A well-maintained head of long hair can look fantastic on any guy. But, as you could guess, taking care of a long hairstyle can be a bit of a chore. This is especially true for men who are more accustomed to taking care of shorter hair, which tends to require a lot less TLC. Because hair health starts at the roots, prior to growing out your hair fully, it's important that you be taking care of it.
Like most anything, proper maintenance is critical to keeping your long hair in top condition. If you damage something like a dishwasher, it can generally be fixed. If you scrape your arm, it will heal. Hair, on the other hand, nine times out of ten can't be fixed—it's just protein with no blood supply, so it has no way to heal itself once it's damaged. The only real way to make damaged hair appear less damaged is to cut the problem parts off, so proper care is crucial.
Before growing out your hair, make sure to have realistic goals and that the maintenance of long hair is going to be something that will fit in with your lifestyle. You'll need extra time in your grooming ritual to maintain your mane, and the right tools can make all the difference.
Invest in a wide-tooth comb and a high-quality hairbrush with natural bristles to help detangle hair and to prevent breakage.
Styling Your Long Hair
If you intend to keep your hair in an updo, finding the right cloth-covered hair elastics is crucial: there's a reason Scünchi's No-Slip Hair Elastics ($8) have been popular for so long. For a sportier alternative, we love Invisibobble ($8), and for any formal gatherings, Slip's Slipsilk ($39) ties are perfect. Keep in mind that wearing tight hats or very tight ponytails can cause a condition called traction alopecia, which is hair loss from pulling hair too tight. Wearing a tight hat or ponytail can also stretch the hair, causing it to frizz and break. Wearing your hats and ponytails looser will help protect your hair from damage.
Wash and Dry Care
You're also going to want to determine what the right shampoo and conditioner are for your hair type if you haven't yet. Prior to shampooing, make sure your hair is free of tangles. Work the shampoo through your hair like you normally would, but keep in mind that it should take longer, reaching every strand. Follow the same steps with conditioner, keeping in mind that most conditioners require two or three minutes to work their magic. Keep in mind while washing that too-hot water will strip beneficial oils from the hair and scalp. Having long hair will make you want to shampoo and style more often, even daily, but it's not good for your hair. Try just rinsing your hair every other day instead. If you've been in the pool, use a leave-in conditioner and clarifying shampoo after your swim, as chlorine can take a toll on the hair. We like Paul Mitchell Clarifying Shampoo Three ($12) and Ion Swimmer's Leave-In Conditioner ($13).
Weirdly, towel drying is one of the biggest causes of damage to mens' hair when it's long. This is largely because wet hair is highly susceptible to damage, so when rubbed with a towel, some hairs become tangled in the threads and break off. This causes not only damage to the cuticle (the shingle-like outer layer of the hair), but frizziness and split ends.
To prevent breakage when towel drying, shake out any excess water and stroke your hair in the direction it grows rather than rubbing it back and forth.
Blow drying is also a common cause of hair damage. If you must use a blow dryer, apply a thermal styling spray like Living Proof's Restore Instant Protection ($28) to coat the hair and protect it from damage, use a wide-tooth comb to prevent pulling, and always leave the hair slightly damp. If you have the time, the healthiest way to dry your hair is just to let it air-dry, styling a bit with your fingers if necessary. Since the only real way to eliminate damaged hair is to cut off the damage, you should get your hair trimmed every six to eight weeks. However, make it clear to your barber or stylist that you only want enough hair removed to eliminate the split ends—it'll cost you a lot less.
How to Maintain Hair Health
Ultimately, the condition of your hair tends to be a direct reflection of the condition of your body. Stress, poor diet, smoking, and lack of sleep all contribute to poor health and dull, lifeless looking hair. Although products can fix it a little, your hair health will always come down to your body health. So eat well, drink lots of water, reduce your stress, and live well. Both your body and hair will thank you for it.