If TikTok is good for anything (and, no, not just doomscrolling and missing your bedtime), it’s for inspiration. With an unplumbable depth of content, there’s everything from how to combine skincare products for maximum efficacy to using a pasta strainer to diffuse your hair. Yes, really.
One that caught my beady beauty eye, though, is hair cycling. A sister trend to the viral ‘skin cycling’ technique, whereby you rotate skincare products on a nightly or daily basis, hair cycling follows a similar methodology: your hair doesn’t always need the same things in the same order. Sometimes, it’s worth cycling new things in.
What is hair cycling?
It’s not as confusing as it may sound, even if your current routine extends from shampoo to conditioner and no further.
“Hair cycling advocates using different products in a weekly or monthly cycle, to create a regular hair (and scalp) care routine,” explains Philip Kingsley trichologist Susie Hammond.
“It’s become a popular idea that your hair can become used to products if they’re used too regularly. Hair cycling suggests that we need to alternate or change them up regularly to prevent this from happening.”
Can hair get ‘used’ to certain products?
“Provided you’re using good quality products and shampooing regularly you should not get build-up on the hair, nor should your hair “get used” to a product to the extent that it will stop performing for you,” says Hammond. “Generally speaking, if you use the same products, under the same conditions you’ll get the same results.”
For hair cycling enthusiasts though, switching up products based on a catalogue of needs has helped repair and revive their hair. So, what’s the rub? Is it necessary to create a weekly or monthly routine or should you take it on a case-by-case basis? Unsurprisingly, it’s slightly more nuanced than that.
“Hair won’t get ‘used’ to a shampoo,” explains celebrity hairstylist and founder of the eponymous haircare line, Larry King. “What does happen though, is that the shampoo keeps doing the same job too much.
“For example, if you keep adding loads of moisture and proteins, it’s going to build up over time. This is when you need to reach for a more cleansing shampoo to start the cycle again.”
This feels like common sense: due to external and internal factors our hair is ever-changing and our routines should reflect that.
How often should you switch up your hair cycling routine?
Again, no two people have the same hair and no two days are the same. Everything from environmental pollution to sunlight, exercise, daily habits and diet can affect how your hair is feeling and looking. These changing conditions influence how we should treat our hair, with the following factors impacting how well your products perform:
- if you have been bleaching or heat styling your hair more often than usual
- seasonal changes, including too much sunlight
- spending time in centrally heated buildings
- washing your hair in hard water as it can leave dulling deposits on the hair
- overuse of products containing excess silicones that can leave the hair limp and lacklustre
Hammond recommends rotating between using a weekly hair mask (she suggests the hydrating Philip Kingsley Elasticizer), a restorative treatment like the Philip Kingsley Bond Builder Restructuring Treatment and a monthly clarifying treatment, such as the Philip Kingsley Vitamin C Jelly, to slough away any build-up that may have accumulated on the scalp and hair.
How to start hair cycling at home
There’s no need to throw out your bathroom cupboard and start again. Instead, fleshing out the bones of what you have with hard-working products designed to do a specific job will keep your budget and shelves in order.
King suggests looking at shampoo as the most important first step.
“Shampoo is like the skin care of haircare – it forms the basis of all good hair days. Besides a good haircut, shampoo is the best primer for your hair. Weirdly, though, it’s something we think of in a basic way, often choosing it based on what it smells like and our hair types.”
King’s aptly named Wash Cycle is designed to focus on the step that will reap you the most benefit: the shampoo. The conditioner you use can remain the same, occasionally peppered with a weekly or monthly mask, but the basis of your hair cycling routine should start with your shampoo.
“A big mistake people make is using the same shampoo every day. Hair needs different things at different times: depending on firstly your hair type but also the weather, if you’re on holiday, the sun, your hormones, pollution, hard water and colour treatments. This is all before you’ve even started to consider the scalp.”
His method, which involves cycling between a cleansing shampoo, a volumising shampoo and a moisturising shampoo, is based on salon techniques: there’s never just one shampoo on offer. There are myriad options, all created to target different concerns that play a large role in leaving the salon feeling fantastic.
Do you need to start hair cycling for healthier hair?
Whether it’s your gym workout or what you eat for dinner, one thing stays consistent: variety is the spice of life. The same goes for your hair.
But, don’t get lost in the lingo. Hair cycling, at its most simple, is about taking note of what your hair needs and acting accordingly. In the same way you wouldn’t layer skincare acids onto already irritated skin, hair cycling is about reacting to different needs at different times.
For example, if you’ve overprocessed your hair with chemicals or heat, damage-repairing or bond-building products will be your main focus. Or, if you struggle with limp hair due to hard water, clarifying and volumising products will form the crux of your routine.
There’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to hair cycling. Have a play around, experiment, see what works for you and your routine and leave the rest.