Why Is My Hair So Dry? 5 Common Causes Of Dry Hair + How To Deal, From Experts
From pollution to chemical treatments and hot tools galore, your hair goes through a lot. While your strands are technically dead, they still need proper TLC to look alive and well. Of course cleansing your scalp is a great first step, but there's more to hair care than just that.
Dealing with dry strands can be a particularly confusing endeavor, as the line between solely dehydrated and actually damaged is quite fine. To help you navigate this hair situation and nurse your lengths back to health, we asked the experts for their very best tips—so let's get into it.
5 possible reasons your hair is so dry
The first step is to figure out what's making your hair feel so dry to begin with. The easiest way to do so is by process of elimination, so let's shed some light on the potential reasons behind your current hair situation:
"Excessive shampooing can remove the essential hydro-lipid oils, oils produced by your scalp," master stylist at Arcadia Salon of Birmingham Theo Pettway tells mbg. "These oils are essential for healthy hair growth and directly affect the hair's moisture," he adds.
Not to mention, overwashing your hair can dry out your scalp, which then leads to suboptimal hair health. So if you're washing your hair every single day, it could be one of the reasons you're experiencing dry strands.
You're due for a trim
When was the last time you cut your hair? If it was more than say three or four months ago, it may be time for a trim. This one is especially fit if you've noticed split ends and frizz, in addition to general hair dryness.
If you never use hot tools, then you can skip this one. Otherwise, take note: Dry strands are a key sign of heat-damaged hair. One way to spot the difference is by assessing breakage.
"Damage, depending on severity, can cause breakage all over, so regardless of the length of hair, evidence of damage can be found close to the scalp or throughout the length," consultant trichologist Elizabeth Cunnane Phillips at Philip Kingsley once told mbg.
Frequent chemical treatments can lead to dry hair, increased breakage, and overall damage. Bleach can be particularly harmful, especially if you're not feeding your hair with extra moisture in between salon appointments.
Let's be clear—your dry strands may not be entirely related to your own hair care choices. In fact, environmental conditions play a huge role. Living in a dry climate, swimming in chlorinated pools or salt water, excessive sun exposure, and chemicals found in tap water can all contribute to dry strands.
Hair type can range from straight (type 1), and wavy (type 2) to curly (type 3) and coily (type 4). Within each type there are subtypes labeled a, b, and c. In general, those with curlier hair tend to have drier hair naturally.
This is because it takes longer for the oil from the scalp to travel down the hair fiber. In addition, curly hair tends to be more fragile, as it has more bends and curves which are points of vulnerability.
Can your diet make your hair dry?
While dry strands, especially when combined with hair loss can mean many things, it could be a sign that you're lacking certain nutrients. Here are a few to consider:
- Biotin deficiency: "When patients have a biotin deficiency, they suffer from thinning, dry hair, and dry skin," board-certified dermatologist Joshua Zeichner, M.D., once told mbg.
- Lack of protein: Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins like keratin—the protein your hair is made of. So when you consume amino acids, they can be made into keratin and form healthy strands at the follicle.
- Omega-3s: Some research suggests1 that omega-3 fatty acids (found in foods like salmon and avocado) can support your skin and hair.
- Iron deficiency: Iron deficiency is a common nutritional deficiency worldwide2, and it can lead to hair issues, including dryness and hair loss.
Other health conditions such as thyroid imbalance could be at play as well. "You would be surprised at the number of times I've recommended clients to see their doctors to have their thyroid checked just because of excessively dry hair," Pettway says.
However, it's important to consult your doctor before jumping to conclusions about nutritional deficiencies and internal health concerns, as dry hair can be the result of many other things.
How to repair dry hair
Now that you have an idea of what could be causing your hair to dry out, let's dive into how you can repair it. Of course, your hair is already technically dead (so it won't heal itself like your skin), but topical treatments and lifestyle efforts can help you replenish the moisture. Here are a few to keep in mind:
Get a trim
The quickest way to see a major difference in the look and feel of your hair is to get a trim. "There's no way back when your ends are dry to the point that they can't hold moisture and a cut is the only remedy," New York City–based stylist at IGK NYC Olya Iudina tells mbg.
Limit your shampoo use
Given that over-cleansing can lead to dry hair, it only makes sense that limiting how often you shampoo will help. Everyone is different, so experiment with your wash schedule to try to find the best cadence for your needs.
For extra-dry strands, Iudina recommends washing your hair every three to four days if you can swing it. If you need a daily rinse (read: water only), just be sure to follow up with conditioner and leave-in products.
Invest in hydrating hair care products
Keep an eye out for hair products that are specifically formulated for dry hair. "Start with your shampoo," Pettway says. "Make sure that it's not only moisturizing but also gentle." One A+ recommendation from Pettway: Davines MOMO Shampoo.
"The conditioner should be rich and creamy but not oily and heavy," Pettway says. You can also swap out your conditioner for a hair mask every other wash if you need an extra boost of hydration. Or use it on occasion—after swimming in chlorine or saltwater if you're traveling to a dry climate, etc.
Consider divvying up your hair in the shower and applying conditioner to it in sections to ensure every strand gets a sip of moisture.
You may also want to add a leave-in conditioner and hair oil to your routine. This may seem like a lot of work, but it should only take a few seconds to apply these products—and it will be worth it in the long run when your strands look and feel healthier.
Get a showerhead filter
Tap water can be filled with drying chemicals that may fuel the fire that is dehydrated strands. One way to go above and beyond for both your hair and skin health is to invest in a filter system for your showerhead, like the Berkey Shower Filter.
Practice hair slugging
One way to give your strands a much-needed boost of hydration is to practice hair oiling, or as it's commonly referred to "hair slugging." Essentially, run a bit of hair oil through your scalp and massage it in.
Apply more oil to your strands and brush or massage it in. Then, leave the oil in your hair for a few hours or overnight before washing it out.
Take a break from chemical treatments
As said above, frequently dyeing your hair can lead to increased dryness. For this reason, it might be a good idea to take a break from dying your strands until you feel your hair is in a bit of a healthier state.
You should consult your stylist if you're concerned about dryness related to chemical treatments, as they'll be able to help you find a way to maintain the look you want without overprocessing your hair.
Consider hair and skin supplements
Your scalp is where healthy hair comes from, so it's worth looking into supplements that can tend to both your skin and your strands. Look for ingredients like biotin, vitamin E, and collagen—our top picks here if you're ready to shop.
How to prevent dry hair
If you've put in all of that work to get your hair to a better place than it was, you'll want to work on maintaining it. Keep the following tips in mind:
- Consistency is key: Do your best to keep up with the hydrating hair routine you've built. From shampoo and conditioner to oils and leave-ins, it's worth adding a few minutes to your self-care routine in the name of silky strands.
- Space out your heat styling: You don't have to cut out heat styling entirely, but do your best to limit the use of hot tools. If you decrease your wash days, then this will come naturally as you can roll over your style into the next day. Lastly, always use a heat protectant.
- Consider a silk pillowcase: Certain fabrics can cause friction and lead to frizzy strands, which may raise the temptation to get out the hot tools. To mitigate this, invest in a silk or satin pillowcase to ensure your style stays fresh overnight.
Best products for dry hair
The Hair Elixir
Good Seed Conditioner
How often should I wash my hair if it is dry?
If your hair is dry, it's best to wash it every three to four days. Otherwise, you run the risk of stripping your strands of natural oils. Additionally, use a shampoo formulated specifically for dry hair.
Why is my hair so dry even with conditioner?
If you're using a conditioner and still experiencing dry strands, it could be due to heat damage, environmental factors like dry climate, overwashing, and chemical treatments.
What foods can fix dry hair?
No single food can "fix" dry hair. However, foods rich in omega-3s like salmon, avocado, eggs, chia seeds, walnuts, and flaxseed oil can contribute to overall healthier skin and hair.
There are plenty of factors that contribute to dry hair, from frequent shampooing to environmental factors to heat damage and more. To replenish moisture, work on maintaining a hydrating hair care routine, limit heat styling, trim your hair often, and consider adding some hair-loving foods or supplements to your diet. If you're dealing with dry hair and a dry scalp, this story will help you navigate the latter.
Hannah Frye is the Assistant Beauty Editor at mindbodygreen. She has a B.S. in journalism and a minor in women’s, gender, and queer studies from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. Hannah has written across lifestyle sections including health, wellness, sustainability, personal development, and more. She previously interned for Almost 30, a top-rated health and wellness podcast. In her current role, Hannah reports on the latest beauty trends, holistic skincare approaches, must-have makeup products, and inclusivity in the beauty industry. She currently lives in New York City.