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Have you noticed breakage (those short, annoying pieces of hair throughout your head), a lack of shine, and a dry—dare we say crunchy—feeling to your hair? Face it: You could be in over-processed hair denial. You're not alone. Stylists see it all the time—especially in chemically treated blondes, says Brenna Clauson, a stylist at Green Tangerine Spa & Salon in Boston. Celebs aren't immune either—Emilia Clarke recently shared that going bleach blonde for Game of Thrones "killed" her hair.
"Any processing or manipulation of the hair shaft repeatedly—blow drying, heat styling, chemical relaxers, bleaching—can lead to hair shaft damage," explains Shani Francis, M.D., a clinical assistant professor of dermatology at the University of Chicago's Pritzker School of Medicine. "When this damage occurs as a result of treatments, hair is said to be 'over-processed.'" (Related: How Healthy Is Your Hair? Take This Test)
Think of it like lifting the shingles off a roof: "If too frequent or too aggressive, it's obvious how the dying process can be traumatic to hair shaft fibers," says Dr. Francis.
If you're concerned about existing (or future) damage, have an upfront conversation with your stylist and ask that he or she only lighten your hair as much as absolutely necessary to achieve the look you're after. Then, get to work at home. Because here's the thing: Your hair is an investment. And if you spend time (and well-earned dollars!) coloring it, the same should be true about *caring* for it (you know, just like you recover as hard as you work out).
Here, your healthy hair rules to live by, according to derms and colorists.
Choose the right shampoo and conditioner.
If you're blonde, the shampoo you use is important to make sure you maintain the color you leave the salon with throughout the months to come. "Cool blondes should try and use an anti-yellowing, toning shampoo such as a purple shampoo once or twice a week," says Clauson. "The purple shampoo helps balance any unwanted brassy color that could be caused by the type of water you have, sun, chlorine, or the ocean." And always use a sulfate-free shampoo to preserve color as long as possible, says Clauson.
Products to try:
- Kristin Ess Purple Shampoo: Created by a stylist to the stars, this sulfate-free purple shampoo is affordable and super effective at eliminating brassiness and adding shine back to your hair. ($12; target.com)
- Oribe Bright Blonde Shampoo for Beautiful Color: This splurge shampoo made for cool blondes is a salon-favorite for brightening and correcting yellow tones. ($46; oribe.com)
Give hair a protein boost.
With damage, you'll also want to focus on adding in both protein and moisture (look for ingredients such as kaolin clay and shea butter) back to the hair, says Dana Hodges, a stylist at Katherine Jon Salon in Terryville, NY, and a national trainer for Eufora. "Protein will help to rebuild bonds and keep hair from breaking, while moisture will replenish the hair and keep it from feeling and looking overly dry."
Luckily, products on the market today can work wonders at repairing damaged hair fibers. "I have watched hair transform from looking like cotton to looking (and feeling) shiny and healthy again," says Krista Depeyrot, a master colorist and co-owner of Salon Bisoux in Alexandria, VA.
Products to try:
- Nexxus Keraphix for Damaged Hair: Formulated for color and chemically treated hair, this line—which contains a shampoo, conditioner, dry shampoo, and treatment mask—is infused with Keratin protein and black rice to help restore hair's health and appearance from the inside out. ($50; nexxus.com)
- Eufora Urgent Repair Treatment: Rich in keratin proteins, this treatment helps to restore moisture to dry, damaged hair and soothe your scalp at the same time. ($31; amazon.com)
Cool it with heat and bleaching.
Addicted to your curling iron or never leave the house without your hair blown out? Heat tools and blow drying exacerbate that over-processed look, says Depeyrot.
If your hair is fried, cut back to styling with heat once a week, suggests Dr. Francis. Always use a heat protectant, which acts as a barrier against damage, on your hair before blow drying, too. Ingredients such as aloe vera and sunflower seed extract can help prevent damage and moisturize, says Hodges. (Related: The Best New Hot Styling Tools for Healthy, Shiny Hair)
Product to try:
- Kerastase Ciment Thermique: This treatment protects hair from heat for those days when you are blow drying, while also helping to rebuild the hair thanks to pro-keratin. It's also light enough not to leave hair feeling too heavy or greasy. ($37; sephora.com)
And think about bleaching seasonally (four times a year, max), says Dr. Francis. After all, the more you mess with the hair cuticles, the more damage you'll see. Plus, a really good stylist can work with you coming less frequently, as long as you're keeping regular dates: "Hair color experts have techniques to camouflage intermittently," says Dr. Francis.
Keep up with your haircuts.
"Damage from split ends can travel up the hair shaft like opening a zipper, increasing the amount and length of hair that requires cutting," says Dr. Francis. How often you'll need a cut will vary on hair type, length, and how much damage is done, but most stylists suggest every six or so weeks.
Invest in masks and oils.
Extra damage = a need for extra hydration. Pick a day you know you will have 20 or so spare minutes around shower time to leave in a mask, suggests Clauson. (In a rush? Kerastase's Fusio-Dose treatments can also replace a typical daily conditioner and only require five minutes, she says. (Related: Hair Masks That Combat Dryness and Frizz)
An oil will also help keep frizz at bay while hydrating your ends, even if you don't style your hair, she says.
Products to try:
- Shu Uemura Essence Absolu: This hair oil can also be used before bed as a barrier against your pillow or as a smoothing oil pre-ponytail, says Depeyrot. ($69; shuuemuraartofhair-usa.com)
- OUAI Treatment Masque: This treatment uses keratin and amino acids to repair damage, while also protecting hair from color-fading UV rays. ($32; sephora.com)