This post comes by request from one of our faithful Lovelyish readers, but of course it’s not the first time I’ve been faced with the question: Why isn’t my hair shiny, and what can I do to fix it? There are various and sundry products at the supermarket and at boutique stores that claim to do the trick, but the bottom line is that it takes more than a “miracle product” to regain sustainably shiny hair. Do you think Olivia Palermo is using “Shine Happy” by Natural Instincts? Probably not. So throw the hype out the window. Here are some real-world pointers I’ve found that I hope will help. 

Diet, Hormones, and Stress. Your diet has a big influence on the oil balance of your hair. Greasy food has even been proven as a contributing factor to male hair loss. Since your hair and skin are sort of your body’s barometers, helping you know whether or not your insides are in balance, overly oily scalp conditions and dry, brittle ends are your body’s way of telling you something’s wrong. It could always be an imbalance in hormones — you’ll notice that first in the form of a breakout in the mouth and chin area most likely — in which case you should always defer to a doctor’s advice. Finally, stress is not only a huge contributor to lack of luster in the hair, dealing with is much easier said than done. Stress is a sneaky culprit because it’s hard to spot it coming. A friend of mine asked me just last night,

“What’s with this new halo of frizzy, blah-looking hair I have all of a sudden?” I pinched one of the short hairs at her part and pulled it out straight. It was about 3 inches long (her hair grows especially fast, about a half-inch a month), so I said,

“Did something traumatic or extremely stressful happen around six months ago?” She replied,

“Um, my boyfriend was shipped out to Iraq?” Bingo. She had no control over something like that causing stress, but nonetheless her hair reported back by thinning out suddenly. The new halo of matte-looking hair was the regrowth of what’s she’d lost. Our bodies do this all the time due to a lot of things including pregnancy, big life changes, and illness. Now, what can we do to combat this annoying phenomenon?

Once you’ve done your best to tangle with balancing your mind and body (there’s only so much anyone can do), that’s when products come in. And while it’s easy to want to just choose a bottle that says something that inspires confidence, there really are right and wrong products for your hair. For example, if you have naturally shiny hair — yes, these people do exist, and they’re lucky — you can probably get away with using just about anything. Granted naturally straight hair does have a tendency to go limp and look oilier sooner, so using better shampoo and conditioner have a benefit in that sense, but long term damage isn’t as huge of a concern for those ladies as it is for those of us with some texture. Any girl with natural wave, curl, or just plain frizz has at hand the seemingly lifelong task of finding the right balance of products to keep their hair shiny and smooth with minimal damage. Here are some thoughts to that effect:

Sulfate-free shampoos. They help you keep the “right” oils in your hair because they don’t use anything harsh in the cleansing process. More and more companies are putting out sulfate-free lines even at places like Target. I’m happy to see this feature becoming more affordable because keeping hair’s chemistry in balance helps everything: your scalp, your hair color, your hair’s ability to go longer without shampooing.

Choosing the right products. If you only read one thing in this entire article I hope it’s this: Just like our bodies, there’s no such thing as healing just one issue. You have to treat the hair as a whole and address the root of the problem. Piling on topical shine products and protein without using the right shampoo and conditioner will only serve to further imbalance your hair. This is not a load of hairdresser sales-pitching. You can’t compensate for crappy cleansing products with piles of boutique silkeners. Just like your skin, piling makeup on top of an imbalanced surface will only make the issue worse when you take your makeup off. But taking the interest in solving the issue will result in hair that moves and stays clean-looking and needs less upkeep. When you heal your hair and scalp, you teach it to be more self-sustaining. As silkening products go, I like Moroccan Oil for smoothing flyaways and nourishing distressed hair, Kenra Silkening Gloss for blondes because it won’t discolor your highlights, and Redken Velvet Gelatine as a really intense blow-dry lotion for seriously frizzy hair. I’m not a fan of CHI silkening products — they tend to irritate the scalp and discolor the hair, or Biosilk, which builds up in a bad way.

Happy bonuses. There are little cheats you can use to increase dimension and sheen in the short term. If you get your hair colored, having your stylist use a demi-permanent glaze to refresh your color will serve to rebalance your hair’s chemistry and give it more shine for awhile. Since this is a really gentle product in most cases, the damage is fairly negligible. I don’t recommend going in for a glaze more often than once a month, but richening your color in a gently way will make you feel better about your color and pump some life into it periodically. As far as I know, Redken is the only color line that makes a no-lift color refresher. It’s called Shades EQ and it’s the ideal product for a low-stress glaze. So find a Redken salon if that’s what you’re in the market for.

Finally, I believe in giving your hair a rest. Going a few days without shampooing, even if it gets gnarly (and you can find some way to disguise it, like dry shampoo), every so often will allow your body to balance out a bit. Hair is pretty self-sufficient. The only reason we have all these remedies is because most of us have hair that wants to do something really ugly or unpredictable when left to its own devices. So it’s our job to stress our hair out as little as possible while we’re putting it through all these processes of making it look decent.

I hope this helps to demystify the holy grail of shiny hair. The takeaway message is that there aren’t any shortcuts when it comes to taking care of your hair. Luckily we’re seeing great strides toward great products becoming more affordable. So there are no more excuses! Take care of your hair. It’ll be happier which will make you happier!

What are your major qualms with your hair? How do you keep your hair shiny?