While many of us are no strangers to hair breakage, hair damage can also be quite sneaky, creeping up on us when we least expect it. Whether it’s visiting the salon regularly to keep our color looking fresh or using hot tools to create cascading date night waves, the fact of the matter is that these hair habits can take a toll on our mane over time.
Damaged hair may be an inevitable part of hairstyling, at least to some degree, but that doesn’t mean we can’t equip ourselves with the knowledge to keep our hair in the best shape possible. Keep scrolling to discover our expert tips on how to know if your hair is damaged—including some of the most obvious (and not so obvious) signs of hair damage and the must-have products to minimize damage and help keep your hair looking healthy.
How can you tell if your hair is damaged?
When it comes to this common hair concern, the truth is that hair damage can be a bit complex, with many possible causes and signs that vary from person to person. There’s no limit to how we can unintentionally wreak havoc on the look and feel of our strands. Luckily, some clear signs of damage are pretty hard to miss.
For example, you’ll probably notice changes like split ends, brittle or dry texture, and loss of hair density. But that’s not all. When hair becomes damaged, it can look dull and lackluster, frizzy, unruly, and will tangle more easily—making it nearly impossible to brush through. Damaged hair that’s crying out for some TLC will probably also have some noticeable breakage and shed more strands than usual. Taking a moment to slow down and closely look at your hair is sometimes all it takes to catch onto the fact that your hair is showing some damage.
Last but not least, damage may manifest as either subtle or noticeable changes in your hair’s texture or pattern. Silky, straight hair can suddenly turn rough and coarse, while those with wavy, curly, or coily-hair may see a shift in their hair’s pattern or realize that their ringlets don’t spring back like they used to. You are more familiar with your hair’s behavior than anyone else, so you may be able to identify the changes as soon as they happen—or at the very least, be in tune enough to keep an eye out for them in the future.
What does hair damage look like?
Knowing how to spot the distinction between minor and extreme hair damage can make all the difference when your hair is in distress. So, what exactly should you look for if you suspect your tresses may fall into the “very damaged” category?
For starters, you might notice all the regular telltale signs of damage becoming more noticeable—from flyaways and tangles to split ends—which can all make hair increasingly hard to manage. Plus, the more fragile your strands become, the more likely they are to break, resulting in short patches of broken hair around the hairline and throughout. Extreme damage can sometimes lead to problems like noticeable hair loss, hair thinning, or even bald spots. Regarding hair loss, we suggest consulting your hairstylist or doctor to ensure there’s no deeper-rooted problem causing you to lose more hair than usual, like genetics or underlying health concern.
What causes damaged hair?
While many factors can contribute to hair damage, they can be broken down into three general categories.
Hot tools can sometimes be enemy number one in our quest for healthy hair. Heat damage can occur from excessively applying heat to your hair, when your stylers’ temperatures are set too high, or if you don’t properly apply a heat protectant prior to styling.
Services or treatments that permanently alter the structure of your hair fall squarely in the chemical damage category. Hair dye, bleaching, perms…the list goes on. While it’s true that your stylist has access to the best-in-class formulas to help keep your hair as healthy as possible, chemical services will always leave behind some degree of damage. (Psst: This is also why we never advise DIYing your hair color or perms!)
Any physical wear and tear on strands can be considered mechanical damage. Some examples include friction from terrycloth towels, rubbing up against your pillowcase, aggressively brushing, snug hair elastics, and even tight hairstyles.
What does healthy hair feel like?
We all have different hair textures that make us unique. So it’s important to cast aside comparison here and remember that what embodies “healthy hair” for your mane might look totally different from other people in your life.
That said, one thing we all share in common, whether your hair is 1A or 4C, is that the cuticles of healthy hair are closed, meaning they will lie flat and smooth. Healthy cuticles translate into tresses that have a shiny, smooth texture and, not to mention, are better equipped against humidity. Simply put, your hair should just “feel” healthy when you run your hands through it, with effortless movement.
Can damaged hair be repaired?
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 reverse hair shaft damage, like split ends and breakage, though all hope is not lost. With a proper hair care routine and regular haircuts, you can keep split ends at bay and help your hair appear healthier.
The best thing you can do is pay attention to your locks and try to catch damage as early as possible. This way, you can focus on protecting the hair, locating the root cause of the damage, and putting an end to it. Along the same lines, if you want to prevent future damage from happening, you’ll want to avoid whatever may be placing stress on your strands. Learn more about what some of these common causes may be in our expert guide to hair breakage.
How can I treat damaged hair?
Whether your locks have been through neglect or mechanical, chemical, or thermal damage, there’s no reason to stress. We know it can feel pretty daunting when you first spot hair damage, but there are plenty of small, consistent steps you can take to restore the look and feel of your hair and help to prevent further damage. Instead of beating yourself up about it, let’s talk about what you can do to get to the root of the problem and prevent further damage to your beloved mane.
Reassess damaging hair habits.
A professional hairstylist can help you assess the damage (especially if it’s bleach-related) and recommend the best at-home tips, in-salon treatments, and products for damaged hair. However, there are definitely some basic damaging practices to avoid if you want to keep hair breakage and heat damage to a minimum. These include air-drying your hair, turning the temperature down on hot tools, and getting trims approximately every four to six weeks.
You should also be extra gentle when styling and avoid any friction-causing hair accessories (ditch the elastics and check out our scrunchie roundup) or extremely tight hairstyles. While we love the look of slicked-back ponytails and snatched braids, it’s important to give your hair and scalp a break using natural, protective styles or loose hairdos, like low messy buns, from time to time.
Choose repairing shampoos and conditioners.
Healthy hair requires both protein and moisture to look its absolute best. Repairing shampoos and conditioners, like Redken Extreme Strengthening Shampoo and Conditioner, can help give your damaged strands the TLC they crave. This hair-strengthening duo for damaged hair and split ends uses a strengthening formula, with an exclusive new RCT protein complex, for up to 75 percent less breakage when used as a complete system.
Another pair suitable for extremely damaged hair is Biolage Professional Strength Recovery Shampoo and Conditioning Cream. The range is infused with vegan squalene, ethically sourced from olives to protect, strengthen, and provide intensive repair. When used together, the shampoo and conditioning cream makes hair 71 percent less prone to breakage as compared to a non-conditioning shampoo. Check out our complete review of the Strength Recovery line to learn more about the system.
Consider a pre-poo.
Did you know that hair stretches up to 50 percent when wet? Stretched hair translates to weak hair, making it even more vulnerable to damage and friction that can occur during the washing process. That’s where a pre-poo treatment comes in, and as its name implies, it’s a formula meant to be applied to the hair before washing it.
When it comes to a pre-poo for damaged hair, stylists swear by Redken Acidic Bonding Concentrate Intensive Treatment. Part of the Acidic Bonding Concentrate family, this reparative treatment is the first step to correcting damage inside and out and is ideal for weakened hair due to coloring, lightening, aggressive brushing, and heat styling.
Add restorative hair masks and treatments.
Getting your hair back on the road to wellness requires adding deep conditioning products to your hair care routine. Treat your strands to a deeply nourishing hair mask at least once a week, such as L'Oréal Professionnel Absolut Repair Instant Resurfacing Masque. 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.
Not a huge fan of hair masks or can’t find the time to apply one? Try Redken’s Extreme Anti-Snap Split Ends Hair Treatment, a leave-in treatment you apply to damp hair, or Kérastase’s Resistance Sérum Extentioniste Scalp & Hair Serum, a specialized strengthening scalp serum that creates visibly stronger hair from the root.
If you’re a blonde especially prone to damage, don’t forget to pick up a reviving leave-in conditioner for additional softness and shine, like Matrix Total Results Unbreak My Blonde Reviving Leave-In Treatment. The formula helps reinforce weakened bonds and revive sensitized hair.
Always use heat protectants when heat styling.
Giving up heat styling altogether is the only true way to quash heat damage, but that’s easier said than done for most of us. Arming yourself with a good heat protectant product is key if you reach for that curling iron, curling wand, or straightening iron. These formulas create a barrier between your hair and hot tools, allowing heat to enter your strands gradually and evenly, so they don’t get scorched. We recommend an option like Redken Extreme Play Safe Heat Protection and Damage Repair Hair Treatment for damaged hair since this all-in-one leave-in treatment fortifies the strength of your hair, reduces heat damage, and helps prevent split ends.
Searching for a heat protectant that will also hold your style? Look no further than Shu Uemura Art of Hair’s Netsu Design Blow Dry Cream. This all-in-one styling product defines hair while protecting it from heat styling damage up to 446 degrees Fahrenheit. Plus, one application goes a long way—all you have to do is reapply heat to reactivate the product.
Get regular trims.
As mentioned earlier, keeping up with your hair trim schedule is a secret weapon against managing hair damage—even if you’re in the process of growing out your hair. That’s because untreated split ends can travel up the hair shaft, causing strands to fray even further than if your stylist had snipped them off from the start. Not only can the resulting breakage make your haircut appear uneven, but it may also create the feeling of less hair density. Sometimes the best way to restore your hair’s look and feel after damage gets out of hand is to opt for a shorter haircut.
Consult a pro.
Interested in more expert hair advice on how to treat and prevent hair damage? When in doubt, a licensed hair professional can help you choose the best products for your hair type and advise you on maintaining gorgeous, healthy-looking hair with a customized hair care routine.
Shop Hair.com for all of our favorite products for damaged hair.