Hair damage occurs for many reasons, and as anyone who has ever subjected themselves to rounds of coloring immediately followed by heat styling knows, most of them are kind of our fault. The things we do to make our hair look nice in the short term are often detrimental to our hair looking nice in the long term… and that’s something we just don’t want to think about. Instead, we’ll work on what we can do to restore health to our hair after the damage is done by avoiding these 5 common causes of breakage and dryness.
Using your blowdryer or flat iron on the regular is one of the biggest culprits of hair damage in the first place, because here’s the thing about hot tools: They’re hot. Repeated use of heat in the styling process causes the hair’s protective cuticle to break down, and over time it starts to show the telltale signs of damage, like frizz and split ends that feel “crispy.” Air-dry whenever possible, and if you must heat style, always, always use a heat protectant, like Kérastase Ciment Thermique ($41, kerastase-usa.com).
This is a case-by-case rule, but many alcohols used in the formulation of hair products zap moisture from the hair, even if the products themselves are labeled as moisturizing or nourishing. Steer very clear of products containing isopropyl alcohol, propanol alcohol, propyl alcohol, and SD alcohol-40. Cetearyl alcohol, cetyl alcohol, and stearyl alcohol, however, are considered “fatty” or oily alcohols and do actually have hydrating properties.
There’s been a lot of talk about sulfates in the past few years, as it relates to both hair color and cancer. We don’t have a lot of clarity on the latter beliefs, but we will say that sulfates can certainly be held at least partly responsible for hair dryness and color fade. Sulfates are fairly harsh detergents that strip the natural oils from your scalp and strands—and that means not only dryness and damage but also, as you can imagine, the end of the hair color you spent $300 and three hours in the salon on. Avoid shampoos that contain sulfates at all costs, which isn’t too hard containing the multitude of great sulfate-free shampoos on the market. We love R+Co Atlantis Moisturizing Shampoo ($28, randco.com).
Unless you have particularly oily hair—and if you do, you probably don’t have damaged hair, which tends to boast a drier texture—there’s no reason for you to shampoo daily. Shampooing two to three times a week with lukewarm (not hot!) water should suffice for most people to avoid washing away too much of your hair’s natural oils and moisture. It’s equally important that you shampoo properly, applying shampoo only to your scalp and roots rather than the entire hair shaft and massaging gently. For damaged hair, your mantra should be “condition, condition, condition, and then condition a little more for good measure.”
Tight braids, buns, and ponytails are all terrible for your hair and scalp, especially if your strands are already showing signs of damage. When you pull hair tightly and create tension, it creates breakage, which in turn causes split ends and damage. Wet hair sustains even more wear and tear because it’s naturally more fragile. Be kind to your hair: Avoid tugging, snags, and anything that feels like it’s creating tension and causing breakage, because if it feels that way, it probably is.