It’s well-known that heat can damage your hair. Despite the evidence that overheating your hair can cause split ends, dullness, and even hair loss, many people still go hard with hot tools like hairdryers, straighteners, and curling tongs .
So what can you do if your hair feels frizzy and fried? Here’s everything you need to know about how to treat heat-damaged hair.
To repair heat-damaged hair, it’s important to understand exactly what’s happening when you subject your strands to excessive heat.
Research shows that blowdrying your hair causes the cuticle to crack, damaging the surface of your hair [2, 3]. The cuticle protects the hair cortex, which is made up of strands of keratin, the protein responsible for keeping hair strong, shiny, and healthy.
Strong, healthy cuticles give your hair its lustrous shine. So when the cuticle is damaged, hair can start to feel dry and frizzy but does the damage stop there?
Some research suggests that, despite the cuticle damage, the hair cortex remains intact after heat treatment . However, other studies show that excessive heat changes the structure of keratin, and degrades other components within the hair cortex . That’s why keratin for hair products are sometimes used when hair is severely heat-damaged.
These changes can cause your hair to lose its natural shape (especially for people who have curly hair, such as type 3A hair). In addition, these changes can also lead to hair breakage on the crown and hairline, hair bubbling, and weakened hair fibres.
At a microscopic level, the heat damage to your cuticle is unmistakable. The image below shows 5 levels of cuticle damage caused by 5 different hair-drying techniques and temperatures.
Needless to say, you don’t need to put your hair under a microscope to see the damage caused by high heat. Individual hair fibre damage can have a big impact on the overall appearance of your hair. Take a look at these images of heat-damaged hair to see for yourself:
1. Hair that has been subject to chemical and heat treatment. The colour has faded, and the strands appear dry and frizzy. Image credit: Amazon.com. 2. Heat-damaged hair is extremely dry, with flyaways caused by breakage high on each strand. Image credit: Medium.com
It’s not just heat that can damage your hair. Chemicals, tight ponytails, and even overbrushing can also cause dryness and fragility that leaves your hair looking far from its best. So how can you tell if your hair is heat-damaged or if something else is to blame for your unhealthy tresses?
There are a few telltale signs of heat-damaged hair, including:
If you’re still not sure if heat is the culprit, take stock of how you look after your hair. If you wash, blow dry, and heat style your hair every day, you’re probably subjecting it to far too much heat on a regular basis.
It’s important to also remember that higher temperatures cause more damage, so consider dialing down the temperature on your flat iron or curling tongs. Never use hot tools on damp or wet hair and try to use a heat protectant whenever possible.
Unfortunately, heat damage is irreversible meaning once your hair cuticles have been damaged, there’s no going back without heading to the hairdresser, especially if you have severely heat-damaged hair.
Heat causes hair to lose its elasticity, so your strands are more likely to snap and fray, resulting in split ends (medically known as trichoclasis). As the damage moves up the hair shaft, the issues become more visible and more difficult to control without cutting your hair. So to keep your hair looking healthy, it’s important to get it trimmed regularly to remove your split and damaged ends.
Heat damage isn’t a direct cause of hair loss, but it can give the appearance of thinning hair. As more strands snap, your hair loses volume. This may give the illusion of hair loss, even if you haven’t actually lost any hair from your follicles.
Since heat dulls hair, you may also find yourself dying or bleaching your hair more frequently. Overuse of hair dye chemicals like ammonia and ethanolamine can irritate the scalp and cause further damage to your hair strands, leading to even more breakage . One study also found that chemically active hair dyes may cause direct hair loss, so it’s essential to avoid exposing your hair to these harsh substances .
While you can’t reverse heat damage to your hair, there are things you can do to prevent further damage and create smoother, shinier locks. Here’s our best advice on how to treat damaged hair.
Cutting off your damaged ends is the single best way for repairing heat-damaged hair. It stops hair damage from advancing and snapping off higher up your hair strands. By removing your straggly ends, your hair will also look thicker and more voluminous. For best results, make a regular trip to the salon part of your hair care routine.
Leave-in conditioners and hair masks can make your hair look much smoother. Coconut oil and argan oil are particularly effective at moisturizing your hair, and protecting it from further damage [8, 9]. So try to find a heat-damaged hair treatment or hair mask that contains these two oils.
If you can, give your hair a break from heat styling for a few weeks, or even longer. This will give healthy new hair a chance to grow. If you can’t resist completely, try to reduce the amount of time you subject your hair to hairdryers, straighteners, or curling tongs. Even better, use these implements at the lowest possible temperature.
Higher temperatures cause more damage to your hair cuticles . So how hot is too hot for styling your hair?
Jonathan Colombini, haircare expert at L’Oréal Paris, says it depends on the coarseness of your hair . People with naturally fine hair should stick to lower temperatures of around 170°c when using hair straighteners or curling tongs, while those with thicker hair can stretch to 200°c.
You should never use the hottest setting on your blow dryer. Stick to low/medium settings, and blow dry your damp hair downwards. This helps keep the cuticles flat, so your hair looks super smooth for as long as possible.
Prevent future heat-damaged hair with these tips:
It can be easy to confuse heat-damaged hair with hair loss, especially if you’ve noticed significant thinning. Heat-damaged hair doesn’t usually fall out in clumps when you wash it, so if you see more substantial hair loss in the shower or on your pillow, you may be experiencing hair loss rather than hair breakage.
Women’s hair loss is often difficult to diagnose, which makes it tricky to find the right female hair loss treatment.
Find out if your hair is thinning and why with a consultation at the Wimpole Clinic. No matter what’s causing your hair to look dry, damaged, or thin, we’ll help you restore it to its full, shiny best.
Simply fill in your details in the form below and we'll get in touch with you shortly.