1 Are there certain styles that are impossible to replicate on Asian hair?
Generally, Asian hair tends to be straighter, darker and thicker than Caucasian hair.
It is also less dense: There are, on average, 203 hairs per sq cm on an Asian's head, compared to 249 for Caucasians and 214 for Africans. Asians also tend to have flatter heads.
Any hairstyle that requires the stylist to work against these basic traits will be an uphill battle. For example, Minnie Driver-style corkscrew curls are very difficult to achieve on most Asian hair and a cropped pixie cut that looks chic on Natalie Portman will not look good on someone with a flat head.
That said, all the stylists we talked to say most hairstyles can be replicated with Asian hair, with a few tweaks.
The most important thing is to love the hair you have and work with it rather than against it.
For example, because the hair shaft is thicker, Asian hair shows texture beautifully, so things like wispy ends and layers look very flattering.
2 I don't want to spend too much time on haircare. What is the absolute minimum I can do to ensure healthy hair?
Basics such as a balanced diet, proper rest and a healthy lifestyle apply to hair health too.
Protein (try cold water fish like salmon), minerals (especially zinc, found in red meats, bran flakes and cocoa) and vitamins (especially Biotin, found in liver, eggs, nuts and carrots) help encourage hair growth and hair health.
Shampoo your hair at least once a day. Do not apply the shampoo directly onto your scalp as this will likely leave residue on your scalp that will clog pores. Instead, lather shampoo the size of a 50-cent coin with your palms and apply the foam to your hair and scalp.
Use your fingers, not your nails, to massage your scalp gently. Rinse thoroughly for at least five minutes.
Use a conditioner daily and apply it to only the tips of your hair, which are the driest parts of your hair.
Get a trim every four to eight weeks to prevent dry or split ends.
3 Is blow-drying bad for my hair?
If done correctly, it is actually better than towelling dry or just letting your hair dry naturally.
Towelling your hair dry is akin to scratching your skin with your nails - it roughens up your hair fibres - and air-drying promotes frizziness.
Don't try to style completely dry hair with a hairdryer - heat on dry hair is damaging. Pat your wet hair with a towel before blow-drying.
This consistent heat applied in the same direction smoothens hair cuticles and gives you shiny hair. It also sets hair in place and seals in moisture.
If you have dry or damaged hair, use a styling product such as a leave-in conditioner like Sebastian Originals Potion 9 ($40.66) before blow-drying.
This provides an insulating layer for your hair.
Also use the cooling blast function on your hair dryer to help set your hair and minimise the drying effect of the heat.
4 Is it really bad to go to sleep with your hair still wet?
Yes. You are guaranteed a bad hair day when you wake up. Also, this traps moisture in your hair and on your scalp, increasing the likelihood of fungal growth.
For the same reason, it is not a good idea to tie your hair while it is wet. Besides clogging your pores, it will also make your hair smell, the way towels do when they are not dried properly. As for the old wives' tale about getting "head wind", the jury is still out.
5 Why are some hair products discontinued and what should I do to find suitable replacements?
Usually, these products are either not selling well or have been reformulated with new technology or ingredients.
Give the reformulated products a try or consult your regular stylist for alternatives. While there is no scientific proof that your hair becomes immune to one product after prolonged use, there is no point in being resistant to change either.
"Sticking to one product means you're stopping yourself from experiencing better technology," says L'Oreal Professionnel brand manager Jaron Chan. "Ten years ago, for instance, there was no such thing as a specific product line for highlighted hair."
6 Is it okay to use hair products from different brands?
There is nothing wrong with this if you feel the regimen is working for your hair. However, products for the same brand are formulated to work together, so it can be easier to stick to a single range.
There are certain products that may cancel each other out when used in tandem though, such as a clarifying shampoo and a fortifying conditioner. When in doubt, consult your hairstylist.
7 Are hair products from Japan and Korea better for Asian hair than those from international brands?
Not necessarily. While Japanese and Korean products are formulated with Asian hair in mind, international brands also conduct extensive tests on Asian hair to ensure compatibilty. French brand L'Oreal, for example, has testing labs in both Shanghai and Singapore. Some of its product lines, such as tecni.art, are formulated specifically for Asian hair.
8 Are salon brands really better than supermarket brands?
Yes. Generally, salon haircare products have a higher concentration of ingredients, so they tend to give better results.
There is also a wider range of salon products that address more specific problems. This is also why two- or three-in-one products are not as effective: They try to target several problems through one solution.
If you want to splurge on only one salon product, get a hair mask. While conditioners typically coat the surface of the hair, masks are able to penetrate the hair and improve its texture. Use it once a week.
9 How do I survive a bad hair day?
There are a few tricks that stylists swear by. One is to carry around a small bottle of non-sticky, lightweight hairspray, such as L'Oreal's cult classic Elnett Satin ($30).
You can also add shine and tame frizz with a serum such as Kerastase Ultimate Controlling Elixir ($50), or spritz on label.m Dry Shampoo ($32.10), to refresh greasy hair for a freshly washed look.
10 I have fine hair that gets oily after a long day and looks flat. Are there any products that can help?
Stay away from heavy-duty conditioners and styling products which will weigh your hair down and make it flat and limp.
Look for products with a lot of ceramides, such as Kerastase's Volume Active range, which improves the structure of hair fibres. Blunt, chin-length cuts are more flattering and volumising hairspray is your best friend.
11 My coarse, dense hair weighs me down. What's the best style for me?
For denser, coarser hair, layers and highlights are most flattering and will soften your overall look. Creamier styling products like wax and clay will help this type of hair hold its shape better. Ditto for styling products with silicon, which helps to lock out humidity and maintain shape and texture.
A good cut should remove thickness from within while creating blunt ends for a visually balanced style. Avoid a top-heavy style with wispy ends as this will highlight the thickness of your hair.
12 I have more than one problem with my hair but most shampoos address only one problem. What should I do?
Healthy hair starts with a healthy scalp, so make that your priority. Choose a product that addresses your specific scalp problem, be it oiliness or sensitivity.
Once your scalp stabilises, you can alternate between two or three shampoos. For example, if you have coloured hair and also use a lot of styling products, consider alternating between a colour treatment shampoo and a clarifying shampoo.
13 I've tried many kinds of anti-dandruff shampoos without success. What ingredient should I look out for?
It is possible that you may not have dandruff at all. Usually, dandruff occurs along the circumference of your head, such as the nape and behind your ears.
Anti-dandruff shampoos typically contain ingredients such as piroctone olamine, selenium sulphide and zinc pyrithione. You should stop using anti-dandruff shampoos once your dandruff clears up as they are not meant for preventative use.
Since yours has not cleared up, it is possible that you are not using the shampoo regularly enough. Or you may have a skin allergy, a stress-related reaction or your scalp is reacting to excessive dryness or oiliness.
See your doctor, who will be able to determine whether you should see a skin specialist.
14 Should I change my hair products like I do my skincare products as I get older?
Yes. Generally, hair becomes duller and more brittle as one gets older. So once you hit 40, go easy on chemical processes, start using products such as scalp tonics and go for regular salon treatments more regularly.
Also consider less harsh colouring methods such as hennas or dyes that do not contain ammonia.
Kerastase is launching a range of products for mature hair next year called Age Premium.
If you undergo harsh treatments such as perming and bleaching regularly, your hair will age more quickly.
One important rule is to have a break of at least two weeks between two chemical services.
People who travel a lot subject their hair to more stress because their hair is exposed to different climates, not to mention the dry air on airplanes.
Ask your stylist to recommend products that are suitable for the places you are travelling to.
Most salons also have a free scalp analysis service - do this every six months to monitor the health of your hair.
15 Is there any way to prevent premature white hair?
A poor diet and stress are the two primary causes of premature greying. Another common reason is heredity.
Supplementing the diet with vitamin B, iron, copper, and iodine may help to prevent premature white hair. So might leading a lifestyle with less stress.
Also, no matter how tempting it may be, never pluck out your white hair because it may damage the hair follicle, leading to hair loss.
This article was first published in Urban, The Straits Times on Nov 21, 2008.