How to Have Healthy Hair

Here’s a scary stat: more than 80 per cent of people living in urban areas are breathing air that doesn’t meet the World Health Organisation’s criteria for air quality. And yep, you’ve guessed it, the UK doesn’t escape lightly – 44 cities and towns, including Glasgow, Leeds and London (which breached its annual air-pollution limit just five days into 2017) all feature on the WHO list. High levels of pollution can be seriously detrimental to both the planet and your health, but a lesserknown threat until now is the adverse effect hot gusts of exhaust fumes have on your hair. ‘Hair is one of the first things exposed to toxic air.

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It picks up more pollution than your skin because it covers a larger area, and toxic particles get trapped between the moving strands,’ says Dr Jeni Thomas, principal scientist at Pantene. At best, this invisible attack dulls tresses; at worst, toxic emissions create irreparable hair damage. But other than heading for the hills, how can you protect yourself? First, know your enemy. There are two main types of air pollution – particulate matter (PM) comprises minuscule soot particles and chemical droplets suspended in the air, while ground-level ozone is a noxious smog created when exhaust fumes react with sunlight. Second, counteract their effects. Here’s our guide to the latest toxic avengers that remove and repel pollution for envyinducing hair…


In a recent experiment by Pantene, pieces of hair were placed outdoors in nine different cities, including Miami, Rio and London, to determine how much and what type of pollution would stick to them. ‘London had the largest heavy-metal pick-up of all,’ says Dr Thomas, who cites lead, mercury and copper as metallic elements to be wary of. PM can also settle on hair, causing dryness and breakage. Indeed, hair exposed to highly polluted environments for three days can be caked in so many particles that it becomes three per cent heavier and 20 per cent rougher. ‘If left untreated, this brittleness can result in hair that is more prone to breakage,’ explains Dr Thomas. Fortunately, pollutants sit on the outside of the cuticle and can easily be washed off. Micellar shampoos hit the optimal sweet spot for clean, healthy strands. To recap: micelles are negatively charged oil molecules suspended in water.

As pollution particles are positively charged, they grab hold of them with magnet-like precision, but don’t strip the hair’s surface. It’s the haircare equivalent of washing lingerie on a delicate cycle rather than a hot spin. Try Pantene Pro-V Micellar Cleanse & Nourish Shampoo, or Redken Clean Maniac Micellar Clean-Touch Shampoo. If snapped strands are a problem, supplement with Viviscal Maximum Strength Hair Growth, which combines marine proteins, biotin and zinc for healthy hair. Or for an instant fix, apply Toppik Hair Building Fibers, £19.95 – made of the same keratin protein as natural hair – on to sparse patches.

How to Have Healthy Hair


Unfortunately, things get worse on sunny days, when airborne pollution combines with UV. ‘Free radicals are produced by UV rays that break down the hair’s lipid and protein structure,’ says Anabel Kingsley, trichologist at London’s Philip Kingsley Clinic. ‘When those become damaged, strands are weaker, more porous and lack flexibility.’ Getting into the habit of protecting yourself with a combination of sunscreen and antioxidant-rich botanicals can have a serious impact. For the former, look to conditioners with a UVA/UVB filter, such as OGX Hydrate & Color Reviving + Lavender Platinum Conditioner. For the latter, Dove Restoring Ritual Conditioner uses antioxidant turmeric, while Bumble and Bumble Save The Day Daytime Protective Repair Fluid thwarts urban aggressors with a free-radical-nixing blend of lipids and camelia oil. Or, try Kérastase’s new Fusio-Dose HomeLab treatment, which uses concentrates tailored to your hair’s needs. The Nutrition Booster, packed with Royal Iris, added to Vita-Ciment Concentrate, offers the ultimate damage repair.

Of course, haircare can only protect you so much. Such is the scale of indoor pollution (a cocktail of household gases and chemicals up to five times worse than outdoor pollution), it’s also worth considering an air purifier for your home. Dyson’s Pure Hot + Cool Link, £499.99, removes 99.95 per cent of toxic particles − ideal for those living in high-pollution areas.


The secret to healthy hair begins with a healthy scalp. PM measures a mere 2.5 micrometers, which means toxins can accumulate inside pores. ‘Pollution affects the scalp in a similar way to the skin on your face,’ says Kingsley. ‘It can become dirty, and problems can occur, such as flaking, itching and pimples.’ Buffing the skin on your scalp with Aveda Invati Advanced Exfoliating Shampoo lifts away the build-up of pollutants. For a more intensive cleanse, book in for a Schwarzkopf Professional Scalp Detox Therapy, from £15, complete with self-warming treatment spray and detoxifying massage to bring your scalp back to a state of calm. Or, for an effective overnight treatment, apply Nioxin’s Night Density Rescue pre-bedtime. It douses vulnerable hair in vitamin E, ginger root and biotin to neutralise oxidative damage on the scalp.


Bear in mind, too, that hair coated in sticky styling products is like flypaper for pollution particles. Instead, moisturise with a mask that can be washed off after 20 minutes. Coconut oil is an ingredient to look for, as it penetrates the hair shaft deeper than most oils and is rich in vitamin E and essential fatty acids. Find it in Pureology Hydrate Superfood Treatment. And consider swapping gels and lotions for a lightweight multitasking spray. Charles Worthington’s Radiance Restore Environmental Protection Mist is charged with activated charcoal (carbon that has been treated with oxygen to increase its absorbency) to lock out city grime while also ramping up volume. Or try VO5 Damage Protect Primer Spray. When heated, it forms an invisible raincoat around strands to banish PM (and, bonus, humidity) and seal in repairing active ingredients. Next thing you know, it’s ‘hello’ glossy, bouncy tresses.

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