When it comes to the condition and appearance of our tresses, the terms ‘dry’ and ‘damaged’ often are used interchangeably. But is that really accurate? Better Natured™, for example, offers three shampoo and conditioner regimens based on hair type: Color Care, Damage Repair and Moisturizing. Each has a unique set of naturally-derived* ingredients, but which one is ideal for your particular needs? And which should you choose if at times your hair's condition could make it a candidate for all three at once?
With the help of #Betternaturedpartner and celebrity stylist Cash Lawless, we got the down-low on how to determine the state of our manes, and his pro tips for nourishing and nurturing them from root to tip.
Define the Differences
Healthy hair is more or less what we all start out with! Over time, our choices impact the look, feel and resilience of our locks. We stress our hair - particularly when it’s wet - by tugging at tangles and opting for high-tension styles like tight ponytails. For many women, hair color, heat styling and chemical treatments are the culprits, because these services repeatedly open, close and/or compromise the hair cuticle.
According to Lawless, the simplest definition of healthy hair is that “it’s non-porous: it’s hard to get water in or out.” By contrast, hair color and chemical treatments like straighteners and relaxers can cause porosity because in order to work they need to open the cuticle and penetrate the hair shaft. The result is increased porosity that “lets water escape, like a sponge.”
Mid-lengths and ends are generally more porous, too, because they’re farther away from the scalp’s natural oils, and bear the brunt of heat styling and aggressive brushing. According to Lawless, other factors that impact porosity and can rob hair of moisture include genetics, hormones, stress and climate.
Damaged hair is highly porous. Before you decide to channel your inner-Elsa and go full platinum keep in mind that bleached hair, in particular, is most prone to damage. The inner cuticle and cortex are so exposed and compromised that the hair often becomes brittle and breaks away. While dry hair can be rehydrated, damaged hair is more difficult to mend. As Lawless explains, “You can improve the appearance and feel of damaged hair, but the damage itself is hard to reverse.” So, to summarize: damaged hair is usually dry and brittle, but not all dry hair is damaged.
If you are curious where your hair falls on the porosity scale, Lawless suggests a few simple tests to gauge dryness.
- Take a small swatch of hair and gently stretch it outward away from the scalp so it’s taut. Dip a fingertip into some water, and let one drop fall onto the hair. If the water beads up and rolls down the swatch the hair is non-porous -- meaning healthy and hydrated. If the water absorbs into the hair, the opposite is true: the hair is porous and prone to dryness.
- Take one strand of hair and place it gently in a cup of water. If it floats on the surface, it’s non-porous. Hair that sinks is porous, soaking up needed hydration as it drops to the bottom.
To assess your overall hair health and degree of damage, he recommends two additional experiments.
- Take a medium swatch of hair and hold it out sideways 2-3 inches from the ends. If the hair bends downward it still has moisture. If it sticks out straight, it’s damaged. “Stiffness indicates the hair has no nutrients, moisture or strength left in the cortex - it’s literally lifeless,” describes Lawless.
- Again, take a single strand and stretch it. If it breaks immediately, it’s damaged. Hair with a bit of elasticity is healthy.
Treatment Guide for Dry or Damaged Hair
Pro-tips for choosing and using the ideal restorative care regimen
Select Ingredients that Quench and Nurture
To replenish moisture, Lawless has a go-to list of ingredients that may sound synthetic, but are plant-derived, gentle and effective. For dry hair, his go-to is glycerin. This vegetable-sourced humectant pulls moisture from the air to keep hair hydrated and maintain its moisture balance.
“Glycerin gives hydration and shine,” Lawless says, “but be aware that if you live in a very humid climate it may limit the life of your blowout.” Glycerin can be found in Better Natured Hydrating Leave-in Milk, Fresh Dry Shampoo Powder, Color Care Conditioning Balm and in the Moisturizing Shampoo, Conditioner and Replenishing Masque.
To address hair that’s both dry and damaged, the stylist looks for products that contain cetearyl alcohol and coconut oil. The first is a long-chain fatty acid alcohol that comes from sustainably-sourced Indonesian palm oil. Cetearyl alcohol is lightweight yet highly moisturizing, smoothing and not climate-limited. It’s used in the Hydrating Leave-in Milk, as well as the Moisture Replenishing Masque, Color Care Conditioning Balm, Heat Styling Lotion and Strengthening Leave-In Cream.
Separate from the nourishing coconut milk which is featured in Better Natured’s signature Triple Plant Milk Blend, high-powered coconut oil is unparalled for intense hydration, softness and shine. “I’ve found,” Lawless shares, “that the Better Natured Moisture Replenishing Masque, which features coconut oil, is highly effective in treating dry, damaged hair.”
He recommends using the luxurious masque every 3-5 shampoos depending on how much TLC your needs, and not rushing things. When it comes to letting all the restorative ingredients sink in, “the longer the better” he says. Before applying, gently squeeze excess water from the hair so the product can more directly absorb into the areas that need it most.
An interesting and little known secret is that when it comes to treating dry, damaged hair many of us are skipping a key step and making the same well-intentioned mistake! The DL from CL is this: Before using a deep conditioning or repairing treatment you want to remove surface buildup so the ingredients can sink in.
“If you don’t eliminate dirt, oils and product residue first you are defeating the purpose of the treatment,” Lawless explains. A clarifying shampoo such as Joico K-Pak Clarifying Shampoo, followed by a restorative deep conditioner and treatment, such as the Better Natured Damage Repair Strengthening Leave-In Cream, allows the ingredients to penetrate and perform the way they are designed to.
Easy Does It
Once you’ve drenched dry ends and diminished signs of damage, the last step is to brush and style your locks with the utmost care. Aggressive brushing and tugging will undo your good works, and even more so if your hair is wet.
Lawless recommends using a detangler to help avoid the tension and friction while brushing. “If you hit a snag in damp hair it's a signal that you are doing damage,” he cautions. Better Natured Hydrating Leave-in Milk “is in my kit because regardless of my client’s hair type or level of damage, the brush glides through with minimal resistance.” His final reminder applies to all hair types: Whether brushing or applying product, always start from the bottom and work your way up!
*We use the Global ISO Standard 16128 which defines naturally-derived as a plant or mineral derived material and water which is found in nature and has undergone limited processing. In the Better Natured™ line, the percent naturally-derived varies from product to product and ranges from 86% to 99%