There are two types of hair care enthusiasts living in the city: those who have never even considered the effect of pollution on their hair, and those who think about it so much that they are always looking forward to a hair detox. Today, we’re going to try to find a happy medium between these two groups by answering a series of questions about urban pollution, the effects it has on your hair, and whether you really do need a hair detox. Let’s urban-proof those locks!
Does pollution affect your hair?
Urban pollution can affect your hair in different ways, but the intensity of these effects can vary depending on the level of pollution and your individual susceptibility. If we want to be more specific, here are some ways pollution can influence your hair:
Particulate matter (PM), a very common form of pollution, consists of microscopic particles of solid or liquid matter suspended in the air. As these particles accumulate on your hair, they can lead to a dull and lifeless appearance. Ultimately, the accumulation of these impurities can also leave your hair looking heavy and clumpy, almost as if it were greasy. If these particles accumulate on your scalp, they can also cause it to feel sensitive or irritated.
There is the possibility that particulate matter may also be responsible for hair loss, and this has been the focus of some studies in recent years (like these, from 2015, 2020, or 2022). However, the evidence is still insufficient.
UV radiation is obviously not unique to the urban environment, but it can be overlooked by city dwellers. You might find yourself thinking you spend little time outdoors, between home and work and between work and your hobbies, but this exposure all adds up–and it impacts your hair. Among other effects, sun exposure can make your hair drier, bleach your color, scrub away your shine, and cause split ends and breakage. If you have thin, dry, very curly and coily hair, color-treated hair, or hair that’s already pretty damaged, you are likely to be more affected.
Contrary to popular belief, hard water is not contaminated or polluted water, but we’re including it on this list because many of the products that promise to save your hair from the effects of pollution also promise to save it from the effects of hard water.
Let’s start by defining hard water. According to research, “hard water is usually defined as water, which contains a high concentration of calcium and magnesium ions. However, hardness can be caused by several other dissolved metals; those forms divalent or multivalent cations, including aluminum, barium, strontium, iron, zinc, and manganese.”
Although many people who live in areas with hard water find that their scalp is more sensitive and their hair is drier and more brittle, the scientific evidence on this matter is still not conclusive, and different studies have come to different conclusions.
Still, it’s possible that hard water can have an undesirable in your hair. If that worries you, the solutions you’ll find later in this post, which target urban pollution, will help you too.
How to protect your hair from pollution, on the daily
We’ve already seen a few ways city pollution can influence your hair. If you’re looking for ways to mitigate these effects on a daily basis, we have some suggestions:
Cover your hair
To avoid contact between your hair and the pollution particles that are suspended in the air, you can use hats or scarves to create a physical barrier. If particulate build-up on your hair and scalp is what you’re most concerned about, then this low-tech, zero-cost solution might be your best bet.
Use a gentle shampoo
If your hair feels heavy and “polluted”, you may be tempted to wash it more often. If that’s the case for you, try using a mild shampoo designed for frequent use, which will allow you to wash your hair more often without stripping it too much.
Condition your hair
Regular conditioner is essential to keep your hair healthy and smooth. Choose a conditioner that provides deep hydration and nourishment to your hair, but that won’t weigh it down (a dilemma that we see a lot from city dwellers).
If you want to avoid damaging your hair, which is already exposed to so many aggressions, you have to be extra careful when you are detangling. Here, you should focus on avoiding excessive pulling or stretching. Use a wide-toothed comb or a brush designed specifically for wet hair, and start detangling from the ends, slowly working your way up to the roots.
Reduce heat styling
Still in the logic of minimizing damage to your hair, consider reducing your use of heat styling tools like blow dryers, straighteners, or curling irons. Opt for heat-free styling techniques or, if you absolutely must use heat, use a heat protectant.
Apply a protective serum or leave-in spray
Another way to create a barrier between your hair and pollution is to use a lightweight serum or leave-in spray from an anti-pollution hair care range. These “pollution shields”, as they are sometimes called, help reduce the adhesion of pollution particles to your hair. Often these products also offer sun protection.
When all else fails: Try a hair detox
If you feel that your daily hair care is not enough for your hair to cope with pollution, you may be tempted to try a “hair detox”. But what is a hair detox, really?
What is a hair detox?
“Hair detox” is an expression that we see a lot on social media and in beauty publications, and it can refer to several things: on the one hand, it can be a one-and-done process in which you remove accumulated impurities, excess sebum, and product buildup from your hair and scalp (kind of like a facial, but for your hair); on the other hand, it can be a longer and much more involved process (think weeks) in which, through the use of specific products, you wean your hair off certain products or ingredients.
If you want to give your hair a deep cleanse and rid it of pollution, the “hair detox” you may be interested in is the first one.
How to detox your hair at home
As we already mentioned, urban pollution can leave impurities accumulated on your hair, and it’s perfectly possible to get rid of this accumulation at home–some people call this a “hair detox”. To clean your hair in depth and remove all traces of pollution, here’s what you can do:
- Give your hair and scalp a good brushing. Hair brushing is the ideal way to start your hair detox. By brushing the hair, you can dislodge loose dust, dirt, and pollution particles that may have accumulated along the hair shaft. By bringing your brush up the scalp, you can also stimulate the scalp, promote blood circulation, and create a gentle exfoliating action, which can help remove dead skin cells and other impurities from the surface of your scalp;
- Use a clarifying shampoo. Clarifying shampoos are intense shampoos that promote a deep cleansing action, removing product buildup, excess sebum, accumulated impurities, and pollution particles. Because they are so effective at deep cleaning your hair, these shampoos should be used periodically, only when you’re looking for a “reset”. The rest of the time, you should use a mild shampoo;
- Try a scalp scrub. If you want to give your scalp a real exfoliation, a scalp scrub is the ideal product. There are plenty of options available for at-home use, and all of them will help you remove dead skin cells, excess sebum, and impurities from the scalp.
How often should you detox your hair?
As we’ve seen, this whole “hair detox” concept can mean different things to different people; therefore, we can’t exactly tell you how often you should do a hair detox. If you are very exposed to pollution and your hair feels heavy and lifeless, you might consider using a clarifying shampoo once a week; if your problems with pollution are more focused on a sensitive scalp, you might consider using a scalp treatment according to packaging instructions. It all comes down to your specific needs.
We’ve talked about the effects that pollution can have on your hair, we’ve seen ways to minimize them on a daily basis, and we’ve seen how and in what situations you can consider a “hair detox”. Hopefully this information will help you keep your hair looking its best, even in the unforgiving urban jungle! Need to make a few tweaks to your routine? Then feel free to browse our full selection of hair care products in the shop.
Beauty Writer & Editor