Ever watch a hair commercial and wonder just how they get the models’ hair so healthy and shiny? Well, aside from hiring a full-time staff of hairdressers and a top-notch lighting crew, there are more practical ways to get healthier hair. Your hair is a focal point because it’s difficult to hide. If you’ve decided it’s time your tresses got a little more TLC, here’s how to go about it.
1. Ease Up on the Dry Shampoo
Dry shampoo is a quick fix that’s designed to absorb excess oil at the root. While it may save you time and water, it’ll also result in your hair smelling unpleasant. And besides the odor, your scalp will respond by becoming flaky and itchy. “Your skin doesn’t stop at the hairline,” says Billy Lowe, Los Angeles-based celebrity hairstylist and founder of Gloss & Toss hair care.
Your scalp is an extension of the rest of our skin and shares in its vital processes, he says. “Without routine shampooing and conditioning, dead skin cells can build up, moisture can’t get in or out and we get an itchy, flaky scalp as a result,” he says. Think of dry shampoo as your backup plan, not your go-to.
2. Wash Your Hair Regularly
The no-shampoo movement claimed that not lathering up would allow your hair's natural oils to be distributed more liberally, leaving you with a shinier, healthier mane. Some experts disagree. Your scalp, like the rest of your skin, helps get rid of what’s not needed, says celebrity hairstylist Billy Lowe.
“The buildup, oil, congestion and pollutants all have to be taken into account when it comes to maintaining healthy hair.” So what constitutes washing hair regularly? “The ideal is two to three times a week,” says Cindy Gedult, hairstylist at Partners Hair Design. However, if you have an oilier scalp, you may need to wash your hair more frequently.
3. Pick the Right Shampoo
The shampoo aisle at your local beauty supply store can be overwhelming. But Catherine Davies, M.D., who has a special interest in hair restoration, has a few recommendations on which ones you should try. Washing your hair with a caffeine-based shampoo keeps the scalp in optimum condition for hair growth, she says. “And it’s always a good idea to shampoo twice monthly with an anti-fungal shampoo.”
Already have a shampoo you love? “An old remedy of adding bergamot essence and bay rum to shampoo is a nice, inexpensive way to stimulate growth,” she says. And for the best clean that's also good for the environment, use a non-toxic, organic shampoo and conditioner like the ones from Josh Rosebrook.
4. Eat Plenty of Protein
When it comes to your hair, beauty really does come from within. What you put into your body has a direct impact on the vitality of your tresses. Protein is an important building block of hair, and when you consume too little your body shifts into a shedding phase, says Catherine Davies, M.D.
“Vegans and vegetarians should ensure that they add enough plant-based protein and iron into their diets. Non-vegetarians should be sure to consume two to three servings of protein a day.” Great sources of protein can be found in meat, chicken, fish, eggs, some cheeses, dried beans, tofu, grains and nuts. And ensuring you get optimal vitamin and mineral intake is also essential for healthy hair.
Read more: The 12 Best Foods for Healthy Hair
5. Stimulate Your Scalp
Besides the fact that giving your head a decent massage feels good, it also helps stimulate your scalp and healthy hair growth. “The shampooing action is as beneficial as a massage is to any other area of your body,” says hairstylist Cindy Gedult. “Massaging stimulates blood flow to the scalp, which in turn feeds the hair follicles with nutrients necessary for hair growth.” But when you’re shampooing, use your fingertips — not your fingernails — to gently massage your scalp.
6. Be Gentle With Your Hair
If healthier hair is your goal, give your tresses some TLC. It’s all in the little things. When untying a ponytail, for example, remove the elastic with care, says celebrity stylist Billy Lowe. “I can’t tell you how many careless ponytails I see and clients who rip the hair elastics out without a thought,” he says.
Also, don’t let your hair grow too long; regularly visit your hairstylist for a trim. “Hair that’s too long can look and feel unhealthy,” says Lowe. “And be careful not to overprocess hair around the hairline. Hair is more fragile and delicate there.” Minimize your hair’s exposure to high heat by limiting blow-drying, curling and straightening.
Read more: Find Out Which Haircut Is Best for You
7. Brush Your Hair Frequently
There’s some truth to the saying that 100 brushstrokes a day makes your hair healthy, shiny and strong. “Oil from the scalp conditions the root area, but it has no way to travel to the ends,” says hairstylist Billy Lowe. “So what happens when we shampoo? The unprotected ends get more and more dry, damaged and brittle.”
The solution to this, says Lowe, is routine brushing in order to bring those natural oils down through to the ends. “Do this before you shampoo your hair so that the hair is evenly coated at the ends just as it is the scalp area.” He adds that routine brushing also helps exfoliate dead skin on the scalp as well as stimulates circulation, which is great for your scalp.
8. Protect Your Hair at Night
It’s not just what you do during your waking hours that can work wonders for your hair health. Celebrity hairstylist Billy Lowe suggests sleeping on a silk pillowcase. “Because it’s a smoother material, it prevents a lot of tugging on the hair,” he says. He also advises braiding your hair before bedtime (if you have long hair) to prevent excess tangling, which could lead to breakage.
9. Avoid These Worst Offenders
OK, you know what to do, but what about what not to do? The following are obstacles to growing a healthy head of hair, says Dr. Catherine Davies. “If you’re a man, never take anabolic steroids. It will accelerate hair loss dramatically,” she says. Don’t smoke or do recreational drugs, as both can cause damage to your hair. Both tight braiding and harsh chemical treatments can lead to breakage. Dr. Davies adds that stress and hair loss go hand in hand. “Try to manage stress as effectively as possible with meditation, yoga or exercise.”
Sholeen Lagadien is a freelance writer and editor, mom and Bikram Yoga enthusiast.