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Healthy, beautiful hair is everyone's dream. And getting it requires little more than common sense, says Hollie Alper, former beauty and fashion director for Teen Magazine and a consultant for the Neutrogena Skin Care Institute.

Hair must be treated with care, she says. Once hair grows beyond its follicle in the scalp, it is no longer nourished by the body's resources. "Basically, hair is dead. It can't heal itself, so you have to take care of it." The goal is to minimize the damage to the hair's outer cuticle layer. Yet, she says, people tend to abuse their hair. They overwash it, overdry it, overcondition it, subject it to sun, bury it under a bunch of mousses, gels and sprays.Proper cleaning is essential for healthy hair, says Alper. And, although there is a deluge of products on the market, most people don't need special shampoos. "By its nature, shampoo will get in and do what it is supposed to do - clean harder if your hair is extra dirty and work less hard on hair that is less dirty or oily."

The only people who might need a specific shampoo are those with dandruff and those who have used chemical treatments such as perming and coloring. (Everyone has dandruff to some degree - it's the normal sloughing of scalp cells. Excessive, uncomfortable itching and noticeable flaking is unusual and needs special treatment.)

And not everyone needs to condition their hair every time they shampoo. "Conditioning is a good idea only if you get static electricity, or if you can't comb through the hair because of all the tangles."

The problem, she says, with conditioners and with mousses and gels and sprays is that they tend to buildup on the hair and cause it to be dull and unmanageable. "All of a sudden your hair won't curl, won't stay in place, won't do anything you want it to. And that's because of the buildup of all those products," says Alper.

What you need to do, she advises, is shampoo your hair with an oil-free shampoo that will strip off the buildup. There are a number of shampoos that can do this. You might not want to use them all the time because they can dry out your hair, she says, but using one every couple of weeks can help. You don't have to give up all the mousses and gels, but you don't want them to hang around forever.

You don't have to spend a lot of money on hair care, either, says Alper. You just need to think about your hair and treating it right. Some of her hair-care tips are printed here. You can also get a free copy of a booklet, "Beautiful Hair . . . Why Not Have It?" by writing to the Neutrogena Skin Care Institute, P.O. Box 45062, Los Angeles, CA 90045. If you have any specific questions about your hair, a staff of dermatologists will answers any questions sent in with your booklet request.


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Common disorders and hair problems

DANDRUFF/PSORIASIS: Like all body cells, dead scalp cells are constantly being replaced by new ones. Normal, periodic scaling can usually be controlled by frequent shampooing with the usual over-the-counter dandruff remedies.

About 5 percent of the population suffer from serious scalp cell buildup, which may require a dermatologist's care and treatment with a tar-based shampoo.

Though no one knows the cause of serious flaking, it is known that dandruff is not contagious and does not necessarily lead to more serious scalp problems.

CRADLE CAP: This condition in babies resembles severe dandruff and may result from improper cleaning of the scalp (for fear of damaging the soft spot). Frequent, gentle shampooing will usually clear up the problem.

HAIR BREAKAGE: While breakage may be related to physical damage (using the wrong brushes/

combs, drying, certain hairstyles, etc.) the most common cause is chemical injury. When the hair's outer layer (cuticle) is repeatedly exposed to bleaches, straighteners, dyes, etc., it develops a stiff, strawlike feel and is more likely to break easily. Other culprits could be excessive heat from dryers, too frequent shampooing, exposure to sunlight or chlorinated or salt water.

HAIR LOSS: Aside from the normal 15 percent shed during a normal growth cycle, excessive hair loss can be related to illness, diet or medications. Some of the most common temporary hair loss causes are pregnancy/childbirth, sickness accompanied by high fever, major surgery, abnormal thyroid gland function, certain drugs.

In women, birth control pills, hormonal problems, obesity and infertility can also cause hair loss, which subsides once the condition is corrected. Any type of tight plaiting of the hair and sleeping with tight rollers may cause temporary loss. Repeated use of such methods over a period of years may result in permanent hair loss.

Diets deficient in protein may affect hair growth and loss, as can iron deficiency anemia.

BALDNESS: About one percent of the population suffers from patch bald spots. Both men and women experience thinning hair as they age - and heredity plays a factor. Male-pattern baldness accounts for more than 90 percent of permanent hair loss in men and occurs in 40 percent of men between 18-39 and 94 percent of men over 80.

Common baldness is not caused by poor blood circulation in the scalp, tight hats or headbands, nutritionaldeficiencies (vitamins, minerals or supplements don't help), oily hair or severe dandruff.

Over-the-counter treatments are ineffective. Various surgical treatments such as transplants, scalp reduction and flaps are successful to varying degrees depending on the extent of the baldness.

The drug Minoxidil, originally marketed for high blood pressure, has as a side effect the development of excess body hair - which led to its use for male baldness. Significant hair growth results in 30 percent of patients, especially in early-stage baldness - for as long as they take the medication (which could mean a sizeable time and money commitment). Once the patient stops the medication, baldness patterns resume.

GREEN HAIR: A problem among natural blondes, dyed-blondes and occasionally brunettes, often caused by concentrations of copper in tap water and pools. There are no simple remedies, but hairdressers can sometimes remove the green by using shampoos with edetic acid.

GRAY HAIR: Normal graying that occurs with age is permanent. In ordinary graying, pigment-forming cells become inactive and future growth is unpigmented. Gray hair resulting from disease may regain color after the illness, but only with new hair growth.

SPLIT ENDS: There is no cure for split ends, other than cutting off the hair beyond the point of the splits. Split ends occur when individual cell layers of the hair shaft separate. Certain conditioners may temporarily "glue" ends together. Regular haircuts usually keep split ends under control.

THE GREASIES: This term applies to hair that has developed a buildup of residue from overuse of conditioning shampoos, conditioners, mousses, gels or other such products applied to the hair. Use a good, simple shampoo that is free of conditioning ingredients to remove product buildup. Use conditioner only when needed.

PERMANENT WAVE FAILURE: Perms may fail for a number of reasons, especially hair texture (fine, limp hair or wiry, brittle hair usually resists permanent waving) and improper procedure (wave lotions removed to soon, neutralizer left on too long.)

Permed hair has been structurally altered, often disturbing the hair's outer layer and leaving it rough feeling, less shiny, with less body and less manageable. Such treated hair may benefit from a slightly acidic shampoo. Conditioners add body, softness and shine to hair damaged by waving.


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Hair needs consistent care

Healthy-looking, attractive hair requires consistent good care and conditioning, good diet, exercise and keeping stress and emotional tensions to a minimum. Here are some tips that can help:

1. Don't brush hair when wet. Wet hair is more fragile. Comb with a wide-toothed, smooth-edged comb.

2. Shampoo gently and only when needed. Use warm, not hot, water to work up a good lather. Massage scalp with tips of fingers and not nails. Rinse thoroughly to remove all traces of shampoo residue. Shampoo only as often as necessary to keep hair looking good and scalp comfortable. (This may range from daily to weekly, depending on oiliness, physical activity and scalp problems.) While too-frequent shampooing won't cause hair loss, daily shampooing of very dry hair can cause breakage.

3. You don't need a special shampoo for your hair type. All shampoos are self-adjusting - working harder on hair that is very dirty. The difference in shampoos is how they adjust; shampoos with lots of conditioning agents don't adjust as well.

4. Condition hair only as needed. People with damaged or dry hair need to condition after each shampoo, while others may need to conditionperiodically or rarely. Look for conditioners that are oil-free and wax-free to provide clean conditioning.

5. Towel dry with care. Wrap hair in a towel and gently pat dry. Vigorous rubbing will damage fragile wet hair.

6. Use hair dryers with care. Done properly, drying need not be damaging. Set blow dryers on medium or low, using diffuser attachments if possible. Keep the dryer 6-12 inches from the hair, moving it constantly. Leave hair slightly damp.

7. Trim hair regularly. Because each hair on the head grows at its own pace, the ends will appear uneven about a month after a haircut. Trimming the ends regularly will make hair look thicker and healthier.

8. 100 strokes a day is a myth. Brushing your hair with 100 strokes a day will probably damage the hair, causing it to break, develop split ends and look dull. Brushing is important to remove dust and grime and keep hair in prime condition, but 20 gentle strokes should do it.

9. Use the right brushes and combs. Use brushes with rounded tips on the bristles. Natural-bristle brushes have naturally tapered, rounded tips. Jagged nylon brushes (unless the tips are polished and rounded) can cause split ends, breakage and damage. Choose fat, wide-toothed smooth combs.

10. Beware of the sun. Sun dries and damages hair as well as skin. Some products have protection against the sun's rays. Or, you can comb a few drops of sunscreen through your hair after shampooing.

11. Shampoo hair promptly after swimming. Chlorine and other chemicals or salt water may have a drying effect if not fully removed from hair. Frequent swimmers may want to consider special chlorine-removal shampoos.

12. Leave drastic color changes to the hairdresser. An estimated 50 percent of women (and an increasing number of men) color their hair. While many kinds of color changes can be done successfully at home, others are best left to the professional. Most important: follow directions closely and check to allergic reactions before each application - especially with the permanent dyes.