Harsh winter weather and icy temperatures can be rough on your tresses. Here's what to do.

Reviewed by Debra Jaliman, MD on September 25, 2022

From hat hair to static electricity, split ends to dry frizz, when winter weather hits, a bad hair day can last an entire season. In fact, even if you live in a moderate climate, experts say you're still susceptible to hair-raising changes as the seasons pass.

"The environment can have some of the most damaging effects on hair in both summer and winter, but in winter it's often worse because people generally don't take as many precautions to protect their hair," says celebrity stylist Nick Chavez, owner of the Nick Chavez Beverly Hills Salon and a QVC hair care expert. The problems include sun, wind, snow, rain, icy temperatures, and indoor heating.

Sun exposure (which can be as intense on a ski slope as it is on a beach) combined with a blustery winter wind (which can snarl hair) as well as snow, rain, and icy cold (which makes hair brittle and dry) can all come together to create some pretty bad winter hair days, says Chavez.

But you can take protective and replenishing steps. . At the top of the list for most stylists: regular use of a thick, rich, moisturizing conditioner with a few key ingredients.

"For me, the product has to contain essential fatty acids and humectants -- not only because they are best at moisturizing hair, but because they help attract and hold moisture in the hair, which can be a real challenge in winter weather," says master stylist and Boston salon owner Marc Harris.

For Chavez, the key to choosing the right conditioner has everything to do with knowing your hair type.

If you are blessed with thick or curly African-American hair, or ultra thick, heavy Asian hair, Chavez says you need a thick, heavy conditioning hair pack -- a deep treatment you leave on for about a half-hour, once or twice a week. Because these hair types generally hold oil at the roots -- one reason the rest of the hair can seem dry -- Chavez says it's especially important not to condition the area closest to the scalp.

"You should always apply product beginning 2 inches away from the scalp and pull it through the hair to the ends," he says.

If your hair is very fine, thin, and flyaway, Harris says avoid the conditioning pack -- it's just too heavy even for severely damaged hair. Instead, he says, use a regular conditioner every time you wash your hair, supplemented with a light conditioning leave-in spray.

"But it has to be very light or it will weigh down fine hair and make it flat and limp," Harris says.

Chavez suggests using "dry oil" sprays. These mostly-silicone based products go on dry so they don't weigh hair down, but still offer a layer of protection against the elements.

Both Harris and Chavez also suggest supplementing your store-bought products with all-natural treatments of vegetable oil. Harris' choice is safflower oil. Chavez prefers olive oil.

In either case, they say simply put a few drops of the oil in the palm of your hand, rub until skin "glistens," then starting at the bottom and working upwards, run your fingers through your hair.

"You can do this after you dry your hair, or between washings -- when you come in from the cold or anytime your hair looks very dry," Harris says. "It really works."

Another tip: Chavez says every time you put on hand cream, touch the ends of your hair and scrunch to help deposit a bit more moisture where it's needed most.

Static Cling

As anyone who's ever tried to pull socks out of a clothes dryer can tell you, static electricity can be a powerful force. But sticky socks are the least of your problems when compared with what static can do to your hair.

The remedy is the same one you use on your laundry: a fabric softening dryer sheet.

"Just rub it lightly on your hair and it will remove the static," says Chavez.

Slightly more conventional is using a natural boar bristle hairbrush with a wooden handle, which Harris says can also reduce static.

Switch Up Your Styling

When styling winter hair, a few quick product switches may be all you need to solve most problems. For Harris, it starts with substituting a hair cream for your usual styling gel. "They add moisture to the hair, make it more pliable, and give it better elasticity so it's less likely to break -- all extremely important in winter," he says.

When choosing any winter hair styling products including holding sprays, Harris recommends avoiding those with a high alcohol content, which can be drying to hair. He also advises not putting fragrance directly on your hair, since its alcohol content can also cause your tresses to look and feel dry and brittle.

Most importantly, limit your time under a blow dryer -- good advice all year round but especially in winter. To do that and still effectively style your hair Harris recommends using a towel to gently blot about 20% of the moisture content out of your hair, then hit it with the heat, stopping the moment your hair is dry.

About Hat Hair

To cut down on awkward "hat hair," experts say pull longer locks into a pony tail high on your head, or push short hair straight back, before putting on the hat. Pushing hair against the way your style should fall, says Chavez, will help it spring out with bounce once you take off the hat. To ensure that it does, he also suggests carrying a travel sized dry-hair texturizer that adds instant body.

If you styled your hair with a cream product, Harris recommends adding just a few drops of water to your hands and rubbing them through your hair to refresh the style.

Shampoos and Color Treatments

While conditioning and styling products may help hold your style, celebrity and fashion stylist Jamal Hammadi says choosing the right shampoo may net you perhaps the biggest winter hair payoff.

The reason: "Shampoo forms the basis of the way your hair is going to react to conditioners and styling aids, and it impacts how your hair will behave in all kinds of climates and conditions," Hammadi says.

For Hammadi, the more natural a product is -- and the fewer chemicals it contains -- the better off your hair will be, winter or summer. His all-time favorite natural ingredient -- shea butter -- is now also a popular skin care treatment.

"Shea butter is the quickest, most effective way to get damaged hair into good condition, and keep healthy hair from becoming damaged," Hammadi says.Shea butter features prominently in his line of haircare products.

Taking an entirely different approach to shampoo formulation is legendary New York City hair stylist Robert Craig. He pioneered a line of products designed to work with your water type -- hard, soft, or very hard -- and in this way help hair behave a whole lot better, especially in winter.

"Through the years clients told me over and over that the shampoo that just did wonders for their hair in New York City, didn't do the same thing when they traveled to Los Angeles or Florida or even Europe," Craig says.

Ultimately, he figured out why. "It wasn't the hair that was changing, it was the water," he says. More specifically, its mineral content. The differences, says Craig, were enough to increase or even cause hair problems including static electricity, lack of body, dryness, and brittleness.

His solution: A travel kit of hair shampoos designed to work optimally according to the three basic water types -- and a free package of test strips to help you figure out which one to use where!

"You would be amazed at the difference that pairing your shampoo to your water type can make in terms of how your hair behaves particularly in winter,"  Craig says.

If you're used to coloring your hair, particularly adding highlights, all our experts say winter is a good time to give it a rest. Since it's the lightening process that does the most damage to hair, the less stress you put on your tresses in winter, the better they will look when spring and summer rolls around.

You could try less intense "low lights" (highlights closer to your base hair color) for eye-catching pizzazz with minimal damage.

"Try a rinse in a warmer shade of your natural color to bring out highlights and brighten your look," Chavez says.

Craig also makes a line of no-peroxide, no-ammonia hair color that can help you put highlights or low-lights in almost any color of hair.

Regardless of the product you use, if you color your hair in winter Chavez says always cover your head when outdoors, and always use a shampoo and conditioner for color-treated hair.

Show Sources

SOURCES: Nick Chavez, owner, Nick Chavez Salon, developer of Perfect Plus Hair Care Products on QVC, Beverly Hills, Calif. Marc Harris, owner, Salon Marc Harris, Boston. Jamal Hammadi, celebrity stylist and runaway hair designer, creator, HamadiShea hair products. Robert Craig, stylist, creator, Robert Craig shampoos and hair coloring.

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