Antioxidants Aren't Just For Skin - Here's How To Reap The Rewards For Your Hair

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It's time to start incorporating antioxidants into your hair care rituals. We know about their benefits for the skin and the importance of an antioxidant-rich diet, but their enrichment for hair and scalp health is a relatively new conversation. The truth is, like your skin, your hair and scalp can be damaged by UVA and UVB rays from the sun, as well as free radicals. Because we don't see hair damage in the same ways that we see skin damage (as in wrinkles, discoloration, and signs of aging), it might not seem as urgent to use antioxidants on hair. But the truth is, there are tremendous benefits in doing so. 

To be quite frank, all parts of our bodies need to be protected from summer stressors, even our nails — but hair care protection is especially important. "2019 studies found that exposure to air pollution and UV exposure impacts both the physical appearance and chemical composition of the hair fiber," stylist Bridgette Hill told Well+Good. So the best way to care for your hair and scalp is to use products that are rich in antioxidants — and to make sure your diet is rich in them too since antioxidants fight the damages caused by free radicals.

How to get antioxidants into your hair

There are ways to tell if your hair is being damaged by the sun's rays and free radicals. It tends to feel dry and brittle while looking less lustrous than it does at its optimal health. It can even cause hair loss in some cases. What's so frightening is that pollution and UV harm can alter the makeup of your hair. "Direct damage is not only done to the cuticle, or the outer layer of hair, but more importantly to the matrix cells themselves, which permanently reduces hair quality," Dr. Macrene Alexiades explained to Well+Good.

The best way to start incorporating antioxidants into your hair care routine is through your shampoo and conditioner. "Antioxidants can be added to nearly any kind of hair product, due to their water-based molecular structure," trichologist Helen Reavey told Byrdie. "Specifically, when used in shampoos and conditioners, antioxidants bind to the scalp and strands to create a protective layer, ensuring the ingredients are distributed throughout the follicles." Opt for products that have vitamins A, C, and E, as well as niacinamide and selenium. Often, these ingredients will be combined since they work well together. Brands like Therapy-G Antioxidant Shampoo For Chemically Treated Hair and Okay Green Tea Nourishing Antioxidant Rich Shampoo are good choices. You can also source hair serums and leave-in treatments to enhance the antioxidants' staying power. A serum like Vegamour's GRO Hair Serum works well as does Mielle's Pomegranate & Honey Leave In Conditioner.

Which hair types benefit from antioxidants

While every hair type should be using antioxidants, people who have thin or damaged hair will benefit the most from adding them to your hair care regime. "Curly or kinky hair types can also benefit from antioxidants, as oxidative damage can lessen the tightness and bounce of curls," dermatologist Brendan Camp told Byrdie.

It's worth noting that this is relatively new research; however, a 2021 study found that participants who applied a regime of antioxidant-rich shampoo and leave-in treatments found their hair remarkably improved after 24 weeks. Participants had healthier scalps, less hair shedding, and hair seemed thicker. Trichologist Gretchen Friese told Byrdie that regular use of antioxidants in the hair also prevented damage to melanin, therefore protecting the color of your hair.

There's increasing attention being paid to protection from the sun's rays and free radicals. We see it in skincare all the time, particularly with the surge in popularity around Korean sunscreens and their many benefits. But we need to also focus on hair and scalp care, and just like you'd protect your skin, you also need to protect your hair. Think of antioxidants as sunscreen, but don't hesitate to add other forms of protection. Hats and scarves are a great additional barrier for the hair and scalp. Lastly, keep your diet rich in antioxidants, so that the protection is also coming from the inside.