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Why pollution could be giving you hair issues - and how to fight back

November 28th 2019 / Becci Vallis / 0 comment

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Particles in the environment can turn hair from glossy to dry, brittle and brassy and make your scalp itch like crazy. If that's you, read on for our expert pollution-proofing tips

Online searches for anti-pollution skincare have risen by 450 per cent in the past year according to Google Trends, with the UK the 12th highest location for people on the hunt for anti-pollution beauty. But guess what, it affects your hair and scalp too and is why anti-pollution haircare is on the rise.

“Shampoos, conditioners and protective sprays that have been shown to help shield the hair and scalp are always useful as they can prevent the stress caused by pollution particles,” explains Robin Parker, Technical Director for Grow Gorgeous, a brand that has just launched a targeted intelligent haircare collection, Defence, to save your strands from the smog.

How does pollution damage my hair?

With exhaust fumes measuring an average of 2.5 micrometres (20 times smaller than the diameter of the average human hair), pollution can easily worm its way into the hair cuticle. From here, it makes the hair vulnerable by sucking the moisture out of your hair and scalp leaving it dry, thin and prone to damage. If you’ve got bleached or chemically treated hair or suffer from dry, brittle hair, you’re even more at risk as it will be more porous – essentially leaving it wide open to pollutants. The result? Breakage, snapping and generally a head of hair that’s trickier to style.

Recent research has also shown that air pollutants from burning fossil fuels could cause hair loss as the four proteins in the cells responsible for hair growth and hair retention were reduced. And woe betide you if you’ve got coloured hair - the oxidisation from the toxins will create an all-over tarnished effect and can cause blondes to become brassy in double-quick time.

The grisly side effects don’t stop there as it’s not just your hair that needs to be considered, think about what’s happening to your scalp too. As soon as the microbiome of the scalp (the bacteria) becomes imbalanced it can cause the skin to become itchy, dry, sensitive and sometimes sore. An unhealthy scalp can seriously compromise the health of your hair.

How do you know if your scalp is affected by the environment?

Usually, because it will feel itchy, flaky, dry or generally irritated. “Oily dandruff is another common sign as pollution can clog the scalp and hair cuticle,” adds Sergio Renis, educator and stylist at Windle London.

Granted you might not be as exposed to as many fumes if you live in the country but agriculture, cooking fuels and log fires all puff toxins into the atmosphere and even short exposure to traffic can expose hair to pollution, flags Robin. Water can also be a cause for concern as metals and minerals (especially in hard water areas) can deposit on the hair over time and leave it vulnerable.

Your hair type might make you more susceptible as well because while no-one is safe, oily and greasy hair and scalps attract more pollutants, dust particles and dirt. Think of it a bit like Pritt Stick – any toxins will simply stick to you like glue and stay put until you wash it away. Which is where a well-honed haircare routine will be your saving grace.

How to protect your hair from pollution

Keeping your hair and scalp as clean as possible is crucial but avoid over-washing as this can produce an excess of natural oils and make the scalp greasier. If in doubt, follow Sergio’s tip and wash hair less often but when you do, wash it twice, massaging the scalp and avoid products containing sulphates and silicones which could potentially lock in pollution.

The same caution should be exerted when you’re using styling products as heavy products like mousses, thickening creams and hair spray can actually attract more pollution elements to your hair. Think about a lightweight multi-tasking product instead and ideally one that aids hydration.

Your pollution-proofing haircare regime

gg-rebrand-shot-14_edit-jpg.JPGAdding in a treatment such as Grow Gorgeous’ Defence Detoxifying Salt Scrub, £24 will work wonders in unplugging pollution from your precious follicles. Using AHA enzymes from grapefruit and pomegranate to dissolve dead skin cells and loosen dirt along with physical exfoliants like bamboo particles to sweep away the aftermath, it purifies the scalp and leaves hair feeling cleaner and healthier. Use once or twice a week just like you would a facial exfoliator for essential maintenance and to keep cell renewal ticking over nicely.

gg-rebrand-shot-17_edit-jpg.JPGWhen it comes to choosing your shampoo, antioxidants are the gold standard for fighting free radicals and helping to shield hair from UV and pollutants. Grow Gorgeous’ Defence Anti-Pollution Shampoo, £14 contains the potent green tea and a unique polysaccharide matrix made up of the provitamin B5. Acting as a barrier against atmospheric pollution it creates an invisible shield around the hair to prevent pollutants penetrating the cuticles.

Follow with the Grow Gorgeous Defence Anti-Pollution Conditioner, £16 on the mid-lengths and ends to inject some moisture back into hair. It's full of tara (a tree) tannins and organic sunflower sprout extract both of which that help to protect from pollution. It acts like insurance once your hair is dry and styled.

When you're styling remember that hair affected by pollution will be more likely to break and split so remember not to tug at your hair too much pre-blow-dry. Detangle from the ends upwards. Think about investing in some headgear as well. Hats or silk hairbands that cover up your scalp and hair will act as a physical barrier between soot and fumes so it can’t settle on your head. Winning!

Written in partnership with Grow Gorgeous

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