking enough water. But investing in a good mask for your hair and scalp will go a long way too.
Rinse with cold water.
Washington deep-conditions her hair once a week and lets it sit under a shower cap for a few hours to sink in. “Then I wash it out with cold water,” she says. While a warm, steamy rinse might sound cozier, cold water helps to seal the cuticles of your hair shut, which helps boost shine and retain moisture.
If Your Hair Is Dry and Brittle…
For years, Chicago beauty blogger Belinda Selene Villa was coloring and lightening her hair every other month—and not using products to maintain or protect her color-treated hair. “After a bad salon experience, my hair became dry, brittle, and eventually broke at the ends,” she says. “Half my hair was gone in length.” She cut off the damaged hair and began focusing on repair, which brought her hair back to life within six months.
Avoid heat tools.
Unplug, but in a different way than you might think. “The best thing I did to help repair and grow my hair was to use leave-in hair conditioners and treatments while doing heatless hair styles,” says Villa. “I would skip the hair-dryer and try to let my hair air-dry as much as possible.” Since air-drying can take some time, she would work in a leave-in conditioner like Garnier Fructis Damage Eraser Liquid Strength Treatment with Protein and either braid her hair or pull it into a bun.
Invest in a bond-fortifying treatment.
Villa’s since eased back into her styling routine, but now she plans ahead. “I’m able to dye it again while taking precaution not to do it as often and treat my hair at the same time—something I wasn’t doing before,” she says. Now she protects her hair before using styling tools with Kenra Platinum Blow Dry Heat Tamer Spray, and often follows it with Bumble and Bumble Glow Bond-Building Styler.
If Your Hair Is Overprocessed…
When fitness expert and blogger Eve Dawes moved from Los Angeles to Las Vegas, her hair was damaged from years of bleach. “I had really dry, overprocessed hair from colorists using bleach that was too strong for my hair,” she says. “Plus, they didn’t lift my color gradually.” Once she was in Las Vegas, someone she trusted recommended a new colorist, and it made all the difference.
Find a supportive colorist.
Your colorist should take your hair health into consideration, and that’s tough if you’re going to someone new month after month. When you’re working with the same colorist, “they know where they’re laying down your color and can be more cautious about not overlapping,” Dawes says. Her appointments now run longer to account for a lower concentration of bleach, longer processing time, and not overlapping highlights, but it’s worth it.
Use products for color-treated hair.
If you color your hair, you should be using products that are made to protect it. Dawes now swears by the entire Olaplex line, a favorite of celebrities and their hairstylists alike. “The vegan, cruelty-free formula actually strengthens the bonds in your hair,” she says. “I’m not sponsored by them—I truly see the impact they’ve had.“
If Your Curl Pattern Is Damaged…
“My whole life, I have fought with my hair,” says New York City publicist Jenelle Hamilton. “I did quarterly Brazilian straightening treatments, colored my hair, blow-dried weekly, and flatironed my hair almost every day.” She was trying to force her 3C curls to be something they just weren’t, which seriously damaged them in the process. After years of trying to straighten and smooth her hair, it began to look overprocessed and break.
Commit to a long-term routine.
Once you swear off straighteners, you’re not going to wake up to healthy hair instantly. “At the beginning of my hair journey, I would watch YouTubers and look on Instagram and think, Why doesn’t my hair look like that? Why isn’t it growing faster?” Hamilton recalls. “I was so impatient!” However, once she gave her hair months to heal, the growth eventually followed.
Look for products with nourishing ingredients.
In addition to giving up heat-styling, Hamilton scaled her routine back to washing weekly. She counted on two products to nourish her dry, brittle hair: The LUS Gentle & Moisturizing Shampoo and TKO Ultimate Moisture Conditioner by Andre Walker Hair. The shea-butter-infused shampoo “cleansed and moisturized” and “a little went a long way, so it was very cost-effective,” she says. Her conditioner, meanwhile, featured strand-strengthening keratin, a protein that helps fortify and protect damaged hair. “I used it religiously and it helped a lot,” she says. A few other ingredients to look out for: coconut oil, argan oil, aloe vera, and spirulina.
If You Want to Smooth Frizz…
While she was growing up, Delilah Orpi, a beauty blogger in Miami, dreamed of straight hair. “I was picked on for my puffy hair as a kid and struggled to style it,” she says. “I envied the smooth, shiny hair that some of my friends had.” Her mom wouldn’t allow her to flatiron hers, so when she finally got the chance, she went all out, straightening her hair three times a week for 10 years. Cut to recently, when she was packing for a trip to Thailand. She couldn’t fit her hair-dryer and straightening products into her suitcase—so she decided this was the push she needed to quit. “I was done fussing with my hair,” she says. “I wanted to simplify my routine.”
Avoid drying your hair with a towel.
A game changer for Orpi has been applying her styling products, such as Evolvh TotalControl Styling Crème, in the shower. “I apply them to soaking-wet hair in the shower by scrunching, and never use a towel or a brush,” she says. The scrunching helps the curls clump, which leads to definition once it dries, and cuts down on frizz. “After lots of scrunching, I either air-dry or diffuse-dry,” she says.
Preserve your style.
Orpi only washes her hair two or three times a week. She stretches out the lifespan of her curls by covering them when she sleeps. “I protect it at night by wearing a scarf over it so that it lasts a few days and doesn’t get frizzy and tangled,” she says.