Heat styling is an obvious one, sure, but some of these seemingly innocent offenders can actually wreak havoc on healthy hair. Here’s how to save your strands from extra stress.

By Melanie Rud
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When it comes to hair damage, many of us only think about obvious offenders—highlighting too frequently, skipping regular haircuts, picking at split ends. But here’s the thing: Much of what takes a toll on your tresses are your daily habits, many of which seem totally harmless. It’s the constant day-in, day-out repetition of these activities that can ultimately wreak some serious havoc on your hair. Fortunately, you can easily safeguard your strands by making a few small changes and using the right products. Here’s what you need to know.

The Habit to Break: Hair Brushing

It’s not necessarily the brushing itself that’s the problem, but an improper brushing technique. Think about how you comb through your hair. If you’re anything like us, you probably start at the top and move down, right? “Brushing downward pushes all of the tangles down,” says stylist Jess Vargas, an Artistic Team member at Zazú Salons in Chicago. You end up with one big knot at the ends of your hair, which then requires lots of pulling and tugging to undo, she adds. Not to mention that the ends are already the most damaged part of your hair and more prone to breakage to begin with.

The Fix: It may feel strange at first, but start brushing your hair at the ends, moving up toward the roots. Vargas likes using the Wet Brush Detangler Hair Brush, $6.79 at Target, which is specially made to help work out snarls and works well on either wet or dry hair. Still have some pesky knots? Rather than using elbow grease to get them out, make your life easier (and protect your hair) by spritzing on a detangler. “This adds moisture and gives the hair slip, softening the knots and making them easier to get out,” she explains. One to try: Pantene Pro-V Nutrient Boost Moisture Conditioning Mist Detangler, $6 at Walgreens.

The Habit to Break: Tight Ponytails

Nothing against the beloved pony, but if an extra-tight one is your go-to style, it’s time to reconsider. “Overly tight ponytails put lots of stress and tension on the hair, causing breakage, particularly around the delicate hairs at the hairline,” says Vargas. It can get so bad that this can even lead to a type of hair loss, known as traction alopecia.

The Fix: We get it, avoiding ponytails entirely probably isn’t realistic for anyone. But what you can do is at least try to alternate a pony with another style; a low braid is one good alternative that will keep your hair out of your face without the risk of damage. On ponytail days, Vargas suggests swapping your standard elastic for the Invisibobble, $8 at Ulta, a hair tie that won’t create as much tension. (An added benefit: It also doesn’t leave dents or creases.) But above all, never, ever pull wet hair into a pony. “Hair is weakest when it’s wet, because that’s when it is the most elastic,” Vargas cautions. You can end up accidentally pulling on it and stretching it too much, and it will then snap as it dries, she adds.

The Habit to Break: Over-Shampooing

Excessive shampooing dries out both your hair and scalp, stripping your scalp of the natural oils that create necessary moisture to keep hair healthy and shiny, says Chicago-based celebrity stylist, Alex Brown. Not to mention that every time you wash your hair you’re exposing it to other damage-inducing culprits, such as hot water and blow-dryers (more on those in a minute).

The Fix: Whenever possible, Vargas recommends washing only every other day. Use a dry shampoo, like the Suave Professionals Natural Refresh Dry Shampoo, $8.33 at Walmart, to hold you over in between. And when you do hit the shower, opt for sulfate-free shampoos, which are gentler and less stripping on the hair. Once a week, swap your standard conditioner for a hydrating mask, like the Kérastase Nutritive Masquintense Thick Hair Mask, $48.92 on Amazon, to add moisture back to your scalp and hair.

The Habit to Break: Hot Showers

Sure, a scalding hot shower feels great, but it isn’t doing your hair any favors. Hot water opens the cuticle, the outermost layer of the hair. This allows moisture to escape, drying out and damaging the hair. Not to mention it also can lead to frizz and cause color fading. No, thank you.

The Fix: Lukewarm temperatures are always best for hair washing. They are less damaging, and the cooler water also helps close the hair cuticle, enhancing shine.

The Habit to Break: Using a Cotton Pillowcase

Who knew that your bedding could be an issue? There’s nothing necessarily wrong with cotton, it’s just not great for your hair, particularly if it’s coarse or curly. The cotton roughs up your hair, creating more frizz and flyaways and knots, says Vargas. And then, you guessed it, you’re going to have to use more heat and elbow grease to style your hair in the morning, increasing the likelihood of damage.

The Fix: Investing in a silk pillowcase is a great option. Because your hair glides across it, “There’s less friction, leaving your hair smoother and shinier,” says Brown, who loves the Slip Silk Pillowcase, $85 at Sephora.

The Habit to Break: Blow-Drying

Any kind of heat can dry out your hair, leaving it more prone to breakage. The direct, concentrated heat of a blow-dryer—or any hot tool for that matter—is especially problematic, particularly when you’re exposing your hair to it daily.

The Fix: If air-drying isn’t an option, your best bet is to prep damp hair with a heat protectant. Brown’s pick: Ouai Memory Mist Heat Protectant, $28. Using the diffuser or extra nozzle attachment on your dryer can also help, since this will create more space between the hot air and your hair, Vargas says. As far as other hot tools go, turn down the temperature. Many come with temperature indicators; Vargas recommends capping it at 300 degrees, max. This may seem low, considering that many go all the way up to 450 degrees, but this is more than sufficient, she says. (And yes, add some more heat protectant before using any of these tools too, adds Brown.) It’s also a good move to not to use two hot tools back-to-back. In other words, try washing and blow-drying one day, then skipping the wash and blow-dry the following day and just using a curling iron or flat iron to touch up your style.

Though breaking these habits may seem like a small step, it can go a long way toward improving your hair’s health and protecting it from further damage. And the healthier the hair, the easier it’ll be to care for. Hello, gorgeous strands!

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