Raise your hand if you love hair breakage. Huh, that’s weird, I don’t think a single person in the world wants anything to do with that. There is nothing cute about dry, brittle strands that flake and break off. It makes having a good hair day that much harder — and life is already pretty hard as it is. But even though breakage sucks, the good news is that you don’t have to live with it. I talked to a few experts to dish on why hair breaks and what you can do to stop it.
1. Lack of Moisture
Without optimal hydration, hair is much more prone to breakage, so you want to ensure you’re giving your strands the love they deserve. According to Suave Professionals celebrity stylist Jenny Cho, your hair routine should start with the right shampoo and conditioner that provide ample moisture. “I’m loving the Suave Professionals Avocado and Olive Oil Smoothing Shampoo and Conditioner because they have two ingredients that not only hydrate but also add a lot of shine,” she explains.
Something else you should take into account is whether you’re subjecting your hair to hard water, which contains chlorine and heavy metals that are harmful to your hair. Hairstylist and founder of Orlando Pita Play, Orlando Pita explains that it can lead to cuticle damage and high porosity, subsequently weakening hair and resulting in breakage. Investing in a showerhead filter is a simple way to combat this issue because they’re designed to filter out the harsh minerals, leaving hair stronger and looking more lustrous.
2. Too Much Heat Styling
It’s no secret that heat styling makes your hair weaker and more prone to breakage over time. And as you might imagine, it’s even worse if you don’t use any heat protection. If you heat style every day, try switching things up and only using hot tools once or twice a week. Trust me: It could seriously save your strands. What’s more, applying some sort of heat protectant (Cho swears by the Shu Uemura Blow Dry Beautifer BB Serum) is crucial for preventing breakage when you do cave and use your hot tools.
Repeat after us and your hair will thank you: I will not overexpose my hair to the flatiron. Read the manufacturer’s instructions when you’re using one, and don’t exceed the maximum suggested time on your hair (typically about five seconds). Using a flatiron only once a week and only using those with ceramic plates can also help protect your hair.
3. Blow-Drying Dripping-Wet Hair
When you do blow-dry, it’s best to let your hair air-dry for a bit first. “Your hair will be much better off if you start blow-drying when it isn’t dripping wet,” says Boston dermatologist Ranella Hirsch. Blot (don’t rub) wet hair with a microfiber towel, which is less damaging than the classic terry-cloth turban. If you’re using other heat-styling tools, make sure, again, to use a heat protectant.
An added note on blow-drying: Stretching your hair with a brush while you incinerate it with a blow-dryer is not great for your hair’s health. A good blow-dryer “dries so quickly that there really isn’t time for the hair to overheat,” says hairstylist Garren of the Garren New York salon, who recommends an ionic dryer with at least 2,000 watts of power. Ditch the big, round brush for one with smooth, synthetic bristles. Also, when you’re blow-drying, don’t yank too hard on the hair and don’t let the dryer’s nozzle get too close. “Two inches would be acceptable,” says New Orleans dermatologist Mary P. Lupo.
4. Chemical Exposure
Anyone who colors their hair on the regular understands what a struggle it can be to keep it healthy and strong, as the constant overprocessing contributes directly to breakage. Cho explains that some people with severe damage may even need to make a major change (i.e. a dramatic chop) so that the hair has a fresh start and a chance to grow back in its virgin state. You can also try salon-grade treatments such as Olaplex 3 to help rebuild the broken bonds
Fans of chemical straightening, in particular, should consider switching to a keratin treatment, which adds a smooth coating to each strand, but doesn’t mess with the cortex. (Liquid Keratin 30 Day Straight is a good at-home version.) Just steer clear of anything called “Brazilian straightening” — the treatment may contain dangerous levels of formaldehyde.
5. Sleeping on a Cotton Pillowcase
Believe it or not, your beloved cotton pillowcase could be causing your hair to break off more than usual because it creates friction between the hair and the fabric while you sleep. Instead, invest in a satin or silk pillowcase, which cuts down on the snagging while you snooze. All of these pillowcases are specifically designed with hair (and skin) health in mind.
6. Towel Drying
While it might feel like the instinctual thing to do post-shower sesh, tying your hair up in a towel can actually lead to major tangling and breakage issues. Ain’t nobody got time for that. Instead, swap out your towel for an old, soft T-shirt or a paper towel, both of which are absorbent and also way easier on your hair.
This one goes hand-in-hand with the moisture factor. The more you cleanse your hair, the more it’s stripped of the natural oils it needs to stay in tip-top shape. Hairstylists recommend shampooing only three times a week (depending on your hair type, of course). Justin Anderson, celebrity colorist and creative director of dpHUE, recommends his line’s Apple Cider Vinegar Hair Rinse, which acts as a shampoo and conditioner substitute and is actually formulated with strand-strengthening proteins.
If, however, you have fine and/or oily hair that needs to be washed more frequently, you can still shampoo — just be careful. “Thoroughly drench your hair with water before you lather up,” says Lupo. “Then concentrate on the hair two inches closest to the scalp, since that’s where sebum collects. And rinse really, really well under the coldest water you can stand.” Bonus: Cold water will smooth the cuticle so frayed ends are less obvious.
Stock your shower with products that have the words “anti-breakage,” “strengthening,” or “renewal” on the label to thicken hair and seal split ends. We like L’Oréal Professionnel Force Vector Reinforcing Anti-Breakage Shampoo and Conditioner.
8. Skipping Regular Haircuts
If you avoid cutting your split ends, eventually they might just break off. Make sure to keep regular haircuts on your calendar for healthier hair.
9. Forgetting to Deep Condition
If you have the time and money to hit the salon every four weeks, great. Everyone else? Just get a good deep conditioner. “The ingredients aren’t that different from those in your daily conditioner, but they’re much more concentrated and they leave behind a smoothing film that won’t wash off for days,” explains cosmetic chemist Joseph Cincotta.
Hairstylist Mark Townsend of the Sally Hershberger salon in New York City recommends using a deep conditioner overnight once a week if the damage is severe — just make sure you place a towel over your pillow. We like Infusium 23 Repair & Renew Leave-in Treatment, Nexxus Emergencée Strengthening Polymeric Reconstructor, and for fine hair, Kérastase Masquintense for Fine Hair.
10. An Unbalanced Diet
Your hair needs protein to stay strong. Protein can repair weak spots in the hair shaft, warding off breakage. But be forewarned: Too much protein can make the hair brittle, and too much moisture makes strands too flexible. It’s important to find the right balance.
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