Healthy hair is smooth, soft, and shiny, regardless of its natural texture. However, it’s not always easy to keep it this way. As a result, many of us, particularly women, end up with dry and damaged hair that looks and feels less than its best.
Lots of factors can cause your hair to become frizzy and fractured, from environmental issues to styling treatments. These elements impact the layers of your hair in different ways, causing them to become fragile, cracked, and rough. Often, damaged hair results from cracks in the hair cuticle, which exposes the hair cortex:
In this article, you’ll learn everything you need to know about damaged hair, including:
Damaged hair happens when the hair cuticle lifts and opens, exposing the layers beneath.
The hair cuticle consists of overlapping scale structures. These scales can become dislodged over time as a result of harmful practices and pollutants.
As these scales move, the cuticle becomes prone to splitting, cracking, and breaking, making your hair look dry, brittle, and dull.
Damaged hair can manifest in lots of different ways, including:
If these problems impact your hair as a whole, your hair will lack shine and the ends of your hair will start to fray and thin.
If left untreated, damaged hair can become tangled and even matted.
If you think your hair is becoming damaged, it’s important to recognise what’s causing the problem and treat your hair as soon as you can. This will help protect hair against further damage and help keep your hair looking its best.
Colouring and bleaching:
Pollution and environmental factors:
Lots of factors can contribute to damaged hair, from common causes like heat styling and chemical treatments to lesser-known issues like your diet and exposure to pollutants.
Here are the 7 major causes of hair damage, plus 22 effective ways to prevent, repair, and treat damaged hair.
Bleach strips your hair of its natural pigment by oxidising melanin in the hair cortex . Dark hair contains more melanin than lighter shades, so bleach must be applied for longer to remove the pigment from the hair.
Oxidation destroys the bonds within the hair’s keratin, a protein that makes up 65-95% of your hair shaft . This can make the hair cuticle more porous and prone to damage.
Mixing hair bleach with chemical treatments can cause more significant damage, as well as cosmetic problems. This image shows the results of applying bleach after a chemical treatment, leading to severe hair breakage and colour issues:
Avoid bleach if your hair is already damaged, especially if you’ve used lots of treatments and dyes before. Your stylist should be open with you about whether bleach is appropriate for your hair.
Always do a strand test before using hair dye or bleach, even if you’ve used the product before.
Use the right shampoo and conditioner to maintain your colour, so you need less frequent top-ups. Toners are generally safe for hair, and can also help with colour maintenance.
Keep track of which dyes, bleaches, and treatments you use. This includes keratin for hair treatments. If possible, find out exactly what products your stylist is using. That way you have an accurate hair history if you change your style in the future.
Relaxers, perms, and other treatments chemically alter the structure of your hair, changing the texture without the need for daily styling:
Chemically altering the structure of your hair often leads to damage. One study found that 96% of people using chemical hair relaxers reported adverse effects, the most common being frizziness, dandruff, and hair loss .
Perming and rebonding can expose the hair cortex, which happens when the cuticle lifts or cracks excessively . It can also cause bubbles to develop in wet hair following heat exposure .
After your first chemical treatment, future processing should only be applied to the hair roots to prevent damage through the lengths of your hair strands .
Avoid damage caused by chemical runoff by coating previously treated hair with coconut or castor oil.
Heat can lead to hair loss if it’s overused, so subject your hair to minimal heat styling. This includes:
Blow drying your hair at temperatures from 47°C can cause your cuticle to lift and crack, resulting in rough, broken hair shafts [7-8]. So curling tongs and straighteners that apply heat of up to 200°C directly to your hair can also cause significant damage.
Even everyday grooming activities like brushing and washing your hair can cause damage. This is a major cause of damage in virgin hair (that is, natural hair that hasn’t undergone any chemical treatments, dye, or bleach) and can lead to trichorrhexis nodosa .
Grooming practices that can damage your hair include:
Eventually, these practices will lead to the formation of split ends, a type of irreparable trichoclasis . Lots of split ends usually lead to the appearance of thinning hair in women, who tend to have longer hair.
While styling your hair in an updo or braids from time to time isn’t a problem, repeatedly wearing your hair in tight styles can lead to breakage and frizz. If left untreated, it can even cause traction alopecia, a type of alopecia triggered by excessive tension on the hair follicle .
Styles that often lead to breakage include:
These styles add weight and tension to the hair, which can result in significant breakage .
Many of these styles are popular protective styles for Black hair. So it’s not always easy to simply avoid wearing your hair in these styles. Instead, apply good haircare practices to keep your hair in good condition.
What you eat can have a serious impact on both your hair and scalp health. So it’s important to incorporate lots of nutritious hair growth foods into your diet.
Some vitamin deficiencies can even lead to hair loss . That’s why you need to get plenty of the following nutrients in your diet:
Applying vitamin formulas directly to your hair is unlikely to improve or repair hair damage. Instead, you’ll need to incorporate lots of nutrient-rich foods into your diet to maintain your hair health.
Exposure to environmental factors like chlorine, ultraviolet rays, and even air pollution can also damage your hair [13-14]. These can be even more harmful to people with bleached, dyed, or grey hair.
Chlorine can change the colour of virgin hair. When combined with UV exposure, it can also compromise your hair proteins . Saltwater can also damage your hair.
It’s not usually possible to repair damaged hair once the cuticle has lifted or cracked. Damaged cuticles leave your hair brittle and prone to split ends, which can lead to additional hair shaft damage and even thinning. That’s why it’s important to get your hair cut or trimmed regularly to remove problematic ends.
You may be able to smooth and soften your hair with the right products:
Hair damage prevention is the best way to keep your hair looking and feeling great. Here are ten ways to prevent damaged hair:
If you are worried about the health of your hair and would like a professional opinion regarding damage or even hair loss, contact one of our hair loss specialists today. We can help assess your hair loss and create a treatment plan specialised just for you.
Contact us today for a free no-pressure consultation at Wimpole Clinic, winner of the 2023 Hair Transplant Clinic of the Year award (three years running).
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