How Is Pollution Damaging Your Hair?

Solutions for smoke, pollution, and daily damage

Written by: 100% PURE ®
Sep 16, 2020 // Catherine Uhalde

We often obsess over protecting our skin from pollution and free radical damage. Unfortunately pollution can wreak havoc on your hair, too – and it may be a bigger problem than we thought.

So how does pollution damage hair, and more importantly, how can we stop the cycle? Read on to find out!

How Pollution Damages Hair

We’re exposed to environmental pollutants every day. They’re dispersed into the air through car exhaust, smoke, and dust. These particulates can be especially difficult to purge from the hair, and tend to stick around until we shampoo or clarify the hair.

The same UV rays responsible for aging the skin are also a major factor in damaged hair. Just like skin can get burned and rapidly age when exposed to the sun, hair can also take a beating in the form of scalp dryness, moisture loss, and breakage.

While many of us are spending more time at home than ever before, the pollutants we’re exposed to can still accumulate over time. This can lead to:

  • Scalp inflammation: increased itching, redness, irritation

  • Hair that feels brittle to the touch

  • Hair breakage

  • Hair loss

While this news may tempt you to lock yourself inside forever, there are ways around hair damage from pollution. But first, let’s take a quick look at how hair damage prevention can vary by hair type.

Does Pollution Affect Hair Types Differently?

Hair is unique to each and every person, and all hair types need their own version of attention and care. But can pollution affect different hair types in different ways?

A 2019 Brazilian study published in Scientific Reports measured how environmental damage affected different hair types: natural, colored, bleached/colored, and gray hair. Swatches of hair were attached to cyclists’ helmets as they rode around Rio de Janeiro for 6 hours, exposed to extreme heat and climate conditions.

The answer: every hair sample was damaged during exposure. However, natural hair experienced the least amount of damage while colored, bleached, and gray hair samples all experienced heavy damage.

The study found that air pollution, photo-oxidation, temperature, and sun exposure were all contributing factors of hair damage. They affected protein content, melanin oxidation, and structural quality of the hair. This means all hair types may experience weaker strands, discoloration, and loss of softness after prolonged exposure to environmental pollution.

That being said, it’s always helpful to know how to care for your hair based on its natural texture. Here are a few baseline tips for preventing damaged hair – pollution or no pollution – in the 4 main hair types: straight, wavy, curly, and kinky.

How to Prevent Hair Damage for Every Hair Type

Straight Hair
Straight hair can vary widely in thickness, but its most distinctive feature is that it holds no natural curl. Since straight hair tends to generate more oil, a powder-based dry shampoo can work wonders for absorbing oil without dehydrating the scalp.

On the damage-control front, make sure not to wash straight hair too often. An oily scalp will notice when it’s been stripped of its natural lipids, and will overproduce to make up the difference. You’ll be left with long, heavy hair that’s weighed down with oil – in terms of pollution, particulates in the air will stick much more easily to greasy hair.

Wavy hair doesn’t quite hold a curl, but flaunts a lovely S-shape curve in its strands. These waves can enjoy significant definition when styled with a gel or mousse, but make sure to avoid cream products.

While those with wavy hair may use more product than other hair types to achieve definition, beware of product buildup in the scalp. Wavy hair types may also be overzealous with hot hair tools, in an attempt to straighten those ‘S’ curves. If you have color treated hair – or hair that’s over-exposed to the elements – constant hot tool use could be what’s tipping dryness and hair damage over the edge.

Those with curly hair tend to have an especially hard time without products to tame their tresses. Avoid curl products that contain silicone or sulfates, which can contribute to damaged hair on a long-term basis.

Curly types should also heed the warning above about hot hair tools – especially if your hair is suffering from signs of environmental damage.

Individuals with kinky hair should avoid over-brushing, as this can result in further breakage for already damaged hair. Instead, we recommend following up your shower with a leave-in conditioner combed through hair with fingertips, and allow air-dry.

While these quick hair-care tips are a start, you might be wondering: is there truly a way to target pollutants in our hair care? Actually, yes! We’re starting to see an increase in products created specifically for detoxing the scalp and shielding strands from UV exposure.

Tips for Protecting Hair from Pollution

Before you spend money on your next anti-pollution hair treatment: you may already have one of the most effective ones in your home! A hat or scarf may seem like old school accessories, but they’re a great way to protect your hair from the elements. This includes smoke, grime, dust, and UV rays.

Looking for a new head scarf to protect your hair? We encourage you to purchase with purpose whenever you can! That’s why we recommend checking out RefuSHE, a nonprofit dedicated to building a community for female refugees in Kenya and their home countries. They sell hand-dyed, one-of-a-kind scarves in an array of gorgeous prints and colors.

100% of the proceeds go back to the Artisan’s Collective and its members, ensuring that the women behind these pieces are rightfully recognized and compensated. It’s a little scarf whose positive impact goes a long way!

Anti-Pollution Hair Care

For Thermal Protection:
EVOLVEh SmartStart Leave-In Conditioner
This hybrid heat-protectant and conditioner isn’t your average leave-in treatment. It’s water-based, meaning it feels lightweight for even fine hair. Rice bran and cumin seed defend against heat damage (this includes hot tools and hot climates). A blend of fruit oils from raspberry, orange, and grapefruit soften each strand while providing protective antioxidants.

For UV Protection:
Tarteguard 30 Mineral Powder Sunscreen
Powder sunscreens are great for protecting the scalp from sun damage, with the added bonus of absorbing excess oil just like a dry shampoo. Tarte’s mineral sunscreen powder comes with an applicator that makes using it a breeze – just dust it onto exposed areas of the hairline and scalp. This powder sunscreen is also suitable for your skin!

Detox Treatment:
Phyto Detox Rehab Mist
Sometimes a detox is as simple as a breath of fresh air – at least, that’s how it feels when you use the Phyto Detox Rehab Mist.

This featherlight mist revives damaged hair with stimulating, detoxifying burdock root and soothing eucalyptus. Kumquat extract delivers a boost of antioxidants to the scalp, to purge toxins and invigorate healthy growth. Phyto uses paraben-free fragrance and balancing essential oils to neutralize residual odor, while uplifting strands with that fresh ‘clean hair’ feeling.

Free Radical Defense:
Pro-Vitamin B5 Smoothing Hair Serum
If you feel like most hair serums feel heavy in your hair, our Pro-Vitamin B5 Smoothing Hair Serum may be more your speed. This buildable, lightweight hair serum helps to reduce split ends while promoting hair’s natural shine and gloss.

Our signature serum formula replenishes damaged hair with vitamin E, to seal in moisture without creating the greasy feeling left by silicone-based hair serums. Lavender essential oil offers antibacterial properties to calm and neutralize irritation in the scalp. This is our go-to rehab treatment for stressed hair at the end of a long week!

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