Wednesday, March 17, 2010

30 Days to 10 years younger--10 minute tips. Tip 16: Rethink your hair products

From time to time I see a woman who colors her hair, and it's a dull, frizzy mess. You probably know what I mean: dead-looking highlights or beat-up, frizzy dark hair. My first thought is to think "ugh--bad dye job!" But that's probably not it.

Obviously damaged hair is every bit as aging as gray. Now, hair dye manufacturers frequently claim that their hair color "conditions" the hair and adds body. Insofar as coating unruly gray hairs with dye weighs them down and makes them more manageable, that's true. But if you're using demi-permanent or permanent hair dye, dyeing your hair damages it.

For your color to look convincing and natural, you're going to have to bite the bullet and pamper your hair a lot more.

Your hair is covered with rows of thin, clear scales called the cuticle--that's what makes the hair shine. It's like the clear top coat on your gorgeous nail polish color; the clear coat enhances the effect of the color.

But when we dye our hair, the cuticle is lifted so that the color can penetrate. This leaves our hair fragile and prone to damage. Blow-drying, back-combing, flat-ironing, sunlight, and chlorinated swimming pools only compound the problem.

For years I had long, thick, almost-completely straight hair. I had the second toughest, least damage-prone hair on the planet--it was like a horse's tail. And I didn't do much to it that damaged it--no color, no back-combing, and minimal blow-drying.

Then I started coloring my hair. I started with semi-permanent, and now, 15 years later, I get a permanent base color with highlights, low-lights, and a clear glaze to bump up the shine. Basically, I'm my colorist's bitch.

Well, guess what, children. Even if all you're doing is "restoring" your hair's original color, if you dye it, you're beating it up. Before I colored my hair, if I traveled to Florida or any place incredibly hot and humid, and the only change in my hair was that it got a bit more body. Now, my hair swells up like a sponge when it's dropped into a sink of water. Why? Because all that color has damaged my hair's cuticle.

I don't know why this took me by surprise, but it did. I would have expected it had I gone platinum blonde or flaming red, but I was dyeing my hair the color it had always been. It was kind of a shock when the texture of my hair changed.

I'll get into the specifics of what you should do later on. For right now, if you color your hair, I'd like you to think about the care you give it. I can't get away with treating my hair as cavalierly as I could 30 years ago, when it was approximately the same color. And neither can you.

So remember--you can color your hair like crazy and still have it look natural--it'll just cost you a lot of time and product.


  1. I haven't gone to the hair coloring thing, in large part because I don't have the time or the money to send a stylist's kids to college. Also I have virtually no gray hair & I'm 52. Thank you, Mom.

    FYI - see the interesting article

  2. A couple of thoughts: My gray was so ultra-soft, that "roughing up the cuticle" a little made it uber-easy to style. L'oreal makes an incredible after-color product that I don't really know the name of. Only available to colorists, sort of thing, but they spray-pump it on, then wrap your head in a hot towel (makes me think of Ferris Beuller's dad, every time). Hair masques are awesome for color care, so is the fact that I no longer have to wash my hair more than three times a week, as opposed to when I was 40, and still needed daily washings!

    Finally--always, always, always, wet your hair in the shower before swimming in a pool. It engorges the cuticle on clean water, so it won't absorb the chlorine.

  3. Oh, I can sooooo relate. On our recent Carribean cruise, my biggest surprise was how frizzy the humidity made my hair. Just like you, I had always had "horse tail hair". I guess I'll just add deep conditioning to the ever-growing list of middle-age maintenance.

  4. Oh, just go live on a boat. Then you won't wash your hair more than once a week. At most. Very good for the cuticle.

    My hair is so much better now I am not constantly washing it.

    Have you altogether given up blogging about Poppy's life ? Or is it somewhere else? I can get beauty tips anywhere. But you write well, and I liked hearing about what you were up to. Perhaps I am a minority taste.

  5. I'm all about color....for many reasons. I save for this luxury. Last week I wasted my loonies on a loony. Drats! It was like going through the car wash....

    You're writing is entertaining and crafty!I really enjoy it! Thanks!!

  6. The gal who cuts my hair told me less than 30% of women do NOT color it. Crazy. I quit coloring in my early twenties (this was creative coloring for fun, not to cover gray) and my hair is so healthy and I'm so thankful I don't have to maintain it. Sure, I'm getting some "dignified" streaks now, but I smooth them down with a little lotion and they don't look too awful! Your post validates my decision to stay au natural on top.

  7. dear Poppy, what is your opinion on women under 45 with visible grey hair? actually white hair inbetween dark brunette, mostly around the temples and sides.


Gentle Readers:

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xxx, Poppy.