It's taken me two years to forget about my hair.
My entire life, it's been a confusing mix of puffy but oily, snarled but kind of curly. When left to air dry, it used to frizz up into a ball with the consistency of steel wool. But, no longer. I am the reigning queen of silky locks, the kind that I did actually just wake up with.
Think of it like this: Hair is a very unruly pet. Train it, treat it gently and the experience will be incredibly rewarding. I might sound like one of those women with 25 feet of hair on a forum in some dark corner of the Internet, but I'm right.
When I say “healthy” hair, I mean strands that are pretty close to the same condition they were in when they first started exiting your scalp years ago. Your skin repairs easily because it's living and refreshing itself, but hair isn't like that. By the time you see it, hair is essentially just desiccated cells hanging on to your head.
Gross, right? Once you've damaged it, all that's left is to chop it off. Heat, friction and chemicals will dry out your hair and cause damage, while oils will moisturize and protect it.
Two years ago, I decided it was time to aim for perfection. There was just no reason to spend my 20s trapped under a blow dryer, sweat beads sliding down my back.
Slowly, I took steps toward the Rapunzel hair of my dreams. It's surprisingly easy, especially in winter time, when you can get away with a lot of sh*tty personal grooming habits. I, for example, haven't plucked my eyebrows in months. I couldn't even tell you where my tweezers are.
If you're ready to have the mermaid hair of your dreams, here's how to get it.
Like all the best things in life, healthy hair begins with the shower.
Instead of roasting your body under high temperatures, opt for a medium heat that's gentler on your locks (and, incidentally, your skin).
Focus the shampoo on the roots, scrubbing vigorously with your fingertips. Make sure you're hitting prime spots for oil buildup: behind the ears, the nape of the neck and the hairline. The better you scrub, the fewer shampoos you'll need per week.
When it comes time to condition, apply product from mid-shaft to ends, letting it “cook” while you do the million other things women are supposed to tackle in the shower.
A hair mask once a week wouldn't kill you, either.
If you're serious about shiny locks, start by breaking a vicious cycle of heat and dryness.
Blow dryers seem like the cure-all for a bad hair day, but they're just a crutch we lean on instead of learning to style hair.
After months without the sweet release of 90-degree temperatures, even my uncontrollable half-curls — the wiry ones right at the base of the neck — began calming down.
Straight out of the shower, wrap your hair in a towel or t-shirt to soak up excess water. Treat wet, fragile strands like expensive wine glasses you can't afford to replace.
What, you may ask, am I supposed to do with this uncontrollable wet mass of burgeoning frizz? The answer, my friends, lies in product. I'm new to the world of allowing styling goo near my hair, after years of sticky creams weighing it down.
Finger-comb through the bottom half -- the part you'd put in a ponytail -- with a dime-size amount of styling cream.
Then, section the hair, parting it down the middle like you're going to make pigtails. Instead of braiding them, twirl each piece away from your face, let it rest in that ringlet.
Cute, right? Dividing the hair helps it dry more quickly, but also hold a uniform shape.
Now, all you have to do is wait.
I like to commute to work with my spirals in, rolling them around my fingers on the subway like an insane but eco-conscious Shirley Temple. Last week, a strange man crossed the subway car to tell me to stop playing with my hair, proof that it's nicely irritating to everyone else.
Once the ringlets are largely dry, don't panic. Using a tool with a wide-tooth comb, gently untangle your ends before starting at the roots and combing straight back.
A few dozen strokes later, part your nicely-fluffed hair and take a look. With some practice, this'll look quite a bit like a salon blowout.
But, wait! One day of perfect hair isn't enough. I'll throw in two, no extra charge!
Before heading to bed, use a boar bristle brush to comb through, repeating the process of combing ends and then roots.
As opposed to a traditional bristle, boar better distributes oil throughout the hair. Instead of allowing oil to marinate at the roots, you're using it to keep your hair healthy.
After 25 or so strokes, twist your hair into a top-of-the-head ballerina bun with a ribbon elastic. The bun's purpose is twofold: It protects your hair from pillow-induced fraying and sets it with a gentle curl similar to the one you'd get from a round brush.
Some prefer the side braid for sleeping, but I stand by the bun. Thanks to the specialty hairband, you avoid the fearsome ponytail line.
In the morning, it's time for perfect hair day number two. Undo the bun, brush your hair and spritz the roots with a dry shampoo to add volume and texture at the roots. Your ends will stay sleek.
I often find day two and day three are my best hair days. I start the process over the morning of the fourth day.
For those with fine hair or a regimented gym schedule, it's perfectly OK to pick up the shampoo when your hair starts feeling icky. After all, this is about feeling your best.
I promise, this system isn't difficult and it even travels well. Keep in mind, though, it may take your hair weeks to adjust to semi-regular shampooing instead of every day. If you can do it, though, the best hair of your life awaits.