With all the fuss made over your wedding dress, don't allow your wedding hair to be an afterthought -- like the groom's corsage. These things take planning. Left to the last minute, his boutonniere might be an orange tiger lily snipped from his mom's garden. Your hurried home perm may resemble the skunk-striped afro of the bride of Frankenstein.
OK, OK, so we exaggerate. But on that special day, any disappointment can seem like a disaster. Why risk a hairstyle fail when shiny, healthy hair is so easily had? Some of the tips described in these pages may already be part of your beauty regimen. Those that aren't, you'll welcome the excuse to add; they'll save you time and money, leaving more of both resources to lavish on that most important event. And if for some heart-breaking reason, the nuptials are called off, you'll still have a beautiful head of hair to take away from the relationship. One less thing to worry about when true love does find you, and the wedding bells ring.
It may come as a shock, but your hair is dead -- as in physically dead, not dull and limp. Hair's main component is a particularly sturdy protein called keratin. Keratin cells have no nucleus -- no brain, you might say -- so they can't use nutrients the way living cells do. Products that supposedly feed your hair -- with vitamin E, for example -- might have other useful ingredients, but hair food they are not.
Hair's other essential component is a mixture of fats, protein and other substances called sebum. Sebum is secreted from glands near the hair root. It complements keratin by lubricating hair to help prevent breakage.
The scalp that produces hair and sebum, on the other hand, is alive; it's part of the skin. Like other organs, it's nourished from the inside by the foods you eat. The better you nourish your scalp, the better your hair will look.
All nutrients are needed for health, of course. The scalp relies especially on omega-3 fatty acids, which keep it supple and well-oiled. Oily fish such as salmon are excellent sources, as are walnuts and flaxseed. Sebum production requires vitamins A and C. You'll find both vitamins in citrus fruits and dark green, leafy vegetables. Iron, zinc and biotin also promote hair growth. Good sources are beans, beef and whole-grain foods. And hair is largely protein. Best bets for quality proteins include lean meats and poultry and soy foods.
Washing your hair seems like a given for a healthy shine. Most shampoos work the same way, by attacking dirt that accumulates in sebum. Like any oil, sebum is a dirt magnet. It attracts dust, pollen and other substances, as well as sweat and styling product residue. These grimy globules are not only unhygienic, they're shine killers too.
Shampoos contain chemical compounds called detergents, or surfactants. When you lather up, surfactants bind the dirt with the water. Rinse and it all goes down the drain. Many shampoos also contain conditioners to compensate for the loss of sebum.
That being said, shampoos come in different formulas, and it pays to know which ones are right for you. For example, what's your hair type? Fine hair is more fragile than thick hair and may need gentler surfactants. A shampoo for fine hair may not do the trick for thicker locks.
Likewise, some dandruff shampoos have selenium sulfide to control flaking. But that compound can discolor fair hair. Shampoos that use other ingredients might be better for blondes.
Shampooing routines also vary from one person to another, but certain factors apply to all. For instance, hair is more vulnerable to breaking when wet. Water molecules infiltrate the protein molecules, weakening their bonds. Shampoo only as often as your hair care needs dictate. Work shampoo into your scalp and massage it into the rest of the hair. Rinse, and then blot or gently squeeze dry with a towel.
When your hair is shiny, you can credit the cuticle. The cuticle is the protective outer layer on each strand of hair. Cuticle cells lie in an overlapping, shingle-like fashion. On a healthy head, they're flat and snug, forming an even surface that reflects light for that desirable sheen. A cuticle can be damaged, however, by excessive washing that strips away sebum and intensive styling that involves heat, creams and gels. Damaged cuticles resemble a roof after a windstorm -- torn and rough, with some shingles loose and others missing. They're prone to snags and tangles, which means more combing, which can lead to more breakage.
Conditioning products contain ingredients that smooth and seal the cuticle. This not only improves the surface, but also helps to keep out moisture. Like water that seeps into a roof, water that seeps into a damaged cuticle can worsen the problem. Conditioners also help prevent strands from tangling.
Shampoos typically have built-in conditioners, which may be enough for your hair. If you use a separate product, you may want to experiment with different brands and ingredients. But be aware that conditioning can be overdone. Conditioning agents can build up with regular use, leaving hair limp and -- ironically -- dull. Fortunately, there are shampoos to remedy that problem, too. Clarifying or deep-cleansing shampoos, also called volumizers, are designed to wash away built-up styling products and restore body.
A strand of hair splits when the cuticle cracks, exposing the inner layer, the cortex. Under the microscope, it looks jagged and splintered, like a tree limb that's been struck by lightning. Split ends aren't a pretty sight in wedding pictures, either.
Combating split ends can be a never-ending battle. The breakage begins at the tip and continually travels upward. There are ways to minimize the damage, however. First, trim the ends regularly. Hair grows about one-quarter to one-half an inch (about 1 centimeter) per month. Trimming every six to eight weeks should keep pace.
Try to avoid tight braids and tails that can cause breakage. And reconsider crimping, straightening and other similarly hair-stressing treatments. Friends may rave at your bedhead look today, but will they be equally impressive be your frizzed 'do next year?
Remember to shampoo with care. Save rubbing for the scalp, where the dirt is worst. If your hair is reasonably clean to start with, try using only a conditioner the rest of the way down.
If you start on these tips now, you may see some improvement by the wedding. If not, try products that are specifically designed to treat split ends. They contain chemical compounds that react with the keratin in hair to temporarily bridge the ends. A last-minute application of oil or hairspray will help, too. Then there's this cheat: Rub your hair with a dryer sheet. They work in the hair as they do with the laundry, neutralizing the static electricity that intensifies frizz.
"Brush your hair 100 strokes a day." You've probably heard that advice, well, a hundred times. If you've followed it, you probably have terrifically toned arms. Your hair, on the other hand, might be the worse for wear.
Brushing your hair stretches it. In hair, as in your muscles, stretching equals stress. But unlike muscle, hair is dead. It can't recover, much less repair itself, after stretching. The damage can start well before you hit the hundred-stroke mark and build over time. Remember, too, that hair is weakest when wet. If you brush your hair to untangle it after washing, your chances for breakage increases. Curly locks are particularly at risk.
Brushes are fine for styling. For everyday care, however, put down the brush and pick up the comb. A sturdy, wide-toothed comb will serve you better than those plastic cheapies that snag and snap off.
If you do brush on a daily basis, choose the gentlest model. Look for large brushes with well-spaced, ball-tipped bristles. Keep them clean for maximum efficiency.
You've heard the saying, "If you can't stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen"? Well, hair can't stand the heat -- not much, anyway. Hot water attacks sebum like a dishwasher de-greases a lasagna pan. Dry heat from blow dryers and styling irons delivers marshmallow-roasting temperatures up to 400 degrees Fahrenheit (200 degrees Celsius). Contact between a hot iron and wet hair can cause double-strength burns, combining dry heat with steam. The result can be a dry scalp, cracked cuticles and damaged hair.
The solution, then, is this: Keep hair out of the kitchen. Shampoo with the lukewarm water. Apply a conditioner before using hot hair appliances (dryers, irons) and exercise some control when applying the heat. Use the lowest setting needed -- thicker hair typically takes a higher setting than fine hair, for instance -- lest you fry your hair before styling it.
Did your blow dryer come with a diffuser and a concentrator? Then use them. The diffuser cools and spreads the airflow, and the concentrator directs it only to where it's needed. As a temperature test, try the dryer on your arm. If it's too hot for your skin, it's too hot for your hair.
In the fairy tale, Rapunzel's boyfriend climbed her long hair up the tower wall to her room. Talk about strong, healthy hair. But then, Rapunzel didn't get out much, so she never subjected her locks to curling, crimping and other stressful treatment that today's hair endures in the name of beauty. Her hair probably could have hoisted her boyfriend's horse, as well.
You might take a page from Rapunzel's beauty book. Give your hair a detox, the equivalent of a brown-rice-and-carrot-juice diet. Shampoo and condition as needed, but give up intensive styling that involves heat, chemicals, mousse, gels or sprays. Instead, check your favorite fashion magazine or Web site for casual, no-fuss-but-good-looking styles. Consider loose braids for long air, fishtailing down the back or coiled into a bun. Twist a ponytail into a knot and secure it with hair pins. For short hair, pull back bangs, or comb them forward. Get creative with accessories -- barrettes, hair combs, elastic bands and more. Who knows? You may like the new look.
As you consider your wedding day hairstyle, also consider your stylist. Your regular styling guru knows your hair and what products and styles flatter it most. But maybe the wedding is out of town, or the style is as elaborate as a three-tiered wedding cake with spun-sugar rosettes -- in which case, you might ask him or her to recommend a wedding hair specialist.
Either way, start the process with a consultation at least three months before the wedding. You need to learn about your options and what they entail in order to make sure you have the time and money to do your chosen style right. You may need a dry run to work out any bugs and fine-tune your preparation. Now's the time to find out that the up 'do that shows off your swanlike neck also makes your veil stick out like a circus tent.
You also want someone who shares your views on hair care and beauty. For instance, suppose you sport a bob now but envision flowing tresses by wedding day, six months from now. Given the average rate of hair growth, the best you can hope for is about 3 inches (7.5 centimeters) more in length. Will the stylist encourage you to look at shorter styles? Suggest ways to create the illusion of length? Urge you to get hair extensions? Unlike class pictures, you won't get new wedding pictures every year (we hope). You want to be happy with what you see.
"When all is said and done, the weather and love are the two elements about which one can never be sure," wrote novelist Alice Hoffman. You've done your best to make sure about the love; we'll try to help with the weather. Not by predicting rain or sunshine on your wedding day, but with tips on keeping your hair looking good regardless of the conditions.
Excess moisture is the enemy of shine, especially if your hair's already prone to frizz. The cuticle fattens up from the water in the air and loses its smooth, reflective surface. To prepare for a humid forecast, add or switch to an acidifier conditioner. The mild acids tighten the cuticle, while the oils and silicones form a barrier against moisture. On the Big Day itself, hit up your hair with a double shot of serum or oil before styling.
Dry air is not necessarily a friend to hair either. A lack of moisture can cause the opposite problem: dry, brittle hair with static electricity that fights your best styling efforts like the ring bearer being dressed in his tuxedo. The remedy again is conditioner, this time to lock in moisture. Plump your hair with a conditioner that contains palm oil or coconut oil, which have fatty alcohols that soften hair.
Stress has a jarring effect on your hair's growth cycle. Normally, a hair grows for a few years, rests for a few months, and then falls out. You shed from 50 to 100 hairs a day through this process.
Stress can send some hairs into early retirement. Then, when they fall out, along with the regularly scheduled drop-outs, the results can be startling.
Both physical and emotional stress can contribute to the problem. In the hectic days of wedding planning, take time to get enough sleep and eat right. Our tips on eating for healthy hair are sound nutritional advice in general. They can also help you lose any unhealthy weight before the last fitting for your wedding dress. Crash diets are major stress inducers.
Preserve your mental health, too. The bride may be the star of the show, but she doesn't have to be director, producer and prop manager as well. Let other people take care of some details. And think about what really matters. Ask yourself: Is anyone going to remember, much less care, whether the Pinot Grigio served at the rehearsal dinner was domestic or imported?
Granted, it's unlikely that a few months of pre-wedding stress will leave you looking like a hairless terrier on your honeymoon. But the effect is cumulative. Learn to manage stress now and chances are good that you'll still have the lovely head of hair 10 years from now as when you walked down the aisle.
Take a look at this photo album to see all of our style suggestions for the unique and unexpected style bride!
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