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Your Healthiest Hair Ever

Get your best hair ever with our four-step action plan, designed to help take your strands from so-so to spectacular. Say goodbye to limp locks, dull strands, frizz, and more with our favorite products and hair care tricks.

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Sarah Kehoe
John Frieda Collection Root Awakening, Jonathan Stylist Professional Series Prep Spray
Lisa Shin
Sarah Kehoe
Sarah Kehoe
Luis Ernesto Santana
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Dig Deep

When hair follicles are blocked with excess oil and product buildup, hair can look limp and greasy. Dirty follicles can also prevent essential nutrients, vitamins, and oils from properly nourishing strands, says James Corbett, a salon owner in New York City.

TEST: Gently rub and scratch your head. Do you feel pimplelike bumps or see a white residue on your nails or fingertips? If so, try these tips.

Sweep Away Debris
Exfoliating is key to heading off scalp breakouts, caused by trapped oil and bacteria. Skip gritty shampoo scrubs and pick up a brush instead, says Corbett. Those with nubby plastic bristles (such as Conair Professional Babyliss Scalp Massage Brush, $1.99, sallybeauty.com) loosen buildup well. Starting on one side of your head, brush from your front hairline to your neck, using a semicircular motion; continue until you reach the opposite side, 10 to 15 strokes in total.

Wash More Efficiently
Shampoo only once every two or three days with this thorough approach: Wet hair, then rub a quarter-size drop of shampoo into the scalp, moving along the perimeter of your hairline. Next, using circular motions, massage with your fingertips from your temples to your crown, behind your ears to your crown and from your neck to your crown. "Try to move the scalp -- this ensures that you're using enough pressure to clean it," says Kaz Amor, a color expert at Warren Tricomi Salon in Los Angeles. Rinse until water is free of suds.

Don't Deep-Clean Often
Purifying shampoos strip your scalp of its natural oils, sending oil glands into overdrive. To prevent slick roots, "use purifiers once a month, tops," Amor says. If they leave your style flat and lifeless (likely, for those with fine hair), spritz on a primer (such as Jonathan), a special styler made with residue-free polymers, for an instant lift.

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Best Products to Save Your Scalp

Aveeno Nourish + Soothe Shampoo, $6.49, drugstores, calms itchy scalps with lavender and peppermint.

John Frieda Root Awakening Health Infusing Shampoo, $6.49, drugstores, clears away buildup with eucalyptus.

Jonathan Stylist Professional Series Prep Spray, $20, sephora.com, detangles and offers extra texture.

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Strength-Train Your Strands

Healthy hair is thick from roots to ends. But aggressive brushing, heat styling, and chemicals used during coloring and straightening processes chip away at the cuticle, Cutler says. This is especially true for the ends, the oldest -- and therefore most vulnerable -- part of strands.

TEST: Pull back hair (into a ponytail if possible). If it's dramatically thinner at the ends compared to the roots, it's time to bulk up.

Whisk Away Weak Spots
A trim is the most crucial step to fending off frayed, uneven pieces of hair. "Damaged ends start a chain reaction," Cutler says. "A minor split end can continue moving up a mostly healthy piece of hair." Cutting away the fragile part puts a stop to breakage. A rule of thumb: Have your hair cut once every eight to 10 weeks.

Baby Wet Strands
Water temporarily weakens the protective chemical bond that helps hair stand up to aggressors. "That's why it's easier to break wet hair than dry," says Shannon Tor, senior project leader for Tresemme in Chicago. The healthiest way to detangle damp strands: Start an inch above the ends and remove knots in small sections, then move upward in one-inch increments until you reach the roots, Corbett suggests.

Fill Up on Protein
Conditioners containing amino acids as well as wheat, soy, or milk proteins plug holes along the cuticle, temporarily resulting in a thicker strand of hair. Proteins can be drying, however, so use them in moderation once or twice weekly, and find a formula (such as Pantene's) that also contains fatty alcohols or moisturizing lipids, such as ceramides or jojoba oil. Or consider a more potent salon treatment every other month. Redken Chemistry Extreme Shot Phase, $25, redken.com for locations, is packed with proteins and hydrators.

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Best Products to Build Strength

Suave Professionals Damage Care Shampoo, $2.49, drugstores, fortifies with proteins.

Pantene Pro-V Nature Fusion Moisture Balance Conditioner, $3.99, drugstores, rehydrates with aloe vera.

Redken Fabricate 03 Heat-Active Texturizer, $13, redken.com for salons, cushions strands from damage.

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Get Your Shine On

"Healthy hair looks shiny because its cuticles are smooth, creating an uninterrupted surface of light along each hair fiber," says Jeni Thomas, PhD, senior scientist for Pantene. Dullness indicates that the cuticle, or protective layer, has been damaged (common culprits: washing, brushing, and coloring). Adding insult: A ragged cuticle is likely to prompt frizz.

TEST: Have a friend take a picture of your hair while you're outside. Does the sunlight reflect evenly off your strands? If not, use these strategies.

Find a Gentler Shampoo
Traditional sudsing agents -- sodium lauryl and laureth sulfates -- can be too drying. Instead look for a cleanser (such as L'Oreal Paris) made with ingredients like decyl glucoside, which pulls away debris without stripping hair.

Be Cool
Warm water opens the hair's cuticle, allowing shampoo to get inside. Conditioner, however, is best rinsed with cold water, which seals the cuticle, says Rodney Cutler, a salon owner in New York City and Miami. When blow-drying, finish with the cool-shot button. This not only reseals the cuticle but also allows you to detect still-wet spots (they'll feel super chilly) -- important, as they can cause dulling frizz. (Blow-dry strands with hot air again, then top off with cool.)

Comb in Conditioner
Moisturizing styling products, such as leave-in lotions and sprays, prevent dryness and seal the outer layer of hair. But it's important to comb them in. "When the product is not evenly distributed, the bare patches look dry and lackluster," says Cutler. Choose silicone-free products (such as Living Proof No Frizz Styling Sprays, $24, sephora.com). Otherwise, the clingy ingredient can be difficult to remove with shampoo, leaving behind a dulling film.

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Best Products to Boost Shine

L'Oreal Paris EverPure Smooth Shampoo, $6.99, drugstores, is free of sulfates.

Nexxus Dualiste Color Protection + Intense Hydration Conditioner, $15.70, drugstores, amps up luster with vitamin E.

Dove Heat Defense Therapy Mist, $3.96, drugstores, prevents hair damage and dullness.

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Pump Up the Volume

Shelve the heavy hairstyling products and stow strand-damaging irons. "Aim for volume and texture," says Cutler. "Together they exude health and youthfulness."

TEST: Wash your hair and let it air-dry. If it naturally lies limp -- and a flatiron is the last tool you'd use -- your style will benefit from these root-boosting tips.

Condition Strategically
Bouncy hair begins in the shower. After thoroughly washing, reach for a volumizing conditioner (like L'Oreal Professionnel). "Traditional conditioner has a positive charge, which adheres to hair's negative charge," says Ryan Nickulas of Ryan Darius Salon in New York City. "Volumizing versions have a decreased positive charge, which means less product remains on strands." Pull hair into a ponytail and apply conditioner to hanging tresses, leaving the scalp area bare.

Thicken All Over
If you think of gels and pomades as for your ends only, think again. "These formulas add thickness to hair and are ideal for boosting volume at the scalp area -- and holding them in place all day," says Chrystofer Benson, artistic director of Logics. Put a dime-size dollop of product in palms and rub vigorously; the heat thins out the formula. Apply to roots first and distribute to ends.

Do the Wave
Dry hair on high heat at the slowest speed. "Think of the lighter strength of a hotel blow-dryer -- that's what you need to prevent hair from being wind-blown and flattened," says Michael Shaun Corby, global creative director for Altern . For a beachy texture, scrunch hair as you dry. For more dramatic bounce, wind small sections of hair around your finger; set in place with the heat of the dryer.

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Best Products for Building Body

Tresemme 24 Hour Body Root Boosting Spray, $3.99, drugstores, has a nozzle for volumizing.

Neutrogena Triple Renewal Weekly Purifying Cleanser, $6.49, drugstores, rids hair of heavy buildup.

L'Oreal Professionnel Expert Volume Expand Light Nourishing Masque, $30, lorealprofessionnel.com for salons, conditions hair without adding weight.

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How Much Damage Are You Doing?

What's more damaging...

Brushing or finger-styling? FINGER-STYLING. "Ragged nails and cuticles can rip the hair shaft or pull it from the scalp," says Cutler. A brush's coated bristles are gentler.

Chemical straightening or flatironing? FLATIRONING. Most women do it from roots to ends, damaging the entire strand of hair. Conversely, "after a chemical straightener is initially applied, it goes only on roots to relax regrowth," says Cutler. Plus, the process is done once every six to eight months, versus the daily use of a flatiron. At home, straighten only those strands that need it, and use a heat-protecting styler.

Coloring hair at home or at the salon? AT HOME -- but only when you're going lighter. "Bleach can burn the hair and scalp, and corrective treatments may be necessary, compounding the damage," says Cutler. Leave lightening to the pros. Darkening, however, is safe to do yourself.

Blow-drying or towel-drying? BLOW-DRYING. "The intense heat can cause water inside the cuticle to boil and burn hair," says Cutler. Remove as much water as possible from hair before picking up the blower. Sandwich sections between a towel and press; vigorous rubbing can cause breakage. Then apply a heat-shielder (like Arrojo Thermal Protector, $15, arrojoproduct.com) before blasting with air.

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Stop Shedding!

Keep your hair where it belongs with these good-for-you solutions.

It's normal to lose up to 100 hairs daily, so don't panic if you spy a few strays on your shower or bathroom floor, says Naila Malik, MD, a cosmetic and anti-aging medicine specialist in Southlake, Texas. But periods of high stress (the death of a loved one, a major breakup) or hormonal changes (you change your use of the pill or have a baby) can increase the damage. "These situations cause the adrenal glands to produce too much cortisol and androgens, causing hair to have a shorter life cycle," notes trichologist Philip Kingsley, PhD, founder of the Philip Kingsley Hair Institute in New York City. As stress or hormone levels come back into balance, hair loss will naturally subside. (See your doctor to rule out issues such as thyroid or low iron-level conditions.) For faster results, try these tricks from Kingsley:

Hit the gym regularly. Frequent workouts (anything that gets your heart pumping) reduce stress.

Eat two daily servings of protein. "It's the building block of hair," says Kingsley, who suggests lean red meats, egg whites, cottage cheese, and tofu.

Take a multivitamin. It should meet 100 percent of the daily values of the following pro-hair growth nutrients: iron, B1, B2, B6, B12, pantothenic acid, and folic acid. Your doctor may also suggest a gelatin supplement (1,300 milligrams or more), which serves as another great protein source.

Originally published in FITNESS magazine, April 2009.

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