Hair Damage – Causes and Remedies
How To Spot Hair Damage
Hair damage affects millions of people and has many causes. Damaged hair often appears dull, lifeless, thin and unruly. The broken and battered cuticles catch on each other to cause increased tangling and knotting which requires extra detangling and continues the cycle of damage. The hair is often limp and unresponsive to chemical treatments; color can fade quickly or have trouble taking at all. When heat styling you may notice it cannot hold a curl. The hair usually appears (and is) dry as it has difficulty retaining moisture.
Top Causes of Hair Damage
Heat: Tools such as hair dryers and curling irons overheat hair’s cuticles, the first line of defense against dryness, leaving the cortex exposed and causing severe hair damage. It soaks up moisture from the air to compensate, causing frizz. Using hot tools on damaged hair causes even more brittleness and hair eventually breaks off completely.
Color: To achieve the desired shade the hair shaft must open to accept the color molecules. Any chemical process that manipulates the hair shaft in this way is inherently damaging. The chemicals used include harsh ammonia and hydrogen peroxide. The hair shaft swells to accept the color, which is even more damaging on straightened or otherwise chemically processed hair. The more levels the hair is lifted to get to lighter shades the more damage is incurred. Overuse of hair color or allowing the dye to sit too long to develop can also cause hair damage. Most dyes can penetrate the layers of the hair shaft, causing hair to dry out and resulting in breakage.
Chemical Treatments: This is one of the most common culprits of hair damage, as processed hair loses its natural moisturizers and the protective sebum that coats cuticle is removed. The action of the chemicals involved often blast open the cuticle to break bonds and cause extreme damage in the process.
Mechanical Damage: It is difficult to gauge of what is gentle. The comb should not be full of broken or pulled-out hairs and your scalp should never hurt after detangling or styling. Remove shed hairs gently separating strands with fingers. When hair is wet it is weak because water breaks hair’s hydrogen bonds. They re-form when the hair dries, re-strengthening it. Handle hair with special care when wet. Beware of towel-drying damage. Carefully blot hair with a cotton t-shirt or invest in a microfiber towel. If possible avoid all rigorous treatment of the hair, use care and styling tools gently and keep high-quality tools.
Environmental Damage: Sun damages hair just like skin. Exposure to ultraviolet light from the sun or a tanning booth weakens hair structurally, resulting in hair breakage and loss. Protect hair with a hat or umbrella, and look for conditioners that contain a sunscreen can help. Grey hair is most subject to damage from the sun, followed by blonde hair.
Ways To Detect Hair Damage
Observation: Lift a lock of hair to the light (or in front of a computer screen) and look for places where one hair becomes two, or bends, knots and zigzags. These are all signs of compromised spots on the shaft. Ends, the oldest and most vulnerable part of the hair, consistently suffer mechanical damage from styling and manipulation.
You may also observe some of these less-obvious signs of damage.
- Heat Damage is evident when textured hair becomes limp and loses its normal wave or curl pattern.
- Poor response from chemical processing and hair loses ability to hold color
Healthy Hair Tests: Drop a shed hair into a cup of water. The faster and deeper it sinks, the less protein and moisture it has. If it floats, it’s healthy. Another hair damage test is if you can’t smoothly twist your hair all the way down to the end of the shaft because the ends are rough and uneven, you might be due for a trim.
Chronic Breakage: When hair hasn’t gotten longer over the years, don’t automatically blame genetics or slow growth, you might have chronic breakage. Look at elements of your routine that have been consistent over the years. Top-level changes may be required such as incorporating protective styling, changing product choices, better nighttime routines or altering detangling methods to reduce breakage.
Performance: Hair is unruly, unmanageable and hard to style. Has difficulty to holding a curl.
Growth Many who are struggling to gain length often blame growth, when the problem is breakage. They are not even aware that the hair is growing, but the length is just not being retained. To get an idea of how quickly your hair grows, dye a few strands in the front, middle and back with henna. Monitor them to see how far the color goes.
Treating Hair Damage
Gentle Cleansing Frequent cleansing with stripping shampoos can dry, and damage hair by removing natural oils. Hair breaks more easily and is more elastic when wet which is exacerbated by the transition. Avoid harsh sulfates, like Sodium Lauryl Sulfate and use shampoos with gentler surfactants or sulfate-free. Need that squeaky-clean feeling? Try an apple cider vinegar rinse following your wash-day routine. It gives shine, removes buildup, and aids in detangling! Shampooing should be a nourishing step to infuse hair with moisture and strength, not to cause further damage.
Regular Conditioning, even overnight deep conditioning and steam treatments can make a huge difference for damaged hair. Protein treatments have been known to work wonders for restoring abused hair. Before using, ensure your hair is not moisture deficient by doing the wet assessment.
When you color use a protein treatment designed for color-treated hair one week before and two weeks following every color treatment. If using other chemical treatments always color after bond-breaking straightening or curling treatments.
Trim splits and damaged areas. Many swear by a technique called search and destroy (S&D). Many don’t subscribe to scheduled hair cutting. If this is you, then relieve your mane of pesky splits and damaged spots by cutting them off directly. Using a sharp scissor (dull scissors can actually fray the hair and cause more damage) cut slightly above the sight of the damage to prevent splits from travelling up the shaft or catching on other hairs to cause even more damage.
Preventing Hair Damage: Chemicals penetrate into the hair and eat away at the protective lipid layer, which is what keeps your locks nourished and glossy.
Care with relaxers: Relaxers left on to the point of burning or irritating the scalp or applied inaccurately (overlapping previously processed hair) are common causes of hair damage. Take care to avoid scalp injury or excessive hair damage by protecting the scalp with a petrolatum-based ointment before relaxing. Never overlap on previously relaxed sections. Follow manufacturer instructions regarding the time product should be left on hair. Ask your stylist about doing a Mid-Relaxer Protein Treatment that infuses the hair with strength while the cuticle is wide open. When hair is weakened by the relaxer and then damaged further by intense heat exposure, hair can break easily so minimize the intensity and frequency of thermal hair styling. Hair damage and loss from scalp burns due to chemical relaxers is often temporary, but if the damage is severe enough, it can be permanent.
Avoid Over-manipulation (especially when wet): Combing, brushing, styling or even drying hair pulls at the cuticle and can cause breakage. Gently finger-detangle by separating tangled strands using a non-viscous slippery conditioner. It can take longer but will significantly reduce breakage. If you must use a comb use a wide-toothed seamless comb or a bone comb.
Color Smartly If you do dye choose a shade that’s within three shades of you natural color. Dyeing hair darker, rather than lighter, or using less permanent options like color rinses is generally less damaging. For healthier options that can actually strengthen the hair consider natural dyes such as body art quality Henna, Cassia and indigo that can work with any pre-existing color.
When you heat style: Prior to blow-drying, blot hair well and use a heat protectant to help evenly distribute heat, and coat and condition areas that are already damaged and weak. Upgrade you tools if possible and use a dryer with powerful airflow to reduce styling time and minimize heat exposure. Add a nozzle attachment to allow a safe distance between your hair and the dryer coils. Flat iron each section only once, and keep heat below 360°F for fine hair; or 400°F for coarse strands.
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