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Hair Breakage: Causes, Symptoms, Treatments & Photos
Dr Peter Thomas (GMC)
Medically reviewed by
Dr Peter Thomas (GMC)
Updated on April 5, 2024

Hair breakage is very common. But that doesn’t make it any less aggravating when you notice lots of broken strands amongst your own hair, whether it’s hair breakage around the crown or broken baby hairs along your hairline.

So what can you do about hair breakage? In this article, we’ll explore the causes, symptoms, and treatments for broken and frizzy hair, so you can learn how to get your hair back to perfect health.

Table of Contents

What causes hair breakage?

Knowing what’s causing your hair to snap off sets you on the right path to finding the best treatment. Here are all the major causes of hair breakage.

1. Aggressive brushing

Brushing your hair is necessary, especially if you’re prone to tangles and knots. Despite the myth, brushing your hair won’t make it grow. But brushing your hair too vigorously is a key cause of breakage — especially if you yank your brush through those knotty patches.

Instead, follow these tips to brush your hair without causing breakage:

  1. Comb (don’t brush) your hair when it’s wet.
  2. When your hair is dry, use a hairbrush with flexible bristles.
  3. Use conditioner, argan oil, or coconut oil on any knots or tangles to create slip and reduce friction along your strands.
  4. Use gentle strokes. Don’t tug, pull, or yank the brush through your hair.

2. Heat damage

Straighteners, curling tongs, and hairdryers are among the biggest culprits for hair breakage. Heat-damaged hair often leads to hair thinning in women, as excessive heat can crack the cuticle of your hair, making the hair surface more prone to fractures [1].

hair structure informational graphic

3. Bleach and chemical processing

Processing your hair using bleach, relaxers, hair keratin treatments and other harsh chemicals can dry your hair out, making it more likely to snap and break.

hair breakage due to chemical damage
Left: hair breakage caused by bleach. Right: breakage and alopecia caused by chemical hair relaxers.

Not all hair colouring products are damaging. For example, toners don’t damage your hair, though they are often used after bleach to achieve the desired hair colour. But it’s important to discuss the potential ramifications with your stylist before you apply any new products.

4. Dry hair

Excessively dry hair often leads to breakage. Hair can become dry if it’s exposed to hot, dry climates, low humidity, chemicals, harsh sunlight, and direct heat sources like hair straighteners.

Fortunately, dry hair is one of the easier causes of hair breakage to treat. Hydrate your hair by using plenty of conditioner, and other proven moisturising agents like coconut oil. If your scalp is prone to greasiness, focus these treatments on the lengths and ends of your hair rather than your roots.

5. Vigorous towel drying

It can be tempting to give your scalp a good scrub with a towel after washing it. But this is a surefire way to damage your hair strands and make fragile ends snap off.

Instead, wrap your hair in the towel gently, then squeeze the water out into the towel from root to tip. This can also prevent knotting and tangling.

6. Lack of hair cuts

Even if you take good care of your hair, if you don’t get it trimmed, you’ll eventually develop split ends, trichoclasis, or other hair shaft disorders. This is due to everyday wear and tear.

If you don’t get these damaged ends chopped off, they can start to break off by themselves. This often leads to more severely damaged hair in the long run. So it’s important to get your hair cut regularly. Find out more about split ends vs healthy hair.

7. Hair elastics

Some types of hair bands and hair elastics can cause hair breakage, especially if they’re wound too tightly.

Wearing your hair loose is the best way to avoid this type of breakage. But if you need to tie your hair back, scrunchies and spiral hair ties tend to cause less damage than standard hair elastics.

Hair Breakage: Causes, Symptoms, Treatments & Photos, Wimpole Clinic
Left: scrunchie; centre: spiral hair tie; right: hair elastic.

8. Stress

Stress is a leading cause of temporary hair loss known as telogen effluvium. But high-stress levels can also directly and indirectly lead to broken hair strands.

Stress may lead to poor haircare practices, follicle inflammation, harmful habits like hair pulling (trichotillomania), and other problems that damage your hair [2]. So good stress management techniques are essential for preventing hair breakage.

9. Diet

Good nutrition is really important for growing strong, healthy hair. Low levels of vitamin A have been linked to hair breakage, while insufficient vitamin C can lead to hair shaft abnormalities [3].

In addition, certain vitamin deficiencies have been linked with hair loss conditions including male pattern baldness, female pattern hair loss, and alopecia areata. Find out more in our clinical review of vitamins for hair growth.

Eating a balanced diet for healthy hair that’s rich in protein, vitamins, and minerals can keep your tresses strong and intact.

10. Scalp conditions

Certain scalp conditions can weaken your hair, making it more brittle and prone to breakage. An unhealthy scalp can lead to greater oxidative stress in the hair, which often manifests as [4]:

  • Rough hair texture
  • Hair cuticle rigidity
  • Hair breakage

Many scalp problems have similar symptoms, so get checked out by a trichologist to diagnose any troublesome scalp issues.

11. Eating disorders

Eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia can lead to malnourishment. As a result, the body channels all available nutrients into its most important functions, rather than nourishing your hair. This can cause hair to snap off or even fall out.

thinning hair in anorexia patient
Thinning hair in a male patient with anorexia.

Anorexia-induced hair loss is just one of the clinical symptoms of an eating disorder. These conditions can lead to more serious health problems, so it’s essential to seek advice from a doctor if you’re concerned about your own eating habits or those of someone you know.

12. Hypothyroidism

An underactive thyroid can contribute to hair breakage [5]. You’ll usually notice other symptoms if you have hypothyroidism, including fatigue, low energy, rapid weight gain, and/or low mood.

hair loss due to Hashimoto's disease
Thin, broken hair linked to Hashimoto’s thyroiditis.

What causes hair breakage in natural hair?

People with natural Black and Afro hair types are more prone to hair breakage than people of other ethnicities. This is because:

  • Naturally curly hair is more susceptible to damage and breakage than straight hair [6].
  • Some hair weaves and protective styles can actually harm the hair strands, leading to breakage and hair loss (this is known as traction alopecia).
  • People with natural hair are more likely to use chemical hair relaxers, which often contribute to broken hair strands.
hair breakage in natural hair
Hair breakage in natural hair, leading to loss of hair density.

What is the main cause of hair breakage?

Some of these causes of hair breakage can sound worrying. But for most people, the main cause of hair breakage is poor haircare and grooming, including:

  • Vigorous brushing and towel-drying.
  • Excessive heat styling.
  • Using hair dye, bleach, relaxers, and other chemicals.
  • Not getting your hair cut often enough.

If these are causing your hair to break, it’s likely that only your hair will be affected. If the cause is more complex, you’ll probably have other symptoms as well. So speak to your doctor if you have additional health concerns.

What does hair breakage look like?

Hair breakage is characterised by short, spiky hairs that often have split or damaged ends. Broken hairs may stick up and away from your scalp, and have a rough or frizzy texture. You might also notice short strands breaking off when you brush your hair.

broken, damaged hair on top of head

If you have hair breakage through the ends of your hair, you’ll often find your hair is different lengths:

Hair Breakage: Causes, Symptoms, Treatments & Photos, Wimpole Clinic

Hair breakage at the crown has a similar appearance, but proximity to the scalp can lead to your scalp showing through your thinning hair:

hair breakage at the crown

If you have breakage along your hairline, you may see more flyaways, broken edges, and baby hairs framing your face:

hair breakage on the hairline

Baby hairs can also be a sign that your hair is growing back, so don’t immediately assume it’s breakage. New growth is often softer and fluffier than broken hairs, which may be coarse and split at the ends.

Does hair breakage grow back?

Yes, broken hair will normally grow back, as long as you address the cause of the problem.

Unlike many types of hair loss, hair breakage is a temporary problem. By adjusting your haircare practices and tackling the underlying trigger, you can almost always regrow broken hairs.

Below, you’ll learn how to stop and prevent hair breakage.

16 ways to stop and prevent hair breakage

You may need different methods to tackle hair breakage depending on the cause and location of the problem.

In general, if you’re taking good care of your hair and there’s no obvious cause, seek advice from your GP or a trichologist. They can run hair loss blood tests and other diagnostics to help you find the root cause of your hair problems.

How to fix breakage at the front of your hair

Here are four ways to help regrow broken hair around the hairline:

  1. Gel down your baby hairs to prevent them becoming frizzy and knotty during the day. Hair gel isn’t a known cause of hair loss, so it’s generally safe in small amounts.
  2. Avoid tying your hair up as much as possible. If you do need to tie your hair back, wear it in a loose style that doesn’t tug on the follicles or hair strands.
  3. Treat your hair edges with extra care. Make sure to condition and moisturise them carefully, and avoid overbrushing.
  4. Don’t be tempted to straighten your hair edges to flatten them. These hairs are very fragile, so heat exposure can make them extra brittle. Instead, use gel to keep them in place.

How to fix hair breakage on top of your head

Follow these tips to treat hair breakage on top of your head and around your crown:

  1. Minimise the use of hair extensions and weaves. These add unnecessary weight to your hair, causing more damage. Hair extensions can even lead to hair loss, so try to limit their use to special occasions.
  2. Try hair fibres or hair-thickening shampoo. Hair fibres can cover up any lack of density while you give your hair time to grow back.
  3. Don’t use relaxers, bleach, or other chemical treatments until you have a healthy crop of untreated hair. Even then, try to limit exposure to these products to minimise further damage.
  4. For more severe hair breakage, experiment with a shorter hairstyle (at least for a while). Take a look at these fab female hairstyles for thinning hair on the crown for inspiration.

How to fix hair breakage from bleach

Bleach contains harsh chemicals that pose a serious risk to your hair. It’s one of the most common causes of hair breakage — so how can you fix this?

  1. Condition your hair at every wash. Bleach can dry out your hair, so give it the extra hydration it needs by washing and conditioning your hair regularly. You can also use a leave-in conditioner for an extra hydration boost.
  2. Coat your hair in coconut oil to get the benefits of this natural moisturiser. Coconut oil has been shown to protect your hair from protein loss when used before or after washing [6].
  3. Opt for highlights rather than a full head of bleach. Highlights expose less of your hair to harmful chemicals.
  4. Embrace your natural hair colour. The only way to completely reduce the risk of bleach damage is to turn away from the chemicals and let your natural hair shine through.

How to stop hair breakage fast

Unfortunately there’s no quick fix for hair breakage. Once the damage is done, you’ll need to let your hair regrow, which can take several months.

However, there are a few things you can do to encourage healthy new growth. Here are some of the best ways to grow hair quickly:

  1. Wash your hair every day. One study found that daily hair washing made hair seem less brittle, and could even reduce the severity of hair loss [7].
  2. Resist heat styling your hair. Straightening and curling your hair with heat will exacerbate breakage, so switch to heatless curlers and other styling techniques.
  3. Try Minoxidil. Minoxidil is a topical hair loss solution that stimulates blood flow to the follicles. It can make your hair grow more quickly with daily application.
  4. Make lifestyle changes to encourage healthy hair growth. Make sure your diet is packed with protein, give yourself regular scalp massages for hair growth, and quit smoking to reduce the risk of oxidative stress and restricted blood flow.
Best ways to prevent hair breakage
  • Treat your hair with care. Use gentle brushing, drying, and styling methods to protect it from damage.
  • Use heatless techniques to style your hair, such as heatless curlers and hair gel.
  • Avoid exposing your hair to chemicals including bleach and relaxing agents.
  • Manage your stress levels with regular exercise and other stress-busting techniques.
  • Wear your hair down or in loose styles as much as possible.
  • Moisturise your hair regularly with conditioner and other proven hair hydration treatments.

Diagnosing hair breakage

The good news is that most causes of hair breakage can be fixed with a few adjustments to your grooming routine and hair hygiene practices.

For other people, however, the cause of hair breakage is less obvious. If you’re unsure why your hair is breaking off — particularly if it’s in large volumes — speak to a trichologist. Using hair loss blood tests and other diagnostic tools, these hair specialists can reveal any underlying causes of hair breakage and help you tackle them before the problem gets worse.

Book a consultation with the Wimpole Clinic’s trichology team to get a thorough diagnosis of your damaged hair.

Hair Breakage: Causes, Symptoms, Treatments & Photos, Wimpole Clinic

Dr Peter Thomas (GMC)
Medically reviewed by Dr Peter Thomas (GMC)Updated on April 5, 2024
The Wimpole Clinic offers FUE Hair, Beard & Eyebrow Transplants & Trichology.
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