All products on this page have been selected by the editorial team, however Stylist may make commission on some products purchased through affiliate links in this article
Dry, breaking hair happens year round, but winter definitely adds an extra risk. We break down the facts and fiction about caring for afro hair when it’s cold, tackling dryness and damage from central heating, heavy coats and scarves, and braid itch.
As soon as the central heating flicks on and we start bundling up, our beauty routines also go through a transformation. Hydrating bodycare and skincare are musts for the drying effects of winter, and the same sentiment is usually echoed when it comes to hair – especially afro hair, the driest and most fragile of all the hair types.
But the same rules don’t necessarily apply. Our skin needs extra help during the winter as it’s a living organism, which hair is not. It’s a build-up of dead keratin (a protein made by our bodies) rather than living, breathing skin cells, so it doesn’t respond to the elements in the same way that skin does. So when winter comes, it still is essential to keep up a proper hydrating and strengthening hair routine as you would for the rest of the year, but there’s no need to pile on a load of extra products just for the sake of it.
The main culprits that may make afro hair feel drier are fluctuating temperatures (think central heating and cold outside air) and added friction from jumpers, coats and scarves. Both cause breakage, and in the case of temperature, it can cause the hair shaft to constantly open and close in response. It’s also a common myth that we need to skip wash day more often during the winter to preserve the hair’s natural oil, which does condition the strands but shouldn’t be allowed to build up on the scalp. Stick to washing once weekly (or fortnightly at a stretch, but most afro hair specialists do not recommend longer than this) with hydrating sulphate-free shampoos and co-washes.
You may also like
How to cure braid itch, according to the experts
Winter is also often the time when protective hairstyles like braids, twists, cainrows, wigs and locs really come into play. Long hailed as the solution to winter hair breakage, these styles do work well in keeping hair secured and protected from friction, but can actually exacerbate breakage in finer or damaged hair types. Keeping your braids in for longer than a month to six weeks is also a major mistake; dust, dead skin, and products build up at the root and weaken the hair over time, leading to increased shedding and scalp issues.
Make sure to still wash your hair while it’s in a protective style, and use oils only as a pre-wash treatment or sparingly when the scalp feels dry. And if that dreaded braid itch pops up – or even dandruff? Use a targeted treatment and make sure to wash off any build-up with a lathering, sulphate-free shampoo instead of a co-wash. Whether your hair’s wrapped up or flowing free, read on for the products to have in your year-round arsenal, but pull their weight particularly well in the colder months.
Centred En-Root Scalp TreatmentKeeping both the scalp and strands nourished is key, but we often get it wrong when it comes to oils. Never leave them on for days on end, and always layer over a hydrating leave-in so as not to block your hair from absorbing moisture from the air. Centred’s doubles as a treatment and a cleansing oil, emulsifying with water to gently lift oil and dirt away. Follow with a shampoo immediately or the day after.
As I Am Jamaican Black Castor Oil CoWash
Co-washes, or cleansing conditioners, are another commonly misused product – understandably so, as a lot of the messaging and marketing around them positions them as a shampoo alternative. Use them in between washes, for when hair feels dry or needs a refresh without being properly cleansed. This one is packed with castor oil and vitamin E to feed follicles and condition the scalp.
Bread Beauty Supply Hair-Wash- Gentle Milky Hair CleanserWhen you do get to the shampooing stage, picking one that generates a low amount of lather means less friction and more conditioning. Bread Beauty Supply’s smells like sweet cereal milk and leaves both scalp and strands feeling nurtured and cleansed with lemon tea tree, aloe and argan oil.
Derma Organics Scalp Stimulating Treatment
So many things cause an irritated scalp: not washing hair frequently enough, washing it too frequently, a build-up of styling products, or too-tight protective hairstyles that stay in too long. Rebalance and restore with this soothing scalp and hair mask, packed with superfoods and circulation stimulators like rosemary, cinnamon and ginger. Women have praised it highly for its ability to soothe even dermatitis and psoriasis.
Sol De Janeiro Triple Brazilian Butter Hair Repair TreatmentIf you’ve ever been lucky enough to try Sol De Janeiro’s decadent body range, then you’ll believe us when we say that it’s a lifeline in the depths of winter. Asides from the sunny packaging and comforting scent, this formula seriously conditions hair with three Brazilian heritage ingredients: cupuacu, murumu, and tucuma butters.
Jim and Henry Eight Leave-in Hair ConditionerAfter rinsing out most or all of your hair mask, apply a nourishing leave-in cream to damp hair. This one tub lasts for months and months, and with eight hardworking ingredients like shea butter, camomile and vitamin E, it’s a serious treat for dried-out strands or pre-braiding.
Okiki Moringa Shea Leave On Hair Conditioner
It’s great to have multiple leave-in options depending on what your hair needs: a thicker one for max hydration, a lighter one for refreshes, and a middle ground for everyday styling. Okiki’s uses shea as a base with moringa, an African superfood hailed for its dandruff-fighting powers and ability to seriously strengthen skin and hair.
Flora & Curl Organic Rose & Honey Leave-in Detangler
Your hair’s hydration level can be influenced by the humidity of the air, so your leave-in products need to reflect that – whatever the season. Humectants like glycerin and hyaluronic acid draw moisture to themselves, so if you live in a humid climate, moisture will be sucked from the air and held to your strands. If the climate’s dry, the humectants draw moisture from inside your hair to the air – which is what we don’t want. This lightweight leave-in has humectants honey and vitamin B to keep hair hydrated, and coconut and calendula oils to keep moisture locked inside.
Afrocenchix Sheen Natural Moisturising SprayAfrocenchix founder Jocelyn dubs this product as the one “for lazy naturals” for its ability to instantly hydrate in just a spritz. With aloe and grapeseed oil, it delivers moisture and nourishment and is suitable for natural hair or protective styles. Use as a daily refresher or underneath an oil for maximum hydration.
Images: Getty/courtesy of brands