From heat protection to conscious cleansing and deep conditioning, pros break down how to strengthen your hair according to hair type (fine, medium, or coarse).
Stronger, healthier hair has always been a universal desire. But there’s no denying that through the global pandemic and all the challenges that have come with it, there’s an even greater emphasis on maintaining and achieving healthy hair.
“Since the pandemic, I have seen almost double the number of patients coming into the office for concerns of hair thinning,” says Joshua Zeichner, M.D., director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai. Of course, this is due in no small part to Telogen effluvium, or TE, a stress-related shedding of the hair seen after emotional or physical stressors that has been linked to COVID-19 as a side effect of the virus. “With so many people affected by this type of hair thinning, there has been a huge shift in our conversation and approach to our hair with emphasis on protection and strengthening of the hair itself.”
At the same time, New York dermatologist Dendy Engelman has seen patients with a newfound appreciation for their more natural, less processed lengths after foregoing regular haircuts, color, and treatments. “I think that ‘letting our hair go’ during the pandemic in a way made many of us see how damaging some of our regular habits are and also allowed us to press pause on them, which has caused a shift toward now repairing all of this accumulated damage with strength and growth treatments,” explains Engelman.
Bridgette Hill, certified trichologist and founder of Root Cause Scalp Analysis, has seen the past three years as not just a wake-up call but an opportunity. “The pandemic touched every human and forced a connection between health and hair,” says Hill. “Prior, I believe our industry often minimized the body-beauty connection because it comes across as too new age or too esoteric, keeping everything to external fixes. The influx of hair shedding and scalp conditions surfacing is allowing hair health to be discussed in an intellectually scientific way versus a [purchase-for-an-immediate-gratification] way.”
With a holistic mindset, the pros explain how to strengthen your hair according to hair type (fine, medium, or coarse).
How to Strengthen Fine Hair
Fine hair is the most delicate and fragile hair type. “When hair is fine, that means the diameter of each strand is very small,” says Engelman. “This leaves the hair feeling very soft and lightweight, but also more prone to breakage and more difficult to style due to lack of volume.” Those with finer hair might find that their hair gets more greasy than other hair types, and wash more often because of it. In terms of cleansing, Hill says clay- and oat-based shampoos are great for frequent shampooers fighting oil. “They will help regulate oil production while not stripping the skin barrier or microbiome,” she explains of popular formulas like Christophe Robin’s Cleansing Volumizing Paste or L’Oreal Paris Elvive Extraordinary Extraordinary Clay shampoo.
Hydration, by way of weekly deep conditioning treatments and daily leave-ins, is also key. “Fine hair can easily become dry and brittle, and break easily if not conditioned properly,” explains Isfahan Chambers-Harris, a biomedical scientist, trichologist, and natural hair expert. That being said, she advises people with finer hair to avoid heavy treatments and styling products, which can make hair look greasy and weigh strands down. To gently promote strength and elasticity, both Chamber-Harris and Hill recommend having water-based products, like Moremo’s cult-favorite Water Treatment, in the mix to naturally aid in detangling and keep hair more hydrated.
If heat styling is part of your routine, Hill says investing in quality tools, like the Dyson Supersonic or Airwrap Complete Styler, which harnesses an aerodynamic technology to reduce heat, will pay dividends. “It’s been a game changer in elevating the meaning of what it truly means to reduce heat, which assists with retaining the health of the microbiome and fine hair fiber structure,” says Hill of the innovative tools.
Another key factor for finer textures is fighting damage before it happens. “Prevention from breakage is important because unlike your skin, which can regenerate itself, hair breakage is irreversible,” says executive director of product development for Oribe, who helped formulate the brand’s new Hair Alchemy collection, which is designed to protect and strengthen inherently weak hair with a potent blend of chia seed, plant-based protein, bio-fermented bamboo leaf, and hyaluronic acid. If you’re looking improve hair growth, Engelman recommends Nutrafol, which uses highly concentrated botanical ingredients to aid in every step of the hair growth cycle, and “strengthens hair from the inside out.”
How to Strengthen Medium Hair
Medium hair is the most common hair type. Not as fragile as fine hair, and easier to style, it’s also the most forgiving, says Zeichner. “It is not too dry or too brittle and not too thin that little amounts of shedding will have a significant impact on density,” he explains. Still, medium hair can be “susceptible to over-styling, high heat tools, and improper techniques,” stresses Engelman. For Hill, strengthening medium hair is all about taking a dual approach. “The most important rule is ensuring that both moisturizing properties, as well as protein properties, are incorporated into the hair care routine to assist with retaining the structure and health of the hair fiber,” says Hill, who is a fan of Dr. Barbara Sturm’s Molecular Hair mask for targeted hydration with shea butter and hyaluronic acid, and Aestelance Protein Mask, which blends silk proteins with fatty acids and seaweed extract. For further defense, experts refer to the pro-beloved, at-home bond-building Olaplex treatment as “hair insurance”—and for good reason. “It contains an ingredient that helps rebuild damaged bonds between keratin in the hair to help strength in the hair shaft,” explains Zeichner.
In addition to supporting hair health with regular shampoo and conditioning, Hill advises medium-haired clients to extend blow outs and heat-styled styles by sleeping on satin and silk pillow cases, reduce chances of breakage by investing in natural boar bristle styling brushes, and use lightweight leave-ins, such as Augustinus Bader’s or Crown Affair’s formulas, on the last inch or two of the ends 2-3 times a week. “A drop goes a long way,” says Hill.
How to Strengthen Coarse Hair
Coarse hair is larger in width, and has a lot of natural body. “Coarse hair tends to be textured, meaning it usually ranges from loose waves to tight coils, and can also be more prone to dryness than other types,” explains Engelman. “This type of hair is the hardest to penetrate, making it very important to look out for products that provide deep penetration to reach the scalp and provide results.” And really, it can’t be stressed enough: Scalp care is all the more important when it comes to thicker, coarser hair. “The thick density throughout the entire head makes it virtually impossible for any scalp to be exposed,” explains Hill. “Because of this density, it is important for coarser hair types to be more diligent with scalp care and shampooing.” Engelman agrees: “Since coarse hair does not need to be washed as often as thinner hair, it’s more prone to product buildup, which can affect hair growth and strength,” she says. To help lift oil and debris, she loves a gentle scalp massage with a scrub, like NatureLab Tokyo’s Clarifying Scalp formula. “It contains probiotic sake water that works to gently remove product build-up and promote scalp health and beautiful, shiny hair.” Another way to minimize accumulation is to incorporate scalp rinses, like Hill’s go-to Sunday II Sunday Root Refresh, which is supercharged with apple cider vinegar and micellar water, in between shampoo days. And then for a more thorough cleanse, Hill likes to transfer shampoo into an applicator bottle so that she can apply it directly to the scalp without missing any spots. For a pre-shower treatment, Engelman loves Curlsmith’s Bond Curl Rehab Salve, which is “really effective for repairing damage and strengthening hair by adding protein and moisture.” And then after leaving the shower, consider treating the scalp with a fast-absorbing, leave-on restorative scalp serum like Better Not Younger’s Superpower Fortifying elixir, designed specifically for hair thinning over time with a potent cocktail of centella asiatica, ginger, apignenin, and oleanolic acid.
As far as the hair strands themselves, Hill underlines that coarser hair can be more resistant to chemical and coloring services. “It’s important not to be overly aggressive and inflict damage, but take major changes to hair in stages,” she explains. “This will retain its hair fiber quality.” Of course, coarse lengths needs next-level moisture to stay strong and silky. “Humectants and lipids will help maintain the strength of their hair,” says Hill, who recommends Philip Kingsley’s deep conditioning Hair Elasticizer, which fights breakage with a combination of hydrolyzed elastin, a marine collagen that clings to hair’s surface to improve body and add shine, and strengthening castor and olive oils, and Virtue’s multi-tasking Healing Oil, made from keratin protein, vitamin E, botanical extracts, and Kalahari melon oil. For reversing damage caused by color treatments and heat styling, Zeichner recommends the K18 leave-in Molecular Repair hair mask, which is powered by a peptide that mimics the proteins in keratin of the hair. “Think of it like stucco filling in cracks in the hair itself to strengthen and repair the hair,” he says.
This article was originally published on Vogue.