A question I get quite frequently when I help customers with the health of their hair in a personal consultation, is about the effects of cold and heat on hair.
With winter approaching, the personal care companies will be rolling out their "winter care" recipies of shampoo and moisturisers for you to run out and buy. But do you really need them?
Extreme Weather and Your HairAs a general rule of thumb, the weather has no effect on the health of your hair. If you can imagine that the cuticle of your hair is as tough as your fingernails, you know from your own observations that very hot and very cold days have no effect on this kind of hard, dead material.
What does dry and cause damage to your hair is intense sun for prolonged periods and being blown around by the wind. It is easy to protect your hair from these elements: put it up (and I, of course, recommend you use hair accessories made in France) or wear a hat.
An exception to this rule about the weather is extremely cold weather - we're talking sub-zero temperatures.
I was told a wonderful story at a dinner party recently about a trip my friends made to Siberia in the winter during the Soviet era. They travelled by train and frequently hopped off to wander around, as much as they were allowed to.
My friend had a moustache at the time and not knowing about the effects of very cold weather, was happily walking around without having his face wrapped up. His wife turns to him and comments that his moustache is covered in ice. He reaches up to touch his face and comes away with half his moustache broken off in his hand.
How did that happen? Our hair is very absorbent and good at holding water. In sub-zero temperatures, any water in your hair will freeze, even if it is lying close to your body. Once frozen, like any delicate structure, it will snap easily.
So when you're off skiing in the Alps this winter, if you can't put your hair up (under your helmet, for example), tuck the ends down inside the collar of your jumper. Your body heat will help keep your hair at a safe temperature.
Washing your HairWhat about the tradition of washing your hair in hot water and rinsing in cold?
This has very little to do with your hair and more to do with whether you want a product to cling well to your hair or not.
The fact is it is pretty irrelevant what temperature water you use on your hair. Warm (not hot) water is best for the health of your scalp, as it will allow you to clean the skin of your scalp without lifting away too much oil and drying out your skin.
Hot water is most effective in helping to lift oil from a dirty surface. This is why we use hot water to wash our dishes. The higher you can heat oil, the runnier it gets making the detergent's job of lifting it away easier.
Most women (and certainly anyone reading this article) do not have hair that is so dirty that only hot water will help get it clean. Even after exercising, you are only washing away sweat, which is mostly minerals, not oil, and warm water will be sufficient for the job.
Now the point of the "cold rinse" is to allow the conditioning molecules to continue clinging to the hair. It doesn't make the cuticle "lie down". This will happen of its own accord as the hair dries.
Heat StylingIf you've signed up for my free article series about healthy hair, then you know my views on using blow dryers and hot irons for styling your hair.
If you haven't read these yet, the summary of my opinion is this:
We use heat to give us more control during the styling process. However, most heat styling tools are used at too high a heat, to dry the hair more quickly because we are an impatient species. While a low level of heat helps the cuticle to dry harder and flatter compared to air drying, a high level of heat can bring the water in your hair to a boil. The steam created inside your hair then bursts out through your cuticle, not just at the ends, but all along the length of your hair.
So do straighteners damage your hair? You bet.
So these special winter protecting shampoos and conditioners are marketed in quite a cynical way. It isn't the weather that's the problem (unless you're in the Alps or Siberia and showing off your long hair), it's our own vanity and haste to have hair like Cheryl Cole's got on the telly.
Can you straighten your hair using cold air? Sure! If you've got a few minutes to kill, I found a video on YouTube that will show you one way to do this. I wouldn't recommend this method, but it's entertaining to see it done.