We so often hear about the importance — and extravagance — of various skin-care routines, whether we're devouring celebrity profiles or swapping product recs in the group chat. From extensive, 11-step Korean methods to more minimal, one-product-wonder approaches, there's seemingly endless discussion and debate surrounding our skin-care rituals. But where's the same chatter when it comes to our hair-care routines?
"I have, for many years, been preaching that hair care should be looked at just the same way that skin care is looked at," says Kevin Mancuso, Nexxus global creative director. "It shouldn’t be just routine, it should be regimen." While skin and hair are both primarily made of protein, there are a few basic differences between the two: Skin is biologically active and constantly regenerating, whereas hair’s protein structure is dead. But nourishing the hair’s strands is still just as essential nonetheless.
To better understand exactly why we ought to be investing more in our hair-care routines, we tapped Mancuso and Dr. Fraser Bell, Nexxus science insights leader, to dive into the nitty-gritty details of why a hair-care routine is such a worthy endeavor and why your consistent efforts won't be for naught. "Understanding how hair protein changes at the molecular level lets us select the right molecules, proteins, and actives to put back into the hair to nourish, replenish, and rebuild its structure," says Bell.
We're not going to lie, our conversations lit a fire under our butts to get more invested in our own personal hair-care routines. Read on to join the club.
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Your hair changes as you get older.
"We like to think about aging in two ways," Bell says. "There’s one from childhood through adulthood into old age, and the other is about how hair ages on your head."
When you're very young, your hair is much finer and therefore more subject to tangling. In your teens and throughout adulthood, your hair becomes thicker, and as you produce more natural oils, it can become greasier. As you move into middle age, "the hair fibers themselves become finer, the natural oils that you produce decrease, and the number of hairs that you produce decreases, as well," says Bell.
As hair grows, it goes through an individual aging process of its own, too. "At the root, hair is at its healthiest, most natural condition and in its optimal state," says Bell. (Hair that hits at your shoulder, for context, is roughly three years old.) The older hair is, the more cycles of damage it has endured — from color processing to hot-tool styling — so the structure starts to break down. "Replenishing the hair fiber from the inside, as well as protecting the surface from the outside, becomes really important," Bell says.
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Different areas of your hair require different care.
Hair care isn't a one-size-fits-all operation — and we're not just talking about from person to person with varying textures. Just as there are different zones of our face that we cater our skin-care routines to (from oily T-zones to acne-prone areas to the delicate skin below our eyes), there are also different sections of our hair that can benefit from a more bespoke, customized approach.
"It’s really important to think in zones," says Mancuso,"and the longer your hair gets, the more zones you start to have." Hair at the root, as mentioned in the previous slide, is in its most optimal state, requiring less intense replenishment and damage control than longer strands. "You may want to condition [the ends] more heavily than you would condition the hair closer to the scalp," Mancuso suggests.
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The order of your routine matters.
Just as with a multi-step skin-care routine (where, ideally, you're progressing from thinner formulas to richer emollients), the sequence in which you apply your hair products will make them more or less effective in delivering their proposed benefits. It starts with your cleansing routine: "[At Nexxus,] shampoos are largely designed to clean, remove product buildup and excess grease, and refresh the hair fiber surface," says Bell, "and that enables the conditioner to deliver optimal conditioning of the hair surface and key active ingredients to the core of the fiber."
Post-shower, you can add on special treatments to your routine for bonus, need-specific results (anything from using silky serums on dry ends to overnight masks for the ultimate deep conditioning). And for those in-between wash days, second-day stylers such as dry shampoo or salt spray can work wonders in keeping hair looking and feeling fresh as it becomes greasier over time. It's all about utilizing the products in your arsenal to keep hair looking its best, longest.
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You should be mindful of your scalp.
Your scalp is skin, after all, and just like the skin on your face, it requires diligent, consistent care. A few things to consider that might inspire you to invest more heavily in your scalp routine: "If you live in a dense city or suburb where there’s a lot of pollution, dust collects in your hair," Mancuso says, "and over time, these pollutants and toxins migrate their way down to the scalp." A more frequent wash schedule, then, is helpful in maintaining optimal scalp health and hygiene.
Scalp care also comes in handy if you are prone to dandruff. "Dandruff means that you have an overgrowth of a yeast-like fungus that’s caused by a buildup of oils and dead skin," explains Mancuso. More consistent washing — and finding a great detoxifying scalp scrub — can help keep your scalp squeaky clean and properly exfoliated. If you have a dry scalp on the other hand (which small to medium dusty flakes may signal), you would want to prioritize moisturizing your scalp, instead.
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Color-treated hair requires different care.
"Colorants are of really quite harsh chemistry," says Bell, "and they’re not specific in how they act: When they’re breaking down or building color in hair, they start to attack the hair’s protein, as well." The protein structures that make your hair flexible, strong, and resilient — such as the cortex, matrix, and cuticle — are inevitably compromised in the process.
The problem with damaged hair (aside from, well, the obvious) is that it's more vulnerable to color loss, since dye molecules will fall out of these porous, weakened strands more easily.
That's why, when you switch up your hair shade, your new care routine is all about color maintenance, which requires a mix of repairing damaged strands and optimizing color vibrancy with gentler products. A sulfate-free cleansing conditioner, like Color Assure Cleansing Conditioner, "detangles and cleanses hair in basically one step," says Mancuso, offering an effective cleanse while not unnecessarily stripping hair of color.
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You can achieve better shine.
Shine is not just dependent on the surface level of your hair, but rather "is largely dependent on the condition of the hair fiber itself," says Bell. "If the hair fibers become damaged and the internal structure is broken down, light can penetrate right through and won't be deflected from the surface." As an example, Bell says to imagine someone with long brown hair: Their ends might look more porous or not as rich in color ("even a bit orange") due to light penetrating through the fiber instead of bouncing off of it.
To achieve better shine, then, you have to work from the inside out. Among the intensely reparative Nexxus Keraphix line, Bell calls out the Keraphix Gel Treatment, which facilitates deep replenishment to the protein structure to optimize fiber performance. "[The Keraphix regimen] rebuilds from within and provides optimum care and conditioning to the outside of the fiber to make damaged hair look, feel, and shine like undamaged hair," Bell says.
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Hormones, nutrition, and stress can affect your hair.
In the same way our skin changes due to hormone imbalances, the same can happen for our hair. "Hormones help control some of the natural oils that we produce for our scalp and for our hair," Bell explains. "As we get older and we produce different hormones, the hair, the skin, and the scalp can become drier for that reason."
Nutrition, similarly, can impact the oils we produce and the way in which our hair grows. "There’s some evidence that consuming particular amino acids and oils [in your diet] can promote hair growth," Bell says, though the condition of the hair fiber itself may not necessarily change. "The hair fiber is largely made of what we call nonessential amino acids — amino acids that our bodies can produce — more so than amino acids that we need to consume."
The effects that stress can have on hair, though, are a little more vague. "The scientific literature is less developed in terms of how stress actually influences the fibers that you produce, but [stress] certainly changes the way in which we feel about our hair." When we are reasonably stressed out, Bell acknowledges, it's not uncommon for us to perceive stress as a significant source of hair damage, even if physiologically, the hair fibers that are being produced are similar to when we're not stressed.