7 Hacks for Healthier Hair
by Catherine Morris | October 24, 2020, updated 30 days ago
Many of us have a love/hate thing going on with our hair. One day you're tossing it like you're the star of a shampoo commercial, and the next you're cursing every. frizzy. strand.
Bad hair days don't just happen though. Think of everything our hair puts up with on a regular basis–straightening, curling, styling, harsh shampoos and colourants, poor scalp hygiene, and leaving it too long between cuts (hello split ends). Our hair reacts by becoming lank, dull, thin, and fragile, and before you know it, your wardrobe is 80 percent hats.
Good hair is a combination of many things–genetics, diet, and lifestyle habits. Just a few, small changes can make a big difference however. Read on for easy hacks to banish the bedhead and fall back in love with your locks.
1. Eat hair-healthy foods
Eggs are a good choice. They’re loaded with protein (the building blocks of your hair follicles), they also contain zinc and selenium–deficiencies of which are linked to hair loss.
Anyone who knows anything about Vitamin D (aka the super vitamin) won't be surprised to hear that it's also important for hair growth. This crucial nutrient keeps the follicle growth cycle on track so your hair can replenish itself. Good food sources include fatty fish, nuts and dairy.
Finding greys? Look at getting more Vitamin B12, folate, and iron in your diet. These have all been implicated in premature greying or whitening, but you can get your daily dose with leafy greens, lean meats, and legumes like beans or lentils.
2. Avoid chemicals
Read any average shampoo bottle and you'll likely see a long list of scary-sounding chemicals from thickening agents to preservatives. There are up to 30 ingredients in most shampoos, and these can trigger allergies, rashes or scalp dermatitis.
Black hair is at particular risk according to one study, which found that products designed for black women had high levels of endocrine disrupting chemicals and, frighteningly, 84 percent of detected chemicals in the products studied were not listed on the label.
If you don't want to bathe your hair in toxic soup, choose limited ingredient, organic shampoos. For those who really want to go back to basics, try the 'no poo' approach and wash your hair in a baking soda solution, followed by a vinegar rinse. Speaking from experience, this is a really effective, gentle and safe wash that's easier than it sounds. Give it a go, your hair will thank you.
3. Treat your hair to a DIY conditioner
Now that you're going the natural route, it's time to raid the kitchen. There's a surprising number of DIY hair treatments and masks you can create from whatever's in the cupboards.
For shiny hair, try avocado. Rich in moisturizing fats, avocados are a solid foundation for a DIY conditioner. Mash them up with coconut oil, honey, or even just a banana and lather on. Leave it there for 30 minutes or be brave and let it work overnight, before rinsing well and washing as normal.
Dandruff or irritated scalp? Go for soothing oatmeal which reduces itching, redness and inflammation in skin conditions. Mix plain oats with enough water to make a paste, add a touch of antibacterial honey and smooth it over the hair from root to tip. Cover with a shower cap and rinse after 30 minutes.
Damaged, dry, stressed-out hair? Make an egg and olive oil mask. Yes, it sounds gross, but bear with me. Whisk up an egg, add a couple of tbsps of olive oil and apply to your head—both ingredients are intensely moisturizing thanks to their fatty acids, and will leave you with shiny, glossy, hair that'll turn heads. One word of caution–never use hot water when rinsing off an egg mask. No-one wants a scalp full of scrambled eggs.
4. Supplement for better growth
Have spent years dying or styling your hair? If yes, chances are it needs a bit more love than the occasional hair mask can provide. For severely damaged hair that's prone to breaking, or sparse in spots, consider boosting your overall health with supplements.
Before starting any new supplement or diet routine, it's best to consult with a dietitian, nutritionist or naturopathic doctor who can find out where your baseline is (over supplementing can be as risky as under-supplementing), and guide you in choosing the best supplements for your needs.
If you're worried about losing your colour, supplements can help. One study found that people with premature hair greying were deficient in iron, copper and calcium.
5. Beat bacteria
Bacterial overgrowth can lead to greasy hair, itching, flaky scalp and even stinky hair. Nobody wants that.
You can clean house with a simple rinse of diluted apple cider vinegar. This will prevent yeasty build-up while retaining the scalp's natural oils. Another option is to add a few drops of anti-bacterial tea tree oil to your shampoo or conditioner.
For a dose of healthy bugs to balance out the bad, try a yoghurt hair mask, or just eat the stuff–a 2017 study showed that men who regularly ate probiotics significantly reduced their moderate to severe dandruff.
6. Use herbs
If you enjoy hibiscus tea, you're in luck. The leaves of this flowering plant stimulate hair follicles to spur growth in rats, indicating their potential for human treatments. Lavender showed similar promise.
Herbs can be consumed as supplements, or applied topically—usually via essential oils. A trained herbalist can help guide you on the best preparations and how to use them.
7. Go alternative
Some of the world's oldest medicines have a lot to say about hair. The Indian healing science of Ayurveda, well-known for its cosmetic applications, sees scalp massage as a vital part of self-care. Not just because it's extremely relaxing but also because it improves circulation to the scalp, encouraging new hair growth.
Ayurveda believes that your hair is a reflection of your dosha, or energy type, and emphasises a holistic approach to bring everything into balance. This can include reducing stress, eating well, nourishing your hair with Ayurvedic herbs, moisturizing with oils like coconut, and daily, gentle brushing/massage.
Traditional Chinese Medicine has a number of tools to help damaged hair, including acupuncture and aromatherapy. With the former, needles are shallowly inserted into the scalp to increase blood flow to the area. In one study, scalp acupuncture was effective for treating hair loss in men.
Much like Ayurveda, Chinese medicine is also a big fan of helpful herbs. The Chinese herbal tonic, Polygonium Multiflorum, is used to prevent greying and hair loss.
If you're looking to improve your hair health, browse Which Doctor's network of practitioners to help you put the above into practice. We have a range of dietitians, naturopaths, herbalists, TCM doctors and Ayurvedic consultants to get you started.
Catherine Morris is an award-winning journalist with a bad case of wanderlust and a passion for all things health and wellness. Originally from Northern Ireland, she worked as a news and feature writer for media outlets in the UK, South Africa, France and the Caribbean before settling in Canada. Catherine now lives in Alberta with her husband and rescue mutt and spends her time happily exploring the great outdoors with both.