Think you have dry, dull locks? First, determine if your hair is really dry, then decide what to try. Secret: Molecular size matters.
You’d think it would be obvious if your hair is dry or not, but not necessarily. Indoor heat can make hair mimic its dryness, while rainy days may hide dry hair, temporarily.
The easiest way to tell, says Elizabeth Stenstrom, owner of L Salon and Color Group in San Mateo, CA, is to look at the oldest hair, on the ends. If ends look dry, they are. “When you’re in the shower, rake your hands through your wet hair,” she adds. “The more resistant the hair is, the dryer it is, and the more often you should condition your hair and the longer you should leave the product on.”
Three other ways to spot truly dry hair, according to Xena Parsons, owner of Xena’s Beauty Co. in NYC:
- You have a lot of static and flyaways.
- For curly hair, it’s frizzier than usual and/or it goes straight at the ends instead of coiling nicely.
- The color is chalky looking. “Like unwaxed furniture that looks grey or chalky, the color on dry hair can look off,” says Parsons. “To determine if it’s your color or dry hair that’s the problem, shampoo and condition with a product that contains a penetrating oil. If the shine returns and the color improves, your hair just needed moisture.”
How to Choose a Shampoo and Conditioner for Dry Hair
For the most part, only water truly moisturizes dry hair; oils seal in the water and add essential fatty acids to soften locks and enhance elasticity. Panthenol and glycerin help bind water to the hair.
Everyone is oil crazy lately, but there are penetrating oils and surface-coating ones. When buying shampoos and conditioners, look for penetrating oils or ideally, a combo. Penetrating oils reach the cortex, while surface-coating oils help seal in water and smooth the cuticle.
Take note: As cosmetic chemists experiment with various oils, the list of ones that penetrate continues to change. Coconut oil was the first one proven to penetrate, and it’s still considered one of the best oils for hair and skin.
Penetrating Oils Include: Surface-Coating Oils Include:
Olive Mineral Oil
Palm Kernel Castor Oil
Penetrating oils do so because they have a low molecular weight, much like water. Paul Kenneth, owner of PK Salon and Spa in Woburn, MA, says he discovered this when working with a cosmetic chemist to create his own hair care line, including his PK Spa M.D. Hair Mask for dry hair.
“Low molecular weight allows ingredients to penetrate,” says Kenneth. “The range is 1,800 and down; around 800 is ideal. Ingredients that are hydrolyzed, like hydrolyzed protein, are broken down into smaller molecules, which is why they also penetrate to the cortex.”’
The Best Shampoos for Dry Hair
Ready to go shopping? Look for products that say “moisturizing” or “for dry hair” on the bottle. Take your ingredient list along and check the labels. Water is listed first, then water binders (or cleansing surfactants for shampoos). Oils are farther down the list because you don’t need much of them.
Conditioners matter most but Consumer Reports rated two shampoos highest for dry hair: Finesse Plus Moisturizing Shampoo & Conditioner for dry or coarse hair, and Thermasilk Heat Activated Moisturizing Shampoo for normal hair.
The Best Conditioners for Dry Hair
Parsons recommends Framesi Hair Treatment Line Restructuring Shampoo and Conditioner which treat dryness without weighing hair down—another important consideration. Stenstrom agrees that you should add moisture without removing body. She likes Japan-based caretrico’s MoistBounce. Good value brands are NuNAAT Treatment Moisturizing Shampoo and Conditioner (for curly hair) and Organix Moisturizing Macadamia Oil Shampoo and Conditioner.
The Best Deep Conditioners for Dry Hair
“Don’t forget deep conditioners,” adds Stenstrom. “The longer your hair is, the more deep conditioning you need.” For that, she likes Kerastase Nutritive Masquintense Deep Conditioner, which comes in formulations for fine or thick hair. Great for all hair types: Macadamia Natural Oil Deep Repair Masque, sold at Ulta stores and online. For dry, brittle hair, try super-rich, deep-penetrating Anu Essentials Down Under Deep Conditioner (anuessentials.com).
At Hair Benders International and Underground salons in Chattanooga, TN, owner Bobby Fairbanks also worked with a chemist to create his own brand. He says if you really care about your hair, ask a professional hairdresser for advice first.
“We looked at the best low-molecular-weight, plant-based natural oils like avocado, as well as silk proteins and Shea Butter,” says Fairbanks. “Today, consumers are sold on organic, but organic shampoos have no preservatives and a short shelf life.”
Finally, don’t forget the latest weapon against dry hair: sun protectors. Says Candy Shaw Codner, owner of Jamison Shaw Hairdressers in Atlanta, GA, “Before blow drying, always prep your hair with a pre-styling product that contains an SPF. Her fav: Vita Plexx, which the salon sells online at jamisonshaw.com.
Click HERE to see our DIY guide to repairing damaged hair.