When your hair is super dry in the winter, it's easy to want to pile on creams, serums, and oils day after day. But, this can actually lead to product buildup that makes strands drier in the long run. Instead of overdoing it with moisturizing styling products, you need to make the most of your wash-day routine to ensure your hair is soaking in and retaining the ingredient it needs most—water.
"Water is the base for hydration," says Al Campbell, a Chicago-based hair and extension stylist. "It creates a passageway and is the binder for moisture in supportive treatments and products. Although water hydrates, it evaporates as well so we need moisture support from products to fill the strand and help it retain nourishment."
Making sure your hair can hold onto water is even more important in the winter, as our environment (inside and out) is constantly sucking the water out of our stands. Below, learn how to have a hydrating wash-day routine from Campbell and other stylists.
4 tips for a hydrating wash-day routine
1. Make sure the water in your shower isn't too hot
"Hot water can strip the hair of its natural oils, so if you're washing your hair with hot water in the winter, it can make your hair even drier," says Quia Querisma, a Dallas-based hairstylist. Instead, keep the water lukewarm.
2. Regularly use a hydrating shampoo, not a co-wash or cleansing conditioner
Your cleansing step needs to adequately wash away debris, oil, dirt, and products without over-stripping your hair. While co-washes and cleansing conditioners are great to use in between shampooing when your hair requires a refresh, you need to use a shampoo to keep it clean.
"Although [cleansing conditioners] are gentle on the hair and help the hair not to tangle when trying to cleanse, they do not get the hair or scalp clean enough," says Sophia Emmanuel, trichologist, hairstylist, and owner of Crown Worthy Tricology Studio in New York City. "When you use them often, your scalp will be clogged. This can cause a wealth of scalp problems such as dandruff, excessive itching, seborrheic dermatitis, and hair loss."
Look for hydrating formulas that will cleanse your scalp and strands without stripping them.
Cambell, who works with Mizani, recommends this gentle and moisturizing clarifying shampoo for those who tend to use a lot of products. “It targets artificial build-up with its charcoal clarifiers,” he says, which allows it to thoroughly cleanse hair without stripping it of moisture or shine. Lather and rinse this and then repeat with the Moisture Fusion Moisture Rich Shampoo ($30 to $46) for even more moisture.
If you have fine hair and want to get moisture without weighing down your strands, turn to this shampoo from Pureology. “Hydrate Sheer is an option that won’t weigh down low-density hair,” says Querisma, who works with the brand. It’s made with marine ingredients like sea kelp and coconut water to provide lightweight hydration.
This is another great hydrating and replenishing shampoo. It uses glycerin and aloe leaf juice to hydrate while matcha and vitamin C provide antioxidant protection against environmental damage, spinach provides hair-strengthening vitamins and minerals, and procyanidin-rich apple supports a healthy scalp.
3. Make deep conditioning non-negotiable
When your hair is wet, it's most able to soak in moisturizing ingredients, "hence why most if not all masks and treatments need to be applied to damp or wet hair," says Larisa Love, a hairstylist in Los Angeles. These deep-conditioning treatments deeply penetrate the hair shaft, giving it the nutrients it needs while helping it hold onto hydration.
If you have curly hair, Kari Williams, PhD, a trichologist and hairstylist in New York City, recommends this mask from DevaCurl. “The patented curlbond complex will heal curls that have become distressed and maintain healthy elasticity in the hair strands,” says Dr. Williams, who serves as a member of the DevaCurl Expert Curl Council.
For super-dry, textured hair, Campbell loves this Mizani Mask. “It’s a treatment that penetrates past the cuticle to fill and support the strand more intensely than a typical conditioner,” he says. It does this with cupuaçu butter to lock and seal in moisture, argan oil to restore shine and hydration to hair, and honey to prevent damage and promote scalp health.
Packed with blue sea kale, a hydrolyzed vegetable protein complex, and Mediterranean sea kelp and algae, this mask strengthens damaged hair, smooths down the hair cuticle, and provides intense moisture. It’s designed to leave your hair looking nourished and expensive.
4. Use nourishing leave-in products
"While treatments are amazing for nourishing the strand, a good leave-in to support and prime the strand will change the game," says Campbell.
Campbell is a huge fan of this spray-on leave-in. It uses coconut oil to moisturize dry hair, and add shine and softness along with fennel seed oil to strengthen hair and prevent breakage. Plus, it doubles as a heat protectant. If you like something heavier than a spray, he says the Mizani 25 Miracle Leave-In Cream ($14 to $25) is a better option.
For a cream leave-in with heat protection, reach for this one from Ouai. It protects against heat up to 450°F while conditioning, detangling, and fighting frizz. It uses tamarind seed extract to hydrate, vitamins B5 and E to condition and detangle, and hydrolyzed proteins to protect against damage.
If you have color-treated hair, Querisma recommends this spray since it’s full of nourishing ingredients that are rich in fatty acids, like camelina and olive oils.
For super deep hydration, use this leave-on mask from Joico. It “will add extra hydration and moisture to the hair to recover from any dryness,” says Love.
Day-to-day tips to help you retain the hydration from your wash day
1. Don't leave the house with wet hair
After you've put all this work into infusing your hydrating wash-day routine, do NOT step outside with wet hair. "Water expands when it freezes, and if your hair is wet it can cause breakage," says Dr. Williams. Make sure your hair is fully dry before exposing it to the elements.
2. Drink lots of water
"The human body is 60 percent water and depends on water for survival. Every cell, tissue, and organ needs water to work properly. Therefore, [drinking] water is the solution for dry hair and helps to maintain the suppleness and elasticity in the hair and skin," says Dr. Williams. "True hair and scalp health always starts from the inside, so continue to drink plenty of water during the winter months to prevent dry hair and scalp."
3. Sleep on silk or satin
"The environment is full of culprits that rob our hair of moisture but don't let your bedding be one of them," says Querisma. "Using a silk or satin pillowcase at bedtime will help discourage the dryness and breakage that can come with cotton bedding."
4. Be mindful of your hats and scarves
"Wool and cotton scarves are popular fashion accessories, but they have fibers that can cause frizz and can catch onto the ends of the hair causing breakage," says Dr. Williams. "These fibers also absorb moisture from the hair, so before wearing these items, protect your hair by wrapping it with a silk or satin scarf." You can also tie your hair back and throw on a satin-lined hat to protect your ends.
Learn about the deep-conditioning treatments a dermatologist loves:
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