Before throwing in the towel and chopping it all off (even though that’s an option, too), learn what could be causing the hair damage, and try a regimen revamp to help get things back on the healthy track. Here’s your ultimate guide on how to repair damaged hair.
What Causes Damaged Hair?
There are a few reasons why hair gets damaged. Some damage is a result of styling practices, and other factors like sun exposure and the general drying out that curls are prone to can also contribute. To fully understand these causes and how to fix damaged hair, get to know what damage looks like. Hair that shows signs of breakage, significant shedding beyond your normal fall out cycle (hair is supposed to shed!), or if your scalp and actual hair are drier than usual, are all things to look out for.
Back to what causes damaged hair, one of the more common causes of damage is missteps in everyday hair handling. This includes things like not detangling properly, using styling products with drying ingredients like alcohol and sulfates, excess heat styling, and sleeping on rough fabrics that cause friction and lead to breakage. Others that are a bit more out of your control can be environmental contributors like dry indoor air and chlorine and salt water while swimming.
If not done properly, coloring hair can also cause significant damage, especially if there’s any lifting or bleaching involved. It’s a really delicate process that should be left to a professional. Heat styling is another common damage factor. Hair can only withstand a certain level of heat, after which it can literally melt. Heating hair up too often can also compromise it—even if you’re using a low heat setting. Applying heat to hair is actually a helpful indicator of the health of your hair. If you’re finding that your hair is having a hard time holding a curl or if it won’t smooth out with one or two passes of your flat iron, it may be damaged.
Can Damaged Hair Be Repaired?
Whether hair repair is possible depends on the level of damage. In some cases, the cuticle is broken and unable to function at full capacity. Strands that are split are also irreparable, hence why regular trims are needed to clip ends. Sure, it makes hair look healthier on the outside, but it actually helps prevent future damage, as well. In addition to the ends, the actual hair follicle can be damaged. This can result from prolonged tugging, harsh brushing, and other factors that could eventually cause hair loss and thinning.
How To Treat Damaged Hair
The primary fix for damaged hair is moisture. However, hair also needs a major rebalance of moisture and protein once it’s been compromised. It may sound like a no-brainer, but the sooner you get a jump on repairing your hair, the more likely it is you’ll restore it to good health. It may take some time before you see significant improvements, but try these tips on how to repair damaged hair and practice a bit of patience.
1. Start with the right shampoo. By not using a repairing sulfate-free shampoo you run the risk of further drying out your hair at the wash phase. Wet hair is extra fragile and a target for breakage and more damage, so avoid being too rough when you shampoo. This means steering clear of brushes and fine-tooth combs that can snag frayed and fragile strands. Instead, use your hands to gently work a repairing shampoo like the Monoi Repairing Sulfate Free Shampoo through your hair. Pro tip: Be sure to massage hair as you rinse to ensure that all of the cleanser is out.
2. Apply a repairing conditioner. Here’s where you’re really going to start the hair repair process. Find a repairing conditioner for your texture. Keep in mind that you’ll be layering in the moisture over the next few steps, so if your hair is more wavy and fine, a lighter weight formula like Monoi Ora Lightweight Conditioner is ideal. Thicker hair in the 4A to 4C range typically can go with a heavier, oil-based conditioner like Goddess Strength Fortifying Conditioner with Castor Oil. You want a moisturizer that’s going to deposit moisture within the hair shaft and not just sit on top.
3. Use hair treatments. Deep conditioning may be an extra step in your routine, but damaged hair will need it. Whether it’s a protein treatment, a repairing hair mask, or a more intensive moisturizing conditioner like the Almond Milk Restoring Conditioner, treat your hair to some serious moisture and protein replenishment once a week until you start noticing a change. Try a protein treatment, particularly if you color-treat, relax, texturize, or use high heat with any bit of regularity. Hair is made of protein that’s often lost when hair is damaged, so this step will help reconstruct and strengthen hair from within. On the outside, you’ll notice less shedding and breakage.
Once your hair starts to feel and look like it’s back to normal, you can cut your hair treatments to once per month. For an even greater impact, add heat. You can do this by applying your treatment and then sitting under a hair dryer, using a heat cap, or hair steamer. The heat may seem counterintuitive, especially if you’re trying to reverse heat damage, but it will really help moisture to better penetrate the cuticle.
4. Don’t forget a leave-in. The next step with hydration is layering on a leave-in conditioner. This is easy to forget to do, but it’s essentially the primer before you start styling. What’s even better is to apply a leave-in like Monoi (Repair + Protect) Multi Styling Milk that has heat protecting ingredients. Not only will you be getting moisture, but you’ll also be prepping your hair in case you decide to blow dry or flat iron it later.
5. Avoid heat styling. If you can, try to give your hair a break. Aside from your wash day routine, try to minimize how much handling your hair goes through. The friction alone from styling is enough to unsettle smooth cuticles. Heat does the same thing, and if used on too high of a setting, it can cause serious damage.
If you must, when heat styling, stick to temperatures below 400-degrees. You may think that the more coarse your hair, the higher the heat needs to be, but this actually isn’t true. If you’re blow drying, start on a medium setting. If you feel like it’s taking forever to dry, you can always go up to a higher setting. The same goes for flat irons and curling irons. Test it out by starting in the high 300-degree range. If it’s not working, slowly inch up in five-degree intervals.
Always prime hair with a heat protectant, like the Pracaxi Nectar Straight Blow Dry Cream, before blow drying and flat ironing. Also, keep in mind that if you’re touching up your hair with heat at any point after your initial styling session, you need to reapply a heat protecting product.
6. Consider a cut. There is a chance that the level of damage is too severe for even the best moisturizing treatments. In this case, you’ll need to start fresh. Think of it like a plant with a leaf that has turned brown. Sometimes, but not always, pruning that part of the plant off can save the whole thing from going down. In the case of hair, cutting off the damaged ends will help keep strands from splitting even further.
Does Healthy Eating Help Damaged Hair?
There’s both a direct and indirect correlation here. Diet definitely plays a factor in the health of the hair, in the same way that it can affect the skin. Think about what happens to your skin when you’re dehydrated. Skin feels dry, flaky, itchy. The scalp is an extension of the face, and hair grows from it; so if the scalp isn’t in good shape, chances are the hair growing from it won’t be either. While it’s a lot harder to repair damage through diet, it’s not totally out of the question. Considering that hair thrives on moisture, keeping the body hydrated both through healthy eating and drinking lots of water is probably the biggest health benefit you can do for your hair.
In addition to proper hair care, rework how you style. Here’s Your Guide to Protective Hairstyles for Natural Hair.