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What Is Combination Hair?

Do You Have "Combination Hair"? Here's How to Deal

If I had a dollar for every time I explained the concept of "combination hair" (oily roots and dry ends) to someone and they replied "I HAVE THAT," I'd be very rich. It's something so many of us deal with, and yet unlike with our skin types, we never really address the issue. Many of us who've ever been for a facial may have been told we have combination skin — for example, I have an oily T-zone but drier, dehydrated areas elsewhere on my face. But has a hairstylist ever sat you down and told you to deal with your combination hair? No? Didn't think so. Guys, it's officially time we recognized — and dealt with — our combination hair. This is basically the same idea as its skincare sister — part of your hair is oily and the other part dry.

I've always had hair that never really fit into a "category." I'd go into a store to pick up my shampoo and not ever know whether to go for a product designed for normal, oily, or dry hair. Outside of these, there's never really been anything in between. I'm definitely not alone in this struggle, either. Think you've got it? "If your scalp tends to be oily and you style or color treat your hair, chances are you might have combination hair," said Eric Spengler, senior vice president of research and development at Living Proof.

What causes combination hair?

As Eric suggests, the huge amount of product and coloring we expose our hair to these days has a massive impact on its condition, especially our dry ends. Lesley Drummond, senior stylist at John Frieda Salons in London, agreed that "we are creating the problem [of combination hair] by using a lot more color and chemical treatments, coupled with regular heat and overdoing it with products in general." She also highlighted the impact health issues and bad diet can have on the condition of our hair, while Craig Inglis, global brand manager at Nanogen, suggested stress can play a part, especially when it comes to those dreaded oily roots: "It's well-researched that higher stress levels mean higher cortisol hormone levels, which can in turn lead to an increase in sebum production and oilier roots." Paired together, this can result in a combination hair type.

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The good news is that the beauty industry is finally waking up to the issue of combination hair by putting to market a bunch of products that address both dry ends and oily roots at the same time. "Consumers now desire a product that targets multiple hair concerns," Craig said. And fortunately, that's exactly what we're getting. For example, several brands are developing cleaning and styling ranges that treat hair like skin, understanding the multitude of issues one area of the body may suffer with and recognizing our hair, like our skin, can fluctuate and differ area to area. This is a clever advancement in hair care, especially since, as Craig noted, "the scalp is made up of much the same biology as the rest of the skin, therefore sharing similar complaints and benefiting greatly from traditional skincare ingredients." Several micellar water shampoos have launched recently, as have BB creams for hair, overnight formulas and products with traditional skincare ingredients like clay, all-natural essential oils, and antioxidants. This "skin care for hair" craze means we can finally give our combination hair as much attention as our combination skin.

Follow these top tips to treat your combination hair:

  • Be selective with products: It's worth investing in products that are delicate and gentle to the hair — much like you would with your skin. "Natural ingredients are superior for use on hair and scalp since they tend to have multiple benefits, unlike synthetic ingredients, which are formulated to serve one purpose, targeting single issues," said Christophe Robin. His range of hair care contains ingredients such as clay and aloe vera, which gently cleanse the hair and scalp without stripping. Try using the Purifying Cleansing Scrub with Sea Salt ($19) to detox and treat oily scalps once a week, then the Volumizing Shampoo ($38) and Conditioner ($43), which contain natural rose extract, in between. Another great option is a micellar water like Pantene's ($4). It's cleansing enough to remove any oil buildup at the root but gentle enough not to dry out the ends. Avoid any products with alcohol or heavy silicones in them; these will just weigh down the hair.
  • Do as the French do: "French women try to wash their hair only once a week, because excessive washing irritates the scalp," Christophe said. Lesley agreed that "massaging too aggressively and using very hot water will only worsen the problem [of combination hair] by stimulating the sebaceous glands, producing more oil and drying the hair." Instead, she suggested that you should "shampoo by gently massaging the scalp, not rubbing the ends too excessively. Then apply conditioner sparingly to the ends and midlengths only." It's not only about picking the right products; you also need to know how to use them and when.
  • Don't forget to brush: "An incredibly effective way of redistributing the oil on your scalp is to brush hair regularly," Christophe noted. Give your mane a brush in the morning before styling as well as before going to bed.
  • Protect from heat: If you're coloring your hair and using styling products often, it's worth giving your locks a fighting chance when they do encounter heat from blow-dries, straightening, and curling. To prevent excess damage, use a heat defense spray such as the Living Proof Restore Instant Protection Spray ($26), which protects hair from heat up to 450°F/230°C.
  • Look at your lifestyle: Stress and bad diet can both play a part in how your hair behaves. An oily scalp is especially connected to these factors, so avoid junk food and take time out to relax every day — even if it's just 10 minutes of meditation.
  • Get regular cuts: While deep-conditioning treatments are great, dry ends are only really eliminated through a good chop. "Certainly the smartest thing to do is get a good haircut and eliminate the existing damage," Eric said.
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