Monday, April 03, 2006

Reflections on Hair Care

*edit* Inspired by Brother Dear, I now have a guy version and a girl version of this post :).

Guy Version:

Long hair is fun and keeping it nice takes more effort than you guys realize. Be nice to the women in your life, and appreciate their long hair. Act like you care when they describe their hair care routine to you.

Girl Version:

Growing up, my sister and I cut off our locks to our chins every summer to prepare for the heat and humidity of Georgia :-P, then let our hair grow all year before our annual hair cut again the next summer. My hair care routine consisted of a shampoo and conditioning every two days or so when I was younger, increasing to every day when I was about twelve. From then on, for years I faithfully shampooed my hair every day to combat my oily scalp. Ah, the joys of adolescence.

The summer I was fourteen was the last time I cut my hair above my shoulders. I spent the next three years growing out my hair to my waist, discovering the previously unknown delights of long hair. I had always loved playing with hair, be it my hair or someone else's hair. There was so much more I could do with my long hair - all sorts of fun buns, coiled braids, crowns, loops, knots, and twists. Long hair is a lot of fun :).

For those interested in fun ideas for fixing hair, try Klutz's Braids and Bows or Hair for some great ideas. I found my copy of Braids and Bows for fifty cents at a garage sale :). Both books are great; Braids and Bows is aimed more for younger styles, while Hair leans towards older styles. Hair has many elegant styles to try if you're looking for something extra-special. In Timely Fashion also has instructions for some nice period styles. Unfortunately it is becoming increasingly harder for me to find instructions for styles that match my length of hair, which is currently about nine inches below my waist. Most styles are recommended for hair "no longer than waist length" or "no longer than mid-back." Combine extra-long hair with extra-slippery hair, and Houston, we have a problem ;).

Anyway, as I said, I started growing my hair out when I was fourteen. The winter I was seventeen my hair had finally reached my waist. That Christmas vacation I cut twelve inches off my hair, leveling it to a few inches below my shoulders. I had enjoyed my long hair, but realized that it was becoming an obsession for me at the time and also a difficulty for me to manage. I never regretted cutting off those twelve inches, as it really did help me put my priorities in focus, and because I really was having a horrible time caring for my hair. It was dry, brittle, staticky, and flat. I couldn't find a brush that would work well on it, which didn't help matters. All in all cutting it was definitely a good choice.

I never did have any curl growing up, even as a baby, but the length of my hair had made it flatter than ever. I received my dad's fine, straight hair, unlike my brother and sister, who definitely inherited my mother's curly genes! I never minded my straight hair, but I did want my hair to have body, which just wasn't happening with my current length and care of my hair! Can you say '70's double-take?

Although, as I said, I never regretted cutting my hair, I also decided right away that I was going to try to grow out my hair again. I calculated that in two-years time my hair would be waist length again. (My hair grows about 6-7 inches per year.) Sure enough, two years later my hair had reached my waist again. This time around my hair was much more manageable, so much so that I have continued to grow out my hair and am still waiting to see when it finally stops growing. I love having long hair! It is currently nine inches below my waist - soft, shiny, and manageable on most days. (It's still not bouncy with a lot of body ;), but it's not as flat and blah as before.) Why is it more manageable this time around? Several reasons.

First of all, I educated myself about split ends. Split ends usually occur at the end of individual hairs (which are all different lengths), not just at the end of one's entire length of hair. Trimming one inch off a long length of hair does nothing for the split ends that are somewhere in the middle of that length. I started individually trimming my hairs for split ends. It sounds tedious, but it's not if you do it gradually and methodically. I also have my mom trim my hair an inch or so every year, just to even up the ends. I find that most of my problematic split ends are on the underside of my hair, especially concentrated in the hairs directly below my ears. I don't know if this is common, or if it's just me, but I mainly focus on keeping split ends trimmed in these areas.

When I sit down to brush my hair out at night I try to start at the ends. When I reach a snarl I pull that section of hair forward and trim it for split ends. I have found some fascinating split ends over the years :) - all sorts of interesting patterns. Anyway, this works very well to systematically trim split ends as I find them. I also occasionally sit down and pull random sections of hair forward to trim for split ends. The key is to remember to look all up and down the section of hair - not just the end - and twist and turn the hair section to look at it from all sides. Hold your hair against a contrasting color. My hair is very light so I look for split ends against a very dark brown or blue or a black background. That way my hair shows up well and I can see splits easily. I use a pair of small sewing scissors to snip individual split ends.

I also educated myself about cleaning my hair. I was perplexed that my hair could be dry and oily at the same time. This seemed rather contradictory to me. I faithfully washed my hair every morning to rid my scalp of build-up oil, but by mid afternoon (when it finally dried!) it was dry and crackly, especially right under my ears. Ick! I shiver when I think of the dry frizziness of my hair right around my neck. It was clingy and didn't feel right down. All I wanted to do was pull it back away from my neck! My hair just didn't feel comfortable down because it was so dry and clingy, yet the next morning it was greasy at the roots and begging to be cleaned. Thus went the vicious cycle. What was I doing wrong? I was determined to find out.

There are many standard comments I get about my hair. One comment I have gotten many times is You must use a ton of shampoo! I find it amusing to set people straight on this point. You see, I use far less shampoo than the average American female. It takes me about 7 months to go through an 8 oz bottle of shampoo, and I'm not exaggerating. I am able to do this for two reasons: I only wash my hair about twice a week, and when I do wash my hair I only use an amount the size of a quarter.

See, what I found that I was "doing wrong" was over-washing my hair, not under-washing it. The harsh chemicals in most shampoos aggravates the scalp, causing the scalp to over-produce oil to compensate for the drying effect of the typical shampoo. Solution? Milder shampoo, less shampoo, and less frequent shampooing - I now wash my hair only twice a week. I place a dab of shampoo on top of my head and throughly massage it through my scalp. I only shampoo my hair until about my shoulder, lifting the remaining length out of the way as I rinse my hair to get minimal shampoo on the rest of my hair. This helps the ends of my hair from drying out, but the hair near the scalp from being too oily.

Now, I may scrimp on the shampoo, but I apply conditioner quite liberally (heh, and you thought I was conservative. . . ). I focus mainly on coating my hair from the shoulders down, often barely applying any conditioner to the scalp. This keeps my scalp less oily and my ends more conditioned. I coat on the conditioner and let it sit for several minutes. I turn off the water to conserve hot water (see, I'm back to being conservative again. . . ). When I rinse it, I don't do so thoroughly, leaving my hair still feeling a bit conditiony. This keeps my hair softer with more moisture and even something resembling body at times. Conditioning is so important for long hair! I also finally did decide to buy Pantene ProV, which while much more expensive than my previous choices, really does make a huge difference.

When washing and rinsing your hair, be nice to your shafts and use lukewarm water. For the final rinse, the colder you can bear it the better. Rinsing in really cold water is one of the best ways to get a really shiny look, although I personally don't care enough to withstand freezing cold water just for a little more shine. Also, use a blowdryer sparingly (or never)! All that heat applied directly to your hairs is so bad for the shafts! I avoid blowdryers at all costs, resulting in a morning of airdrying whenever I wash my hair. My hair is so dry if I use a blowdryer, and it takes me forever to untangle it, not to mention the dangers of having it sucked into the back of the blowdryer. Ouch!

It was hard to wean myself off a daily hair shampoo, as I just didn't feel completely clean after years of slowly becoming addicted to a daily shampoo. I was determined to break the vicious cycle, though! I started skipping a hair wash every three days, then went to every other day, then increased the gap gradually until I now only wash my hair every 3 or 4 days. My hair has mood swings so sometimes it's only 3 days and sometimes it's as long as 6. It really is much better now! I wouldn't go back to a daily wash (especially with long hair) if you offered me a lot of money. Okay, okay, it would depend on how much. . .

For those with curly hair or really thick hair, the time between washings could likely be extended even longer. I have very fine hairs and only medium thickness hair, so oil collects much easier than for someone with coarser, thicker, curly hair. All the above tips work for my hair, and I do not profess that they will work for other types of hair. Experiment, experiment, experiment! Enjoy your long hair, and be thankful that God gave us women long hair as our glory! :-)

Some of my favorite long-hair pictures:

A college senior picture, taken last spring.

Okay, admittedly this picture was just an excuse to show off my grandparents' gorgeous view from their back deck. Who wouldn't love to live overlooking the Ohio River in Southern Indiana. *wistful sigh*

Okay, not my best look (I was mid-sentence!), but it shows the length of my hair pretty well. It's the best recent picture I have (February) that shows the full length of my hair uncurled.

Some people pick their nails when they are bored. I braid my hair ;).

A close-up of my hair after pin curls.

The second attempt at pin curls, which was a little more poodle-y than before, but ah well. Just look at the nice tamer hair that all the other lovely bridesmaids had :).

To kill the monotony - Hannah's (natural) curls :-D. I wish she would leave her hair down more often. . .

Another rare and unedited instance of Hannah with her hair down - caught on film! er, memory stick. Whatever.


Ben Garrison said...

I passed out halfway through reading your post.

une_fille_d'Ève said...

Hehe..... Ben, I'm surprised you even started it! :-)

Just a thought for clarity's sake, Su - you do only use a quarter size of shampoo, but that amount could really change depending on the type. Your thick, natural shampoo really suds up and goes a long way, whereas baby shampoo, for instance, is almost like water and a little bit of that doesn't go nearly as far.

Jessica said...


Have you ever heard of the Curly Girl hair care routine (it's based off a book of the same name)? Your hair sounds similar to mine (though mine wasn't nearly as long) before I read about that routine...mine was thin, flyaway, frizzy, at times full of stactic, limp, (some of those sound contradictory, but they really aren't!) etc. Then I heard about the Curly Girl routine...and now my hair is no longer like's full of curls (it was only slightly wavy before)! If you want to read more about the routine without reading the book, go to (personally, I think that the site is just as good as the book!). It might help you cut down on the frizz/fly-aways and give you some more body. Anyway...just an idea! Have a great day!

Susan said...

Um, Ben, my target audience for this post was not really guys (especially certain older brothers), though if they find it interesting, that's jolly. I definitely did not have your pleasure in mind when I wrote this post. Sorry. Maybe sometime I'll write about my favorite OS or my favorite programming language, or not! Love ya :).

Right, Hannah, be picky ;). I said "about" and actually I still only used that much before I got that shampoo from Aunt Anne. But yes, it would vary by shampoo type, and hair type, and personality type, and . . .

Actually, Jessica, I think the YLCF site on Curly Girl may have been where I found out that little shampoo is better, but I'm not sure. I love YLCF :-D. I am 99.9% there are no hidden curls in my hair; I didn't have even a wave when I was a baby, but I suppose curls are possible. I don't really have much trouble with frizz/fly-away now that I shampoo less frequently. Now body, I could use some more of that. . . :)

My hair is so fine (meaning that each individual hair is thin and silky) that I doubt it could withstand no shampooing. There are just no pores to soak up all that moisture. I'll have to take another look at the site, though. It's been a while. Thanks for the link :).

Ashley said...

My favorite programming language is C++. :-)

This post was really interesting. I don't care for long hair for myself, but I do want to learn to take care of my frizzies. I am curious - do you ever have trouble with your scalp itching? I like to wait a long time between washings, but I notice by day 3 my scalp itches really bad and drives me crazy.

Jessica said...


Hello, I don't know you at all...but I noticed what you said about wanting to "control your frizzies"...have you ever tried the Curly Girl technique that I mentioned to Susan? I would look at the site... ....I used to have a LOT of fly-away frizzies, but after starting to use the Curly Girl routine...most of them went away...or at least looked better! Have a great day!

Susan said...

You know, Ashley, I bet you would be a curly girl. You should take a look at the YLCF curly girl site, like Jessica suggested.

And yes, my scalp has itching issues, in my case dandruff, often severe dandruff in fact. Dandruff shampoo just doesn't work, but vinegar does :). Laugh, go ahead. It really does, though. I occasionally pour vinegar on my scalp and let it set for a little bit before shampooing. It really does help more than anything I've ever tried, even T-Gel shampoo that's part tar. Your scalp itches may be unrelated to dandruff, though.

Vinegar is also a great clarifier. That was supposed to be in my post, but I forgot.

Adrian C. Keister said...

Rapunzel, Rapunzel! (sp?)

Actually, I thought it was interesting. A good reference for when I go about trying to disobey Paul's injunction that men generally have shorter hair than women. Seriously, I like long hair on girls, and your post awakened me a bit more to the intricacies of caring for it. Have you ever seen Into the Woods? You'd like it, I think.

In Christ.

zan said...

Oh, Panteen is a big no, no (so says my hairdresser)! Too much alcohol.

I used to have the same problem as you with my hair. It was waist length and frizzy. Then, after college, I Cut it to below the shoulders and started using Nioxin shampoo (which is pretty pricey). I use the cleanser and the scalp therapy. I also cut down to washing my hair every other day. I cannot believe the difference.

I highly recomend Nioxin for fine hair. You have to get it at a salon, though.

I can't believe that you cut split ends individually. Talk about patience.

Mrs.B. said...

Yay!!! I've been waiting for this post. Sorry I'm a little late in commenting but as you know, Susan, I was sick.

My hair is fine in texture but I have a lot of it. I had stick-straight hair my whole life until I started getting grey hair. My dad greyed early and I took after him. Now, I have curly hair. I wear my hair long (not as long as yours, Susan) and my husband LOVES it! I find though that if I skip washing it, my scalp gets itchy and even sore. I might try it though and see what happens.

I've had several hairstylists give different advice over the years...I've heard that baby shampoo is not mild and is actually quite drying to the hair and then I've had other stylists tell me that it doesn't really matter what shampoo you use as long as you use a REALLY good conditioner.

This was a fun post and I also REALLY liked the site that Jessica mentioned. Thanks!

Hey Zan, great to see a comment from are you doing? I have my own blog now, come by and check it out! (o:

Susan said...

My brother's girlfriend was in a theater production of Into the Woods several months ago, and we went and saw it. It was so good. Excellent music, intricate plot, and an unlikely moral to the story. Yes, we liked it :). The two guys who played the princes made the play. They both played the parts of complete losers perfectly!

I've heard that often the play is only performed with the first act to shorten the production. While it wraps up nicely after the first act, the entire moral of the play is lost without the second half! I don't suppose you could recommend a good movie adaptation of Into the Woods? We'd love to own a copy of a good version.

It's good to "see" you! I expect you have more pressing things to do now than frequent the blogosphere :).
Hmmm, that's interesting about Panteen. I really have been very pleased with how well it conditions my hair, as opposed to off-brands. I've never heard of Nioxin, but that's probably because I don't frequent salons. . .

Mrs. B,
Thanks so much for your patience with this post! I know you've been waiting for it for a while, and I didn't even cover everything I could have. It was already getting wordy, though. . . I haven't tried baby shampoo, though Hannah has. The mild shampoo I use is an all-natural type wtih absolutely no drying chemicals.

Adrian C. Keister said...

I never actually saw a movie version, only the Grove City College live version. I say only. In that production, the witch stole the show. Anyway, I was remembering the line where the prince associated with Rapunzel says something like, "spends all day maintaining her hair." Thought you'd get it. ;-)] (Wink with beard.)

That reminds me, I'll have to post about beards some day.

In Christ.

zan said...

Mrs. B,

I have visited your blog. No chance to do any commenting, though. Sometimes Harry sleeps in long blocks of time. It just depends. He is a little over two weeks old now and very cute. Very serious, though. He always looks so worried. I try to tell him that there is nothing to worry about but he insists on being worried : ) Newborns are so much fun...except when they don't sleep at night. I have been so tired recently. Up just about every hour.

Adrian, I would love to see a post on beards. I think most men should not have beards.Depends on the guy and if he takes care of it. My husband had one before we got married and he looked like Satan. Of course he asks me, how do I know what Satan looks like...(rolls eyes) details. : )

Susan said...

Haha: "spends all day maintaining her hair" *laughs out loud* I didn't remember that line right off the bat, though I do now vaguely remember that line, accompanied by a nudge from my mother - not making this up, either. Over the years I've worked on what my dad calls "minimizing my hair brushing." It's not an obsession for me like it once was, though it still does take maintenance. . . Hmm, a post about beards would be interesting. I guess that's the male version of a post on long hair. *grins*

Oh, Zan, stop talking about your baby! I want to hold him! *sigh* Or at least see pictures. *protrudes lower lip* Babies are the sweetest little things :). And, feel free to continue talking about little Harry :-D. Hehe, you made me laugh with your description of your husband with the Satanic beard. My sister was on the computer chortling while reading that :).

zan said...


if you want to see apicture of harry send me your private e-mail address. idon't feel comfortable posting pictures online for any creep to see. call me paranoid. my husband isn't too crazy about the idea either. yes i am typing while holding the little worry wart. he is sleepnig. just was fed.

Susan said...

I don't have your e-mail address, Zan, so I'll just post mine here: susan dot garrison at gmail dot com (typing it out to avoid spammers). Each "dot" is a period.

I would love it if you sent me a picture of Harry! I was hoping you would offer :). Babies are the sweetest, and I can never grow tired of looking at them.