Breathe life back into dry, brittle hair with this winter haircare routine
Step away from the curling iron and no one gets hurt
Winter has given us a much-needed break from the humidity that makes us sweat through our clothes and sends sunscreen streaking down our face. It’s finally that time of the year when you can undo your topknot and let your hair flutter in the cool breeze. That is, until the lack of moisture in the winter air dries out our scalp and frizzes up our hair. Going between the hot water bottles and indoor heaters to the smoggy cold outside throws our scalp into a temperature shock. A proper winter haircare routine can soothe the scalp and nourish our strands so the only hairballs around the house will be the one your cat hacks up.
A long hot shower hits all the right spots on a cold day but it could be doing more harm than good. Leave your hair unwashed for too long and you end up drying out your strands and your scalp goes into overdrive producing oils.
Dr Prinkal Gomte, cosmetic dermatologist and transplant surgeon, explains that a good winter haircare routine falls somewhere between these two extremes.
Winter haircare is all about moisturising and nourishment, much like your skin. “The cold weather and lack of moisture in the environment disrupts our skin’s natural moisturising factor. Unable to hold on to hydration, our skin gets dry and begins to flake. You’ll notice your scalp change too,” says Gomte.
Winter haircare essentials for healthy hair
Flip your world upside down and befriend lukewarm water
A hot water soak may sound like just what you need to calm your chill in your bones but you’ll want to keep your hair out of it.
Long hot water baths strip the natural oils and weaken the bonds of the hair strands, says Gomte. This makes your hair brittle and easily breakable. Our hair follicles need the natural oils to stay intact and the hot water further dehydrates the skin in an already dry climate.
“Hot water is not good for our skin. Take shorter showers with lukewarm water and shampoo your hair 2-3 times a week” she adds. Pick shampoos that are free from harsh cleansing agents and are more moisturising, if you have very dry hair.
Hair conditioners give extra nourishment. Flip your hair forwards and apply conditioner from the middle of your hair to the ends, which you should be focusing on the most. Be gentle and massage the product in before rinsing it out.
Gomte says that washing and conditioning your hair upside down prevents any product from being left behind on your scalp and your back (where it can cause back acne) and the massaging of your scalp during the shampooing promotes blood circulation.
Dandruff is not always what it seems, so focus on your scalp health
For many people, winter is when dandruff usually pops up. We presume dandruff to be caused by the dry skin flaking off our scalp. But Gomte says that what we think of as being dandruff may not be dandruff at all. “I’ve met a lot of people who think they have oily hair which causes dandruff but it’s actually other scalp conditions like eczema, psoriasis and scalp dermatitis that causes flaking.”
Usually, these can be treated with medicated shampoos, says Gomte, which are easily available in the market. Look for products that feature ingredients like zinc pyrithione, selenium sulfide, salicylic acid or ketoconazole.
Replace one of your week’s hair washes with this shampoo, leave it in for 5-10 minutes (see directions on the product) and rinse it out. With regular use, you’ll see your scalp regain its healthy barrier and the flaking will reduce.
A deep conditioning mask is the RnR our hair need
Whether you want to go with a professional formula or try out nani’s trusted DIY mask, Gomte says indulge in a rich protein hair mask weekly to give your hair and scalp a boost.
Hair masks can condition your scalp and hair strands to give them the protein they need to rebuild. They can help smoothen the frizz and flyaways and even stimulate the scalp to encourage healthy hair growth.
You can mix and match in this weekly ritual. “Try a hot massage for your scalp and a nourishing mask for your strands, both have their own benefits,” says Gomte.
After an oil massage, you’d probably need to do two rounds of shampooing, so go for sulphate-free shampoos and focus the cleansing on your scalp. “Residual products can disrupt the hair follicle, weaken its root and make it fall.”
Step away from the curling iron
There’s no way you’re letting your hair air-dry in this weather, we get it. You shouldn’t step out with wet hair either. We’re all guilty of using the hairdryer a little too long, sticking it inside our sweatshirts for a blast of warm air.
The current dryness of the air only worsens the damage that heat and styling products do.
Reducing the number of times we wash our hair will automatically cut down on heat products as well. But if you’re going to use a hairdryer, keep it on low or the ‘cool’ option. It’s going to be annoying because it’ll double your hair drying time, but it will cut down the need for additional products in your winter hair care routine to recover from the heat damage.
Apply a heat protector serum or spray before going in with the hairdryer, straightener or curling iron. A nourishing leave-in conditioner or oil can also bring back some of the moisturise to your hair and protect it from the cold climate.
Pick the right accessories to up your winter haircare game
If you want to be a little extra, switch out your pillowcase for a silk one, the new hot item in the beauty world. The material doesn’t cause any friction with your hair and skin while you continuously roll around while trying to get comfortable.
“I highly recommend microfibre towels for your hair if you’re prone to breakage, especially for people with curly hair that frizzes easily,” says Gomte. Microfibre towels will soak up the water from your wet hair, there’s no need to rub or tug, meaning less strain on your hair as the cuticles remain intact.
There’s constant debate about whether you should brush your hair after you bathe while it’s still wet or not. Some swear by it, others view it as harmful for fragile hair.
If trying to comb through knotted brittle hair is your winter horror show, then try out Wet Brush.
These have been made to use while your hair is still wet with specially designed Intelliflex Bristles. They are strong enough to detangle knots in your hair and yet gentle so as to not rip through them in the process.
Nourish your hair from within
What goes into your winter haircare routine is as important as what you’re putting inside your body. Our dwindling vitamin D levels are a common conversation starter, considering the majority of Indians live with this vitamin deficiency. And it’s only become worse through lockdown with limited sun exposure, smog and air pollution in cities and poor diets.
Vitamin D deficiency can cause hair loss and an increased risk of psoriasis, eczema flare-ups, atopic dermatitis and other kinds of inflammation.
If it’s too cold for a walk and early morning sun, then start with what’s in your dabba. Milk, in all its versatile forms, is a good source. Don’t forget your breakfast cereals. And always, punctuate your meals with fresh orange juice.
Add some fleshy fatty fish to your diet and a side of mushrooms. Non-vegetarians can also add some meats and eggs to their diet.
A sprinkling of flax seeds to your meals brings extra omega 3 fatty acids, while foods rich in vitamin E, vital for keeping skin and hair moisturised, include broccoli, spinach, peanuts, almonds and sunflower seeds.
Your mother has probably already scolded you about this, but how much water have you had today? It’s easy to forget to drink water during the winter because you’re not really sweating or feeling hot. “Ensure you’re drinking at least 6-8 cups of water through the day,” says Gomte.
And no, it’s not the same if you chug half the bottle in one sitting.