If you’re experiencing brittle ends and tresses that refuse to hold on to moisture, you probably aren’t imagining it. Dry hair and cold winter weather are unfortunately close acquaintances.
Cash Lawless, a celebrity hairstylist and revered hair industry expert, told HuffPost that this is due to a greater amount of negative ions in the air causing increased exposure to friction damage, making your hair appear frizzier or more coarse.
“Static reaction occurs when the negatively charged hair strands encounter the negatively charged cold air and begin to repel one another, causing static frizz,” Lawless said.
He also explained that if the cuticles that surround and protect each hair strand are unsealed, your hair is susceptible to moisture loss and will have a greater reaction to the negative ions more present in winter.
Fazia Frederick, a top New York-based hair stylist for Glamsquad, said that arid winter temps also mean less humidity in the air, potentially impacting hydration levels.
“The cold weather also makes hair more prone to breakage in particular, resulting in split ends and a flaky scalp,” Frederick said.
Both Frederick and Lawless said that the best defense we have against hair damage, especially during the winter, is prevention and protection. “Reducing exposure to extreme heat, chemicals and friction can help ensure your new growth doesn’t experience the same thing your old hair does,” Lawless said.
Frederick also suggested shampooing only once or twice a week and using a hydrating mask to maintain moisture.
Jon Reyman, owner and cut director of Spoke & Weal salons, added that going outside with wet hair in cold weather is a cardinal sin in the book of hair health.
“Usually in colder weather, hair stays wet for longer as the cold doesn’t have the evaporative power of heat. When hair is wet, it’s at its weakest and most vulnerable condition, which leads more easily to damage and breakage,” Reyman said. “When water crystalizes, water expands. Crystallization happens when the temperature is below freezing. If hair is wet, the expansion puts pressure on the hair cuticle and causes damage.”
For the best products in hair protection and moisture retention, see what these hair experts recommended below for achieving more manageable, silky and winter-proofed locks.
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A shampoo and conditioner that contains positively charged ions
Lawless suggested looking for bonding products that also contain positively charged ions to reduce the effects of ion repulsion and the appearance of staticky strands.
Olaplex’s bond maintenance shampoo and conditioners are color-safe and suitable for all hair types. They claim to work by re-linking broken bonds within the cuticle while protecting hair from further damage against environmental stressors.
A leave-in conditioner with moisture-attracting ingredients
“You may also want to use a product that contains a humectant [such as] glycerin or propylene glycol. A humectant attracts moisture in the air to the hair. These are not great in humid climates, but might be beneficial in very cold arid climates,” Lawless said.
This leave-in conditioning milk by Briogeo contains plant-derived glycerin along with a blend of nourishing oils like rose hip and argan to protect hair from free radical damage while also sealing in moisture.
If you are going to heat-style your hair, Reyman said that it’s best to choose a tool that can minimize heat and mechanical damage, like the Supersonic hairdryer and Corrale straightener by Dyson.
Instead of using constant extreme heat, the hair dryer uses high velocity air to dry hair faster and offers four temperature settings. It also comes with five different styling attachments to accommodate a wide variety of hair types.
The thermal cordless straightener has flexing copper plates to gather more hair so you can achieve your style with less heat, and the intelligent heat control automatically adjusts the temperature according to your hair texture, thickness and length.
A highly absorbent hair towel so you spend less time under the hair dryer
“Use a high performance towel to start the drying process, like Aquis Hair Turban, to remove the most excess water from hair before you begin to dry. This limits dry-time. Again, the goal is to limit the amount of time hair is most vulnerable to damage,” Reyman said.
According to reviewers, this adjustable microfiber turban can make the process of drying your hair much more manageable, while also reducing frizz, breakage and the need to create friction. It comes in four different colors.
A reparative hair treatment that protects the entire strand
“The K18 mask will repair and strengthen hair from the cortext though the cuticle. The science is real. Hair is repaired and conditioned at a level we have not seen before,” Reyman said.
This leave-in molecular hair treatment can be applied a few times a week. It uses a unique peptide complex said to re-connect the broken keratin strands responsible for hair’s elasticity, strength and softness.
A daily leave-in creme to improve softness and manageability
Before drying and styling your hair, Reyman recommends applying a hydrator of some kind to make hair not only more manageable, but also more protected. “I recommend Harklinikken leave-in hair hydrating creme,” he said.
This multipurpose creme can be used daily and has a non-greasy formula, making it a good hydrating option even for fine hair. A blend three different oils, including argan and Abyssian seed, strengthens, nourishes and hydrates hair strands all at once.
A travel-sized kit to help achieve a protective style and defined curls
For curly and tighter hair strands, such as 4C hair, Reyman said that protective styles and wet sets can also minimize damage and prevent the need to use heat for drying.
This three-product set by Girl+Hair, a Black-owned beauty brand, includes a shea butter and tea-tree oil based shampoo, perfect for scalp health and thirsty roots, along with a nourishing leave-conditioner to style a protective set and a castor oil treatment balm to fortify and protect dry hair strands. Some users said that this kit made their curls feel softer and look more defined compared to other protective set products they’ve tried.
An oil-finishing spray that can protect your hair from UV damage
Steven Lazaroff, a Los Angeles-based hair stylist, recommended this glossy and hydrating finishing spray from Bumble and Bumble to not only reduce the appearance of static and frizz, but to offer protection against UV damage from the sun.
The last step in the styling process, this invisible oil micro-mist uses deeply hydrating grape seed oil and tiare flower extract to soften hair without making it appear greasy or collapsing your style.
A restorative styling serum that protects hair from heat damage
For heat styling, particularly blow drying, Lazaroff recommended Bumble and Bumble’s repair blow dry serum for restorative styling that can help address the appearance of split ends. He said to work a small amount onto damp hair and use a brush to blow dry in sections. “This product is heat activated and it is amazing with mending split ends,” he said.
Lazaroff also recommended Bumble and Bumble’s bond-building line, which uses a honey complex to address hair from cortex to cuticle. “Plus, it smoothes the cuticle, adds shine and fortifies weakened strands,” he said.
An overnight hair mask that you don’t need to wash out in the morning
For an added dose of moisture throughout the week, Frederick said that the leave-in dry hair mask by IGK is suitable for all hair types and can strengthen and soften hair overnight without leaving residue or causing a mess on your pillow. It uses a time-release formula to help nourish hair over time and prevents future damage.
When applying products, she said, “A general rule of thumb when is that you should always apply products in the direction of the hair shaft down to the ends. Or, for fine and oily hair, [apply] mid-shaft down to ends.”
A long-barreled curling iron that can keep hair silky and seal the hair cuticle
Frederick also recommended this 1-inch professional curling iron by Bio Ionic, which uses a unique ionic-moisturizing heat technology to create conditioned and bouncy curls that last, while actually sealing the hair cuticle. The extra long barrel also ensures that the entire hair section can get curled. (You can also find other Bio Ionic curling irons with different barrel lengths and thickness.)
A lightweight pre-shampoo oil for a hydrated scalp
A dehydrated and flaky scalp can be an uncomfortable byproduct of colder weather, and Frederick recommended applying a scalp oil right before you wash you hair — and to try and wash with lukewarm water while shampooing.
This Magic Elixir scalp and hair oil is formulated with invigorating rosemary oil and omega-rich avocado oil. It can not only nourish an irritated scalp but also hydrate parched hair follicles, leading to hair that looks and feels healthier.
A conditioning dry shampoo to avoid over-washing your hair
“Reduce shampooing your hair to once or twice a week in order to further maintain moisture in the hair,” Frederick said. “For those with fine or more oily hair, a dry shampoo with rice starch is highly recommended [in between washes].”
This rice starch-based non-aerosol dry shampoo by Klorane dispenses in an ultra-fine, residue-free powder to absorb excess oil, while organically harvested oat milk protects hair and soothes the scalp.