Savvy Styling for Healthy Hair

Reviewed by Debra Jaliman, MD on October 31, 2013

You work hard to make your hair look fabulous. So make sure the steps you take -- like styling and coloring -- aren't working against you.

Heat from blow dryers, curling irons, and flat irons can make hair brittle and cause breakage. Chemical processing -- think color and straightening treatments -- can rob hair of natural moisture, leaving it dry and frizzy.

These gentler styling techniques will help you get the look you want while warding off damage.

Treat Wet Hair Tenderly

Go easy on your hair when it’s wet. Wrap it in a towel. Don’t rub it dry. That causes frizz.

Use a wide-tooth comb instead of a brush on wet hair. If it’s straight, let it dry a bit before combing. If it's curly, comb when it's still damp.

Don't tug or pull wet or dry hair. One hundred strokes a day? That’s an old wives’ tale. Too much brushing can cause split ends.

Take a Holiday From the Heat

Let your hair air dry when you can. Heat-free days boost its natural recovery process.

For shiny hair without heat, wash it at night and sleep on it, says Patrick Melville, co-owner of the Patrick Melville Salon in New York. His clients include Heidi Klum, Halle Berry, and Catherine Zeta-Jones. “After your shower, brush your hair out and put a braid in it," Melville says. "Don’t blow-dry the braid.”

Turn Down the Heat

When using a blow-dryer, start on the lowest setting and gradually turn it up. If you see steam, you’re probably scorching your locks. Keep the dryer moving and hold it 6 inches from your hair.

Work fast. “The quicker, stronger, and faster you are, the better it is for your hair and the less damage you create,” says Jonathan Antin, star of the Bravo TV series Blow Out and co-owner of Jonathan & George Salon in Beverly Hills, Calif.

Divide your hair into sections, Antin says. Focus on drying each section for about 3 minutes, then clip it and get it out of the way so it’s not exposed to extra heat.

Use Hair Tools With Care

If you use a heated device like a hot comb, curling iron, or blow-dryer, choose one that’s temperature controlled and limit the time it touches your hair.

Set your curling iron to low or medium heat and leave it in place for just 1 or 2 seconds.

“Don’t melt your hair with a flat iron,” Antin says. "Use it only when your hair is properly dried and run it through your ends only."

For bouncy curls without a curling iron, try wrapping your hair in Velcro rollers. “Put the rollers in your hair for about 20 minutes and you’ll get lots of volume and a smooth wave with no heat,” says Lisa Lobosco, lead stylist at Ecru New York whose styles have walked the runway at New York Fashion Week.

Be Color-Smart

If you color your hair, minimize damage by staying “on-shade” or within three shades of your natural color. When in doubt, opt for a darker color instead of lighter.

The more time between coloring, the better. Stretch touch-ups to 8 to 10 weeks or longer.

Condition your hair after every shampoo and shield it from the sun to minimize color damage. Try a leave-in conditioner with zinc oxide.

Be Smooth

For more shine, try hair serum. Put a few drops on your hands and smooth it through your hair, avoiding your scalp. Styling products made with dimethicone can also boost shine.

Smoothing shampoos and conditioners, which contain extra conditioners, can help create a sleek look, says Melville. Moisturize regularly to curb dryness and frizz.

Your scalp has natural oils. Apply conditioner to the ends of your hair, not the scalp. Don’t shampoo more than you need to.

Go Free-Style

Your hair can break if you pull it back regularly in a tight ponytail, bun, or cornrows or wear extensions.

Pull it back loosely instead. Or try hairstyles that put less tension on the roots.

A great cut goes a long way. Melville recommends a trim every 8 weeks to keep the shape and style of shorter cuts and every 3 to 4 months for longer hair.

Pick a style that’s easy on your hair. Embrace its natural texture and color instead of fighting it with heat and processing. Be good to your hair and you'll enjoy better control and shine.

Show Sources


American Academy of Dermatologists: “Going to great lengths for beautiful hair: Dermatologist shares hair care tips for healthy and damaged hair,” “How to stop damaging your hair;” “Hair styling without damage.”

Jonathan Antin, hairstylist, co-owner, Jonathan & George Salon, Beverly Hills, Calif.

Hair Foundation: “Healthy Hair.”

Lee, Y. Annals of Dermatology, November 2011.

Lisa Lobosco, lead hairstylist, Ecru New York, New York.

Patrick Melville, hairstylist, co-owner, Patrick Melville Salon, New York.

University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center: “Harsh styling can be a brush with disaster for hair, scalp.”

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