Have you ever wondered why your hair doesn't seem to flourish the way you think it should? The ends are always dry or it's thinning, despite your best efforts at hair care. Although it sometimes seems we're doing everything we can to take good care of our hair, that's not always the case. It's easy to do harm to our hair without realizing it—which may be why you're not seeing as much growth or shine. These 10 things you might be doing with your hair can negatively impair its health, so if you find yourself doing any of them, stop and see if the health of your mane doesn't improve.
Too Much Heat
The tools that make our lives so much easier can also quickly damage your hair when misused. That daily "bump" with your trusty curling iron can slowly but surely fry your ends. Even one time that's too hot can permanently kill your hair, so take it easy. Try gentler methods for providing curl and volume to your tresses, such as wrapping at night or satin-covered rollers. The occasional pass with a thermal styling tool should be safe, but always use a heat protectant as a barrier between a hot iron and your hair.
Good Heat Protectants to Try
Bleaching should be reserved for white clothing. When it comes to black hair, you need to ask yourself if you want healthy locks or to be a platinum blonde—because you usually can't have both. Natural hair can sometimes withstand this extreme lightening, but not without heavy and frequent conditioning. If you wear yours relaxed, choose another color; preferably one that doesn't lift your natural shade more than three levels.
If you use mayonnaise to try and strip a relaxer from your hair, you're not doing permanent damage, but you're not doing anything else either. But if you use dish detergent, harsh shampoos or products that promise to strip chemicals, you're definitely harming your hair. Relaxers are permanent—they change the chemical structure of your hair. Think about it like cooking an egg. Just like you can't uncook an egg, nothing will strip a relaxer. So save your vinegar, coconut milk and detergent. Either practice patience or cut it all off.
Using the Wrong Products
Walk into most drugstores or discount stores and chances are you'll see the "ethnic hair" aisle or corner. It's where retailers choose to stock products marketed toward African American consumers. It's an issue that's slowly changing, but definitely not fast enough. Many of these products aren't even good for black hair. They tend to contain suffocating ingredients like petroleum, or are so heavy that there's no way your hair will "bounce and behave." Instead of reaching for the first jar that promises instant growth (there is no such thing), look at the ingredients label. If petroleum or petrolatum is one of the first listed, put it back. Leave the ethnic aisle altogether and expand your shopping horizons. Brands like Paul Mitchell, Jane Carter Solutions and Shea Moisture work with all hair textures. Your health food store is also a great place to shop. There's no need to use cheap, poorly made products that don't benefit your mane.
Shampooing Too Often
Daily shampooing isn't ideal for any hair texture, but it's even worse on black hair. Even if you shampoo the recommended once or twice a week, make sure you're using gentle cleansers. Avoid any that contain sodium lauryl sulfate; it's the ingredient that gives shampoo lots of lather, which is perfect for stripping natural oils out. It's the opposite of what you want for well-moisturized tresses, and will cause serious breakage.
Not Shampooing Often Enough
Unless you walk around wearing a hat all day long, your hair is subject to dust, dirty air, grime, and pollution. While you shouldn't wash black hair every day, it needs to see some water more often than not. Not shampooing and letting dirt build up will not grow your hair. At least once a week is a good schedule to follow for shampooing but consider your lifestyle, too. If you exercise frequently, you may need to incorporate co-washes into your regimen; cleansing it three times per week isn't going to be as drying as if your hair is relaxed and colored, if your hair is very short and natural. Whatever shampoo routine you follow, make it regular.
Pulling Hair Tight
A hairstyle shouldn't hurt, and if yours does, or causes tiny bumps to develop at your hairline, (although hopefully it doesn't,) it's too tight. Too many people have painful hairdos that aren't necessary. This doesn't mean you can't wear a sleek ponytail if you know it looks good on you, but it does mean you need to loosen it before bed, and not wear this same style day after day. Braids are a wonderful low-maintenance, protective 'do when done correctly. When they're done incorrectly, they can be a fast track to sparse hairlines and permanent hair loss.
By now, you probably know not to apply relaxer to previously processed hair, but with so many people applying chemicals at home, it's still easy to make this mistake. Add permanent color to straightened hair and you often have a recipe for maximum breakage. To avoid this issue, it's best to see a stylist for relaxer and color applications. It's also a good idea to have an honest stylist on hand, one who will tell you that ash blonde isn't going to do anything for your relaxed hair except dry it out. Sometimes, we can't get everything we want from—that's what weaves are for.
All hair gets tangled at some point, but it's how you handle it that determines whether you retain your hair or whether you pull it out. Instead of yanking at tangles, work through them with your fingers first, and then with a wide-tooth comb. If you're in a hurry, save your untangling for when you're not—it's when we're in a rush that we most often pull roughly, instead of working through gently.
Holding on to Split Ends
Ladies who are trying to grow longer locks often have a hard time with this one, but cutting away split ends is essential for healthy hair. Would you rather have a lengthy mane with thin, see-through sections where it's broken off? Or would you rather start off shorter, but with strong, thick locks? Unfortunately, some people choose the first option and walk around with blatantly unhealthy hair. Split ends don't fix themselves—you have to trim them away as needed to prevent the the split from traveling further up the hair shaft and splitting the hair even more.
For a temporary fix, use a product like Carol's Daughter Monoi Repairing Split End Sealer ($17) to bind your ends together.