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Home > Hair and Skin Tips > How to Have Great Hair
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Good hair, like good skin, is the result of a tricky balance of good genes, good care, smart shopping, and a healthy lifestyle. You can't do much about your genes, but there is a lot you can do to give the hair you were born with the chance to be its softest, springiest, and shiny.

Hair is made of keratin, the same protein that forms the base of nails, teeth, and, of course, skin. The hair root starts deep in the dermis and grows up through a follicle and out through the scalp - at which point it's called a shaft. Though the scalp lies hidden for most of us, the health of our hair depends on a healthy scalp. Too much oil (sebum) on the scalp can clog the follicle and inhibit healthy hair growth. If there is too little, the scalp is dry and flaky. Like clear skin and strong nails, soft, shiny hair is an indicator of good health. A healthy lifestyle - and intelligent hair care - will lead to healthy hair,the same way it leads to healthy skin.

Splitting Hairs

Each of us are born with all the hair follicles we'll ever have. The average number of hairs on your head is 140,000 if you're blond, 100,000 if you're brunette, and 90,000 if you're a redhead. (No one knows why, but if it's any consolation to brunettes and redheads, blond hair usually has less body.) Hair grows approximately one-half inch each month (faster in warm weather). On average, a healthy person loses between 75 and 100 hairs per day. Each strand is 97% protein, 3% moisture. The only living part of the hair is the root or bulb, which is invisible - unless you pull it out. Each hair has a life cycle of one and a half to seven years. In the shedding stage, which lasts about three months, the hair falls out to make room for a new hair, and the cycle starts again. So periodically you'll see lots of hair on your brush or in the sink. Don't freak out - it's normal.

Hair Shaft

The cuticle, or outermost layer, is made up of overlapping scales, as on a fish. Healthy cuticles lie down smoothly and reflect light, which gives hair its shine. A conditioner can help smooth the cuticle. Most women can tell whether they need conditioner by the way their hair feels: dry, brittle, broken ends. Here's test to find out whether your cuticle is damaged: (1) Shampoo and condition your hair, then comb it out. If the comb sticks in your hair down toward the ends, your cuticle is damaged, and you need a deep-moisturizing conditioner. (2) The cortex, the bulk of the hair strand, makes up 90% of its weight. It gives the hair texture, strength, elasticity, and color because it contains melanin, or pigment. Some leave-in conditioners with protein actually penetrate the cortex and build up the hair from the inside out. (When you use permanent hair color, it needs to penetrate the cortex in order to "take". (3) The medulla is the light, air-filled core. It is not known just what it does, and some people with fine hair don't have it.

Basic Hair Care Regimen

  1. Shampoo. Keep your hair clean. The sebaceous glands that lie at the base of each hair shaft secrete oil. As the sebum makes its way down the shaft, it coats the hair with a greasy layer that not only lubricates and softens the hair but also attracts dirt and airborne debris. Shampooing the hair cleans the hair and scalp and lifts dirt and oils.

  2. Condition. Three main reasons why you have to condition your hair: to moisturize it, to add shine, and to make it softer and easier to comb. Conditioners coat the hair shaft with emollients that remain on after you rinse: they help reduce tangles, static electricity, and fly-away hair, and they smooth the hair cuticle so that it reflects light better and thus has more shine. Conditioners are like moisturizers for the hair. Apply conditioner from the middle of the strand to the ends, not on top, or it will flatten your hair. If your conditioner makes your hair flat away - wax, silicone, and balsam ingredients sometimes do - switch brands.

  3. Brush and/or comb. Brushing at the end of the day removes dirt and debris. It also helps spread the oil down the hair shaft. But if your hair is curly, brushing will flatten out the curl, so don't do it, except right before shampooing. Brushing with a natural-bristle brush helps get the blood flowing on your scalp. If you don't brush, be sure to massage.

  4. Massage the scalp. The scalp is thickest at the nape of the neck, but scalp skin, overall, is thick skin. It has an intricate micro-vascular system, however, and because the scalp is the only part of your skin that doesn't move much on its own, it needs all the help it can get. Massage stimulates the flow of blood and oxygen to the bulb of your hair, which feeds it and helps it grow and thrive. (Bad circulation can result in thinning hair.) So before you go to sleep, take one or two minutes to massage your scalp. Starting at the base of the skull, gently rub upward and outward in small, circular movements. You won't see results overnight, but in the long run, your hair will be healthier if you massage regularly. And it feels great!!

  5. Caring Hair Based on Hair Type

    You have to know the type of your hair to best care of your hair. Based on the hair recognized, you can refer to the information below and apply if needed.

    How to Shampoo
    Wash your hair in warm water (neither very hot nor very cold), because it opens the cuticle.


    1. Pour a dime- or nickel-sized dab of shampoo in your palm (it's enough, even if you have long hair).

    2. Rub your hands together, and massage the shampoo into the scalp with your fingertips (never use your fingernails!).

    3. Then work your way out to the ends, because this is the direction in which the hair cuticle lies. If your hair is apt to tangle, don't clump it together too much as you work the shampoo into the hair.

    4. Rinse in cool water, which closes the cuticle and stimulates circulation to the scalp.

    5. After rinsing, gently blot the hair dry with a towel-don't rub. Rubbing can rough up and wear away the cuticle, weaken the hair shaft, and yank out your hair.

    (At a salon, they might shampoo twice because it feels so great, but at home, once is enough.)

    Shampooing every day is not necessarily good for your hair-unless it is naturally very oily or you're in your teens and your oil glands are going crazy. Curly hair or fine African American hair tends to be on the dry side, because it takes longer for oil to make its way down a curly hair shaft. If you shampoo curly hair more than two or three times a week, the ends will dry out.

    When you shampoo too often, you strip the hair of its sebum (oil) and perspiration - which is, obviously, what you want to get rid of when you wash. But sebum also seals and smoothes the hair's cuticle, which in turn reflects light better and makes the hair look shiny. (When hair is over processed or broken off, the scales stick out like flaps on a rock-climbing wall, they don't reflect light, and your hair looks flat. So don't overdo it.)

    On its own, hair is naturally shiny. If you want healthy shiny hair, shampoo in moderation and restrict your portion of gels, creams, mousses, and balms to a dime-sized dab. And if you shampoo daily, dilute your shampoo (cup your palm, and mix in once capful of shampoo to one capful of water) or alternate your regular shampoo with a mild shampoo (look for frequent-use or everyday use on the label) or gentle children's shampoo (not all are).

    Conditioners

    Conditioners make the hair smoother and add body and shine. Most conditioners are made of large molecules that literally stick to the outside of the hair and make combing easier, which prevents the hair from snarling and breaking. (Hair tangles when the cuticle doesn't lie flat and the hairs can't slide by one another with ease.) Because they coat the hair, conditioners make it look shiny and protect it from sun damage or drying styling aids.

    Types of Conditioners

    1. Rinse-Through: Leave on for less than a minute and wash right out

    2. Treatment or Repair (Deep Conditioner): Leave on for anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes.

    3. Leave-In: Comb through but don't rinse out.

    Conditioners often contain silicone, a highly reflective - but heavy - substance, along with moisture-binding humectants. The ceramics and complex lipids act as glue and make the scales lie flat. Emollients reduce frizz, and synthetic polymers bulk up the hair. Some treatment and leave-in conditioners contain proteins, which penetrate to the cortex and reinforce the structure from within.

    If your strands are thick, coarse, or curly, conditioning will take the nightmare out of combing your hair. Use protein-rich conditioner regularly, with an occasional repair or leave-in conditioning treatment. (If your curly hair is also fine, you'll have to experiment until you find a conditioner that's not so heavy that is weighs down your hair.) If you make structural changes to your hair on a regular basis - color, perm, or other processing - it will need conditioning to soften it and bind in moisture. Use a moisture- and protein-rich conditioner regularly, with an occasional repair or leave-in conditioner.

    Otherwise, use conditioner sparingly. If your hair is of medium texture but you like the way conditioner makes it feel, go ahead and use a rinse-through or detangling conditioner. But use only a dime-sized dab and keep the conditioner at the ends of the hair. If you blow-dry your hair, alternate a rinse-through conditioner with a leave-in cream conditioner once a month. Apply towel-dried hair and style.

    Before conditioning, squeeze excess water from your hair so it will absorb better. Spread conditioner through your palms before you work it into the hair. Use only a tiny bit and work it through the middle of the hair and down through the ends. Or comb the conditioner through - from middle to end - with a wide-toothed comb. If your hair tangles, comb from the bottom up, a little bit at a time, as if you were climbing a ladder.

    Brush and Massage Scalp
    The right brush will massage the scalp, help stimulate circulation, and moisturize the hair by distributing the oils down to the ends. It also helps remove dust and grime; aerates the hair, which gives it more volume; and eliminates loose hair, clearing the way for new hair growth. A flat, natural-bristle brush is still the best for basic, everyday hair care.

    Natural bristles are the most porous, which makes them best at picking up the scalp's natural oils and carrying them down to the ends of the hair. Many natural-bristle brushes are rubber-based or rubber-knobbed. The nubs enable the bristles to penetrate even the thickest hair. And because the rubber base is flexible, it doesn't pull at the roots. The longer your hair; the larger the surface of the brush should be. The thicker your hair, the denser the bristles you need.

    To avoid breakage, brush hair in steps, starting at the bottom and working your way up. For extra body, turn your head upside down and brush - gently - from the nape of the neck forward. Then brush from the sides toward the crown, and finally turn your head right side up and brush front to back. This stimulates the blood flow to the root and helps get rid of dandruff.

    With curly hair, brushing tends to flatten the curl, snare the hair, and make it look frizzy. If your hair is curly, stick with a wide-toothed comb, but do brush whenever you don't care how your hair will look immediately afterward. Be sure to massage your scalp regularly to make up for the fact that you're brushing less.

    To massage your scalp, start at the nape of the neck and massage upward with your fingertips spread apart, moving in slow, circular rotations. Next, put your fingers together, one hand on each side of the top of your head, and zigzag back and forth from the forehead to the crown.


    Dandruff

    Dandruff is seasonal, occurring more frequently and more severely from October to March, when your hair is exposed to dry indoor heat. So use the following simple rinse every couple of weeks to stay on top of the flakes.

    If your flaking is severe, you may need a true dandruff shampoo. In that case, alternate your dandruff shampoo with a gentle herbal shampoo to go easier on your hair and scalp. It is worth the splurge for a better-quality dandruff shampoo, especially since it will last longer because you won't use it for every shampoo.

    Massage dandruff shampoo into your scalp and leave on for a couple of minutes before you rinse, so that it can be absorbed by the scalp.

    Flaking Scalp

    It wouldn't matter much to you whether your problem is just dandruff, dry scalp. What would matter is that you're afflicted with a flaky, itchy, tight, or inflamed scalp, and you just want to fix it.
    Dandruff and dry scalp are both considered forms of dermatitis. Dandruff is often mistaken for a dry scalp, but it can afflict an oily scalp just as easily as a dry one. It's believed that dandruff is caused by an overgrowth of yeast that's found in moderation even on healthy scalps. The yeast irritates the oil glands below the surface, and the scalp responds by accelerating the cell turnover. Dandruff results when the skin cells divide and multiply at such an accelerated rate that they reach the surface before they die and clump there. These flakes of white, scaly skin look bad, and they itch.

    Sometimes, what's believed to be dandruff is simply shampoo residue from sloppy rinsing or flaking from that gel you're hooked on. Or it could be dry scalp caused by dry indoor heat, harsh shampoos, too-frequent shampooing, conditioners or gels applied directly to the scalp, hair processing, or a too-hot blast from a blow-dryer.

    If you color, perm, relax, or straighten your hair, your scalp can become oily, flaky, and inflamed, which may mean that you have a more severe form of dermatitis called seborrhea. One common mistake is to treat seborrhea with a harsh dandruff shampoo - that only makes it worse. So, first of all you need to know what kind of problem you have.

    Dandruff Test

    1. Turn your head upside down and brush or vigorously rub your scalp back and forth with fingers over a sheet of dark or black paper.

    If you see tiny, dry, powdery bits, you have dry scalp. However, if the flakes are larger and look slightly moist or greasy, they are dandruff. If you have large greasy flakes and your scalp is irritated and red, chances are you have seborrhea. If the scales stick to the scalp, it may be psoriasis, and if it doesn't clear up, consult a dermatologist.

    2. If what you have is dry scalp, first use a clarifying shampoo with cider vinegar to remove any buildup of shampoo or conditioner on the scalp. Then try an oil treatment or scalp cream designed for dry, itchy scalp.

    3. Although dandruff is generally believed not to be caused by microbes, most antidandruff shampoos are germicides. Go figure, most contain one of five ingredients approved by the FDA for fighting dandruff: salicylic acid, zinc pyrithione, sulfur, selenium sulfide, and coal tar. All of these ingredients will really dry out your scalp and your hair along with it, which puts you in the front seat of the beauty roller coaster: you got rid of your dandruff, all right, but now your hair looks like straw.

    Hair Loss

    1. Prevention

    If you are genetically predisposed to hair loss, refer to the guidelines specified below to help you prevent hair loss.

    Eat the recommended daily allotment of protein. Eat sulfur-rich foods like beans, milk, dairy products, fish, and eggs. Cysteine, one of the building blocks of the hair shaft, is made of sulfur-rich amino acids. Take your vitamins (make sure you're getting a good B-complex that includes biotin, and Vitamins A and C). Take flaxseed oil in liquid or capsules. According to Dr. Andrew Weil, author of Eight Weeks to Optimum Health, flaxseed is a source of omega-3 fatty acids that;improve the circulation, which is what you need to feed the hair root." Wheat germ oil and ground seed oil, both rich in Vitamin F, also provide essential fatty acids to build the hair. Season your food with cayenne pepper and ginger, both of which acid circulation. Avoid excess sugar and caffeine.

    2. Treatments

    See your doctor or dermatologist as soon as you notice hair thinning. Your dermatologist will offer several standard treatments. None is a sure bet, but each works some of the time. In some cases, early intervention offers the best hope of success.

    Cortisone: This steroid medication is most effective in mild cases, in which in works roughly one-third of the time. There are four methods:

    • applying a topical cream
    • injecting the scalp
    • injecting through the muscle, and
    • taking prednisone, an oral medication. Rogaine: The FDA has approved a 2 percent Rogaine medication for men and women and a 5 percent version for men alone, though many women have very good results with either or both. Ask your doctor.
    • Contact irritants: A dermatologist applies chemicals to the scalp that set up an allergic reaction. Apparently, this interferes with the immune response and disrupts whatever that response was doing to stop hair growth. Side effects include rash, severe irritation, and, in some cases, swelling of the lymph nodes.
    • PUVA: This psoriasis treatment relies on a combination of psoralen, a medication that makes the skin extremely sensitive to the sun, and UV light.
    • Coverups and sprays: Products such as Couvre temporarily darken the area to camouflage the skin in spots of thinning hair. It's messy, but if your problem is mild, it may help you feel better.

      3. Causes of Hair Loss

      Genetics: Males whose fathers went bald probably will go bald, too, and there's not much they can do about it, except take Rogaine or Propecia, which will help hold on to whatever hair is left. Women can also have a generic predisposition toward thinning hair, but Propecia is not an option for them, though Regaine does work well in some cases. Talk to your dermatologist. Hormonal imbalance: Raging hormones triggered by the birth control pill, pregnancy (postpartum alopecia), cessation of breast-feeding, and menopause can all cause hair loss. In the first three cases it grows back within six months to a year; in the latter it may never grow back. Medical conditions: Thyroid conditions or autoimmune diseases (like lupus) can cause temporary hair loss. Your doctor can tell with a blood test whether you have a medical condition that's causing hair loss. Medications: Chemotherapy, of course, is the most obvious example. But thyroid, blood pressure, antidepressant, and antiseizure medications can also cause hair to fall out. Nutritional deficiency, excessive dieting, or eating disorders. Major lif stresses, such as death or illness in the family, work trauma, relocating. Environmental exposure to toxic chemicals. Chemical processing: It's rare, but too much in too short a time may account for hair loss. Hairstyles: The constant pulling of styles can break the hair and damage the follicle, leading to hair loss.
    Hair DOs & DONTs

    DO- Massage your scalp for a minute - or have someone do it for you - every night before you go to bed to stimulate the blood flow to the roots of your hair.

    DON'T - Apply conditioner or styling products to the scalp; they can clog pores and cause flaking. Restrict these products to the hair only, especially the ends. After shampooing your hair, rinse with cool water. It makes the hair cuticle lie flat, and your hair will look shinier.

    DON'T - Wash or rinse your hair in hot water. Hot water dries hair just as it dries skin. It also opens the hair cuticle, which makes it more absorbent. This is a particularly bad iadea if you use styling aids - gels, creams, mousses - because they will absorb into the hair, weigh it down, and make it look greasy. Stick to a warm or tepid temperature.

    DON'T - When you shampoo, don't scrub the ends too much. Excessive scrubbing dries them out and makes them brittle.

    DON'T - Pull a warm hair back in tight ponytails, braids, headbands, or combs for long periods of time because they can break the hair and even cause traction; alopecia, a type of hair loss. Since chlorine and salt water dry out the hair, apply a little conditioner to the hair before swimming.

    DON'T - Brush your hair too much when it is wet. It will snap and break. Blot - don't rub - your hair dry. Rubbing hair can cause the strands to snag and tangle