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En español | Who says you can't be gray and sexy, or have long hair after 50? Or that short hair is frumpy, or that bright blond looks tacky after a certain age? We've tossed those beliefs and rules out the window. But what about those other little, nagging, back-of-mind hair folktales? Does brushing your hair 100 strokes a day make it healthier? Does a flaky scalp mean dandruff? Can your hair get used to a shampoo and stop working? Yes — or yarn? Here's the truth (and just between us), some of these are trickier than a simple yes or no.
1. Myth: Brush 100 strokes a day for healthy hair.
Truth: Brushing is a form of friction that, if done to excess — as in 100 strokes — will damage all hair, but especially thin, weak and fragile locks. However, there's some benefit to brushing gently and briefly to stimulate scalp circulation and help distribute natural oils from roots to tips. A few strokes with a natural bristle brush on dry hair does it. Skip synthetic or vent bristles, toss old brushes with bent or broken bristles, and never brush wet hair. Bend from the waist and work your way from roots to ends if hair is long, or just stand up and whoosh right through.
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2. Myth: Stress turns your hair gray.
Truth: No way! If that were true, we'd all be gray by high school. Going gray is a genetic thing. When the cells that produce melanin — your hair pigment — no longer produce color, it's over. There is no current scientific proof that stress accelerates graying, but it can do other unfriendly things. For example, all hair goes through rest periods when follicles don't grow. Extreme stress can push this growth phase ahead. So three months from now, you may experience more fallout than usual, and the new hairs that grow in may be gray. Rule out any hair changes — possibly due to drug side effects, hormonal causes or underlying illness — by seeing your doctor.
3. Myth: Your hair gets used to the same shampoo.
Truth: Yes and no. But it's not all in your head. If you think your shampoo and conditioner are no longer doing their job, it's because your hair needs have changed. You've probably cut, colored, relaxed or straightened your hair. Or grown it longer, gotten a weave or gone natural in texture. Or moved to a different climate or started using new styling products. Or become lazy in your habits, such as shampooing less often, skipping a deep conditioning once a week, not rinsing enough or over-rinsing. In fact, it's probably some combination of these. It's time to match your current hair to your new routine.
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4. Myth: Ponytails, dreads and braids are a stylish daily choice.
Truth: Absolutely! However, constant tension and traction on hair by styles that are pulled tight — including ponytails, braids, weaves, dreadlocks, cornrows or extensions — can cause a receding hairline or breakage that leaves hair thinner, weakened and damaged. In fact, traction alopecia can mimic female pattern baldness, so catch the damage before it's irreversible. Change your 'do and loosen up. Try a soft updo that leaves loose pieces dangling. Style bigger, imperfect braids that start at the nape. Shift placement of ponytails (when you do wear one) and use thick fabric covered scrunchie-type bands (not elastics). Go with your natural texture. Or hold hair off the face with a soft fabric band or scarf.
5. Myth: A last cold-water rinse makes hair shinier.
Truth: Icy water will certainly will wake you up, but it won't close your cuticles (or your pores for that matter!) so that they lie flat. Each hair has a "cuticle" coating composed of shingle-like overlapping cells. The theory that chilly water makes hair lie flat is bunk. Only color changes the cuticles by swelling them, or rough towel drying makes hair frizz by lifting up the cuticles. A warm shampoo (not steamy hot), followed by a warm-to-cool water rinse, can minimize cuticle frizz. Opt for a good shine-boosting, leave-in conditioner or styling product and an occasional glossing treatment at the salon to keep color-treated hair light-reflective.
6. Myth: Frequent trims make hair grow longer faster.
Truth: Huh? Hair grows from the follicles in the scalp; the rest is dead. Every six to eight weeks, get a mini trim at the ends — known as a "dusting" in salon lingo — to prevent split ends from creeping farther up the hair. It'll keep long hair from looking stringy, and every hair length or texture looking thicker. And FYI: "Splits" cannot be mended or sealed back together, as some products claim. They are a result of damage from bent brush bristles, broken-tooth combs, ultrahot drying and styling, overprocessed color ... and age. Hair that's down to your bra has been hanging around for years — it only grows a quarter-inch a month regardless of ethnicity or texture. (Growth may be less noticeable in curled hair due to shrinkage as the hair coils or waves.) Hair also grows faster in summer (thanks to enhanced circulation to skin and scalp), while cold weather diverts blood flow to internal organs to maintain body temperature.
7. Myth: Stretch the time between shampoos and blowouts for as long as possible to avoid hair loss and damage.
Truth: Wash your hair enough. You don't necessarily need a daily wet shampoo, but do so every other day or every two days for sure. Your scalp, like facial skin, is a magnet for dead cells, product buildup, excess oils and bacteria. While we love dry shampoo for its ability to boost volume and make our locks smell fresh, and we love styling products for their skill at making our hair look smoother/shinier/fuller/curlier (take your pick), leaving these goodies sitting around on your scalp for too long can cause itchiness or irritation. Wash your hair!
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8. Myth: Color takes better on dirty hair.
Truth: Color actually sticks best to clean hair that's free of styling product buildup and residue. Wash your hair the night before your DIY or salon color, even if it's just a root touch-up, then condition as usual. But skip styling helpers such as gels, dry shampoo, mousse or serums until after your hair is freshly colored or retouched. The natural oils actually form a barrier to protect hair during chemical processing and keep a sensitive scalp from tingling. Then wait 72 hours before washing hair again, for the color to be fully trapped in the cuticle. Excessively oily and dirty hair (like after a fierce gym or hot yoga workout), or a no-wash weekend of swimming, sun hats and barbecues, prevents color from developing properly and staying put. Wash your hair 72 hours after coloring in order to lock in color, and also avoid chlorine pools that strip the color or give it a brassy green tone.
9. Myth: Flakes on black T-shirts and tops mean dandruff.
Truth: Hold on! Dandruff is caused by an oily scalp or yeast-activated fungus that stimulates an overproduction of dead cell buildup and shedding. Usuallythe flakes are big and yellowish, and the scalp looks greasy. Then again, flakes might just be due to a dry scalp lacking moisture, styling product overload or a skin condition such as psoriasis, seborrhoeic dermatitis or eczema. Try an over-the-counter dandruff shampoo with pyrithione zinc, salicylic acid or selenium sulfide for a few weeks. Weather changes, stress and even eating too much sugar can promote an itchy scalp. So can a reaction to hair color. See your dermatologist for a diagnosis if there's no improvement.
10. Myth: Fine, thin hair should skip conditioner.
Truth: Never! And no, those combo shampoo-conditioners are not for you. A separate, post-shampoo moisturizing, nourishing, hydrating conditioner is an essential part of your healthy hair regimen. Use it to detangle wet hair (saving you from breakage) and for a healthy, fuller look. Updated high-tech formulas in foam, serum and liquid are weightless and use a combo of botanical extracts, protein and antioxidants to add body, strength and shine. Even leave-in conditioners keep hair feeling clean, keep strands separate and allow hair to blow-dry to a bouncy and full finish. One caveat: Apply conditioner from mid-shaft to ends, avoiding the root area, if you have thinning hair that exposes the scalp.