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Long Hair: How to Care for It

Having very long hair is a responsibility, not a right.

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Calling All Rapunzels: Your Long Hair Guide Book

We sort of like the modern day Disney title of the classic fairytale "Rapunzel" better than the original. Why? Because we’re realists and "Tangled" is what being a longhaired princess (or everyday gal) is all about: knots, split ends, damaged hair shafts and general mane malaise.

Consider this: Hair grows from its roots at an average rate of one centimeter per month. That means that if your hair is past your shoulders, which makes it at least 16 inches long (about 40 centimeters) then your ends are over three years old! Just think about all the abuse they’ve been through, like scorching sun exposure, relentless heat styling, dips in salt water and chlorine, hair color treatments and I’m-in-such-a-rush aggressive brushing. All of these environmental aggressors chip away at each hair’s cuticle, causing it to frizz out, feel brittle and be more prone to breakage.

MORE: Turn Brittle Hair Soft Again

It almost sounds like a miracle that anyone actually has long hair in the first place.

Yet, long, thick locks that have blinding shine and touchable softness remain to be the beacon of beauty, youth and vitality. The good news: It actually doesn’t take a miracle to make that happen. Using the right kinds of products and being mindful of your styling moves can ensure your hair stays healthy as it grows longer and longer and longer.

First, try not to wash your hair every day. “Daily washing will actually dry it out. Instead, skip every other day and use a dry shampoo if your roots are oily or your hair looks limp,” says New York based celebrity hairstylist Creighton Bowman, who works with Felicity Huffman and Jane Krakowski. When you do lather up, give your scalp a good massage, which will boost blood flow to your roots, helping follicles to function at peak performance and stimulate hair growth.

But don’t mess with the rest of your hair too much. Hair is actually even more fragile when wet because it can absorb as much as 45 percent of its own weight in water, causing it to stretch 2 percent longer and up to 20 percent wider—that’s a lot of tress stress! So suds up gently. Also, avoid using very hot water, because the heat will cause the hair shaft to open up and cause frizz. Always use a moisturizing shampoo and conditioner so hair gets clean but still stays soft and manageable.

When you’re out of the shower, blot-dry your hair with a super absorbent, microfiber towel. Don’t rub back and forth with a regular nubby bath towel. Again, since you hair is still wet, it’s extra fragile and you must treat it with TLC. Smooth a detangling spray from ear level down to ends (your roots have enough natural sebum, so they don’t need extra product), then use a wide-tooth comb or specific detangling brush on wet hair (see some picks below) to gently remove tangles. Always comb out your ends first, then gently work your way up to roots. This avoids cramming the comb down the whole length of knotted hair.

Try not to heat style your hair every day. “The wrong tools can easily ruin long hear. Always keep the heat down on your blow dryer or irons to avoid burning your hair,” cautions Bowman. You don't want the dreaded "bubble hair."

When you’re going to use a blow dryer, curling iron or flat iron, use a heat-protective spray first to prevent frying your hair, and use the lowest setting on your hot tools. Look for styling products that also contain conditioning and strengthening ingredients like natural oils (argan, avocado, safflower, etc.), keratin and amino acids. Use a natural boar-bristle brush when styling, and stay away from accessories with metal clasps and tight hairstyles, which can tear your hair.

QUIZ: Is Your Hair Healthy?

As for maintenance, include a deep conditioning mask once a week. Apply it to freshly shampooed hair, then wrap a hot towel around it for 10 minutes, which will open up the hair shaft and let all the moisturizing ingredients sink in. (Tip: Zap a wet hand towel in the microwave for a minute or two.) Rinse out the mask with cool water to seal up your hair cuticles.

Finally, trim your dead ends when necessary. Once split ends start, they’ll progressively get worse and work their way up the mid-shaft of your hair. “Dry, brittle hair may need trims every few weeks while healthier hair can go a few months,” says Bowman.

 

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