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How To Protect Your Hair From Air Pollution’s Dulling, Drying Effects

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There’s no denying that pollution can have some serious effects on your appearance — it’s proven to impair the skin’s barrier and cause signs of premature aging, like wrinkles and dark spots — but it isn’t just your skin that suffers.

“Many people don’t know that pollution can also cause damage to the hair and scalp,” Michele Burgess, the Executive Director of Product Development for Oribe, tells The Zoe Report. It makes sense: The harmful pollution particles (also known as free radicals) that cause damage to your skin cells would naturally land on your hair follicles, as well — only instead of wrinkles and hyperpigmentation, your hair experiences “breakage, frizz, dandruff, and even hair loss,” Chase Kusero, co-founder of IGK Hair Care, tells us in an email.

So if that anti-frizz serum or medicated dandruff shampoo just isn’t cutting it anymore, it may be time to tackle the problem at the source. The latest crop of anti-pollution hair care products is making that a whole lot easier.

But before getting into the cutting-edge hair care products that belong in your collection, a mini science lesson on pollution and free radicals: “Pollution is comprised of harmful gases and particulate matter, which have been shown to promote free radical damage,” Dr. Joshua Zeichner of Zeichner Dermatology tells The Zoe Report. The effects of oxygen-based free radicals can be neutralized with the help of a class of ingredients known as antioxidants. “Antioxidants are like fire extinguishers that minimize damage caused by exposure to pollution,” he says.

Some antioxidant-rich hair care ingredients include hyaluronic acid, which creates a barrier around the hair cuticle to protect it from the elements (Dr. Zeichner cites a healthy skin barrier as one of the keys to fighting pollution damage), and moringa seed extract, which neutralizes free radicals and prevents polluting micro-particles from adhering to the hair; both of which are found in Oribe’s recently released Hydration & Anti-Pollution Booster Power Drops. Vitamin E, algae extracts, bamboo extract, and grape stem cells also offer antioxidant-packed, pollution-fighting benefits for the strands and scalp.

“Like most beauty and wellness concerns, prevention is easier than correction,” Ed Valentine, the Managing Director of NatureLab. Tokyo, tells The Zoe Report. To that end, it’s important to not only treat pollution damage with antioxidants, but also prevent the effects of pollution in the first place, by making sure your hair is healthy and strong.

“The key to healthy hair is a healthy scalp — otherwise pollutants can really settle in and do their damage,” Kusero tells us. He suggests working scalp care into your routine once a week, as well as utilizing daily leave-in conditioners and weekly hair masks to hydrate and seal the hair cuticle, so that pollution particles can't infiltrate.

Another way to keep your hair healthy? “Don’t wash it as much,” Kusero says — as if you needed another reason to postpone wash day. “Air pollution and UV exposure dry out the hair, and over-cleansing makes the situation worse. When you do wash, do so with sulfate-free products.” The ideal number of washes-per-week is different for everyone and every hair type; the real takeaway here is to only shampoo when you need to. For those with thin hair or an oily scalp, this could mean every other day; for those with thick coils and curls, once a week is optimal.

It's worth noting that although heat styling with a blow dryer doesn't add more pollution to your hair (it simply recycles the air that's already around you), it can exacerbate the drying effects of pollution. If your hair is particularly brittle or prone to breakage, make sure to add a pollution protectant and a heat protectant, like Bumble & bumble Hairdresser's Invisible Oil Heat/UV Protective Primer, to your daily routine.

“Everyone should be using daily hair protection, much like you would with sunscreen and your skin,” Burgess says. Luckily, the diverse range of anti-pollution hair care products available makes that super easy to do — and although one anti-pollution product per day will suffice, there's no reason not to incorporate protective products into every level of your routine, from shampoo to shine mist, for the healthiest hair possible.

Ahead, the anti-pollution hair care products to add to your routine ASAP.

Shampoo

Don't Despair, Repair! Super Moisture Shampoo

Briogeo

Made with biotin and algae extracts, this shampoo gives pollution the one-two punch: It fights free radicals while repairing environmental damage.

Bad & Bougie Amla Oil Deep Repair Shampoo

IGK Haircare

Kusero says this sulfate-free, rehydrating shampoo keeps hair healthy and less vulnerable to environmental damage.

Glacial White Caviar Resort Cleansing Balm

Miriam Quevedo

A caviar-infused cleansing balm — also featuring antioxidants and barrier-repairing amino acids — is perhaps the most luxurious way to fight free radicals.

Conditioner

Detox Conditioner

Grown Alchemist

Consider this conditioner, which "detoxifies" strands from the effects of both free radicals and UV light, the equivalent of a juice cleanse for your hair.

Premiere Treatment

Cuvée Beauty

Anti-inflammatory properties serve to soothe scalp irritation, while antioxidant protection keeps your strands safe from any pollution particles in the air.

KeratinFIXX Repair Conditioner

Keratherapy

"Our conditioner helps kick-start the repairing process with light oils that help close the cuticle so that pollution cannot enter into the hair shaft," Tamela Howell, the Director of Education at Keratherapy, tells The Zoe Report.

Color-Saver Color-Gloss Sealer

Nick Chavez

Hair that's been bleached or dyed is extra-prone to breakage and frizz. Reach for this color-safe hair treatment to neutralize environmental damage (thanks to algae extracts) and add moisture (courtesy of aloe vera).

Leave-In Conditioner

Thirsty Girl Coconut Milk Leave-In Conditioner

IGK Haircare

“Protect your hair from damage with a leave-in conditioner," Kusero suggests. "Thirsty Girl Coconut Milk Leave-In Conditioner creates a light barrier on the hair," which is an essential step in preventing free radical damage.

Serum

Hydration & Anti-Pollution Booster Power Drops

Oribe

Mix a few drops of this highly concentrated serum, made with hyaluronic acid and moringa seed extract, with your usual hair care products to add a boost of anti-pollution power.

Styling

Shine Oil Mist

NatureLab. Tokyo

"Shine Oil Mist is formulated with grape stem cells, which are a source of powerful antioxidants that reduce the oxidative damage to scalp papilla cells, which helps to revitalize and add shine to dull hair," Valentine tells us.

Blush Spray Hydratant

David Mallett

Spritz this in your hair before leaving the house. "It protects colored hair against atmospheric pollution, UV rays, and exposure to chemicals," David Mallett tells The Zoe Report.

City Shield Hair Crème

Nexxus

Antioxidant lotus extract helps reduce frizz while actively fighting frizz-causing pollution particles.

Scalp Treatment

Extreme Caviar Scalp Mask

Miriam Quevedo

Treat your scalp to this once-a-week treatment, made with Tahitian mother of pearl and coral sand (to exfoliate and remove build up) and botanical antioxidants (to neutralize the effects of pollution).

Hair Mask

Bamboo Miracle Reconstructor

Trueplex

"Using the power of cysteine, as well as combination of bamboo extract, keratin and argan oil, Bamboo Miracle Reconstructor strengthens the hair’s defenses against pollution," Tamela Howell, the Director of Education for Trueplex, tells The Zoe Report.