If you could go without heat or hair colour for a month, it’ll breathe new life into dry and damaged locks. Award-winning hairstylist Charlotte Mensah, shares her tips for fasting like a pro
Fasting has fast-become one of the biggest trends in wellness, but what about beauty? If you’re able to abstain from heat or colour for a month, it could provide as many benefits for your hair as it can for your health.
I first came across the term when speaking to hairstylist Charlotte Mensah . She said she was on one at the time as she needed a break from heat and colour to get her hair back to feeling its best. This meant no colour and minimal heat for four to six weeks and caring for it from the inside out. “I needed a healthier path that involved changing my mentality away from constantly and frequently changing up my hairstyles with the use of heat,” she said, which certainly resonated with someone like me who’s fairly reliant on their straighteners and curling tongs.
The goals it serves are mental as well as physical. “You will have a more positive approach to managing your hair type and style,” says Charlotte. “Afterwards, your hair will be controlled by you and not the other way round.” A fast sounds like it could do my styling habits a world of good considering how often I use, and on occasions, misuse heat on my thick, wavy hair. Charlotte also recommends it to anyone who has relaxed or colour-treated hair and those who use keratin treatments too. I caught up with Charlotte to find out more about her top hair fast fixes and have also been slathering on a range of deep conditioning treatments to see which products complement the process best. Here’s your eight-point plan.
Step 1: Book in for a trim
Getting a trim is an essential step for keeping ends healthy. As celebrity hair stylist Neil Moodie puts it: “Split ends tend to make your hair dull and lifeless. No amount of time, money and efforts spent on hair masks, treatments and spas will do any good to your hair - split ends will continue to split up the length of the hair if you don’t trim them, making your hair brittle and weak.” So booking in to get them cut off ensures you’re starting your hair fast on a strong footing.
Step 2: Pre-treat with an exfoliating scrub
Before her hair fast, Charlotte does an exfoliating salt scrub treatment. Not only does this slough off dead skin cells, but it also reduces product build-up to aid smoother and healthier hair growth. Available in her salon, it’s applied to hair and scalp along with oils and left under gentle heat for a little while before being rinsed through. If you’re looking for an at-home alternative though, brands are stepping up in terms of their product line-ups. Ideal for oily scalps in particular, a weekly clarifying application of Christophe Robin’s Cleansing Purifying Scrub with Sea Salt , £17, works well in this regard as does Aveda’s Pramasana Purifying Scalp Cleanser , £19.60, for a grain-free option. Massaging them in is satisfying stuff.
Step 3: Use a paddle brush
Charlotte’s tool of choice, a paddle brush does more than just detangle, it also boosts circulation to help stimulate hair growth. My favourites include ghd’s Paddle Brush , £17.56, and Aveda’s Large Wood Paddle Brush , £20. “Paddle brushes are also the most gentle forms of brushes,” says Zoe Irwin, ghd UK ambassador. “The rounded end ensures you cannot scratch the scalp and the evenly spread out plastic bristles cause less tension with fibre interaction when detangling to ensure the scalp isn’t damaged.”
Step 4: Massage your scalp daily
Requiring just your fingertips, a daily five to ten minute scalp massage while you’re in bed helps take the circulation benefits of your paddle brush one step further and releases end of day tension too. Using slow, gentle, circular movements, it can be done dry if your hair has a tendency to get greasy or with an oil for some welcome slip. Liz Earle’s lightweight Botanical Shine Nourishing Hair Oil , £19.50, (containing Kalahari melon oil, coconut oil and radish oil) works well for this as does Percy & Reed’s Wonder Treatment Oil+ , £25, and Charlotte’s Manketti Hair Oil , £48, for particularly parched hair types. They can be used as a pre-wash treatment too when distributed through lengths and in between washes for instant rehydration of dry ends.
If you want to use a tool to massage your head rather than your hands, we love the Hair Story Brush , £11.
Step 5: Use protective hairstyles
To limit the amount of damage caused to natural Afro hair types on a day to day basis, a protective hairstyle can prove particularly useful when it comes to maintaining moisture and retaining its length. Braids and weaves are Charlotte’s go-tos for giving her hair an opportunity to rest. “I wear various braided styles for my hair fast,” she says. “I particularly love box braids, you can wear them loose or throw them back into a ponytail. There’s nothing you can do wrong with box braids - even worn casually they are beautiful to look at.” Daily moisturisation using a hair oil is important for keeping them in good condition while you have them in and for reducing the risk of breakage when taking them out.
Step 6: Only use heat when you need it
Ideally, going completely heat-free would be the aim during a hair fast however, practically, it’s not always viable for most of us. While we might be able to forgo the straighteners for the duration, going without a hairdryer is slightly trickier when strapped for time. Provided that heat’s kept to a minimum though, then you’re fasting right. “I wash my hair every seven to ten days and either air dry or use a hood to keep heat exposure to a minimum,” says Charlotte.
For those who need to wash their hair more often, hair stylist and ghd ambassador Adam Reed recommends swapping the warm setting on your hairdryer to the cool setting. “Leave your hair to dry naturally for as long as possible and then use the Cool Button on your ghd air hairdryer , £79, to finish off drying your hair,” he says. “This not only helps to lock your finished style in place for longer, but is also better for protecting your scalp and your hair health.”
We also recommend the Dyson Supersonic Hair Dryer , £299.99. From a glass bead thermistor that measures the dryer temperature 20 times a second, transmitting data to a microprocessor which then controls the patented heating element, to a ‘fast and focused’ airflow that dries hair quickly and smoothly, this hairdryer works hard to preserve hair health.
Step 7: Feed your hair from the inside out
Going on a hair fast in January actually coincides very well with the usual New Year’s resolutions to exercise more and eat more healthily. Charlotte’s personal plan includes drinking plenty of water, eating a balanced diet and keeping active. “Your hair is a direct reflection of how you feel about yourself and how well you are nurturing yourself,” she says.
A diet that covers all the important food groups is key, with trichologist Anabel Kingsley recently highlighting how New Year fad diets such as juice, low-fat and low-carb diets can lead to an increase in hair loss . She advises eating plenty of complex carbohydrates and protein at meal times to provide the body with fast and sustained energy to form hair cells, which interestingly, have the second fastest turnover of any cells in the body. For Charlotte, eating well also means avoiding foods which she’s found negatively affect her hair, so she cuts back on sugar as it can make it brittle and lead to breakage, as well as dairy which can cause scalp issues in her experience.
Step 8: Use leave-in rather than rinse-off conditioners
There’s no other time where a mask is needed more than during a hair fast and, while a rinse-off conditioner lends itself well to more regular hair washing, replacing it with a leave-in treatment once or even twice a week will offer even greater benefits. Providing more time for the ingredients to penetrate the hair shaft, here are five which fit the bill perfectly.
Aesop Rose Hair & Scalp Masque, £25 for 20ml
This mask’s earned a permanent place on my bathroom shelf. Massage into lengths and the rest into the scalp for softer, suppler and thicker feeling hair in just 10 to 30 minutes.
John Frieda Frizz-Ease Dream Curls Deep Conditioner, £5.20 for 150ml
This deep conditioning treatment adds softness and shine back to dry and damaged curls thanks to the inclusion of Abyssinian oil.
Sachajuan Over Night Repair, £37 for 100ml
For an option that soothes while you sleep, look no further than this pick. Containing sea algae and mineral extracts to rehydrate and replenish, it leaves hair silky and strong the next morning.
Pureology Superfood Strength Cure Superfood Treatment, £19.95 for 170g
Vegan and silicone-free, this five-minute mask formulated with olive oil and goji berry extract works wonders for colour-treated hair.
Maui Moisture Revive & Hydrate Shea Butter Mask, £5.99 for 340g
The fact that aloe vera juice is listed as this mask’s number one ingredient (as opposed to water), provides a solid indication of how moisturising it is. Free from sulfated surfactants, silicone and mineral oils, it offers an intensive treat for super dry ends. And it smells amazing too.