You've Heard Of Combination Skin, But What About Combination Hair? 6 Tips To Treat It
Jamie Schneider is the Associate Editor at mindbodygreen, covering beauty and health. She has a B.A. in Organizational Studies and English from the University of Michigan, and her work has appeared in Coveteur, The Chill Times, and Wyld Skincare.
For the most part, we pretty much understand the sheer complexity of the skin. Read: Everybody's skin reacts differently to products and requires unique routines. Not to mention, people can even have competing needs for different areas of their skin—some may appear oilier on the forehead, for instance, yet drier under the eyes. Others are generally acne-prone with some sensitivity gracing their cheeks. I digress—and continue to hunt down the most foolproof products for my finicky combination skin.
The same can be said of your hair, of course. The variables that make up our unique locks are pretty vast, meaning there's a lot to consider when crafting up hair care—and often people can end up pretty confused about what their specific treatment plan should be. This is particularly the case with combination hair, as the type of hair comes with conflicting issues when you travel from root to tip.
What is combination hair?
Combination hair is a hybrid of sorts. Like combination skin, this moniker refers to a mane that's oily in some places, drier in others. Oftentimes, people may discover it's their roots that run oily, the ends of their hair parched dry—that's because your scalp type can totally differ from your hair type (but more on that in a moment).
What causes it?
Here are some of the most common culprits.
1. Scalp type.
We repeat: Your scalp is your skin, and like the pores anywhere else on your body, some people's follicles can accrue more oil than others (due to genetics, hormone fluctuations, or what have you), even if the length of their hair remains dry (from aging, daily heat styling, or environmental aggressors). And there you have it: combination hair.
2. Hair type.
Your hair type totally plays a role here, specifically if you have curls. See, the sebum from your scalp travels down the hair shaft all the way to the tips—for those with a straighter hair texture, this process tends to happen more quickly (as there is a clearer path). For those with curls, the traveling takes longer with all the twists and turns. As a result, folks with curls may have an oily scalp with drier lengths—aka, combination hair.
Washing too much (or using a harsh shampoo) strips the natural oils on your scalp and tricks it into thinking it's dry, so it produces even more oil to compensate. It then turns into a vicious cycle: With oil on overdrive, you may want to wash even more to clear the grease—but this can only lead to more sebum production and leave your lengths thirsty, to boot.
The perfect wash schedule differs for everyone (see here for our full guide to shampooing), but you can always snag a sulfate-free shampoo to avoid messing with your scalp’s natural balance. These picks are formulated specifically for oily roots.
Just like how stress can lead to excess oil and clogged pores on the face, an uptick in stress can lead to a greasy scalp.
Take it from board-certified dermatologist Hadley King, M.D.: "The oil follicles on the scalp are controlled in similar ways to the oil follicles on our face and other areas like the neck, chest, and upper back," she once told mbg. "So, factors like stress that may increase oil production on our face may also increase oil production on our scalp."
How to care for combination hair.
Combination hair becomes a slight predicament when choosing hair care formulas to fill your arsenal. If your hair requires different plans of action (Say: clarifying, cleansing options for balancing oil; hydrating, nourishing ingredients to replenish dry strands), how can you approach both concerns without piling on products?
Much like treating combination skin, caring for this hair type is a delicate dance. Here are six expert-backed ways to strike the perfect balance:
1. Switch up your shampoo and conditioner.
Shampoos and conditioners typically come as a set (a moisturizing shampoo comes with an equally nutrient-dense partner, a volumizing option with a featherweight conditioner), but who says you can't mix and match? It's similar to how you might slather on an oil-absorbing product on your T-zone, coating drier portions of your face with denser formulas: Select a cleansing, purifying shampoo to balance an oily scalp (here are our favorites), along with a hydrating conditioner to work into those ends (our go-to's here).
2. Try a scalp scrub.
Another tip to rebalance oil and lift gunk: Throw a scalp scrub into the rotation. These come in either physical or chemical formulas, but the end result is the same—sloughing dead skin cells, drawing oil from the follicles, and dissolving buildup.
Apply them onto your scalp pre-shampoo, massage them into the skin, rinse and follow with your hydrating products (you don't want to strip the scalp completely of its natural oils, as it can lead to dryness and flakes). Find our favorite scrubs here.
3. Use a hydrating leave-in on the ends.
To approach those more brittle ends, try coating them in a leave-in conditioner to seal in moisture post-wash (these are the best options for dry hair, in our humble opinion). "These conditioners are normally light lotions, creams, or liquids," says hair consultant and trichologist Sarah Roberts about different types of conditioners. "Leave-in sprays are also effective; they are easy to apply to the ends of hair that need special attention and protection for retaining length."
That said, you can totally target the nozzle where your strands need a little more love, coaxing some life into dull and dry ends.
4. Do an ACV rinse.
"Apple cider vinegar contains acetic acid and alpha-hydroxy acids, which can help degrease and cleanse the skin," board-certified dermatologist Morgan Rabach, M.D., and co-founder of LM Medical NYC, shares about ACV's hair benefits. Plus, the solution simultaneously manages frizz and promotes shine (providing a bit more oomph to those lifeless ends).
How so? Well, frizz and dull hair is the result of raised cuticles. Your cuticles rise up due to a more alkaline pH, and a product with a lower pH (hello, apple cider vinegar) can help seal the cuticle back down. See exactly how to do an ACV rinse here.
5. Limit heat styling.
Hot tools can dry out the strands and cause damage—use them too often, and you may find your ends extra brittle and rough. If you can, try to limit your heat styling and give your strands a break. Alicia Miller, national master trainer for Davines North America, agrees: "Giving our hair and scalp time to reset and rest increases overall appearance and health."
And when you do reach for the hot tools, make sure to always use a solid heat protectant: Not only do these help absorb the damage that comes with heat, but they can also hydrate the hair and infuse the strand with nutrients. Check out our favorites, here.
6. Snip dry ends.
If you condition and hydrate your ends to no avail, it may be time to start anew. At a certain point, damaged ends are irreparable—the only way to truly "mend" the dry wisps is to trim off the dead weight. Once you cut those dry ends and properly care for your inches with the methods above, your combination hair troubles may subside.
Combination hair is quite common (it simply refers to some parts of your hair that are oilier than others), but it's not so difficult to treat. All it takes is being a bit more choosy with your products and playing with different combinations to care for both concerns.
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