Zen and the Art of Low-Maintenance Hair


Barbara Hannah Grufferman on why to step away from the blow-dryer


That’s what my hair looked like on my 51st birthday. And why not? I had spent the last 30 years blow-drying my naturally wavy hair into submission. On most days, I would stare into the mirror, separate my hair into neat sections and blow-dry each one – tugging and pulling with the brush in one hand, and drying with the other, until my hair was sleek and shiny and completely under my control. Humidity was my mortal enemy.

This love affair with making my hair something it wasn’t meant to be started in July 1969 – a summer filled with all kinds of rebellions. I wanted straight hair parted down the middle, just like Michelle Phillips from the Mamas & the Papas. I should have followed the lead of Janis Joplin, who had hair more like mine, but my mind was made up. Even if I had to sleep with my hair slathered with Dippity-Do, rolled up in concentrated orange juice cans (which I did), one thing was certain: My hair would be straight.

Click here for three easy steps to low-mainenance hair

In the ’90s, things got easier (and more expensive). Straight, highlighted hair was in, and doing it yourself was out. I got a professional “blowout” twice a week, and tackled it myself on the other days. To add insult to injury, a hair iron was used to make sure everything stayed in place. New technology allowed blow-dryers to reach the hottest possible temperatures for maximum impact (and destruction?).

Damaged locks, anyone?

By the time I hit my early 50s, the healthy head of hair from my youth was a distant memory. Years of blow-drying, ironing, yanking, pulling, highlighting and washing the hell out of it every day caused my hair to look like … something that didn’t belong on a head. I had won the battle with my hair, but lost the war.

Even more profound, I realized that I had been fighting with my identity. It saddened me to think that since 1969, I had been trying to make my hair into something it wasn’t. I was tired and grumpy. I didn’t want to stand in front of a mirror for 45 minutes every day, blow-drying. It was boring, tedious and wasted a huge amount of energy – mostly my own. I was trying to figure out a newer, simpler paradigm for the other areas of my life since turning 50, and wanted to figure out this one, too. But what to do?

Having coffee with a friend one day, I commented on how great her hair looked – natural, not blow-dried and healthy. She looked … free and sexy. She directed me to Lorraine Massey, the co-founder of Devachan, the uber-stylish hair salon in Manhattan’s Soho district. Lorraine has a mop of corkscrew ringlets, and a very clear idea of how hair should be treated – no (or very little) shampoo, no blow-frying (as she calls it), no brush and no comb. Her simple theory is this: the least amount you “do” to your hair, the better – and healthier – it will look. Lorraine claims to not have used shampoo on her hair in over 25 years. “Hair is like buried treasure,” she told me. “We need to stop the abuse and set it free.” I loved what she said — but what did it really mean to a blow-dry-aholic like me?

I let Lorraine give me a much-needed cut (while my hair was still dry), keeping the length around my shoulders, with longer layers, letting my natural waves sneak out. She chatted the entire time about the tools of mass destruction that women continue to use on their hair, shaking her head of curls in disbelief. She also mentioned that shampoo (especially those with sulfates) strip the natural oils from hair, making it dry and unmanageable — especially for women over 50 because our hair gets drier as we age. She instructed me to cleanse my hair every day (or every other day) with water and conditioner only. And (she frowned while saying this) use a little shampoo on the scalp just once a week.

My “six-month hair experiment” lasted two years, and I still haven’t used a blow-dryer, comb or brush. My hair has grown out past my shoulders, and I think I’ll keep it this length for a while. Since embracing my hair, I’m told that it looks sexy, healthy, stylish and, most importantly, like me. Finally.

Editor’s Note: Barbara Hannah Grufferman is the author of The Best of Everything After 50: The Experts’ Guide to Style, Sex, Health, Money and More.

3 Responses so far.

  1. avatar Maggie W says:

    This might work for a few women… a very few.  I haven’t used heat on my hair in years, but I understand why other women do.  My hair is wavy and since it is multi layered, it falls into place fairly easily.  So I  skip the blow dryer. 
    There are other factors this article does not mention.  If you live in a humid or arrid climate, that could call for specific hair products.  If you live in a highly polluted area, you just may want more than a touch of shampoo.  Also, many people use medicated shampoos.  Many women don’t style their hair the same way every day.  When I was in my twenties, I was constantly trying new looks that required far more than just running my fingers through my hair.
    Finally, just by looking at other women on the street or on TV , it is quite apparent that a comb and brush are both essential to looking our best. 

  2. avatar Lila says:

    I too have wavy, fine hair. The overall effect, when left to itself, is just… messy. If I don’t shampoo for a couple of days, it’s messy and limp. In the military, THIS WILL NOT DO. There are grooming rules, first off, and then there is the overall “military appearance.” To have a halo of unruly curls (or limp unruly curls) sticking out from the beret or patrol cap is what I think of as “the Bozo effect.” Such will not contribute to one’s credibility.

    Many military women keep their hair long enough to put into a bun or French braid. It’s fast, easy, dependable, and works whether your hair is wet or dry, clean or dirty. A lot of folks don’t understand that long hair can be SO much easier than short hair.

    I didn’t cut my hair until I retired, and am SO glad I waited. Short wavy hair really does take more planning and effort to look good. But I still won’t blow-dry, and won’t let my stylist blow-dry my hair either.

  3. avatar Maggie Trudeau says:

    I haven’t used a blow dryer in decades (other than for the plastic I put on windows in the winter) and quit using shampoo and conditioner…my last two hair products…2 or 3 years ago.  I DO comb and brush my long, slightly wavy hair and occassionally put some henna in it for conditioning and a fun color.
    My hair has never been better.  All through jr. high and high school in the 1970s and early 80s, I tried to force my fine hair to look like Farrah Faucet’s feathered do, then later Valerie Bertinelli’s thick straight swingy tresses.  What I got was a head of broken straw alternating with the look of mattress stuffing.  About 2 weeks after I gave up shampoo, I started getting compliments and they haven’t stopped. My hair is thicker, wavier, more manageable and stronger.   If only I’d known this in high school I COULD have had V.B.’s hair.  Oh well.