How to Winterize Your Haircare Routine

Stop the Polar Vortex winds from wrecking your good hair days.

How to Winterize Your Haircare Routine

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It's not a figment of your imagination: you really do have more bad hair days during the winter. With the cold weather and dry indoor heating, static and dehydrated strands are all too common during this time of year, the latter of which can lead to breakage.

The silver lining is that making a few tweaks to your haircare routine can help prevent these winter side effects along with healing any existing damage.

"Winter weather means drier (less humid) air and colder temperatures, and both have an impact on the skin and scalp," says Dr. Iris Rubin, a Washington, D.C.-based dermatologist and founder of Seen Haircare. "The main winter skin and scalp complaints are dryness and flaking. Some may experience 'winter itch' from dry skin. Eczema can also flare in the winter due to dryness."

Ahead, top dermatologists share their expert tips on how to winterize your haircare routine to prevent dried-out strands.

1. Don't ignore flakes

With the cooler temperatures causing dryness, you might start to experience flakes even if you don't have dandruff during the rest of the year. Thankfully, switching to a scalp-balancing shampoo can help minimize the flakes.

"If you start seeing light flakes or itchiness, it can be caused by either environmental dryness or seborrheic dermatitis. The latter is an inflammatory condition due to hypersensitivity to Malassezia furor (yeast),' Dr. Dhaval G. Bhanusali, a Manhattan-based board-certified dermatologist and founder of Skin Medicinals, explains. "I usually have patients start with an anti-yeast treatment — like Head & Shoulders or Selsun Blue — if seborrheic dermatitis is the concern."

If it's environmental dryness, Dr. Bhanusali recommends using a nourishing hair mask or an oil (like Argan) once a week.

2. Switch to a hydrating shampoo & conditioner

It's true: your shampoo can be too good at cleaning your hair. While harsh cleansers like surfactants in shampoos make hair feel squeaky clean, they're also causing further dryness.

"Those who experience dry skin or a dry, flaky scalp may want to avoid shampoos and cleansers that contain sulfates because they can dry the scalp and skin," Dr. Rubin says. "It’s also best to avoid taking long, hot showers to warm up because hot water can strip the skin of its natural oils."

Dr. Rubin suggests switching to a gentle, hydrating shampoo, such as the one from SEEN. "Both gentle and effective, it is free of sulfates and is also formulated with bisabolol, a natural derived skin soothing agent," she says.

The same goes for your conditioner. "If you find your hair is feeling dry, you can switch to a more hydrating conditioner," Dr. Rubin says. "If you have drier hair, leaving your conditioner in for a few minutes before rinsing [it out] can help maximize moisture. Also, squeeze out water before applying conditioner."

3. Shampoo Less Frequently

Along with using a hydrating shampoo and conditioner, minimizing how often you wash your hair can help your strands retain moisture and essential natural oils.

"For those with a dry scalp, washing your hair less frequently may be helpful to maintain the scalp’s natural oils (and their moisturizing benefits)," Dr. Rubin says. "However, in reality, washing less often isn’t always an option, especially for those with an oily scalp." That's where the nourishing products come in.

Additionally, Dr. Bhanusali says turning down the temperature of your showers can help. "Be careful with your shower temperature," he shares. "Showering for too long can make your scalp drier by stripping the 'good' oils from your skin. Moderation is key when it comes to hot showers."

4. Avoid Haircare Products With Fragrance

Irritation caused by synthetic fragrances in beauty products is so common, a study found it can trigger a reaction in 20% of the American population. When skin is already dry from the environment or you have an inflammatory condition such as eczema, avoid potential irritants in your haircare products by opting for fragrance-free formulas.

"If winter weather causes eczema to flare-up, look for non-irritating hair care products, in addition to skincare products," Dr. Rubin says. She suggests looking for products with the National Eczema Association's Seal of Approval. "All of SEEN’s fragrance-free haircare products have received [it], which means they are safe for sensitive and eczema-prone skin."

5. Use dry shampoo in moderation

Your styling products can also make hair drier. Out of all the steps in your routine, Dr. Bhanusali recommends easing up on the dry shampoo.

"Be careful with dry shampoos. They can further dry out and irritate your hair and even cause breakage if overdone. I recommend no more than once to twice a week max; especially in the winter months," the dermatologist says.

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