Even if you take lots of precautions — like breaks from heat-styling, using hair masksregularly, and extending time between color appointments — at a certain point, your hair may still show signs of damage from daily wear and tear. Some of the most unlikely hair damage culprits (think: ponytails and stressful life events) can take a serious toll.
If you notice that your hair is lacking luster, moisture, or density, it might be time to diagnose the issue and work toward a solution. We spoke to experts for insight on each type of damage, what the common causes are, and what we can do to reverse (or at least minimize) it.
You don’t need a microscope to spot split ends. A few telltale signs can help point to the problem. According to Rachel Bodt, a colorist in New York City, you’ll know there is an issue “when the end of a hair strand is split into two or more heads or if the hair shaft feels rough due to little microchips,” she tells Allure. “You’ll know there is an issue when the hair is in a weaker state. Plus, it will tangle a lot more with split ends.”
In this case, cutting your hair is really the best advice for banishing split ends. Bodt suggests getting a trim at least every two months. “Think of it as just a dusting,” she explains. “It doesn’t have to be a significant haircut to make a difference.”
Have fine hair? Then those regular appointments are even more important. “Think of it this way, what’s easier to rip: a single piece of paper or 10 pages bound together?,” explains Ni’Kita Wilson, a cosmetic chemist. “Hair thickness has a lot to do with the actual size of the follicle. If the follicle is narrow than the strand is thinner and if it’s a wide follicle, the strands are thicker.” So if your hair is fine, it will be more susceptible to damage and need a little extra TLC.
Need a temporary solution until your next cut? Split end-mending serums that contain polymers, like Oribe Split End Seal Beautiful Color Treatment, can fill those microchips and mend any splits. (But they’re still no substitute for a trim.)
Even taking a break from regular foils won’t undo years of lifting and stripping away color — you just have to wait for the color or bleach to grow out to completely get rid of the damage. But there’s a good way to make sure your color causes as minimal damage as possible: Find a professional who cares about the condition of your hair.
“Choose a colorist who puts the integrity of your hair first,” recommends James Corbett, colorist and owner of James Corbett Studio in New York City. “Some things that make a difference are proper use of color chemicals, not using too strong of a developer for the texture of the hair being colored, and avoiding unnecessary overlap of color or bleach on previously colored hair. I often do a conditioning treatment instead of a gloss, because gloss still has peroxide in it.”
Additionally, a thoughtful at-home color maintenance plan can help. There’s a reason hairstylists recommend utilizing color-safe products. “The wrong shampoo can over-lift the cuticle and cause more color fading and loss of moisture,” explains Rez.
Allure editors love Best of Beauty winner Sachajuan Colour Protect Shampoo. For a leave-in treatment, Los Angeles-based colorist Matt Rez recommends Redken Extreme Bleach Recovery Cica Cream because it includes “[the] trending skin-care ingredient cica, with reparative benefits to promote healthy, strong hair in between salon visits.” (Rez is an ambassador for Redken.)
For those with both colored and textured hair, damage can look like a double-whammy. “Bleached and over-processed hair will [reveal damage faster] than other hair types,” says Los Angeles-based hairstylist Graham Nation. “But curly hair will get drier quicker and more frequently. It needs extra moisture to help curls come to life, in general.”
With that in mind, he recommends that those with more texture indulge in hair masks and deep conditioning treatments more often. Briogeo’s Don’t Despair, Repair Deep Conditioning Mask is a favorite of Allure readers and editors.
Chemical treatments, like relaxers and perms, strip the hair which can lead to breakage. Your best defense? Prevention. “Once the hair fiber is compromised, it cannot be fixed or healed, says Bridgette Hill, a trichologist and colorist at Paul Labrecque Salon and Skincare Spa in New York City. “The goal is to first prevent further damage by adjusting the hairstyling habits that created the problem and implementing practices that promote hair health and nourishment to the hair fiber.” The second goal, she says, is to establish a weekly deep treatment routine consistently for four to six weeks.
Her recommendations include both using a pre-treatment — like Philip Kingsley’s Elasticizer— and increased daily moisture. “Pre-treat the hair fiber by applying a protein treatment to dry, dirty hair before your shampoo, like a detoxifying oil or mask,” she says.
Then, comb all of the product through and wrap it up in a low bun while you sleep. “This allows the hair to absorb the needed protein that will aid in strengthening the hair fiber, as well as providing the foundation for all of the moisturizing elements from the shampoo and conditioner, to properly adhere to the hair for maximum efficacy,” says Hill.
Another route that can help: Products that create bonds with the proteins in the hair, to reinforce the cuticle during the process. “This protects the cuticle from too much stress which leads to damage,” explains Wilson. Try Olaplex No. 3 Hair Perfector, an at-home bond-building treatment.
Keeping your hair hydrated is equally important. “Make sure to add daily moisture in small amounts, applied liberally to the damaged area and conservatively throughout,” Hill explains. “Moisture on the ends of the hair fiber will not weigh it down or make it greasy if it’s used properly and designed for your specific hair type and texture. For example, finer hair textures may consider using water-based leave-in conditioning sprays.” Giovanni Direct Leave-In Weightless Moisture Conditioner is a good option.
A dependence on hot tools for your daily routine can reveal itself in multiple ways. “Heat opens the cuticles, allowing the hair to dry and shape when you are blow-drying or curling your hair,” Nation explains. “Too much can damage it, though — so using a heat protectantis necessary every time.” New York City-based trichologist Sophia Emmanuel adds that, “your heat-protecting product should protect styling up to 450 degrees.”
Other ways to prevent heat damage, according to Emmanuel, is to use a heat setting appropriate for your hair texture, avoid applying heat on dirty hair, and try not to use heat every day. “A product for thermal protection would have ingredients that are either activated by heat to protect strands or can provide a protective covering around hair strands to prevent direct heat from inflicting damage,” explains Wilson.
Thinning or Hair Loss
Lots of different things can cause thinning and hair loss, including damage to the hair. Are thinning and hair loss one and the same? According to the pros, not exactly. “When a patient refers to thinning, they’re usually noticing less hair, thinner ponytails, a visibly wider part, and more of their scalp showing. When referring to hair loss they usually report noticeable increase of shedding,” explains Francesca Fusco, a board-certified dermatologist and assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai in New York City.
And since these are different issues, they likely have different causes. “Thinning of the individual hair shaft with no visible shedding is referred to as ‘miniaturization’ and is seen in female pattern thinning, also known as androgenetic alopecia,” says Fusco. “Hair loss is caused by dozens of things that can include underlying endocrine [hormone] issues, stress, medication, post partum, dandruff, psoriasis, autoimmune diseases, nutritional deficiencies, allergic reactions, and more.”
Braids and tight ponytails can lead to loss, too. “Pulling at the hair, or causing traction, can weaken the hair and follicle, contributing to hair loss,” says Fusco. Take a break from taut styles to reduce tension and preserve the root.
If you’re experiencing hair loss, Fusco recommends booking an appointment with your dermatologist. “Your dermatologist may recommend a range of treatments that include supplements, topical agents like minoxidil, low-level light therapy like HairMax, and platelet-rich plasma therapy.”