Is your hair dry, damaged or completely done?
You know we’ve all been there: We set an appointment at the salon because those ends, they’re feeling ROUGH. Not only that, we’re dreading that appointment because the stylist is going to tell us, “Yeah, you need to take at least 18 inches off to make this right.” Then you gasp because you don’t even have 18 inches, and oh my gosh does this mean a shaved head??
Then whoosh you wake up in a cold sweat.
Don’t worry, it’s all very normal. We’ve all had to take off some inches because we’ve been a little too chummy with the iron (flat or curling) and our ends have gotten just a little bit toasty.
OR we’ve used the dryer at the gym that got wildly too hot when we were used to a professional dryer, and fried our hair, and had to pin it back … anyone?? OK, maybe that was just me.
OR that time when we added bleach over the ends of the hair just a tad too many times, and for a week it felt like spaghetti when it was wet. OK, OK, that was also me.
What’s your damage?
Those are visible times that our hair was on the down and out. But what about the times that it feels dry, but you can’t see any true visible signs of breakage? When I say visible, I mean that you can see little white nodes or little knots on the side or end of the hair -- as illustrated below -- or you see a strand split into what feels like 17 other hairs.
Non-visible damage is when you run your hand down your hair and it starts to make a creeeeeaaak sound like straw, but you don’t necessarily see any damage. Your ends aren’t making the crinkle double-y right angle -- but it feels like the savannah.
And for those with hair that looks shiny from roots to ends, with no cuticle roughness, or it just looks dull, you are in luck! You may not have to cut off as much as you thought!
Our suspect: Oily build-up
Most often if you can feel dryness or a creak (like you’re stepping on an old floor board), it’s due to an oil build-up -- likely from a product you have been using. If your products contain too many oils, and you don’t wash them off properly, they will cling to the ends of the hair where it is the most porous. Then, once the water has evaporated from the ends of the hair after air- or blow-drying, the oil coats the ends, thus preventing any other water from entering the follicle.
Remember, oil and water don’t mix, so just like a plant that is starved of water in a pot (RIP every plant I tried to grow on my balcony from 2009-2012), the stems will wither and break.
The ends of the hair strand are already weaker than the hair at the base, where it is newly keratinized, and so any excess buildup at the end will make it break faster. When dried out hair breaks, it starts to split, and then those splits will tangle, and then before you know it, your hair has formed an impromptu game of Twister on your scalp.
(Side note, RIP the hair closest to the nape during coat and scarf season. I would love to just classify that as “Fall or Winter,” but living in Texas gives me no expectation of when those seasons actually exist. Sometimes it’s in October, sometimes it never happens -- save for that random day in February when we all pull out the bucket of coats in glee that we can finally wear long sleeves, only to get the heat back by mid-day. I know my native Texans are all nodding in agreement right now.)
Is it time for the big chop?
So back to the story: How do you know if you really need to make that appointment for the big chop? Feel your hair. Does it feel like someone crimped it with a micro crimper meant for a mouse? (If micro-crimpers weren’t big in your day, don’t worry: We’re on a 30-year fashion cycle, so it’s coming back around again.)
Or does your hair feel like a very worn, long wool rug? That hair definitely needs a trim. Like now.
Maybe you feel like you can hold off two more months -- after all, if it’s truly damaged it will break on its own before then, right? Think again. That’s when you need a trim, or you’re going to end up with hair resembling the feather or the tree picture from above.
And if you can’t feel any mechanical damage, and your hair hair feels waxy when it’s wet, with heavy ends? Chances are you just need a simple cleansing to rid yourself of those oily ends.
Wash that build-up right out of your hair
Method One, with Shampoo
Step 1: Find a gentle clarifying shampoo. While I’m working on my own formulation, my ultimate favorite and go to brand is N4. My hair has never felt more clean and refreshed, and since I’m sensitive to everything under the sun, it was nice that this brand never broke me out. If you can’t find it, then just use any gentle shampoo that you have.
Step 2: Shampoo twice, making sure to scrub your scalp and the ends of the hair thoroughly both times.
Step 3: Rinse really really well, and make sure that you can’t feel build-up on the ends of your hair.
Step 4: Take a good handful of ONLY Conditioner and scrub it really well into your scalp. Apply enough so that your whole scalp feels slippery. Then let sit for 1 minute.
Step 5: Rinse.
Step 6: Blow-dry at least one small piece to make sure all old residue has been cleansed.
Method Two, Without Shampoo
This version uses salicylic acid (a component of aspirin) so please do not use if you have a known sensitivity. Salicylic acid is a wonderful exfoliant, and helps rid the scalp of excess dirt and oil.
Step 1: Get a bottle of ONLY Conditioner and a packet of BC powder (aspirin). If you’re going to try this method without the BC powder, you can skip to Step 3.
Step 2: Before wetting your hair, take mix the BC powder into a good palmful of ONLY Conditioner. You can also mix it in a little plastic bowl and bring it to the shower.
Step 3: Put the mixture (or plain ONLY conditioner) on dry hair, scrubbing really well into the scalp and through the ends of your hair. When I mean scrub, pretend you’re trying to get all of the sand out of your scalp after you’ve been on the beach all day.
Step 4: Wet your hair just a little at the scalp, and re-scrub the ONLY until it lathers from roots to ends.
Step 5: Rinse well.
Step 6: Take a new handful of just ONLY Conditioner (nothing added) and repeat the scrubbing process, roots to ends. Then rinse well again.
Step 7: Dry a little piece of hair. Do you feel the same creak, or does it feel healthy and refreshed?
If your hair is refreshed and happy and shiny, yay it’s OK! You don’t have to chop it -- unless you need to even it out. If you’re hair’s not so happy, it might be time to take a little off of the ends.
Give this method a try for a happy scalp and refreshed ends -- and let me know about your results!