How to Prevent Winter Hair Breakage
Add these expert-approved steps into your routine during the cold-weather months.
You might already understand that you need to adjust your skincare routine as winter approaches, but what's lesser known is that you also need to tweak your hair regimen. There are some extra steps to make to ensure your hair is getting the love and care it needs in chillier conditions, when it is more prone to breakage. Here, we asked industry experts to explain the ins and outs of winter hair breakage and share their best tips for fighting it all season long.
Learn About Winter Hair Breakage
Before making any sudden changes to your hair care routine, it's helpful to understand why hair becomes more brittle during winter in the first place. "Hair, like skin, can often feel very dry in the winter, mainly due to the lack of humidity, leaving hair feeling really damaged," Rachel Zipperian, the senior scientist at Hair Food, says. Plus, those with curlier hair have a higher chance of damage since it takes longer for natural, moisturizing oils to move down this type of hair shaft, Zipperian adds. Deena Von Yokes—a master stylist, Redken artist, and owner of Studio Savvy Salon—notes that overusing hair tools and not properly conditioning hair during the cold winter months adds to this vicious breakage cycle. "No moisture equals no elasticity, and at this point, the condition of the hair will literally snap off," she says.
Apply a Hair Mask
Since frigid conditions are known to strip strands of their moisture, replenishing frequently is necessary; consider working a hydrating hair mask into your routine to combat seasonal dryness. "A hair mask largely consists of applying oil to your scalp and hair, leaving it in for an extended period of time, and then washing it out," explains Rachel Warnock, the lead herbalist and founder of Vedic Botanicals. She recommends using these products once per week during the winter to lock in moisture and strengthen your hair in the process. One of her recommendations? Pure coconut oil, since it is affordable and is even believed to prevent hair loss. "Its high lipid density creates a protective barrier on the surface of the scalp and provides long-term protection for the actual strands of hair," she says. "However, the high lipid density means it usually doesn't get as deep into the tissues." For oils that seep deeper into the scalp, she suggests blending sesame and olive oil together (both are low in lipid density) and applying as follows.
To master this hair mask method, all you need to do is begin by applying your oil of choice on your scalp, massaging it into the follicles, and then working the oil down the rest of your hair (including the ends), Warnock says (she advises using a hair mask immediately after a haircut or trim, which will protect those fresh ends that much more). Lastly, contain your hair—by clipping or tying it up or using a shower cap—and let the oils sit for a minimum of four hours. Warnock says you can also wear the shower cap to bed while you sleep for about eight hours. After this step, simply wash out the oil and air-dry for the best results. If you prefer a store-bought option instead of creating your own, Zipperian suggests the Hair Food Avocado and Argan Oil Hair Mask ($3, target.com) if your hair is feeling particularly straw-like. You can use it in the shower twice per week to soften and replenish lost moisture.
Adjust Your Conditioning Routine
"The most important thing is moisture, moisture, moisture!" Von Yokes says of preventing hair breakage during the winter. "With the dry cold air comes dryer hair, and I tend to recommend a thicker, heavier conditioner for the ends to prevent the hair from getting dry and brittle." Zipperian adds that a heavier product can give anyone's hair the boost it needs during this time of the year, especially when we begin styling it regularly for the holiday season. "I would recommend applying a leave-in conditioner, like Hair Food Manuka Honey & Hemp Repairing Serum ($9.96, amazon.com), to damp hair before styling," she says. "If your hair has tons of winter static, adding a little bit of oil, like Hair Food Avocado & Argan Smoothing Hair Oil ($35.94, amazon.com), is your best bet." She notes that if you have thicker hair, you can use this type of oil on damp or dry hair; if yours is finer, just add a touch to dry hair to prevent the frizz, but reduce that weighed-down feel.
Use Protective Hairstyles and Materials
During the winter, it is critical to guard your strands with protective hairstyles, like braids and buns, and accessories, like scarves—especially if you have a tight curl pattern. "Any protective hairstyle can be beneficial for coily hair as long as the hairstyle is done in a way that is not damaging (like if it's too tight) and the hair is moisturized while in the protective style," Zipperian says. "Wearing a hat or scarf can be good for protecting the hair from harsh, dry winds, but it's important for the material to be breathable—allowing for some air flow to keep your scalp ventilated and prevent scalp skin from becoming dry and itchy during this time." This means choosing gentle materials, like satin-lined caps or silk scarves. The same goes for bed-time hair care. "Covering your hair in a silk or satin cap can protect it from damaging friction caused by tossing and turning in the night," Warnock says. "You can also switch to silk or satin pillowcases, but those [who keep] their homes cool in the winter can benefit from a silk or satin sleeping cap."
Steer clear of using heat as much as possible on hair during the winter. But if you do need it, take protective measures—like using protectants before drying or styling, such as the Hair Food Coconut & Argan Oil Heat Protectant Spray Blend ($9.59, amazon.com)—to prevent long-term damage. "I think it's really important to protect the cuticle with a thermal shield, like Redken Iron Shape 11 ($20, ulta.com)," Von Yokes says. "I recommend putting this in wet hair to dry. After the hair is dry, I use a workable hairspray, like Redken Fashion Work 12 ($20, ulta.com), for another layer of protection and hold before I use a flat or curling iron." Keep your hair cuticles in mind when drying, she notes: "I highly recommend always blow-drying your hair going down to keep the cuticle closed," she says, noting that an open cuticle leads to dry strands. "This is huge when it comes to healthy hair!"
Maintain a Healthy Diet
It's simple: What you put into your body impacts the health of your hair. This means that you can adjust your diet to meet your hair's needs this season. "Your hair needs good proteins [and] nutrients to stay strong and healthy: proteins like chia seeds and avocado, leafy greens with phytonutrients, and trace minerals, like chard and sprouts," Warnock says. "Don't forget that every cell in your body [and] every strand of hair on your head is the result of what you give your body to work with."