How to Keep Your Hair Healthy This Winter

From bleaching to brushing tips, here's your guide to cold weather hair care
woman combing hair in front of mirror

Winter can be tough on your hair. The air outside is colder. The air inside is dry. You’re dealing daily with static electricity, harsh water treatment chemicals and hat hair.

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The winter months can no doubt give your hair a beating. But it’s possible to protect your hair, regardless of the season. It just takes a little extra TLC.

“You should treat your hair like a cashmere sweater,” says dermatologist Wilma Bergfeld, MD. “The first rule of thumb is to limit how often you beat it up by scorching it with an iron, overheating it with a dryer or using a caustic chemical on it. Remember, hair is a fiber.”

Everyone’s hair types differ, Dr. Bergfeld says, and while it’s important that everyone treat their hair gently (particularly in the winter), it’s especially important if you have fragile, damaged or fine hair.

The benefits of brushing gently

Overall, in the winter it’s important to take it easy when brushing your hair, especially when it’s wet, Dr. Bergfeld says. Wet hair is more fragile, so wait to comb it after washing until it’s less damp, she says. 

Brushing your hair gently is also important when you hair is drier than normal, which can happen more often in winter months. 

Air drying your hair is always best since it uses less heat (heat can make everything worse). And whenever possible, skipping the styling tools is always recommended.  

For regular brushing, Dr. Bergfeld recommends a wide-tooth brush with smooth-coated prongs that are spaced wide apart. And the technique is just as important as the tools you use. 

  • To start, hold your locks toward the bottom and very gently brushing out the ends below your hand to get rid of tangles on the end. 
  • Next, move up gradually by holding hair strands at about the halfway part, brushing through the entire length of your hair through the ends. 
  • Repeat, if needed, by holding hair at the top by the roots, making sure you have a firm grasp on the strands while combing below your hand each time.

Color is bad, bleaching is really bad for your hair

Bleaching, lightening or lifting your hair lighter is the worst thing you can do for your hair because they penetrate the hair strands and break down the fatty acids and proteins to remove your hair’s pigment. It can take a long time for your hair to recover. In winter when your hair is drier than in other months, the recovery can take longer.

It’s important to note that some color treatments are safer than others, so do some digging. How often you color plays a big role in the amount of damage, too.

“If you can avoid color altogether, that’s best,” Dr. Bergfeld says. Getting partial highlights or lowlights are a better option than all-over color or highlights because the dye or bleach is being used on fewer strands. She also says toner can have equally as damaging effects on your hair, so using it sparingly or not all is best.

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If you can’t cope without color, the American Academy of Dermatology recommends spacing out chemical services like color, a perm (more modern versions of waves exist today than in the 1980s) or straightening. Try eight to 10 weeks or longer during the dry winter months. This will also help prevent damage. 

Style trends to avoid in the winter

There are a couple or style trends we’ve seen lately that can wreak havoc on your hair and damage it more than you realize. So in winter, pay attention to how you’re styling your strands, too.

Hair that’s pulled back tightly with an accessory is subject to breakage, Dr. Bergfeld says. Putting it up in a bun, for example, is stylish but when you use a rubber band, it’s a great way to cause breakage. Especially if you have fine, damaged or color treated hair. Buns are notably harmful because you’re folding each strand at multiple points, increasing the chance you’ll cause damage at each one.

If you opt for buns and braids, make sure you’re twisting strands gently. Tight braids and twists can also bend the hair at multiple points so pick softer, looser styles. Tread carefully when adding any hair accessory. To tighten up your style when it comes loose, make sure you’re not pulling too quickly in a direction that puts stress on your hair. 

Never use rubber-based bands. Instead choose natural fabric bands that when moved or loosen up won’t break your hair strands.

Fighting winter static electricity

Static electricity on your hair is caused when moisture can’t penetrate your hair strands. It’s due to the much drier air in winter as well as the build-up of substances like silicone and other hair products that can change the composition of your hair.

When you go to take off your winter hat, if the air is too dry (like it is in colder months) the static stays on your hair strands and the molecular charges repel your strands away from each other. 

Keeping your hair moisturized is the best way to deal with static electricity. Not only is hydrated hair heavier in weight and keeps the strands more bonded together, but adding moisture changes its composition, preventing the static charge from repelling your hair strands away from each other.

How often should you wash your hair in winter

When it comes to washing your hair, how often you wash should depend on how much oil your scalp produces.

Your scalp is an extension of your skin. It also gets dry in the winter months. Keeping it moisturized with an oil or conditioner will protect it. Oily hair may need to be washed daily to keep the scalp clean, while chemically-treated hair can be washed less frequently.

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After you wash your hair, be sure to apply a conditioner that’s specific to your hair type, Dr. Bergfeld says. The conditioner will help bind the hair fiber together to make it stronger, and in the winter can help deter static electricity. Products such as a hydrating shampoo, leave-in conditioner and hot oil treatment also can help fight the static electricity that hats and dry, warm air cause. 

And don’t be tempted to skip your regular haircuts come wintertime. Getting your hair trimmed at each layer every six weeks will remove the damaged ends and promote healthy growth. Your stylist will help you see how much of a trim will is needed to remove the damage and can make further recommendations for care. ​

Healthy hair needs a healthy diet

What you eat also plays a role in hair health. For example, if your diet restricts certain food groups, that may affect your hair. In certain cases, supplements may help, Dr. Bergfeld says.

“Adding iron, vitamin D, vitamin C and, sometimes, vitamin A is very important,” she says. “We also frequently recommend an H-vitamin called biotin, because it seems to help hair and nails.”

Here’s the full list of nutrients your hair needs and how to get them in your diet. You can easily get these nutrients from healthy foods in a balanced diet. Choose a good multi-vitamin to help you replenish the ones you’re lacking.

Stress can make your hair fall out

Winter brings its own kind of stress, from longer morning commutes to gearing up for holiday activities on top of your regular schedule. Your diet may tend to go by the wayside, too, during all of the festivities.

If you’re feeling continually stressed out and not eating right, it could have an effect on your hair and could cause hair loss, Dr. Bergfeld says.

“Stress elevates your adrenal gland’s activity and also activates some of the receptors at the hair follicle level. This induces a shed, which is hair falling out by the roots,” she says. “That said, reducing your stress is good for your hair overall.”

“These things seem like a lot to tackle, but your scalp and hair need just as much attention as the rest of your body in winter months.” Dr. Bergfeld adds. “If you want to keep them healthy, the extra steps are worth it.”

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