It's gonna get sappy up in here.
As we’ve established, I have very long hair (mid-butt length), and I’ve had it longer in the past (all the way down to my knees). I’ve had fairly long hair for most of my life, except for a period of years we won’t talk about where I kept ending up with haircuts that made me look like a Liza Minelli. And not in a good "Cabaret" way, more in current Liza Minelli way. Which isn’t a bad haircut per se, more just weird and age-inappropriate on a 16-year-old.
After all these years, I’ve acquired some knowledge on the care and keeping of really long hair, which I shall now impart to you in a hyperactive list-based format because I’m off my ADD meds and things get weird.
What Madeira Knows About Maintaining Really Long Hair:
1. Silk or satin pillow cases to reduce friction.
Friction = damage and damage = breakage and breakage = sadface. So,silky slippery satin or silk is a much better option than rougher materials. You can also wear a satin sleep cap if you don’t like the silky soft feeling on your face (weirdo). Personally I like the ones produced by Silky Cocoon on Etsy, but I turn them inside out so the satin side is on the inside protecting my hair.
2. Don’t brush your hair when it’s wet.
If you didn’t know, hair is extra extra extra fragile when it’s wet. So ripping a brush through it when it’s wet is like telling your best friend you slept with her boyfriend just after her dog died. In other words, likely to end your friendship and kind of a dick move.
3. Continuing with that point, if you ever hear a “crackling” sound when you brush your hair, that’s the sound of hair breaking.
You’re going to want to be a lot gentler than that. Be gentle with your hair, it’s like a baby bunny -- fragile, herbivorous and of the family Leporidae. (Actually just the first one of those three things is true of your hair, the other two just apply to baby bunnies.)
Take the time to gently pick tangles apart with your fingers when your hairbrush meets with resistance. You will seriously be amazed by the difference it makes and you can do it while you zone out watching Netflix and you’ll feel like you did something productive afterward. I just gave you an excuse to binge watch PBS’s awesome/trashy documentary series "Secrets Of The Dead." (Watch it and tell me you don’t love me.)
4. Coconut oil is your friend.
I know coconut oil’s gotten a lot of love on here for being an excellent moisturizer, and makeup remover, but did you know it’s also one of the only oils that penetrates to the cortex of the hair, making the hair significantly stronger and more resilient? (Actually they probably told you that too.)
The only downside is it takes about 18 hours to penetrate fully, so use a teeny-tiny amount as a leave-in, and/or soak your hair with the stuff before wash day (I do this and it’s amazing. So does my husband and his hair is bleached WHITE and past his shoulder blades, and actually looks healthy.)
5. This brings me to shampoo.
You’re probably doing it more than you need to be or should be doing. See shampoos and soaps in general are basic. As in their pH is high, not as in they’re for basic bitches. Though I mean who uses soap anymore?
And your skin and hair? Those dudes are mildly acidic and don’t really love being in basic environments that much. Shampoos strip your hair, and compromise the structure of the hair shaft by causing an acid base reaction. Remember, strong bases like strong acids are corrosive, and generally we want to avoid causing the thing we’re trying to clean to corrode.
This is also why washing your hair with baking soda is a bad plan. Baking soda is also, you guessed it, basic. The optimal pH for human skin is around 5.5 which is which is why diluted apple cider vinegar leaves your hair looking so good. The mild acidity helps remove buildup, and helps close the cuticle of the hair. Now, I’m not going to tell you to never use shampoo on your hair, I’m just telling you to shampoo your hair less frequently.
6. So, now you’re thinking “But Madeira, my hair gets INSANELY greasy if I don’t wash it every day!” (or every other day, or whatever schedule you’re on).
Here’s where my good friends the boar bristle brush and a box of cornstarch (or fancy dry shampoo -- because apparently I like fancy packaging and smells more than I like money) come in handy. Or, if you’re vegetarian: an ethically harvested boar bristle brush. If you’re vegan, use double cornstarch and a wooden bristle brush.
Boar bristles distribute oil along the length of your hair, delivering it to where it’s needed (i.e., your poor dry parched ends) and taking it away from where there’s too much of it (your greasy, greasy scalp). And cornstarch absorbs excess oil without compromising the structure of your hair. I like to apply a whole bunch to my greasy areas before bed and boom! -- the next morning, my hair’s basically clean again. Remember, the boar bristle brush is really just for cleaning, not for detangling. For detangling I really like my obnoxiously hot pink Tangle Teezer.
7. You’re not going to want to give up water-based washing entirely.
I wash my hair weekly using a light conditioner (like most of the ones from the ultra cheap Alberto Vo5 line) instead of shampoo, being sure to really work it through and give it a chance to dissolve any build-up. Then I do a mildly acidic coffee rinse. (Coffee is about the perfect pH for hair, and there’s some evidence that transdermal caffeine helps hair grow faster.) Then I condition the length of my hair and bleached bangs as normal. Personally, I love Pantene’s Beautiful Lengths Conditioner because silicone prevents tangling and is wonderful at smoothing hair and protecting the vulnerable cuticle from everyday wear and tear. I also use a clarifying shampoo about once every two months.
8. Don’t wear your hair loose to bed.
Basically, when you don’t braid your hair before you go to sleep, you end up with tangles in the morning, and if you’re not gentle in removing them, tangles lead to breakage, and breakage leads to anger and anger leads to hatred -- sorry that got weirdly Yoda-y weirdly fast. Tangles are bad, and rubbing hair on things (like your pillowcase/sheets) causes tangling and friction, which, as we discussed earlier, is also bad. Keeping hair braided keeps it safely out of the way while you make weird noises, drool, and nudge your partner (if you have one) slowly off the edge of the bed in your sleep.
9. Don’t wear your hair loose when it’s windy.
A simple bun with a clip takes all of 20 seconds to do and takes two seconds to let down again once you’re inside, and it saves you a ton of time detangling your hair. Also braids are super cute and very wearable.
10. Actually, updos in general are your friend.
As someone with very long hair, I ought to know that if you have very long hair and are going about your daily business your hair will do everything it can to get caught on/in things, get things caught on/in it, dip itself into any gooey/sticky/horrible substance it encounters, and generally make itself difficult if not restrained.
Basically, hair past a certain length is like a rabid weasel on meth that has somehow grown shimmering multi-colored butterfly wings -- a beautiful miracle of nature, but generally not something you want flying around loose. This is just one of the many reasons I wear mine up so much (the other one is I’m afraid of lighting it on fire when I use the stove).
11. You probably already know this, but lay off the hot tools.
They make your hair look better for a second and worse for a lifetime afterward. There are so many other options -- rag curls, blowing out on the cool setting, rollers, braid waves, and if you want the über-straight look there are always really big rollers, or wrapping your hair round your head and using it as a giant roller.
12. Similarly, teasing.
Your hair doesn’t like it, and frankly you don’t need to do that to it. We can do better, much much better. We’ve had hair rats for ages, and yet hardly anyone uses them. In this post Bumpit, post sockbun, post literally-everyone-having-extensions era you’d think people wouldn’t be so shy about a little padding to puff up their hairdo, and yet very few people use them. Why? Is it fear of the unknown? Lack of publicity? The fact that they’re called rats? We may never know.
Rat rolls are available from Amazon, and can be made from those weird plastic mesh bun donuts by cutting the donut open so it’s a tube instead of a loop, these can be used for rolls. For adding volume in other tube-shaped applications, you can also stuff a hairnet with kanekalon hair and use that for beehives and general “floof." And any other volume you need? Cheap clip-in extensions. There are solutions for all things that do not involve putting your hair thought teasing, they just involve some creativity and a lot of fake hair.
13. Slather your hair with a masque before you go swimming in a pool to avoid the drying effects of chlorine or salt.
14. Sun hats or a parasol when you’re out of doors.
Cause you know how UV rays mess up your skin’s structure? Well, I have some bad news about what they do to your hair.
15. Lay off the peroxide-based color if you’re not lightening your hair.
Personally I keep my black black with Manic Panic, but there are a huge array of options in the world of deposit-only color, and they are, frankly, wonderful. I do bleach the crap out of my bangs. I’m not a fanatic you know.
16. Now unlike a lot of people I’m not going to tell you to lay off the hairspray.
Just be very careful and very gentle when you’re removing it, because it makes your hair sticky, which means just ripping the brush through will end in tears.
17. Don’t divide your ponytail in half and yank to tighten it.
It roughs up the cuticle and causes breakage.
18. Use only metal-free elastics.
And take them out the same way you put them in -- carefully unwind them rather than just yanking them out.
19. Check any combs you use for rough edges or places where they might snag your hair.
If they have these, file them down with an emory board, paint over with clear nailpolish and allow to dry before using again. Alternatively, buy a new comb. Generally widetooth > finetooth in terms of avoiding breakage.
20. Basically, long hair takes gentleness and patience, and a certain amount of time.
But not as long as giving yourself a blow-out, so there you go.
21. Be gentle.
I cannot stress the gentle thing enough. Gentle, gentle, gentle gentle, gentle, gentle, gentle, gentle, GENTLE, GENTLE, GENTLE!