PUBLISHED: 2:57 PM on Wednesday, December 26, 2007
For fabulous hair, pay attention to health
Winter weather can make our hair look and feel as dull a scarecrow's.

Heat styling and other harsh treatments, such as highlighting hair too often for all of those holiday parties, break already brittle hair.

"Even simple changes in your hair care routine can result in healthier hair," said Dr. Zoe D. Draelos, clinical associate professor in the department of dermatology at Wake Forest University School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, N.C.

For example, blowing air with a dryer actually boils the water in the hair's shaft, leaving it brittle and dull, Draelos said in a statement from the American Academy of Dermatology.

There is information men and women can use to keep their tresses strong and looking healthy.

Healthy hair hints

• Don't over-process your hair.

• Use salon-quality products.

• Look for hair products that are sulfate free.

• Use thermal products before styling your hair with heat.

• Trim split ends regularly.

• Don't use your flat iron or curling iron on the highest temperature.

One simple change is to lower the temperature on curling irons or flattening irons, said melody Pearson, a hairstylist in Lubbock, Texas. "The main thing on a lot of girls that damages their hair is a lot of flat ironing," she said. "Because they turn it up as high as they can, and it just breaks their hair off."

Using heat-activated - also known as thermal - styling products such as leave-in conditioners can help protect hair from the damaging effects of too-hot flat irons, curling irons and blow dryers, Pearson said.

Because hair is fragile, it is best to use a pick or comb to de-tangle after shampooing or conditioning, Pearson said. Using a brush can tangle hair and cause it to break off.

Most blow dryers and curling irons have a temperature dial or switch that controls how hot the tool will get.

Pearson said people should avoid putting a curling or flat iron on the highest setting because the higher the temperature, the more harsh styling is on the hair.

Although blow drying the hair is convenient and adds volume to a hairstyle, using a blow dryer can leave hair brittle if overdone, according to The safest way to blow dry hair is to blot the water out of the hair with a towel first, according to

The blow dryer also should be kept at least six inches away from your hair.

"Rather than blow dry, the hair should be allowed to air dry, with styling and combing occurring once the hair is partially dry," said Draelos. "This will provide excellent body with less opportunity for hair shaft damage."

Protect the outer strands of your hair from being over-dried by bending over and blow drying your hair hanging upside down.

Hair that is already damaged by over-processing or heat breakage can be repaired.

First, Pearson said people need to take care of their bodies by exercising, drinking lots of water and eating right to improve or maintain the quality of their hair.

"Keeping your hair healthy starts by keeping your body healthy," she said.

Protein is the building block of hair, according to Protein will give the shaft of the hair more strength, and will reduce the likelihood of snapping and splitting.

Foods like fish, meat, milk, cheese and cereals contain hair-healthy protein.

Stress can sometimes cause hair to fall out, so it's important to relieve stress in some way such as walking or lifting weights, Pearson said.

Second, Pearson suggested using sulfate-free shampoo and conditioner to add moisture and luster to natural or dyed hair.

"Using good products makes a big difference," she said.

"If you want good quality you've got to get professional products from the stylist."

Cold weather dries out the hair and causes static, Pearson said. Static is a good indication that the hair is lacking moisture.

Pearson said switching to hydrating shampoos and conditioners can reduce static. Applying finishing aids can increase shine and protect the ends of the hair from the wind.

Third, Pearson said she recommends professional conditioning treatments once a week for healthy hair and two to three times a week for damaged hair.

A 20-minute conditioning treatment typically costs between $15 and $20, Pearson said.

During the treatment, a hair stylist will use a purifying shampoo to open up the hair cuticle, put on a conditioner, reconstructors and protein back into the hair and then close the cuticle with a protective sealant.

Hot oil treatments also may help damaged hair, but they area temporary fix, Pearson said. Hot oil coats the outside of the cuticle and can easily slip off when rinsed with hard water.

However, dermatologists suggest skipping the professional treatments-or at least minimizing them.

"Even though many salon owners would disagree, there is no hair style or procedure that can reverse hair damage," Draelos said.

"Hair is basically a textile. It looks the best when new and degrades with age and use." In general, the less that is done to the hair, the healthier it will be."