The ABCs of Summer Hair Repair

If a summer of fun in the sun has wreaked havoc on your hair, fear not

Medically Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on August 19, 2004
7 min read

Most of us are quick to acknowledge the need to protect our skin from therigors of summer heat and sun. But come Labor Day a quick glance in the mirrorfrequently lets us know what we forgot to protect -- our hair.

Indeed, a season of exposure to sun, salt water, and chlorine chemicalresidues -- not to mention a few extra chemical "sun" streaks for style-- can come together to wreak havoc on our tresses. By the end of the summer,experts say hair can become so dehydrated it looks and feels nearlyfried.

"From a technical standpoint, there's a protective coating on haircalled the hydrolipidic film; if you have dry hair, that film is broken downsomewhat anyway, when you color it, it breaks down a little more -- but whenyou add sun, salt water, and chlorine, you can destroy the filmaltogether," says Melissa Baker, national training advisor for ReneFurterer hair care products in Paris.

The end result, says Baker, is that moisture located deep in the core of thehair shaft evaporates -- and in what seems like one "poof" your"pouf" can be gone.

"Hair looks, feels, acts, and actually is, crying out for moisture,"says Baker.

That means hair not only has a dry look and feel, but can also be frizzy,unmanageable, have problems holding a curl or style, and even take longer todry. In its worst form damage causes the ends of the hair to split, andbreakage can begin.

"When hair dehydrates it becomes brittle and when it becomes brittle youget the broken split ends that go up the hair shaft and cause fuzziness andfrizziness and sometimes breakage; it's a cumulative process," sayscelebrity hair care expert Peter Lamas.

Like skin, hair is comprised of proteins that need moisture to function.But, unlike skin which has its own supply of moisture from within, hair, saysLamas, is dead, so once the moisture is gone -- it's gone.

Problems are further complicated if we lighten or streak our hair. That'sbecause our natural supply of oil resides in the pigment. Remove the color,says Lamas, and you strip out the oils.

"This leaves the hair wide open to the environment -- so not only areyou pulling out the oils, which dries the hair, but you are also making it morevulnerable to the elements, which can cause even more dryness and eventuallydamage," Lamas tells WebMD.

While damaging hair can come easy, repair can be frustratingly hard. Expertssay that's because many of us turn to styling aids -- such as mousses and gels-- to force our damaged tresses to do what we want. And that can be a bigmistake.

"If you are having problems with your hair -- it's frizzy or won't holda curl or style -- it's natural to reach for more styling aids. But when hairis damaged, these products can make it look and feel worse," says stylistJuan Juan of J Beverly Hills Salon, and developer of J Beverly Hills hairproducts.

Instead says Juan, begin at the beginning -- by first replenishing hair witha salon-quality moisturizing shampoo and rinse-out conditioner. But, he says,don't consider yourself "finished" before adding a leave-in conditioneras well.

"Rinse-out conditioners do not deposit any protection on the hair -- infact, if you leave any residue on your hair it can react with the elements andcause even more damage," Juan tells WebMD.

Conversely, he says, coating hair with a leave-in conditioner -- productsthat are usually sprayed on after washing or styling -- take protection andmanageability to a whole new level.

"It coats the hair which helps seal in the moisture you replenished withyour shampoo and conditioner, but it also seals out further effects of damagingelements, such as the sun or even air pollution," says Juan.

While this combo can often do the trick, if it doesn't, the next step is toincorporate a hair mask into your regimen. A relatively new term in the haircare industry, a mask for your tresses does somewhat the same thing as a facialmasque does for your complexion. In short, it revitalizes and replenishes deepwithin the hair shaft.

"A mask is loaded with emollients and vitamins that will coat the hairand help close the cuticle," says Lamas. This, he says, lets you addmoisture, and then trap it inside to help the hair look and feel better.

To properly use this treatment, experts say dampen hair with water, thencoat the scalp and each strand with your mask. Wrap your hair in a towel orplastic cling wrap for up to one hour.

"The longer you can leave it on your hair, the better the result,"says Juan. When you're done, shampoo and condition hair as you normallywould.

"The mask step is essential if you want to keep coloring hair that issomewhat damaged; if you use the mask the day before coloring or highlightingyou are less likely to harm your hair," says Juan.

When it comes to choosing your hair care products, many experts now say thatnature offers the best ingredients for hair repair.

"If it's chemicals that are damaging your hair, it makes sense to turnaway from chemicals if you are trying to compensate for that damage," saysLamas. And, he practices what he preaches. When forming his own line of naturalhair care products, Lamas says he shunned chemical ingredients and reliedalmost entirely on botanicals and natural oils.

"Chemical shampoo ingredients like propylene glycol, sodium laurels,ammonium laurels, and paraben get stored in your hair," says Lamas. Andthat, he says is one reason why even hair that receives minimal assaults canseem beat up and fragile.

"The formulas of some shampoos are so similar to dishwashing liquid,it's frightening," says Lamas.

Of course not everyone agrees that chemicals are bad for the hair. Juan saysthat leave-in conditioners containing chemical ingredients such as siliconewill help coat the hair, repel damaging elements, and are actually good foryour hair.

Meanwhile, Baker says the best products are those that successfullymarry nature and science.

"It's true that some of the best hair care ingredients are found innature but you have to get them to penetrate the hair so they can do theirjob," she says.

Either way, if your hair is damaged, our experts agree that some of the bestnatural ingredients you can look for include soy proteins, egg lecithin, wheatgerm oil, carthum oil, safflower oil, rice and wheat proteins, as well asvitamins like B5 (panthenol); and also botanicals such as chamomile, comfrey,and goldenseal.

When it comes to styling your hair, what you use, in term of tools, as wellas how you use them also matters. The golden rule of thumb: The more damagedyour hair, the less heat you should apply.

"The hotter the tool, the more you can damage your hair, since heatforces the cuticle to split open," says Lamas. If you want to blow dry, hesays, use the medium or cool setting to keep the outside layer as smooth aspossible.

Heated rollers, and curling and flat irons can do equal damage. If you findyour hair is taking longer to curl, or won't hold your style for very long,then it's a clear sign you are using too much heat.

If you must set your style, Lamas says mesh rollers are best, and"always use end papers to protect the hair." Rollers to avoid, he says,are the self-stick loop-and-tape variety, which increase the risk ofbreakage.

What can be great for hair -- damaged or not -- is vigorous brushing,particularly with a natural bristle brush. While any kind of hairbrushwill help distribute oils from the scalp to the ends where it's most needed,those with natural bristles can grab the oils more effectively and distributethem faster and easier.

"A lot of women avoid vigorous brushing because they fear hair loss, butactually brushing can be good as it helps stimulate the scalp," says Baker.If your scalp is also dry, she says, you can still brush, just do it moregently and use a brush with soft bristles.

While there's no question that you can make even the most damaged hair lookand feel a whole lot better, our experts also say that for many women the realanswer is a great haircut -- particularly if your hair has suffered heavysummer wear and tear.

"There is nothing you can really do to repair damaged hair -- it's allabout masking the damage; and sometimes, if that damage is severe enough, youare better off going into the fall/winter season with a terrific new haircut,which can help you achieve a healthy, sexy head of hair a lot sooner," saysJuan.

Once you've achieved that, experts say make yourself a promise to go intothe next summer season with hair protection: Rinse hair as soon as it's exposedto salt water or chlorine, avoid direct sunlight on your hair, and use leave-inconditioners, shampoos, and styling aids with sun protection whenever you areoutdoors.

SOURCES: Melissa Baker, national training manager; andspokesperson, Renee Furterer hair care products, Paris, and Los Angeles. PeterLamas, celebrity hairdresser,; andcreator, Lamas Beauty and Hair Care Products, Los Angeles. Juan Juan, owner, JBeverly Hills salon,, and J Beverly Hills haircare products, Beverly Hills, Calif.