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You can’t fully reverse damaged hair, but understanding what causes it can help improve hair’s look and feel. Here is how to spot hair damage and keep it from worsening.

Is Your Hair Damaged? Here’s How To Identify, Manage, and Prevent Damage

You can’t fully reverse damaged hair, but understanding what causes it can help improve hair’s look and feel. Here is how to spot hair damage and keep it from worsening.
Is Your Hair Damaged? Here’s How To Identify, Manage, and Prevent Damage

If you’ve ever gone blonde, curled your hair with a flat iron, or tried a perm, chances are good you’ve dealt with damaged hair. Though damage might be disheartening, it doesn’t mean you have to give up your favorite styling habits. Spotting hair damage from the get-go is one of the most effective ways to address it and help get your hair back on track. But first, you’ll have to know how to spot signs of damaged hair. Ahead, we’ll walk you through some of the most obvious indicators of damage, along with haircare tweaks that can help promote healthy-looking strands.

How Can You Tell if Your Hair Is Damaged?

Identifying hair damage can be a bit complex. There are many different signs, and they can look different from person to person. However, some clear signs of damage are pretty hard to miss.

For example, you might notice that your hair is brittle, feels dry, and tangles more easily (making it difficult to brush through). Damaged hair is also more fragile and likely to break, which means you might experience a loss of hair density, short patches of broken hair around the hairline, and even areas of bald spots, according to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD). (For excess hair loss, we recommend scheduling an appointment with your doctor to rule out whether a deeper-rooted issue could be at play.)

Noticeable changes in your hair’s texture or pattern can be another indicator that your hair is damaged. Your naturally silky, straight hair might suddenly appear frizzy or coarse, while waves, curls, or coils might start to appear less bouncy or defined. You’re the person most in tune with your hair’s appearance and feel, so you’ll likely be able to identify such changes quickly. Taking a moment to examine your hair closely is sometimes all it takes to pinpoint early signs of damage.

Good hair day by @hairbykassandra.

What Are the Types of Hair Damage?

There are three general categories of hair damage—thermal, chemical, and mechanical—and each can affect hair differently.

Mechanical damage

Physical wear and tear on strands is considered mechanical damage. Things that can cause mechanical damage include friction against towels or pillowcases, aggressive hair brushing, snug hair elastics, and overly tight hairstyles. Luckily, slight tweaks to how you handle your hair can help prevent future mechanical damage.

Thermal damage

Heat damage can occur from frequent hot tool styling, setting your tool’s temperature too high, or not applying a heat protectant before styling. Sometimes, it’s all three compounding each other. You can’t fully reverse heat damage, although you can help minimize the impacts of heat styling.

Chemical damage

Any service or treatment that permanently alters the structure of your hair falls squarely under the umbrella of chemical damage. Hair dye, bleach, relaxers, and perms can all cause chemical damage—and attempting to DIY these services can amplify the harm to your hair. Chemical damage is irreversible since it involves breaking your hair bonds (the proteins responsible for giving hair its strength and elasticity), so hair will need more heavy-duty repair. In more extreme cases, you might need to cut off the damaged hair and start fresh.

Good hair day by @hairmeroar.

What Does Healthy Hair Look Like?

We all have different hair textures that make our strands unique. So it’s important to cast aside comparison here and remember that what embodies “healthy-looking hair” for you might be totally different from other people in your life. That said, a general commonality of healthy-looking hair is that the cuticles are closed, meaning they lie flat and smooth. Closed cuticles often translate into tresses with a shiny, smooth texture, a defined curl pattern, and a better ability to fight color fade, frizz, and moisture loss.

Good hair day by @rosibelhair.

How Do You Repair Damaged Hair?

Now that you’re well-versed in how to know if your hair is damaged let’s talk about how to fix damaged hair. Unfortunately, there is no way to undo hair shaft damage, like split ends and breakage. However, with a proper haircare routine and regular haircuts, you can ward off future split ends and breakage and improve the condition of your mane. In addition, catching damage early on can keep it from worsening. It’s important to identify habits that stress your strands so that you know how to avoid them going forward.

8 Ways To Manage Damaged Hair

We know it can feel pretty daunting when you first spot hair damage, but there are plenty of ways to restore the look and feel of your hair and help prevent further damage.

Choose repairing shampoos and conditioners

The first step towards healthier-looking hair is to invest in a shampoo and conditioner system specifically made for damaged strands. Products infused with strengthening ingredients (such as citric acid or proteins) can help repair damaged hair bonds and restore hair’s moisture and elasticity. We love Redken’s Acidic Bonding Concentrate regimen to help reinforce weakened bonds and protect hair from breakage and color fading. Shop the entire collection on

Another option ideal for extremely damaged hair is Biolage Professional Strength Recovery Shampoo and Conditioning Cream. Used together, they can help reduce breakage by up to 73% and provide hair with up to three times more moisture.* Check out our complete Strength Recovery review to learn more about how to use the line.

*System of Strength Recovery Shampoo and Conditioning Cream vs. non-conditioning shampoo

Consider a pre-shampoo

Hair is more fragile when wet, which can make it vulnerable to breakage during the hair-washing process. That’s where pre-shampoo treatments come in. These formulas are designed to be applied to hair before washing to help prep, protect, and strengthen it for cleansing. We’re partial to Redken’s Acidic Bonding Concentrate Intensive Treatment, which is great for weakened hair due to coloring, lightening, aggressive brushing, and heat styling.

Use restorative hair masks and treatments

Getting your hair back on the road to wellness requires adding deep conditioning products to your haircare routine. Treat your strands to a deeply nourishing hair mask, such as L'Oréal Professionnel Absolut Repair Protein Treatment Hair Mask, at least once a week. This hydrating essential is the ultimate hair nourishment. It helps instantly restore very damaged hair while deeply nourishing weakened hair with its irresistible buttery formula. Or, for a faster-acting formula, try Redken’s Acidic Bonding Concentrate 5 Min Liquid Hair Mask. The fluid formula quickly melts into hair for unrivaled strength, moisture, detangling, and shine in just five minutes.

Those with bleach-blonde hair might need even more TLC to address severe bleach damage. In that case, pick up a reviving leave-in conditioner, like Matrix Unbreak My Blonde Reviving Leave-In Treatment. The formula, which is infused with citric acid, helps reinforce weakened hair bonds and revive sensitized, lightened hair, so it’s stronger, softer, and shinier.

Address hard water buildup

Washing your hair in hard water can be a sneaky yet less obvious contributor to hair damage. According to the International Journal of Preventive Medicine, hard water is defined by water that contains a high concentration of minerals—typically calcium and magnesium ions. These minerals can result in continuous hair damage, making strands stiff, dull, and brittle. If you suspect your home has hard water (enter your zip code here to find out), pick up a haircare collection specifically designed to decalcify the hair, like Kérastase Premiére. The powerful six-part system works together to fight calcium buildup, reconnect broken links between keratin chains, and restore hair to a better state.

Heat style with care

Giving up heat styling altogether is the best way to avoid heat damage, but that’s easier said than done for most of us. Try to limit heat styling as much as you can and instead opt for heatless looks to give your locks a break. When you do need to pick up your hot tools, always apply a heat protectant beforehand.

We recommend an option like Redken Extreme Play Safe Heat Protection Repair Treatment for damaged hair. It uses a unique technology that protects strands from heat while helping repair existing damage and reducing the appearance of split ends. Or, for extra hairstyling hold, look no further than Shu Uemura Art of Hair’s Netsu Design Blow Dry Cream. This anti-frizz heat protectant leaves locks with a natural feel and long-lasting hold.

Last but not least, be sure to turn your hot tools to the lowest temperature setting that works for your hair (the key is not having to go over the same section repeatedly).

Wear tight styles sparingly

According to the AAD, frequently relying on tight hairstyles can result in a patchy form of hair loss called traction alopecia. While we love the look of slicked-back ponytails and snatched braids, it’s important to give your hair and scalp a break with natural, protective styles or loose hairdos, like low messy buns, from time to time. Those with damaged, brittle hair should also consider switching from thinner elastics to scrunchies or spiral hair ties. These hairline-friendly options do a better job at evenly distributing the weight of your hair to help keep friction-causing breakage at bay.

Trim regularly

Keeping up with your hair trim schedule can help you win the battle against damaged hair—even if you’re in the process of growing it out. Otherwise, untreated split ends can travel up the hair shaft, causing strands to fray even further than if your stylist had snipped them off. The resulting breakage can make your haircut appear uneven and might also create the feeling of less hair density. Pros generally recommend heading to the salon for a trim every 4-6 weeks. If damage has already gotten out of hand, you might have to remove a significant amount of length and start from scratch. (Check out our roundup of trendy layered bob ideas to get you excited about your short hair era.)

Good hair day by @leysahairandmakeup.

Consult a pro

When in doubt, head to the salon to discuss your damage with a pro and work with them to customize your haircare routine. A professional hairstylist can help you assess the damage (especially if it’s bleach-related) and recommend the best tips, in-salon treatments, and products for your damaged hair. It’s also a good idea to leave any chemical services, like perms and dye jobs, to an expert. They have access to best-in-class formulas that will help you achieve your hair goals while preserving the integrity of your hair. If you don’t yet have a hairstylist on speed dial, you can use our salon locator to find a pro in your area.

Next Up: Our 19 Favorite Hair Masks for Dry, Damaged Hair

Header photo credit (middle): @rosibelhair

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