10 steps to healthy long hair

Growing out your hair? Want to have strong, shiny healthy natural hair? Concerned about thinning hair , or hair loss? Is your scalp itchy?

Here are 10+ things you should be doing!

I want to start with a caveat. I am not a hair expert, and my advice is based on my own experience with my own hair type, which is mostly straight with a handful of frizz thrown in for good measure. My hair texture is fine, and I have a lot of it, so its thick. This makes it wispy, prone to static, and greasy/oily at the scalp. All of the remedies I have outlined below can help nourish your hair and scalp. Remember, a healthy scalp will lead to healthier hair, but we are each genetically programmed to have the hair that we have. Chances are if you have thin fine hair, following any of my tips are not going to change your hair texture or thickness, but you can still have healthier hair by following some or all of my tips.

1) Wean yourself off frequent shampooing

Why should you wash your hair less? Isn't cleaner hair, healthier hair? Yes and no. Your hair produces its own natural oils called sebum to protect itself. When you wash your hair frequently you are training those oil glands to produce more sebum more frequently, because every time you wash your hair you are stripping off all those oils. So by extending your hair washings (and going through periodic hair greasiness) you will gradually train your scalp to produce less sebum.

When I started extending my hair washings, I was washing my hair every other day. If I missed a day my hair was instantly greasy and my scalp was itchy. I couldn't just hop in the shower for a quick rinse off and get my hair wet without shampooing it. If my hair got wet and I didn't wash it, my scalp was crazy itchy as soon as it was dry. I got to the point where I wanted to find a way to stop it. So I started pushing my shampoos off by 1 day and just hiding my hair under a hat while it was oily until shampoo day.

At the beginning it was the most difficult. I went from washing my hair every other day, to every 3 days. I was still oily and itchy and did not feel like this was going to help. I needed to find a way to soothe my scalp between washings. I knew I was on the right path when I came up with some things to offer relief and was able to go from washing my hair every 3 days to every 4, and then 5 and now I recently just pushed it back again so I am washing my hair every Tuesday night. I am going through a new adjustment period again since I just went from washing my hair every 5 days to every 7, so I am going to have oily hair a few days a week again for a month or two. But because I have coping strategies, I can handle the discomfort in order to have a healthier scalp.

2) Buy a natural bristle brush

I can not stress this enough, you need to get away from using 100% plastic hair brushes if you are going to extend your hair washings. I actually have 2 different brushes that I use regularly, plus a wide tooth comb for after showers. I have a natural boar bristle brush that I use on my scalp. This brush is great for when your scalp is oily or itchy. It is very "scratchy" so you can use it to sort of scratch an itch while you are brushing your hair out, and the natural bristles will grab the oil and redistribute it away from your scalp (to a certain extent). This will help with oil build up at your scalp.

My go to brush most of the time is used for detangling the ends of my hair. It has wooden "bristles" that are widely spaced apart. Both of my brushes are made by Bass. My wooden brush is definitely my workhorse. I make sure to brush my hair in the morning with the wooden brush before I braid it or put it up. At night I use my boar bristle brush when I take my hair down to exfoliate my scalp and move any oil that accumulated during the day away from my scalp.

3) Wear your hair up during the day

If your hair is long enough to wear up, it can be useful to do so, especially after it starts to get long. This will protect the ends from getting tangle and also from getting dirty. Try to stay away from using really tight elastics at your scalp, as this will put stress on the hair shaft as well as not doing your scalp any favors. Constantly using tight elastics can actually weaken your hair and cause it to be more prone to breaking, and when your hair breaks it causes split ends. If you must use an elastic, (I use them all the time, but only at the end of a braid at this point) try to make it just tight enough to hold your hair without being so tight your elastic breaks!

For updos, I love pins and hair forks. I have bobby pins, U pins, short hair forks, long hair forks and a spiral hair fork that I feel "meh" about. Pins are almost always going to be a healthier option for your hair, just don't use them on wet hair because they can rust really fast (ask me how I know, lol) There are a few good tutorials on YouTube if you want to find some simple up-do ideas. Don't look for "pin-up" hairstyles though, because you'll just get a lot of search results for 50's hairstyles (unless that's your thing and then go for it). I usually try to search for "vintage long hair style" "easy up do" "elastic free long hair style" or something along those lines.

4) Satin sleep cap or braid at night

I really want a satin sleep cap. I don't have one yet, because I have not made myself one yet, but it's something I plan on making at some point. For now though, I usually just put my hair in a loose braid. The reason for doing this is 2-fold: sleeping on top of your hair can cause friction rubs especially if your pillow case or sheets are made of rough cotton or microfiber. Also, as I toss and turn a lot because of my scoliosis (no single sleep position is comfortable for long when your back has extra twists and turns in it) I am constantly ending up on top of my hair which makes it difficult to roll over. Then I have to wake up more fully in order to detangle my hair from underneath my body. When it is in a braid it's a lot easy to move around in bed while I'm sleeping.

5) Trim your own split ends

Once or twice a week I will sit in a sunny, well-lit spot and go over the ends of my hair with a small pair of sewing scissors. I'm just looking for split ends (we all get them) and snipping them off right above the split. This extends the amount of time I can go between visits to the salon for a trim. The process of brushing out tangles from your hair will cause your hair to break and cause split ends. They don't happen in a vacuum, they are the result of brushing out tangles. So if you wear your hair up you'll have less tangles, and less tangles means less split ends.

6) Get your hair trimmed professionally at least every 6 months

Even if you trim your own split ends, I still think it's a good idea to go to the salon every 6 months to get a small trim. On average human hair grows about half an inch, or 1.5 cm per month. In 6 months you should have about 3" or 7.5 cm of new hair growth. I think if you get one months worth of hair growth trimmed off every 6 months, you'll still have a net gain of new hair growth (if that is your goal) while keeping the ends of your hair healthy and strong.

7) Herbal vinegar rinse followed by a cold water rinse

Apple cider vinegar. Apple cider vinegar. Apple cider vinegar. I have used AVC as a hair rinse for over a decade now. It works to stop itchiness in its tracks. Shampoo and conditioner are soaps. On the pH scale, soaps are basic. Our skin has it's own natural pH that is slightly acidic. Our skin has its own microbiome that protects it. Every time we wash our hair, we disrupt the microbiome and wash away the pH. We are out of balance. That is not to say that washing is bad. But by using a dilute vinegar rinse after shampooing and conditioning, we restore the pH balance of our scalp and allow it to more quickly re-establish the microbiome that we washed away.

The simplest apple cider vinegar rinse recipe is to put half a cup of plain apple cider vinegar into a one pint plastic container, fill to the top with your shower water. Then dip the ends of your hair into the solution for ~30 seconds. Then take the cup of solution and slowly pour it over your scalp starting at your hairline, making sure to get all of your scalp. Let sit for another 30 seconds and then rinse.

If you want to get a little fancier with your ACV rinse, you can buy a quart of vinegar from the grocery store, and a couple packages of fresh herbs, and then steep the herbs in your vinegar for 10 minutes. Let the solution cool to room temperature, the strain it back into the bottle. The herbs make it smell nice, and can impart different properties to your rinse. I'll include a list of different herbs and what properties they impart at the end of this post. Feel free to mix and match.

I would be remiss to not add four warnings here:

A) if your scalp has been itchy and you have been scratching it, the vinegar rinse will sting all the places you have scratched raw.

B) vinegar is an acid, so please please do not get it in your eyes, it will sting. If you do get it in your eyes, don't panic, just tilt your head back, rinse your eyes until the stinging stops and then finish your shower.

C) when you buy vinegar for your hair, buy the cheap stuff. Don't buy the really fancy expensive stuff that has a mother in it, or you'll end up having to pick vinegar mother out of your hair later on.

D) keep a lid on your vinegar, or you'll be straining dead fruit flies out of your vinegar before you can use it.

Now for the really fun part of your shower: the cold water rinse. I never look forward to this part of my shower, but it has made a noticeable difference for me. We all love to take hot showers, right? Well, here's the deal. Your hair is made up of little protein scales or cuticles that over lap each other to make up the shaft of your hair strand. We we take a hot shower, these cuticles "open" or lift up. When you rinse with cold water, your force the cuticles to close back up. This leaves you with a smoother, stronger hair shaft and you actually trap moisture in the shaft of your hair. When your hair is dry, it will be more moisturized, glossier, smoother and less prone to breakage and some frizziness. (I will never get my frizziness to go away because half of my hair is long and straight, and half of the hair on my head is kinky and curly. I will never make the kinky-curly hair straight, but that's okay with me. )

8) Your hair is what you eat

Junk food = junk coming out of your pores, junk for the building blocks of your cells. What is healthy though? For some people its a vegan/vegetarian/pescatarian/fruitarian/etc. diet. For me personally, by diet is high in animal and plant-based fats, high in fiber, moderate protein and carbs, ad low sugar. It's not exactly ketogenic, I eat too many carbs to be in a ketogenic state, but I really strive to eat as many whole foods as possible, and avoid sugar as often as possible (difficult to do when my boyfriend bakes the best pies ever) Sugar feeds all sorts of things in the body that I don't think need it: yeast and cancer cells to name a few. Yeast overgrowth, or candida, is something that I have battled with most of my life. I noticed when I ate less sugar, and avoided corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup and pretty much any other highly refined "syrup sweetener" the itchiness in my scalp disappeared almost completely. From what I have been able to figure out, a high sugar diet feeds yeast all over and within the body, and some (if not most) of my scalp itchiness is probably related to yeast overgrowth.

9) scalp massage

Love your scalp! It is doing all the work of growing your hair. Twice a week, usually when I am in the shower (not on shampoo days but the interim days) I go through all the motions of washing my hair, except instead of shampoo I'm actually just massaging my scalp. I use my fingertips (not my fingernails) to firmly massage my entire scalp. I feel this does several things: it stimulates blood flow to the scalp, it helps relax the muscles on my head which can get strained from the constant weight and pull of my hair, especially if I have been wearing my hair up a lot. Scalp massage in the shower also helps release the dirt and oil that accumulates on the scalp between shampoos. Simply rinsing your hair in the shower between shampoo days is not enough. When you rub your scalp and massage it under warm running water, you help release and rinse away all that stuff that weighs your hair down, especially towards the end of your wash "cycle".

10) dry shampoo is your friend on oily days

When I can't take the greasiness anymore which is usually the day before shampoo day, in the morning, I use dry shampoo. Have you ever seen an oil spill at the mechanic? They put kitty litter on the oil. The clay absorbs the oil and then they sweep it up and throw it out. Dry shampoo kind of does the same thing on a smaller scale. My dry shampoo is homemade. The recipe is equal parts cocoa powder (UNSWEETENED!) and cornstarch, and then I put in a pinch of cinnamon because it smells good. I mixed it all together and put it in a small, wide-mouthed glass jar. Then when I need to use it, I section my hair starting at one ear and powder my scalp with a kabuki brush. I work in half inch segments going up and over the top of my scalp working from one ear over to the other. Once everything is powdered, I flip my head upside down and vigorously rub my scalp to get as much of the now-oily-powder to fall out. Then I flip my hair back to its normal position, brush it out with the wooden brush, and style as I normally do. At the end of the day, I make sure to rinse my hair and scalp well in the shower (this is a great time to practice scalp massage). The powder will make my scalp a little itchy, and I don't want it ending up all over my pillowcase. You can purchase dry shampoo online; Etsy.com has a lot of nice offerings if you are looking for something handmade. Otherwise I am pretty sure most stores that carry a range of hair care products will have a least one brand of dry shampoo for you to try.

11) bonus 1: ditch the dyes and harsh chemical treatments

This one seems obvious to me, but when you dye your hair, perm it, straighten it, etc, you can damage the shaft and weaken your hair. Natural hair care is about loving and accepting your hair and body just the ways it is.

bonus 2: rosemary oil or leave-in conditioner for your ends in dry weather

In Maine, our dry season is in winter. My hair will get very dry and frizzy when the air dries out, plus we heat our home with wood, which only exacerbates the dry air problem. I combat this by using leave-in conditioner and/or rosemary oil just in the ends of my hair to give the ends a little more oomph.

bonus 3: take care of your hair brush

Your hairbrush is used to move the oil from your scalp, and to detangle your hair. It pulls out dust, fuzzies, dirt, oil. Take care of your hair brush. Remove the hair from it after each brushing. When you shampoo your hair, bring your brush into the sower with you and shampoo your brush. You will extend its life and usefulness by taking a little time each week to take care of it.

List of herbs and their properties:

This list is by no means comprehensive.

Sage: color enhancement for dark hair

Chamomile: color enhancement for light hair

Mint: dandruff control for all types of hair, combats itchiness and inflammation

Rosemary: brightener for dull hair

Nettles: conditioner for all types of hair

Lavender: Anti-bacterial, soothing for all hair types, helps with dandruff, boosts hair growth

Horsetail: high in silica, improves strength of hair

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