The Basics Of An Effective Daily Hair Care Routine

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Do you want great looking hair? Honestly, who doesn’t?

Do you believe people are just born with beautiful hair and those lucky enough don’t have to do any upkeep thanks to their genetics?

Besides the rare person or two who naturally has great hair without doing anything to it (we haven’t met them yet), the quality of your hair will for the most part be determined by how well you take care of it and the effectiveness of your daily hair care routine.

If you’re at a less than ideal situation with your hair right now, expect it to take some time for its quality to improve. There are a variety of factors that affect its appearance so you could be doing plenty of things right but a thing or two wrong and still have less than satisfactory results.

This will be the first of many hair care guides and we hope we’ll be able to eventually address any and all issues you might run into. As always, if you have any questions leave us a comment below.

So without wasting anymore time let’s get into it. Your daily hair care routine can be condensed into a 4 part routine that begins in your shower.

Step 1: Shampooing

You have two basic options during this step:

1. Shampoo.

2. Go “No Shampoo”.

Each has their own pros and cons which we’ll take a look at but first let’s start with the basics.

What’s the purpose of shampoo? Why do we need to use it anyways?

By shampooing your hair, you’re trying to remove things like leftover styling product (especially silicone ingredients which build up over time), grime, dirt, sweat, and other things you’d rather not have in your hair.

You can look at this step as the equivalent to what a cleanser or a remover does in a skincare routine. The goal is to get your hair into a clean state before you do anything else with it so it’s easier to work with.

Shampoos have been getting a bad rep recently. Most are too harsh on the scalp because they contain ingredients called surfactants like sodium lauryl sulfate and sodium laureth sulfate (SLS & SLES). Yes the same types of sulfates found in harsh skincare products which we also warn people to stay away from.

The problem with these ingredients is that they excessively dry out your scalp’s natural oils which protect your hair and keep it lubricated for a healthy shine. This is bad because if used too often, you’ll be damaging the cuticles leaving you with less than ideal hair over time.

The two ingredients we mentioned above and others in the sulfate family are among the worst when it comes to over drying your hair yet they’re also some of the most commonly found ingredients in shampoos. Why? Because people have the misconception that the more foam and lather a shampoo produces, the better it must be. Sulfates produce tons of the stuff but that’s just not true.

It’s not that these sulfate shampoos don’t have their time and place. When it comes to removing ingredient build up off your hair from styling products and silicone, sulfates are super effective at doing just that. Like electric vs. water type super effective (+1 if you get the reference).

So if you’re using styling products that contain these types of ingredients which gradually build up, they can be pretty useful. But for everyday use? You’ll probably want to avoid overdoing the ‘poo.

That said, even though sulfates are surfactants, not all surfactants are bad. There are less harsh ingredients that do a much better job at cleansing your hair without going overboard and they can be safely used more often.

So while we’re on the topic, why not answer the question everyone’s wondering:

“How Often Should I Shampoo My Hair?”

The real answer here is “There is no right or wrong answer just do whatever works best for you!” but that’s not really satisfying is it?

Standard advice is to not wash your hair with shampoo everyday. Some people like to do it every other day, some like to do it once or twice a week, others try stretching out the period between washes longer. Really, the longer you can manage to go without shampoo the better. Hair doesn’t need to be thoroughly cleansed every day because of the long term damage caused by sulfate ingredients which we talked about above.

Of course, how frequently you shampoo should also depend on your hair type. Thin hair usually needs to be washed more often than thick hair. Same goes for oily hair.

But make sure your oily hair is naturally oily and not the result of over-shampooing. How can you tell you’ve shampooed too much? Your hair overcompensates for too much oil loss at once by producing even more of it than before. That might seem counter intuitive but it’s true. The only way to figure out if your oily hair is a result of too much shampoo is to try going without it for a few weeks and see how it adjusts.

Remember, even if you’re doing “No Shampoo”, you can still wash your hair with water and occasionally use a conditioner if you’d like.

Now before we move on to the next step, let’s outline what your options are here again:

1. Sulfate Shampoos

These are the most common types. Good for getting rid of any build up and getting your hair squeaky clean but are not ideal for everyday use because they degrade the quality of your hair in the long-term.

2. Sulfate-Free Shampoos

These still use surfactants but less harsh ingredients than the problematic sulfates. They can still dry out your hair but less so and they aren’t as good at removing product build up. Overall, if you feel your hair can’t go a day without shampoo, these are the better option. Often they’ll say “Sulfate-Free” on the bottle or you can look for the ingredient coco betaine which is the most commonly used non-sulfate surfactant in shampoos.

3. No Shampoo

This category also includes any “shampoos” that don’t create a foaming or lathering effect. Here’s some more info on going no shampoo.

Step 2: Conditioner

Many people skip this step either because they don’t know what a conditioner does or feel like their hair doesn’t need it.

For most people we believe this is a mistake.

The purpose of a conditioner is to help add moisture back into your hair after shampooing because as we mentioned before, shampoo strips the majority of the oil off your hair and scalp leaving it looking a little dull. A good conditioner makes hair more manageable, smooths out the cuticle, and reduces the chance of damaging the follicles by coating them in the conditioning ingredients and “sealing” them away so to speak.

You can look at this step as the equivalent to a moisturizer in a skincare routine.

Two instances where you really might not need a conditioner:

1. You’re using a non-lathering shampoo cleanser. Since you’re not stripping as much, if any oil off your hair, you might not need a conditioner at all but it can still be beneficial to use one every once in a while.

2. You have very oily hair. Oily hair is naturally “moisturized”. If you’ll be using a conditioner, keep the product off your scalp and only focus on applying it to the ends which are most prone to damage. Also make sure to rinse it off properly afterward to avoid extra greasiness.

On the other hand, if you have dry hair, are using a shampoo with surfactants, or have damaged / easily damaged hair you’ll definitely want to condition your hair.

Here are your options for this step:

1. In-shower Conditioners:

These are the basic and most common kind. You use these right after shampooing and still in the shower. In-shower conditioners should be rinsed out of your hair before moving on to the next step. Most regular in shower-conditioners can be transformed into a deep conditioner by simply leaving them on longer (sort of).

2. Leave-in Conditioners:

Unlike in-shower conditioners, this type is applied AFTER washing your hair and is left on till the next time you shower. These are especially useful when it comes to styling your hair because they’re good at taming frizz, untangling strands, controlling flyaways and supplying dry hair with moisture well after you wash it.

Typically, for thinner hair you’ll look for something lighter and for thicker hair something a little heavier with this type.

3. Deep Conditioners:

These are the strongest of the three types and are especially good for dry, brittle and/or damaged hair. They’re meant to be used less often, about once a week at most. Some people use them more often without any trouble but that might not be ideal for oily hair.

You actually have a few different options when it comes to applying a deep conditioner. You can add it to your hair a few hours before you wash by just applying it without any water, you can also use it during your shower right after you finish shampooing, or even afterwards by leaving it on overnight as a hair mask before washing it out in the morning.

Step 3: Drying

Drying is one of the easiest ways to mess up in your hair care routine thanks to heat damage from using hair styling tools like hot irons, straighteners, and blow dryers. The less heat based products you can get away with using to dry and style your hair the better. It may not seem like it now but over time as your hair quality improves, you’ll find yourself relying on them less and less anyways because your hair will start looking great naturally on its own.

It’s especially bad to use these heat styling products while your hair is still wet which seems to have an amplifying effect on the damage. You’re going to be left with nothing but damaged hair and split ends if you don’t dry it out beforehand.

If this has happened to you in the past you need to know how to repair damaged hair before continuing to use any heat styling products.

In the meantime here are some better options:

Air Drying

Okay truth be told this could be a hit or miss. Best case scenario it leaves your hair smooth and shiny. Worst case scenario frizzy and limp. Whether air drying is right for you or not all depends on your hair type. You’ll need to try it out to see how well it works for you.

Of course air drying isn’t ideal if you need to be somewhere and can’t wait hours till your hair dries on its own. There also may be some downsides as some research suggests that the longer you keep water in your hair, the more it swells thus weakening the proteins in the cuticle and eventually causing breakage. Try gently patting your head with a towel and then use a wide tooth comb after removing the excess moisture to help untangle it.

Towel Drying

If you don’t like waiting, wrap a towel around your head or gently rub one over your hair to remove moisture. This will get it dry faster and depending on how you do it, it can add an interesting “texture” to your hair.

Some people find towel drying problematic because it leaves their hair frizzy. Going too rough can also easily damage it. Try using softer fabrics like silk or cotton to avoid frictional damage and breakage. A cotton t-shirt will work fine here.

Blow drying with low heat

You could get away with using a blow dryer IF you use it on a low enough heat setting. For extra protection, apply a heat protectant spray before you begin blow drying. Some useful heat protectant ingredients to look out for include:

  • Quaternium 70
  • Styleze CC-10
  • Hydrotriticum 2000

Step 4: Styling

Styling is the finishing touch that will get your hair looking its very best. Styling your hair actually begins with the previous step because different drying techniques can set your hair up for different styles.

And even though it can sometimes, kind of, sort of, maybe make up for the previous three steps if say you’re damaging your hair with heat or aren’t using a conditioner when you should — if you do them properly and top it off with an effective styling routine there’s a very good chance your hair will look amazing.

So… are you confused on where to start with hair styling?

Really it all comes down to personal preference here. What kind of look are you trying to achieve? There are many different products you can use here like creams, serums, sprays, and more which all do different things. You won’t know what you can achieve until you test different things out.

(For the guys we have a handy guide on all the different types of men’s hair products. We also have some more tips on styling men’s hair into something great.)

Less is more when it comes to styling your hair. Too many or too much products at once only weighs hair down and leaves it greasy.

Another thing worth talking about here is silicones. They’re a fairly common ingredient in hair styling products and for good reason. They have great conditioning properties and leave hair smooth and shiny. The problem is that they’re also very difficult to wash out. Well some of them at least.

Cyclomethicone for example won’t leave build up but something like dimethicone will. Look to see on the bottle if it says anything about build up or washing it out. Other types of silicones can be easily identified if their name ends in a “-cone”. As always, google is your friend when it comes to looking up ingredients in hair products (you can also check out our investigative post on silicone ingredients).

Anyways, you’ll want to use a clarifying shampoo the next time you shower if you use something with silicone because the build up over time will leave your hair greasy. It’s definitely not something you want especially if you already have an oily scalp.

Wrapping Things Up

We hope this guide helped some of you out there wondering how to better start taking caring for your hair. This routine is a solid foundation but it doesn’t address specific hair concerns so you should modify it if you find something works better for you. Keep an eye out for more hair care guides by us in the future because there’s plenty more to talk about.

If you have any questions or comments in the meantime let us know on Twitter or Pinterest @maxmylooks.

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