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Having a Bad Hair Day? – time for change

Bad hair day

The number of colloquialisms we have associating hair with stress are a good clue that, in general, we are troubled by our hair: ‘bad hair day’, ‘keep your hair on’, ‘tearing your hair out’, ‘a hairy situation’ …. My Gran used to say that ‘no one is happy with the hair they’re given’ – those with curls want it straight, those with straight would like more bounce. To be happy with your hair must be one of the keys to life contentment. Hair is a key defining feature, it is something that others, subconsciously or otherwise, instantly assess us by. So loving our hair can make an incredible difference to our mood and how good we feel about ourselves overall.

Perfect hair

There is a picture-perfect ideal of healthy hair as sleek, shiny and beautifully maintained. Shiny hair can indeed be the most clear outward demonstration of health and vitality and advertising for hair products usually takes great pains to illustrate the sheen and glow of beautifully radiant tresses. You won’t be surprised to know that there are lots of tricks of the trade to get that picture-perfect image. But they don’t tend to work outside the photographic studio.

Meanwhile, in our attempts to replicate the gloss, we turn to the promises of shampoos abundant with silicones, plastics and polymers to create a sheen. This may work temporarily, but we want great hair for life. And the sad truth is that the very ingredients included to create the effect of healthy glow are the substances that, in reality, are stripping our hair’s natural moisture and, overtime, creating dullness.

Time for change

The importance we attribute to hair makes us fearful to experiment. Switching to new approaches and products can be a hair-raising time. That’s why, when change is necessary, I’d advocate shifts being made gradually, changing one thing at a time. Not lock-stock-and-barrel but instead setting an expectation of many months of gentle change. 

The convenience of shampoo-in-a-bottle has been with us for less than 100 years, for the whole of human existence prior to that, we had to keep our hair clean by different means. But the shampoo-and-conditioner combo is so easy and our hair can feel so fresh and silky afterwards – softness and shine are the most covetable features in a good head of hair. Why would we want anything else?

Why are we finding a need to shift?

More people are reporting being sensitive to off-the-shelf shampoos, resulting in itchy scalps or lumps and spots on their head. Mintel and Neilsen have both recently reported an annual fall in sales of hair care products of about £15 million. Why are we choosing to buy differently now? Maybe we’ve recognised we don’t have to put up with products that upset us, there are other options. Maybe our skin is evolving to deal with pollution differently so we react differently, or maybe the challenge to get better performing formulas has pushed the ingredients list too far? Whatever the cause, once the connection has been made between the hair products you use and the way you’re suffering, you want to break that cycle.

So what are the options?

The ‘No Poo’ approach, at its purest, means stopping washing your hair and trusting in the natural balance to restore itself. It rests on a belief that hair is self-cleaning. Advocates suggest it can take four to six months before your hair reaches a point of being self-maintaining, not needing washing again.

I’ve only ever met one person who’s been prepared to go a full six months without washing their hair. I consider myself lucky to have met her, but I certainly wasn’t raving about the condition of her hair (sorry). There’s a touch of nirvana about ‘no poo’ – enduring suffering and shame to reach the promised goal. But in reality, very few reach it, and is it really there?

Aiming for a situation where we don’t wash hair at all seems to me the wrong goal. We’d never think of living without washing our bodies and our hair is subjected to the same environmental stresses and pollutions. Sunlight, dust, dirt, all those particles around us together make hair dull and lifeless. We need to provide protection and counteract these; we also need the joy in our lives of clean, fresh, lovely hair.

Myth of the ‘killer’ product

I believe there’s not a single ‘killer’ product, the to-die-for shampoo replacement that will keep your hair looking glorious forever. If that’s what you’re looking for, you will always search in vain. Instead it’s the combination of products and techniques that can make the difference.

I’m looking to build a collection of hair care products to use in cycle. Use any one thing continuously and your hair will start to look lackluster. However often I wash my hair, I try not to use any single product more than once a week. The aim is to have three or four different ways to cleanse and condition, a couple of favourite masks and rinses. Alternative go-to spritzers and stylers so I can keep switching and ring the changes through the seasons too.

This may sound complicated, but a trusted repertoire can bring you years of confidence. It’s hard to find a shampoo you can be happy with for so long. As with everything in life, a little preparation and planning can reap rewards. Here are 15 suggestions of thingsyou can do to help your hair, whatever products you’re using.

What the ‘No Poo’ revolution truly recognizes is a widespread interest in finding an alternative to the shampoos we’ve grown up with. Of finding a regime that is kinder to hair, while still keeping it clean (essentially) and glowing. Adopting the spirit of ‘No Poo’ doesn’t mean avoiding a hair cleaning routine, but rather finding a way that works with nature in the simplest, most effective way possible.

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