Letting your hair down

Holidays can wreak havoc with even the tidiest locks

I was in Poole, a lovely part of the world, despite the local library car park being a dogging hot spot. After a few days on the beach I looked in the mirror and there on top of my head was dried old thatch. All my life, I'd never had to bother with hair maintenance. As a teenager I'd put neat, and highly caustic, lemon juice on my hair to make it go lighter in the sun, with no ill-effect (mothers: never tell your children they used to be much blonder, as they will always try to recapture it. I am and always have been a brunette, but I think my mother's eye saw me as having once been the Pears child, all blonde curls).

Hitherto, the most my hair had got was a bit of conditioner, when I fancied spending more time in the bath and found the instructions of "put this on the hair and relax for five minutes" comfortingly bossy. What I'd not realised was that colouring my hair + sea + sun + sand = kapok. I tried to remember those hair-taming tips I'd skimmed over in women's magazines. Mashed bananas? Mayonnaise? In the end I went for VO5 Hot Oil tubes, which was all the local chemist sold. It worked a treat, much better than the new "no need to heat" version, which is nowhere near as good.

My current favourite, however, is monoi oil. I'm told this is what Polynesian women put on their hair. It's made from coconuts and makes your hair smell delicious. The only downside is that it solidifies at colder temperatures (a bottle on the windowsill makes a great thermometer), so you have to hold it under hot water. I like it because it leaves my hair "piecey" and really moisturised. My favourites are Hei Poa's monoi (although, hello, can we have the instructions in English?) and Elemis's Exotic Frangipani Monoi, which you can also use on your skin, although you may want to eat yourself afterwards. Korres does something called Almond Proteins Leave-On Conditioner, which you spray on dry hair. This is useful for when you realise your hair is starting to frizz up but can't be bothered to wash it. It's also great for untangling children's hair.

If you plan to spend all day doing lots of salt-water or pool swimming then Philip Kingsley's Swimcap cream is the stuff to get. You put it on damp hair, comb it through and leave it until you're ready to shampoo it out. It's very rich - like putting cold cream on your head - water- resistant and protects against sun, salt, chlorine. If your hair is in a real straw-state try Amazonia Preciosa, made from brazil-nut oil; cover your hair with a hot towel for fully 15 minutes (just enough time for a toasted cheese sandwich). Or, at the end of each holiday-day, slap on some Carita Le Cheveu for five minutes. It works better if you get someone to give you a head massage at the same time.

Annalisa Barbieri was in fashion PR for five years before going to the Observer to be fashion assistant. She has worked for the Evening Standard and the Times and was one of the fashion editors on the Independent on Sunday for five years, where she wrote the Dear Annie column. She was fishing correspondent of the Independent from 1997-2004.

This article first appeared in the 18 August 2008 issue of the New Statesman, Superpower swoop