By: Reginia Taylor
As we enter the peak of winter, it’s normal to feel like our typical beauty routines may need to be amped up in order to protect our hair and skin from daily exposure to the harsh cold and dry conditions. The combination of the reduction in humidity outside with the increase in use of indoor heating in the wintertime has an effect on the skin’s moisture levels, as it causes the water level to decrease in the epidermis (the outermost skin layer)–often leading to dry, itchy, flaky, and cracked skin (Harvard, 2011). Some steps you can take to replenish some of the skin’s moisture include avoiding excessive hot showering and scrubbing that can strip the skin of its natural oils, as well as being sure to apply a rich moisturizer immediately after showering (Harvard, 2011). You can check out the moisturizer cheat sheet in the Moisturizing Tips and Tricks for Skin post to find which ingredients you should be looking for when perfecting your winter skincare routine.
But what about your hair? How can dry, brittle, and frizzy hair be avoided when the weather reaches frigid temperatures? Having experienced the dehydrating effects of winter weather on my own hair, I decided to ask Dr. Cynthia Kankeu, a science and beauty guru who creates products for all hair textures based on porosity, (ability to acquire and maintain moisture) what she recommends for fighting against this common problem. Dr Kankeu uses her knowledge of the structure of hair, the process of its dehydration, and an understanding of the composition of hair products at a molecular level to outline her three biggest tips for keeping hair soft and moisturized all year long. To help simplify haircare, I’ve shared her advice along with some other important tips below
- Understand your hair type.
In order to care for your hair, you must understand the characteristics of your hair and how they are affected by changes such as temperature and humidity levels. Once you learn more about your hair’s unique qualities, you can better select what products you should use and what steps you can take for better results. The shape of hair strands effects the presence of sebum, an oil naturally secreted by the scalp that travels down the hair shaft and increases moisture levels, The curlier the hair strand, the more difficult it is for sebum to travel from the follicle to the ends of the hair, leading to drier ends. Because of this, curly and wavy hair may require a water-based leave-in conditioner to add even more moisture to the hair after conditioning.
- Use an oil to seal in your hair’s moisture.
Oils are hydrophobic, meaning they repel water, making it harder for the water and conditioning products to exit the cuticle and evaporate into the air, leaving hair more moisturized. The best oil to use if your hair is high porosity is coconut oil, Dr. Kankeu explains, since it can penetrate hair that often has lost protein, the primary component of hair fibers. For low porosity hair, a lighter oil like jojoba or argan oil is a good option. For the best results, oils should be applied on wet hair after applying a moisturizing product such as a leave-in conditioner so that the maximum amount of water can be retained.
- Pay attention to the ingredients in your products.
Dr Kankeu explained to me the good and bad of products containing humectants when it comes to hair care. Humectants include ingredients like honey and glycerin that attract water from the air to keep hair fibers moisturized. While this can be an effective way to moisturize hair when there is plenty of moisture in the air, using a high concentration of humectants in the winter can have a counteractive effect on the hair, leading to more brittle hair.
Now that you have a better idea of the mechanisms of hair moisturization and what types of products affect moisture levels, a good next step would be to determine what type of porosity your hair is and do some research on what methods are best. An easy way to perform a porosity test is to take a dry, clean hair strand and drop it into a cup of water. After 5 minutes, if the hair floats, you will know you have low porosity hair, meaning you have an easier time retaining and a harder time attaining moisture. If the hair sinks, your hair is high porosity, meaning the fiber is very porous and moisture enters and leaves very easily. Once you determine that, look for products that are fit for your hair.
Check out Kank’s Store, Dr. Kankeu’s line of homemade products with natural ingredients that are designed based on unique hair porosity. No matter what hair type or texture you have, one of Dr. Kankeu’s most important pieces of advice is to drink plenty of water during the winter to make sure your hair and skin are also being moisturized from the inside, in addition to doing your research on your hair, so that you can retain moisture and have healthier hair in the colder months.
Gavazzoni Dias, M. (2015). Hair cosmetics: An overview. Retrieved December 19, 2020, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4387693/
Harvard Health. (2011, February). What to do about dry skin in winter. Retrieved December 19, 2020, from https://www.health.harvard.edu/womens-health/what-to-do-about-dry-skin-in-winter
Simple New Year’s Resolutions for Mind & Body
Needless to say, 2020 was a year that we could not have predicted last January when we were planning out our resolutions and goals. Many of us faced tremendous loss, anxiety, and stress that interrupted our progress in a lot of areas this year — whether it be athletic competitions, traveling, job opportunities, or other things we were looking forward to. Going into 2021, it is important to prioritize our wellbeing without pressuring ourselves to constantly be productive and on-the-go. To get started, here are three attainable, simple changes that can have a positive impact on your mind and body for the new year.
- Give yourself time to be creative.
Studies have shown a link between engagement with artistic activities (either as an observer or initiator) and enhancement of one’s moods, emotions, and other physiological states and processes (Stuckey, 2020). Especially during COVID, as we find ourselves spending more time indoors, channeling our artistic side can help keep our mind occupied to lower anxiety levels. Take time to sketch, write, listen to music, dance, or even watch cooking shows. Time spent engaging in creativity promotes a positive mental and physical state and has the potential to reduce stress levels, and even reduce the burden of chronic disease (Stuckey, 2020).
- Prioritize your sleep schedule.
As you have heard again and again, adequate sleep is one of the most important aspects of healthy living. Studies have shown that while most people are in agreement that sleep is important for their overall physical and mental wellbeing, “the time dedicated to sleep is often consciously reduced due to work demands and social activities” (Magnavita, 2017). As students, we’ve all had to sacrifice sleep to study or prepare for an assignment. While pulling an all-nighter once in a blue moon might have to happen when in a crunch, it is important to prioritize healthy sleep schedules as they are associated with higher productivity, better regulation of emotions, and a lower risk of obesity and other morbidities (Magnavita, 2017). While severely limiting the number of hours you sleep in general is associated with reduced health, it is the quality of your sleep, not the quantity, that is most important. Some people are able to function with fewer hours of sleep than others, but what is most important is to maintain a schedule of uninterrupted sleep. Two strategies for achieving a healthy sleep pattern include limiting screen time before bed and developing a night or bedtime routine. In fact, the National Sleep Foundation recommends keeping electronics out of bed altogether in order to promote better quality, distraction-free sleep (Harvard, 2019).
- Recognize the impact of mindfulness, reflection, and goal setting.
Meditation, yoga, and other forms of mindfulness have become increasingly popular ways to decompress and recenter. For those who may not be familiar with these practices, mindfulness can be described as setting aside mental distractions to pay greater attention to the here and now. Studies have shown that engaging in mindfulness programs and activities can help with depression, anxiety, and chronic pain, to name a few key areas (Powell, 2018). Boosting the body’s awareness in the moment, a process called interoception, has been shown to reduce self-rumination and produce a “Relaxation Response” with incredible mental and physical benefits. Similar responses have been found from expressive writing, including writing about minor intrusive thoughts or stressors to calm down after a difficult day or event (Carpenter). Reflecting about events and decisions in a journal is a valuable tool for promoting stress relief that should be incorporated more this upcoming year for its positive benefits, as well as its help with writing down and visualizing your goals.
No matter where you are now as you step into 2021, you should be extremely proud of yourself and the resilience you have shown throughout one of the most challenging times we’ve had to live through. Create, give yourself time to rest, and don’t forget to be mindful and reflect on all you’ve been through and where you are going. Let’s start the new year off by showing kindness to ourselves and compassion to others as we look ahead.
Carpenter, S. (n.d.). A new reason for keeping a diary. Retrieved December 21, 2020, from https://www.apa.org/monitor/sep01/keepdiary
Harvard Health. (2019, July). Bedtime screen time may reduce sleep quality. Retrieved December 20, 2020, from https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/bedtime-screen-time-may-reduce-sleep-quality
Magnavita, N., & Garbarino, S. (2017, November 6). Sleep, Health and Wellness at Work: A Scoping Review. Retrieved December 20, 2020, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5707986/
Powell, A. (2018, August 27). Harvard researchers study how mindfulness may change the brain in depressed patients. Retrieved December 21, 2020, from https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2018/04/harvard-researchers-study-how-mindfulness-may-change-the-brain-in-depressed-patients/
Stuckey, H., & Nobel, J. (2010, February). The connection between art, healing, and public health: A review of current literature. Retrieved December 21, 2020, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2804629/, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2804629/, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5854216/