How To Get Healthy Hair: 22 Tips From The Pros For Every Type Of Concern
If achieving healthy hair was easy, then, well, I'd be out of a gig. In reality, figuring out what works for your needs and goals is a lifelong journey: What worked for you a decade ago is likely not exactly what you're doing for your hair today. And the routine that suits your friend or favorite beauty influencer won't always match up to yours. While this makes hair care decidedly confusing—it also makes it exciting and fun! You get to spend your entire life building a relationship with your body and hair. And I think that's very beautiful.
So with this in mind, I gathered some of the best advice from top experts (from stylists and colorists to dermatologists and nutritionists) for common hair concerns. This story certainly won't cover everything, as the entirety of the internet can hardly do that, but it will provide ample info to get you started. Throughout, too, we've linked to our other hair content; be sure to further explore as you see fit.
Overall advice for healthy hair care.
The best and most universal hair care tip is simple: Spend time getting to know your hair. "I cannot stress studying your hair enough. A stylist can only give you recommendations, but essentially you go home with your hair," says hairstylist Sunny, owner of Lumiere Vive Salon. "Feel your hair out, document how it reacts. Essentially, keep a journal for your hair and learn to love it."
With that in mind, here are some of the top variables to get acquainted with:
Your hair type refers to the shape of your hair strands, which can be straight, wavy, curly, or kinky. There is no set, universally established definition of curl types, but the most widely accepted is hairstylist Andre Walker's charting system, which categorizes hair from type 1 to 4. Within each hair type, it is further broken down into 3 subcategories, A through C. At the most basic level: Type 1 is straight, Type 2 is wavy, Type 3 is curly, and Type 4 is kinky and coily. In the subcategories, you'll get into the subtle but important differences between types 4A and 4C. Being able to differentiate among these helps us talk about hair, understand the nuances, and ultimately be better able to style our own. Worthy of note, people tend to fall into a range of hair types—as it's common to have different strand patterns at different parts of your scalp. Take our quiz here.
One of the least understood areas of hair care is the porosity spectrum. "Hair porosity describes how the hair's cuticle absorbs and holds on to moisture in its pores—hence, the term porosity," says hairstylist Miko Branch, co-founder of hair care brand Miss Jessie's. Your strands' most outer layer is the cuticle layer, which looks something like the shingles of a roof. When those shingles are densely packed, that means your hair has low porosity—but when they are more spread out you will have high porosity. You can also fall somewhere in the middle. You can even take this quick test to help determine yours.
Hair care routine basics.
Listen, there are a lot of products on the market and a lot of combinations to use them in to achieve your desired results. So we strongly recommend getting a basic understanding of hair care routine basics so you can customize your day-to-day products as needed. Here's our full guide to crafting your hair care routine for any hair type, which goes over everything you might need to know.
The lifestyle factors affecting your hair.
The topicals you use for your strands aren't the only thing they come into contact with—your hair health may be influenced by UV exposure, pollution, and physical wear from a variety of factors. Additionally, how you style your hair daily has significant consequences for your hair health; you'll want to evaluate your hot tool use, how tight your styles are, and how often you change it up. Finally, understand your upkeep. Do you wash your hair daily or weekly? Do you like to indulge in masks and hydrating tonics, or do you keep it basic?
Your overall hair goals.
You can't have healthy hair if you don't know what your outcomes are. Do you want to encourage growth and go for a longer style? Or do you want to maintain color in between hair appointments? Or do you simply want to keep your beauty schedule edited and simple—so you're looking for as low of a lift as possible? All are worthy endeavors, but they'll require modified routines in order to keep the strands healthy.
Tips if you heat style.
Heat styling—via hot tools like blowdryers, irons, and wands—works by breaking down your hair's hydrogen bonds in order to manipulate them into a desired shape. As you can imagine, repeatedly doing this to your hair can do a number. One study even found that daily heat styling can cause significant breakage and roughness1, which seems a little counterintuitive for those who constantly run a flatiron through their hair to smooth out the texture.
Get regular trims.
"Most people seek out a haircut to manage the effects from hot tools," says hairstylist Clay Nielsen. See, as Sunny shares: Once your hair's structural integrity is harmed, there's no way to repair it—it simply must go. "[If you've used too much heat] there's nothing I'm going to be able to do. There's no treatment that's going to help. If your hair is burnt, you're going to have to trim or cut it off," says Sunny.
Understand your limits.
We're big believers in the less-is-more mentality of beauty. And nowhere is that more true than when using hot tools: If you can figure out a way to style your hair without putting it on blast, we encourage you to do so. Of course, every head will have a different threshold of what their strands can take. Some will be able to rock a blowout regularly without a split end in sight, while others will barely tolerate the lowest level of a flatiron without breakage. But for a good rule of thumb, board-certified dermatologist Raechele Cochran Gathers, M.D., says no more than once a week if you are seeing signs of breakage or have naturally dry hair.
Use a heat protectant & be smart.
"It's not that these are off-limits," Cochran Gathers says. "Just be smart about your use of your flat irons, hairdryers, or curling wands. Ultimately, learning how to use these is more important than not using them altogether." A few of her best tips? Always heat style on clean hair with a heat protectant, don't go over the same section too many times, and lower the temps.
Invest in a good protein product, like a hair mask.
Because hot tools can affect your hair's natural protein keratin, you'll want to use a protein-based product regularly to help your strands regain some strength. They won't be able to magically repair your strands, but they can certainly help when used regularly. Read more about protein products here.
Tips if your hair is chemically processed.
This is a broader category, as there are several types of chemical processing, from perms and relaxing to color-treating and bleaching. Regardless, there is one universal truth for all chemically processed hair: It takes a toll on hair health. These treatments use powerful ingredients such as hydrogen peroxide, ammonium hydroxide, sodium hydroxide, or ammonium thioglycolate, which alter the hair cuticle and shaft, resulting in the desired final look—but wreaking havoc in the process. This is why people who decide to alter their hair like this will need to take extra precautions to ensure their strands remain as intact and healthy as possible.
Find a responsible professional you trust.
If you've made the decision to process your hair in any way, do your research before and find a pro who is an expert at the outcome you're looking for. Yes, feel free to peek at Instagram pages, check out reviews, and ask around for word-of-mouth recommendations. But be discerning! For example, even if you like a stylist, colorist, or salon, but they don't work much with curls or lightening to blond, then you'll likely fare better by continuing to look for someone who does.
Once you find someone who you think might be a fit, listen to their advice. For example, if you're trying to dramatically change your hair color, and the pro doesn't think it's a good idea to do it in one sitting (a common coloring mistake), follow their lead.
Be patient when you transition.
If you've been relaxing your hair, and you've decided that it's time to transition to natural curls—there are several ways to do so, says Sunny in this podcast episode, including doing the big chop (cutting it all off) or slowly trimming the processed parts during the regrowth phase. No matter the route you chose, she says your best course of action is to come up with a game plan with a curly hair specialist and then be patient with your curls in the meantime.
We can't stress this enough: Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate.
Chemically altered hair fundamentally dries it out (you're creating holes in the cuticle, so water more easily escapes and evaporates leaving hair dry). At the very least, treat yourself to a deep conditioning mask once a week.
If you process, limit other types of altering.
In other words, pick your poison. Most hair types—but especially curly, thin, or dry hair—can't tolerate too much manipulation. Cochran Gathers tells us that the more chemical treatments you do (relaxing, coloring, or otherwise), the more you need to be mindful of how other altering methods will further erode the cortex. All of these treatments manipulate the hair's bonds, and if you do this frequently enough, those bonds aren't going to be strong enough to keep it together.
If you color hair, use toning products.
At-home toning products (like purple shampoos) color-correct your hue in between appointments, says hairstylist Natasha Speth: "When we are canceling unwanted tones, we refer to our faithful color wheel to select the proper tones. We would use complementary colors to cancel out unwanted tones." The basics of at-home toning are using violet for yellow, green for red, or blue for orange.
Tips for growth.
You don't have to be lusting after long, lush locks to want optimal hair growth—even those with short styles want strands that are full and healthy. Ultimately, it comes down to a simple one-two punch: Care for the hair you have while encouraging robust growth. If you want all of our tips on hair growth, check out our full explainer here.
Regular scalp massages.
Scalp massages not only feel great and relieve tension, but they do amazing things for your hair. In research, regular massages have been shown to promote hair growth2 as they encourage blood circulation to the area, which helps deliver vital nutrients and oxygen to the hair follicle. You can make yours fancy by using a scalp massager, or keep it simple. "While shampooing, massage the scalp to increase the flow of blood, relieve everyday stress, and stimulate hair follicles. It's a win-win," says Branch.
Try healthy hair supplements.
"Your body needs adequate nutrients to support healthy hair," says registered dietitian Jessica Cording, M.S., R.D., CDN, and in an ideal world, we're getting those from your diet—but in modern life, it's not so easy. Supplements can help you get your fill of hair-supporting ingredients, like amino acids (like those found in collagen supplements), vitamin D3, and antioxidants (like vitamin C and E).* For a full rundown on hair care supplements, we did a guide on how they work.
Be mindful of your scalp & how you're cleansing it.
"Your scalp will affect the quality of your hair growth. When you have product, dirt, and oil building up around your follicle opening—which is where your hair grows out of—that buildup starts to slowly suffocate your hair root," says trained trichologist and hairstylist Shab Reslan. While you don't want to overwash (and dry out the strands), never let your scalp become irritated or have too much buildup. Pay attention to your wash schedule and toss in a clarifying shampoo when needed.
Hydrate your strands daily.
Hair hydration benefits everyone. "The hair on your head is probably the driest thing on the body, and if you are trying to grow it longer, you need to keep it moisturized," says hairstylist Anthony Dickey. "If your texture is naturally drier, it is even more essential to keep hair hydrated. Dry hair turns to brittle hair, and brittle hair breaks."
Tips for dry & dull hair.
If you have naturally brittle strands, many of the above tips will likely work for you, as well as the below. But for extra tips, check out our guide to hydrating hair:
There are many ways to wash your hair, from pre-shampoo treatments and co-washes to clarifying numbers. Use these with intention for your hair type. For example, if you experience tangles (a common concern for dry hair), you may benefit from a pre-shampoo oil to coat the hair and protect it from physical wear. Co-washing is an ideal option for those who want to wet their hair but don't need the full gusto of surfactants. And on the flip side, clarifying shampoos can be particularly useful for those with buildup (a primary cause of dullness and brittleness).
Use cool water.
A tried-and-true pro tip is to use cool water when rinsing. According to New York City–based hairstylist Marshall Lin, it's a proven remedy to keep hair shiny and soft: "Cool-water rinses help close and protect your scalp and hair's cuticle, which makes the hair stronger," he says. Since heat and humidity make the hair's cuticle rise3, cold water has the opposite effect. Just be sure to properly rinse out your strands: One study found that those who rinsed with cold water were more likely to have residue afterward, so be sure not to make that mistake.
Alternate between moisture & protein products.
"A deep conditioner is an intensive moisturizing and nourishing treatment, also called 'deep treatment' and 'masque.' These can be broken down into two categories: those meant to provide proteins, and those primarily for moisture," writes hair expert and consultant Sarah Roberts. "As you may know, healthy hair is a balance between moisture and protein, so we need to use both, depending on the individual needs of our hair. These conditioners are normally quite thick in consistency and should be left on the hair, with heat, for 20 to 30 minutes. Think of deep conditioners as a five-star meal for your hair."
Healthy hair isn't straightforward—and it would be a disservice to your time and energy to pretend like it is. It takes time and self-knowledge to home in on what works for you. However, you don't have to go on the hair care journey alone. There are many professionals and there's a lot of advice to lean on as you strengthen your strands.
Alexandra Engler is the beauty director at mindbodygreen and host of the beauty podcast Clean Beauty School. Previously, she's held beauty roles at Harper's Bazaar, Marie Claire, SELF, and Cosmopolitan; her byline has appeared in Esquire, Sports Illustrated, and Allure.com. In her current role, she covers all the latest trends in the clean and natural beauty space, as well as lifestyle topics, such as travel. She received her journalism degree from Marquette University, graduating first in the department. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.