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Effects of Pollution on Hair

Hair Pollution: 5 Easy Solutions, Plus 10 Strand-Saving Products

Pollution is all around us, and it’s infiltrated how our hair looks, feels, and grows. Fret not; we’re breaking down our 10 products you need for a hair detox and ways you can minimize future hair pollution.

No matter how many greens we eat, how often we hit pilates, or how vigilant we are about our skincare routines, the unfortunate truth is that invisible air pollutants can still do a number on our physical health. While we're well-versed in the ways pollution affects the world around us, we shouldn't overlook the harm it can do to our scalp's skin and hair.

In the spirit of trying not to sound so doom and gloom, we're happy to say that hair pollution isn't the end-all, be-all for healthy locks. We asked William Gaunitz, FWTS, certified trichologist and founder of Advanced Trichology, to weigh in on how pollution affects our hair and what we can do to outsmart it. Read on to learn what to look out for, and then discover 10 of our best hair detox and cleansing treatments that will treat and reverse the grime.

What causes hair pollution?

If you're a self-proclaimed city enthusiast like I am, you probably don't have to be reminded that a truly fresh gulp of air is hard to come by. Vehicle exhaust, smog, greenhouse gasses, and allergens in the air are just a few common contributors to hair pollution, especially if you work in an urban area or live near a working factory. And these tiny molecules of soot, dirt, pollen, and other grime (often referred to as particulate matter) buildup on the hair and within follicles. Over time, this accumulation can damage hair's internal protein structure, causing locks to look and feel different and more difficult to manage.

Besides airborne pollutants, our shower water can sneakily take a toll on our tresses, as well. Not only can the minerals and heavy metals found in areas with hard water dry out strands, but they can also chemically react with hair dye and result in faded or brassy color.

How does pollution affect hair?

When the body is exposed to ongoing pollution, poor air quality, or airborne allergens, Dr. Gaunitz explains that it triggers inflammation within the body that manifests as various scalp conditions.

“This inflammation can have a direct impact on how your hair is growing and create accelerated shedding, scalp inflammation, a flareup of psoriasis or seborrheic dermatitis, and dandruff.”

You may also notice that your scalp is greasy or oily, which can occur when impurities block hair follicles. Some research has also linked pollution to premature graying.

Does pollution cause baldness?

Some research suggests there could be a correlation between hair loss and pollution. A 2019 study revealed that the proteins required to fuel hair growth became less active when hair cells came into contact with air pollution. Though this doesn't directly lead to balding, it could slow hair growth and weaken hair follicles, so hair sheds faster. As always, it's essential to consult your doctor to determine whether other underlying conditions may be causing your hair loss.

Does pollution cause dandruff?

“Pollution can certainly increase your propensity for dandruff due to increasing the level of scalp inflammation,” says Dr. Gaunitz. “Dandruff is caused by an underlying yeast overgrowth, but when the body is impacted by external factors like pollution, it can cause a flareup and an overreaction of inflammation that leads to dandruff.”

Does dust affect your hair?

We hate to continue to be the bearer of bad news, but dust and debris can also affect hair by coating strands, so they look dull and lackluster. Looking for the right detox hair products is key to removing this grit.

How do you treat hair pollution?

Luckily, there are plenty of ways you can combat the effects of pollution to restore a beautiful mane. Here are some ideas to get you started.

Cover up.

The most obvious way to protect your hair against airborne pollutants is to take cover when you go outside. Cute hats, or wrapping hair in a lightweight scarf, are chic and functional ways to shield your scalp from contaminants lurking in the air. Also smart? Sweeping hair back into a tight knot or bun to keep strands mostly unexposed to impure air.

Try an antibacterial shampoo.

“If you are dealing with dermatitis or dandruff caused by allergens or pollution, you should be using a shampoo that contains tea tree oil or neem oil,” says Dr. Gaunitz. “These two oils are extremely antifungal and anti-microbial and will support the reduction of yeast or fungus on the scalp that is causing excessive inflammation.”

Exfoliate the scalp.

Clearing away buildup accumulated on the scalp is crucial to overcoming hair pollution, and that's where a weekly scalp exfoliant comes into play. These scrubs help slough off particulate matter, dead skin cells, and oil that can clog follicles and lead to growth stalls, hair shedding, and more.

Lighten up your styling products.

Surprisingly, tacky stylers such as pomades and pastes can actually attract more grime to the surface of your hair. If you know you’ll be in an environment with more particulate matter floating around, choose lightweight serums and lotions to tame and style your hair.

Be gentle.

Since pollution comprises the hair's structural integrity, it's crucial to be gentle on your tresses. Choose wide-toothed combs when brushing, apply strengthening leave-ins, limit hot tool styling when possible, and opt for low-manipulation or protective hairstyles on days you'll be spending time outside or visiting a more urban area.

Caring for hair plagued by pollution may be easier said than done, so we rounded up 10 of our best products that can help. Whether you’re looking for a much-needed hair detox scrub or a good clarifying shampoo, we’ve got your back!

Our 10 Best Products to Overcome Hair Pollution


Scrub Energisant Deep Cleaning Fusio Dose Scrub

An energizing sea salt scalp scrub to remove impurities

One size only for Scrub Energisant Deep Cleaning Fusio Dose Scrub
8.5 fl oz

Kérastase Scrub Energisant Deep Cleaning Fusio Dose Scrub

Pick up Kérastase Scrub Energisant Deep Cleaning Fusio Dose Scrub if greasy roots are your biggest hair pollution woe. The formula is made with salicylic acid to control an overly-oily scalp and removes three times more pollution particles than traditional shampoo.


Specifique Argile Équilibrante Cleansing Clay

A purifying cleansing clay for oily hair and roots

One size only for Specifique Argile Équilibrante Cleansing Clay
8.45 fl oz

Kérastase Specifique Argile Équilibrante Cleansing Clay

Give your mane the ultimate hair detox with Kérastase Specifique Argile Équilibrante Cleansing Clay. Made oil-absorbing kaolin clay, this formula gently cleanses the scalp by removing sebum, pollution particles, and impurities while keeping your strands nourished. It’ll also give you a burst of volume at the root!


Blondage High Bright Pre-Treatment

A pre-shampoo treatment powered by Vitamin C and chelating agents to prep and clarify hair for a brighter blonde instantly.

Redken Blondage High Bright Pre-Treatment

They say blondes have more fun, but that’s not the case when we see the effects of the environment on our sunny strands. Redken Blondage High Bright Pre-Treatment readies hair for intense brightening and lightening by acting as an extra layer of buildup, pollution, and impurities removal. It contains fast-acting chelators to help gently clarify and safely prep your hair canvas for the rest of the system’s Brightening Care Complex.


Blondage High Bright Shampoo

A blonde brightening shampoo and conditioner system to maintain salon-quality blonde between salon visits.

Redken Blondage High Bright Shampoo

Follow up the Pre-Treatment with Redken’s Blondage High Bright Shampoo if your color looks darkened or mattified. Naturally brightening vitamin C eliminates color-dulling impurities, pollution, and buildup.


Blondage High Bright Conditioner

A lightweight conditioner with Vitamin C that helps condition brighter and lighter blonde hair between salon visits.

Redken Blondage High Bright Conditioner

Complete your blonde-rejuvenating routine with Redken’s Blondage High Bright Conditioner. This lightweight moisturizing conditioner helps seal the hair’s cuticle as it fills in porosity, effectively locking out further blonde-dulling buildup, pollution, and impurities.

L'Oréal Professionnel

Metal Detox Shampoo + Mask Duo

A two-step system designed to detoxify and neutralize metals trapped inside the hair fiber

L’Oréal Professionnel Serie Expert Metal Detox + Mask Duo

Once you determine whether the metals in your hard water are wreaking havoc on your hair color, we recommend switching to a hair detox system like L'Oréal Professionnel ​​Serie Expert Metal Detox + Mask Duo. This two-step system contains a patented molecule called Glicoamine, which is small enough to penetrate the hair fiber and neutralize metals trapped inside. This protects the vibrancy of hair color while maintaining softness and nourishment.


Hair Cleansing Cream Clarifying Shampoo

A clarifying, shine-boosting shampoo.

Redken Hair Cleansing Cream Clarifying Shampoo

Whether from products, pollution, or hard water overload, Redken's Hair Cleansing Cream Clarifying Shampoo can help restore hair's shine. Ideal for all textures and hair types, this cream shampoo removes mineral deposits, excess oils, pollution residue, and product buildup. Your strands will be left clean, healthy, and with luminous shine.

Pro Tip: Adding a clarifying shampoo to the mix is necessary, but try not to go overboard when using them. Clarifying formulas can be stripping—particularly for color or chemically-treated hair. Swapping one in with your regular shampoo once every few weeks should do the trick.

Shu Uemura

Urban Moisture Hydro-Nourishing Conditioner for Dry Hair

A lightweight, moisturizing conditioner for dry hair.

One size only for Urban Moisture Hydro-Nourishing Conditioner for Dry Hair
8 fl oz

Shu Uemura Art of Hair Urban Moisture Hydro-Nourishing Conditioner For Dry Hair

Add hydration and protect against future dryness with Shu Uemura Art of Hair Urban Moisture Hydro-Nourishing Conditioner For Dry Hair. Recommended for fine to normal hair densities, the lightweight conditioner leaves dry hair more manageable, easier to comb, and shiny with a healthy glow. Plus, purifying ingredients shield strands from urban aggressors, such as dust, pollution, and hard water.


Serum Chroma Thermique Blow Dry Primer

Frizz-reducing blow dry heat protectant for color-treated hair.

One size only for Serum Chroma Thermique Blow Dry Primer
5.1 fl oz

Kérastase Serum Chroma Thermique Blow Dry Primer

The effects of air pollution on the scalp are a form of oxidative stress, and a pivotal way to neutralize them is using products infused with antioxidants. Kérastase Serum Chroma Thermique Blow Dry Primer contains antioxidants to mitigate oxidative stress while hydrating and protecting the hair fiber from external aggressors. While this product is a heat protectant, it can also work as a protective, frizz-reducing leave-in.

Looking for more ways to lessen the impacts of environmental stressors on your hair? Stock up on all the pro-backed products you need at

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