I am certainly no expert on long hair or hair care, but I have learned a lot about what does and does not work on my hair.
My hair is extremely fine, but I have a lot of it, so I have a low medium thickness, not thin hair.
Here are some of the things that work for me.
I haven't used shampoo now for almost four years. I wash my hair with conditioner and it works very well for me. I no longer have that stripped feeling when I wash my hair, but at the same time it doesn't feel greasy, and yes, it's very clean.
Here is how I wash with conditioner only, or CO: I make sure my hair is extremely soaked through with water and then apply a light conditioner such as Alberto/VO5 to the scalp area of my hair and work it in well. I then apply a more moisturizing conditioner to the length of my hair. One of the secrets to CO washing is to use a lot of conditioner, more than you might think necessary. Then I pile my hair in a little knot on top of my head and secure it with a claw clip. Some might also use a shower cap. I continue my shower, wash my face and body, and by that time the conditioner has done its job and is ready to be rinsed.
Now we come to the other really important factor to CO washing. Rinse, rinse, and rinse again. I find that it takes a minimum of 2 to 3 minutes.
I like to finish off with a mild rinse of apple cider vinegar in distilled water. If I do not have distilled water available, I will just use tap water. This really helps with tangles and helps to create a lovely shine.
After rinsing is complete, I gently squeeze out my hair (no wringing) and gently fold it in a towel. I leave it in the towel for several minutes to get rid of excess moisture.
After leaving my hair in a towel for several minutes to soak up extra moisture, I gently remove the towel. At that point I take a pea-sized amount of conditioner, rub it between the palms of my hand and lightly work it through the ends of my hair.
One of the most difficult habits for me to break was to learn not to detangle or comb my hair while it is wet.
Combing, or even worse, brushing wet hair is extremely damaging as hair is very elastic when wet and is more prone to snapping and breaking when combed. These breakages lead to split ends, and the over-stretching weakens the hair. This is how I dry my hair, with good success
I allow my hair to air dry, while lightly fluffing it out at the roots. This speeds up air drying considerably without damage. Once my hair is almost completely dry, I detangle with my fingers. After my hair is completely dry, I'm ready to comb it. I prefer wide toothed, seamless combs. My combs of choice are wood combs and horn combs. I comb my hair by taking a section, beginning at the ends and working my way up. I comb section by section until all of my hair is combed and tangle free.
This is the time I do a very light oiling on my hair from the ears down. The oils that I choose to use are jojoba oil or extra virgin olive oil. Some people prefer heavier oils such as coconut oil or shea butter, but heavier oils are just too much for my fine hair in everyday use.
To oil my hair, I simply use one drop of oil in the palm of my hand and then rub my palms together. At this point I lightly run the ends of my hair between my hands. This gives a light protective coat of oil, without allowing my hair to look oily. After that, I brush my hair through with a boar bristle brush. The natural bristles allow even distribution of the oils through my hair. Now I'm ready to do the style of my choice.
Ideally, caring for long hair should begin even when it's still relatively short. Every 6 inches of hair represents a year's worth of growth, so just think of the wear and tear that can happen each year.
Between washes there are several things that can be done to moisturize the hair, as well as to protect it. Here are some ways that I've found to care for my hair:
Protection is very important for longer hair, especially the top hairs (the canopy), which are the longest and are more exposed to the elements, and of course the ends. An ideal way to protect the hair is to wear an updo. Even the simplest bun protects the ends and canopy. Braids also help to contain and protect the hair.
I have a little mister bottle that I use to refresh my hair between washings. I use a 60 ml (2 oz.) bottle, so that the mixture I make won't have time to go bad. I like to put some distilled water in it, a few drops of jojoba oil, a dash of conditioner and sometimes some aloe vera gel. I shake it very well so that the contents are thoroughly dissolved. I often spritz the ends of my hair before putting my hair up. That way the ends of my hair are being moisturized without any fuss.
The mister also comes in handy for those times when I have a wayward lock of hair that is sticking up, or bending in a strange direction. I just lightly mist it, gently comb with my wide toothed comb and my hair looks as good as new.
There are a few things you can do at night before bed to protect your hair. At this time of day, I like to add another drop of jojoba oil to my hair make sure it is detangled and then brush it lightly with a boar bristle brush. I then put it up in a little bun on the top of my head. I do not use a clip or pins to hold up the bun; I use a satin scrunchie. Alternatively, double braids or a single braid are good for sleeping.
I have found that satin pillowcases are invaluable tools for those of us who move around quite a bit in our sleep. It really reduces the wear on the hair.
In the morning, I take out my bun or braid(s) and I have perfectly detangled hair.
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I like to deep treat my hair between once a week and every other week. Most of the time I do moisture treatments, and less frequently, protein treatments. I will describe more about what deep treatments I use in another section.
I've discovered that regular trims are a must for my fine, straight hair. Each strand of hair grows at a different rate, so with perfectly straight hair such as mine, the ends become jagged fairly quickly. I've also learned through experience that the end become thin if I don't trim. For me, a trim is necessary every other month, at which time I trim a third of my growth. That might seem like a lot to some people, and it certainly slows down my growth per year, but the quality of my hair is much better with these trims.
People with more volume and wave might go six months to a year without a trim with no problems. I do know that even a small trim goes a long way toward getting rid of split ends and tangle problems.
When you're only talking about cutting off a quarter of an inch or a half an inch, it's difficult to go in the salon and know that the hairstylist will only cut off what you want. That's why I like to cut my hair myself. I've been using Feye's Self Trim Method for almost four years, very successfully, and believe me, I'm no wizard with the scissors.
Most people say that one can't grow long hair if it's chemically coloured. There's no question that chemical dye is damaging to the hair, but if treated with lots of extra care, it can be done. There are people with hair over 2 feet longer than mine who have healthy looking coloured hair.
Preparation is very important to colouring long hair. Through trial and error, I have found a couple of things that really help me. One is coating the length of the hair with unrefined coconut oil. Coconut oil does not prevent the dye from processing at all, and it contains anti-oxidants that help to prevent peroxide damage. When colouring my hair, I am always sure to colour the roots only. I never pull the dye through to the ends, as is directed in the instructions to box dye. Enough colour will deposit to the ends upon rinsing without inflicting much damage.
After all of the colour is rinsed out, I load my hair with conditioner and proceed as I would for a CO wash.
I have found that using the coconut oil preparation method allows my hair to feel perfectly normal after rinsing, as opposed to the stripped feeling it had before I tried this method.
I have observed that light oiling is particularly valuable for those of us with coloured hair. With oiling, remember that less is more, and also remember to use oil on dry hair.
Bleaching is extremely damaging to long hair. If I were asked by someone who really wants to bleach, I would tell them to please go to a salon that is experienced with colouring and caring for long hair. There are people with extremely long hair who bleach it, but they are extremely careful as to how it is applied by a professional, and they care for it with a lot of moisturizing treatments. They also have some very resilient hair. Some hair types would not be able to handle bleaching well at all no matter what care is given. I would proceed with extreme caution.
Deep treatments are great ways of giving my hair extra moisture, extra protein as well as extra protection. They can go a long way to keeping my hair healthy looking and shiny. Most of my deep treatments I create myself with ingredients that I have at home.
I generally try to do a deep treatment once a week. I usually do moisture treatments, and when I feel my hair needs it I do a protein treatment. Too much protein on the other hand can leave the hair feeling crunchy.
My favourite moisture treatment is a blend of one part honey and three or four parts conditioner. I usually make up about half a cup. I don't use a heavy conditioner for this; I use a fairly light Alberto (VO5) conditioner or a Suave Naturals conditioner, without any silicones.
Honey is very moisturizing and softening. It also can create a natural but safe peroxide which can lighten hair somewhat, however the enzymes that cause the chemical reaction that creates peroxide can be destroyed by heating the honey for 15 to 30 seconds (depending on how much you're using) in the microwave. If microwaved, honey treatments will not lighten the hair.
I dampen my hair, and then apply the microwaved honey/conditioner mix to the scalp and then the full length of my hair. Once the mixture is applied, I gather all my hair on top of my head and I wrap my hair in a plastic bag from the supermarket and then cover it with a towel. I keep the treatment in for at least 60 minutes.
The heat from my head heats up the mixture, and the plastic bag keeps moisture from escaping. The natural heat allows the treatment to penetrate more deeply. Some people use heat caps, but I find that my method heats up the mixture well enough for my purposes.
After an hour or so, I just rinse out the honey/conditioner mix in the shower. I don't use shampoo. This mixture cleans my hair as well as conditioning it. I finish off with a final rinse of a pitcher full of water with a tablespoon or so of apple cider vinegar. I'm left with soft and shiny hair.
Another treatment that I find helpful is a mayonnaise treatment. The mayonnaise can be home made, but Hellman's (Best Brands) full fat mayonnaise works well too. This treatment is rich in oil and protein. I use it exactly as I used the honey/conditioner treatment above. It is applied on damp hair, covered in plastic and then a towel and is left for 60 minutes.
I wash it out with my usual Conditioner Only method.
A third treatment that is great for shine and to help my hair feel soft and silky is a coconut milk soak. For this treatment I pour some full fat coconut milk into a bowl, lean down and soak my ends and much of the length in the milk. I then take the length of the hair, bun it, and cover just that bun with a plastic bag and a towel. Again, I leave it for at least 60 minutes. Some people will cover all of the head with coconut milk, but I do not put it on or too close to my scalp. If I do, my scalp ends up much oilier than I want.
I wash the coconut milk out with my usual CO method, and this treatment really brings out shine.
Of course there are many commercial hair masques and deep treatments, but I find that the home made ones work just as well. The one commercial protein treatment that I will use on occasion is Joico's K-Pak. It is an excellent protein treatment with hydrolyzed proteins that are absorbed by the hair. I do not use it often.
Still another treatment that I find very effective to making my hair feel stronger and slightly fuller is the application of cassia obovata, sometime referred to as "neutral henna". I only would use 100% pure cassia obovata that is normally only carried by vendors who sell body art quality henna. Drugstore "neutral henna" is a compound and contains metallic salts. It doesn't give the same conditioning benefits of pure cassia and it is not safe to use if you colour your hair with chemical dye.
Pure cassia is bright green in colour and quite easy, if a bit messy to use. I use 100 grams for my mid-back length hair. People with thicker hair may have to use more.
I mix the cassia powder with very hot water, or chamomile tea until it is the consistency of pancake batter. I then cover the bowl with the mixture and let it develop for about 20 minutes. Some people apply it to damp hair, but I have found through trial and error that it works best on me if I apply it on dry hair. I apply it to all of my scalp and hair, from root to tip. Again I cover it in plastic, for better absorption and so that it doesn't dry out. Cassia can be left on for about an hour with good results. It's not necessary to leave it on longer.
It takes quite a while to rinse cassia from the hair. I like to fill a bath, an lay my head in the bath water to remove most of the cassia. I then pile in a lot of conditioner--more than I would use for a regular CO, leave it for about 5 minutes, and then I rinse that out in the shower. I love the results of cassia.
Just about anyone can use cassia, but I do not recommend it for people with silver hair or light blonde hair, as it can add a very light yellow cast to the hair. This may look golden on some hair, but if you like an ashy shade, this may not be for you. It will not affect colour in dark blonde hair and darker.
There are a lot of different recipes and treatments out there, but these are the ones that have worked best for me. Everyone's hair is different, so they may or may not be for you.