Dry Winter Hair Is the Worst

Posted February 21, 2018 5:23 p.m. EST

Considering the play that dry winter skin gets this time of year, it can seem that winter hair is getting short shrift. But like flaky skin, parched strands suffer in the cold. Here is practical advice from pros, along with updates on hair hydrating technology.

1. Treat Your Hair Like Your Cashmere

Hair may not be alive like, say, skin cells, but you still have to treat it delicately. David Mallett, who is opening a Manhattan outpost of his Parisian salons this spring, said it helps to think of hair as a fiber. “You wouldn’t throw your cashmere in steaming hot water, so look after your hair and love it the same way,” he said. Mallet has noticed that clients often show up at his salons in the winter with dry, itchy scalps because they use hotter water when it’s cold outside. “Lay off the hot water and use lukewarm or even cold,” he said.

2. Deep Condition Your Hairbrush

It’s natural to reach for intense conditioners and hair masks when the mercury drops, but sometimes those products flatten hair. Instead, Mallett offers this genius tip: “Get a natural bristle brush, and after you clean it, deep condition the brush regularly with a hair serum, oil or leave-in conditioner. This way, when you brush through your hair, it gives it extra shine but without weighing it down.”

3. Humidity Is Your Friend

The main cause of dry winter hair is not the temperature but the lack of moisture in the air. “You don’t have to be a living thing to feel it,” said Arash Akhavan, a dermatologist in New York. “Think of how your door may not fit as well in the jamb. You have to exert some control over your environment.” Akhavan suggested using humidifiers, avoiding space heaters (“they particularly suck out moisture”) and switching to ionic hair dryers (“because they use less heat to get the same effect”).

4. Coat Your Hair

The trick is trapping moisture, which is essentially how hydrating shampoos and conditioners work. The Oribe Gold Lust Pre-Shampoo Intensive Treatment ($68) has a thick balmlike formula. Traditional creams don’t adhere well to the hair, said Michele Burgess, the director of product development at Oribe. The coating works especially well on coarser textures.

For finer strands, a less viscous formula, like Ouai Hair Oil ($28), may be better. It is a top seller in the Ouai line, according to its founder Jen Atkin, known for her work with the Kardashians. “It can double as a both styling product and mask so you can wear it while you sleep or work out,” she said.

5. Kick Up the Keratin

If you think a keratin treatment means a mop of stick-straight hair, think again. Keratin has grown up. In-salon services can now hydrate and soften but leave texture intact. “With Japanese hair straightening, and later Brazilian blowout, you stripped the keratin and broke the disulfide bonds in your hair so it became very straight, and then you replaced the keratin,” Akhavan said. “But keratin can also be used just as a long-lasting conditioner.”

At Mallett’s main Paris salon, “the Tokyo treatment,” as he calls it, has gained a cultish following among a fashionable set. He is working on getting the treatment, which involves eight different keratins, cleared to import to the United States in time for the New York opening. “It intensely hydrates — so much that your hair will initially lose a bit of volume,” Mallett said. “But I’ve seen how amazing it can be for hair that’s been through a color disaster.” (A somewhat similar service called the K-Gloss Smoothing Treatment, $400, is available at Keratinbar salons in New York.)

More accessible: Virtue’s keratin-infused shampoos and conditioners, which can be used at home. Adir Abergel, Virtue’s creative director, who works with Rooney Mara, Reese Witherspoon and Saoirse Ronan, particularly likes the company’s Smooth Conditioner ($38) and Perfect Ending Split End Serum ($40).

“In the winter, you’ll want to leave your product on your hair a little longer to really let it penetrate,” Abergel said, adding that getting ends trimmed more often than usual can also help maintain hair health.

6. Read the Label

Read up! There may be hidden drying agents lurking in your styling products. Arsen Gurgov, a stylist who often works with Emmy Rossum, advised “staying away from styling products with alcohol as they tend to dry out the hair even more.” If you have a favorite conditioner that contains silicones, you may want to swap it for a silicone-free version.

“Silicones can build up with repeated use and coat the hair too much, making it dull and lifeless,” Gurgov said. His simple solution: Use pure argan oil before blow-drying to prep the hair and again afterward to finish the style.