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How One Editor Transformed Lackluster Hair Into a Voluminous Mane

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I’m not having a bad hair day; I’m having a bad hair year,” I say, nervously fidgeting under the expert strand-examining fingers of Manhattan dermatologist Macrene Alexiades-Armenakas, MD, PhD. My fortysomething hair has been looking dull and stringy for longer than I care to remember. While my friends may bemoan the advent of wrinkles, I yearn for the lush mane of my youth, and the way it bounced with natural vitality when I sprinted to hail a cab or twirled on the dance floor.

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I’m not alone. Alexiades-Armenakas has seen a recent spike in the number of female patients who’ve come in because their hair has lost its luster and their scalp has become itchy and sensitive. In my case, one of the culprits turns out to be my frequent use of dry shampoo to prolong blow-outs and increase volume. Dry shampoo is meant to be brushed out minutes after application, but much of the fine powder settles on the scalp, where it remains until being washed away. “It clogs the follicles,” Alexiades- Armenakas explains. “Yeast [which can thrive on an unclean scalp] feeds on keratin and causes inflammation. It’s probably short-term. But if you have a predisposition to hair loss, you could permanently damage your follicles. Keep it clean!” It sounds too simple, but a glance at Alexiades-Armenakas’s cascade of thick, shiny hair tells me she’s onto something. She also suggests I take a daily spoonful of flaxseed oil: “All my patients who are on it get regrowth and a phenomenal quality of hair.” Flaxseeds are high in alpha-linolenic acid, an omega-3 fatty acid known for its formidable anti- inflammatory properties. And inflammation, it seems, is at the literal root of my problem.

Within a month, my hair no longer looks like it’s been electrocuted.

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“Assaults on our system—environmental toxins, chemicals that are inside things we put in and on our body, UV exposure, pollution, smoking, stress—all lead to inflammation,” says dermatologist Bradley S. Bloom, MD. “It might not be dramatic, but it can be chronic—and down the line, it can cause cells to become dysfunctional, eventually leading to disrupted hair growth.” He suggests I add Nutrafol—a nutraceutical formulated to boost hair health with medical-grade curcumin, extracted from turmeric root, plus ashwagandha, a plant used in Ayurvedic medicine to combat the effects of stress on the endocrine system— to my new flaxseed regimen.

Within a month, my hair no longer looks like it’s been electrocuted. But the battle isn’t over: Bloom reminds me that strands can last up to eight years, so I’d better take care of them. Extreme heat from blow- dryers and flatirons, chemicals, and tight ponytails must be the rare exception, not the norm. Essentially, I need to treat my scalp with the same care I devote to my face.

“I have patients who spend thousands of dollars a month on facial serums, creams, and lasers, only to treat their scalp with neglect—or, even worse, overly aggressive products that strip away essential oils,” Bloom says. And then there are the ravages of time: “Oil glands and hair follicles get tired and age, just like all cells in our body.”

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Essentially, I need to treat my scalp with the same care I devote to my face.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that our long-ignored and tortured scalps finally have the attention of skin-care companies known for their antiaging prowess. Sisley’s new Hair Rituel, for example, is a line of hair and scalp products meant to—you guessed it—reduce inflammation and increase cellular renewal. The products contain an array of essential oils, formulated, via a newly patented delivery system, to travel directly into the follicle to provide proteins and nutrients where they’re most needed. Hinoki and mimosa offer a lovely lingering note of aromatherapy; I soon find myself dabbing the Precious Hair Care Oil on my wrists instead of using perfume and shampooing every chance I get.

When Bloom tactfully asks how I’m using Sisley’s ultraluxurious shampoo, I mimic the gesture of dumping a glob onto the top of my head. “That’s a bit like taking an expensive eye cream and putting it on your ear,” he says. “You want to shampoo your scalp, and to do that, you need to part the hair in sections and apply product directly onto the skin. Otherwise you’re just cleaning your hair.” Yves Durif, at his eponymous salon at New York’s Carlyle hotel, even transfers shampoo into a plastic bottle with a pointed nozzle for precise application. “Do this,” he tells me, “and you will only use half as much shampoo and get double the benefits.” With the nonchalance of a true Parisian, he adds: “It makes the price of the Sisley a bit more palatable, yes?” I nod weakly, suddenly aware that I’ve already used up half my $75 bottle.

Thankfully, there are also more democratic options. Nexxus’s new Keraphix Damage Healing line of shampoo, conditioner, and treatment works its magic with the help of black rice, which is rich in glutamic acid—an amino acid that’s often depleted by hot styling tools. I also discover that good old Head & Shoulders now contains zinc to reduce oxidative stress to the scalp. And now that my scalp is less sensitive, I put my Mason Pearson brush back in use, intending to follow the old-school advice to do 100 strokes a day—until dermatologist Robert Anolik, MD, tells me that zealous brushing won’t endow my hair with added shine. Far more critical, he says, is the use of a strand-protecting sunscreen spray with a minimum SPF of 30.

A wall of brightly hued vials catches my eye through the window.

After a second month of flaxseed vinaigrette, Nutrafol supplements, hair masks, and daily applications of Sisley’s Revitalizing Fortifying Serum, I’m able to air-dry my hair and not hide it under a hat. I’ve tossed my bottles of dry shampoo in the trash and deleted the number to my local blow-dry bar from my phone—why subject my hair (and scalp) to any more heat than necessary? In fact, the thought of going to a salon doesn’t cross my mind until I happen to walk by the new Fusio-Dose Hair Lab at New York’s Kérastase Salon. A wall of brightly hued vials catches my eye through the window. I retrace my steps. There’s a golden elixir promising Density, a pink concoction offering Radiance, and a green potion for Reparation. It’s too tempting to pass up. Inside, I choose Discipline (a pale peach) for its antifrizz properties, and Nutrition (a deep apricot) for its inclusion of antioxidant-rich royal iris. The receptionist asks if I’d like the treatment applied in the salon, followed by a blow-out, or if I’d prefer to take a kit home for later use. The question doesn’t merit a second thought. It’s a beautiful day, and I walk down the street with a swing to my step, my colorful new potions tucked away in my purse, and the faint suggestion of a bounce to my hair.

Supermane Returns

The latest scalp and strand saviors restore shine, density, and strength to even the most damaged hair.

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Courtesy

1. Hair Rituel by Sisley Precious Hair Care Oil smooths the cuticle and adds shine while protecting against heat damage.

Sisley Paris Precious Hair Care Oil, $100; nordstrom.comSHOP

2. From the founder of Royal Fern skin care, Dr. Timm Golueke Hair Growth Stimulating Solution boosts scalp circulation with caffeine, clary sage, and ginkgo.

Dr. Timm Golueke Hair Growth Stimulating Shampoo, $48; royalfern.comSHOP

3. Nexxus Keraphix Reconstructing Treatment contains a potent blend of keratin, collagen, and elastin.

Nexxus Keraphix Reconstructing Treatment, $13; ulta.comSHOP

4. L’Oréal Paris EverPure Deep Moisture Hair Sheet Mask harnesses shower steam to nourish parched strands.

L’Oréal Paris EverPure Deep Moisture Hair Sheet Mask, $4; target.com SHOP

5. Used once a week, Kérastase Fusio-Dose Booster Reconstruction will fortify hair against breakage.

Kérastase Fusio-Dose Booster, $90; amazon.comSHOP

This article originally appeared in the March 2018 issue of ELLE.

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