The Negative Effects Pollution Has on Hair and How to Protect Your Strands

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Pollution is a problem on a much larger scale than how it damages our hair, but the toll it takes on our strands is also worth talking about. Not only is pollution bad for our bodily health and skin, as a shock to no one, it can also have negative effects on our hair. We heard from experts on exactly how this environmental aggressor can damage our hair and how we can do our best to protect it.

“Until recently, I don’t think that any of us were really aware of the negative effects that environmental pollution actually had on our hair. We are so quick to switch our products or change our hair routine assuming that’s the reason for our hair becoming dull, lifeless and dry,” says celebrity colorist Christin Brown. She says pollution can often be the culprit. Furthermore, “if we’re unable to remedy what’s happening, it can lead to weak strands, breakage and even hair loss.” 

Trichologist and hair expert Shab Reslan says, “Hair can suffer from pollution in the air and in our shower or pool water. Environmental pollution in the air in dense cities like New York can affect hair by leaving a film on the scalp and clogging hair follicles.” Over time pollution can do significant damage, including causing the keratin in your hair, which gives it its strength, to break down, says Amy Stollmeyer, hairstylist and DESIGNME cofounder. “Once hair becomes very weakened and fragile, it inevitably breaks or is more susceptible to further damage from coloring, UV rays, heat styling and tension hairstyles,” she adds. Pollution build-up over time can also contribute to “scalp irritations—the most concerning being inflammation and clogging that can trigger some forms of alopecia.”

Pollution isn’t the only negative effect the environment can have on hair. “Invisible debris in the air can also attach to your hair strands and result in frizzy, dull and flat looking hair,” says Reslan. “Contaminants in our shower water and/or pool water such as chlorine and heavy metals can chemically react with our hair color causing fading, an increase in unwanted brassy tones and even greasy looking roots.” All of these environmental tolls make it all the more important to care for our scalp and hair.

There are a few steps we can take to protect our precious strands. Reslan says a weekly scalp exfoliation, she recommends The INKEY List’s Glycolic Acid Exfoliating Scalp Scrub ($13), is necessary for anyone living in bigger cities. Brown suggests wearing a hat and incorporating more antioxidants into our daily routine to help reduce the stress on our hair. Stollmeyer advises regularly shampooing to clarify any pollution build-up. Follow this up with a leave-in treatment like FAB.ME multi-benefit leave-in Treatment ($28) that targets environmental aggressors. 

Brown recommends OLAPLEX’S newest product, No. 9 Bond Protector Nourishing Hair Serum, which has been scientifically proven to protect hair from pollution for 48 hours. “Not only does it strengthen and repair with the patented bond-building technology, but it helps to rid the hair of environmental pollutants,” says Brown. Reslan suggests using The INKEY List Hyaluronic Acid Hydrating Hair Treatment ($10) to protect hair from environmental aggressors, including humidity.

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