Damaging your hair after working so hard to nurture it to your dream length and volume is every woman’s worst nightmare. Hair is prone to several types of damage that can occur even as we go about our daily activities.
While hair damage can never be fully avoided, preventing unnecessary damage in the first place is key to strong healthy hair. This is particularly important because once you have damaged hair, it is impossible to fully repair it.
What is Hair Damage?
With Afro-textured hair, the first thoughts that would come to mind are split ends and loss of curl patterns. But what is it really?
Hair Damage occurs at strand level. It is when the hair strand develops cracks in the outside layer (cuticle). Once the strand has gaps in the continuous protection of the cuticle layer, it just never feels right again. It becomes dry easily, is at risk for breakage, looks dull or frizzy and is generally difficult to manage.
African Hair and Damage
Due to its spiral structure, African (afro-textured) hair is generally more prone to damage than all other hair types. It is a delicate hair type that is inherently brittle, more prone to dryness, knots and tangles. It is therefore vital that African hair is cared for differently. Read more about our recommendations on how to care for Afro-textured hair here.
Types of Hair Damage
Let’s begin by defining the different types of damage that all hair is prone to. This way we will better understand what we need to do to minimize it or prevent it altogether. We can then delve deeper into things one can do to stop damaged hair from getting worse and ways you temporarily repair some forms of damage.
1. Heat Damaged Hair
Heat damage occurs when you apply excessive direct heat to your hair. Styling tools such as flat irons, curling wands and blow-dryers cause this type of damage to your hair when used incorrectly.
Signs Your Have Heat Damage
- The hair feels dry and brittle and does not retain moisture even after moisturizing. This is due to damage on the cuticle layer of your hair making it hard for the strands to prevent moisture from evaporating out of your hair strands.
- Your hair loses its curls and hangs limply when wet. This is the most outright indicator of heat damage.
- Hair looks dull and frizzy. If you notice your hair looks dull and lifeless. Excessive use of heat tools can cause the hair to lose shine and lustre.
- You suffer from split ends more frequently. Heat styling wet hair can cause cracks in the hair strand, these are what are referred to as split ends.
How to Repair Heat Damaged Hair
Cut the damaged ends off as quickly as possible. You can choose to either transition (trimming off only the most damaged ends in multiple sessions until all the damage has been removed) or big chop (cut off all the damage in one session).
To temporarily revive heat damaged hair especially if it feels dry and brittle, deep conditioning your hair regularly. Use treatments with protein in them as they create a protective layer over your cuticle to temporarily protect the inner layers.
You should also avoid using heating tools while your hair has ‘active’ heat damage.
2. Chemically Damaged Hair
This type of damage occurs when using dyes, relaxers, texturizers and bleach on your hair.
The science behind chemical damage is that the hair is covered by an outer layer called the cuticle. Chemicals wear down this cuticle layer exposing the inner layers of the hair. This itself is damage.
Relaxers and texturizers work by permanently breaking down the protein bonds that are responsible for giving your hair it’s natural shape/curl pattern. Thereby allowing you to restructure your hair into a different shape/curl pattern.
Dyes and bleaches, on the other hand, work by penetrating deep into the hair cortex to change its colour.
The signs of chemical damage are similar to those of heat damage.
How to Fix or Prevent Chemical Damage on your Hair
You must cut off severely damaged ends immediately to avoid giving the damage time to travel up the hair shaft. Again, you can choose to either transition or big chop.
You should also switch up your hair care routine by increasing the time between your re-touches to give your hair time to recover. You can also opt for semi-permanent hair colour which does not cause as much damage to the hair. or opt for natural dyes such as henna which add a hue and strengthen the hair too.
Make sure to have all your chemical treatments done by trained professionals. It is after all better to have your hair done right the first time than to risk the damage and have it repeated which only increases the risk of damage or causes actual damage.
Use products specifically suited to your chemical treatment e.g. neutralizing shampoos for relaxers and texturizers or colour safe shampoos and moisturizing conditioners if your hair is coloured.
Regular protein treatments are a must if you choose to alter your hair chemically. Make sure you incorporate protein into your hair routine to keep your hair healthy. Protein treatments act as band-aids by depositing protein/ a temporary cuticle layer on the areas of the shaft that has been damaged.
3. Damage from Wear and Tear
This type of damage happens because of our everyday activities. It is hard to avoid but can often be minimized.
The first type is weather-related. Let’s face it, the weather affects our hair. When seasons change, you are very likely to also feel a change in your hair. Hot seasons tend to dry hair out while cold seasons tend to dry out your scalp. Think about it, if the sun can cause sunburns on the skin, what is it doing to your hair?
Wash days, detangling sessions and styling also lead to wear and tear because of the manipulation. This paired together with our hair rubbing against our clothes or on the beddings while we sleep or when it is not in a protective style or wrapped up in a satin leads to some damage.
Signs Your Hair Has Wear and Tear Damage
- Your hair is difficult to detangle
- Your hairstyles don’t come out quite the same
- The ends feel brittle, dry and rough
- Your hair looks dull and frizzy
- There are a lot of single strand knots and split ends
- The ends of your hair strands don’t coil up like the rest of your hair
How to Prevent and Repair Hair Damage from Wear and Tear
Use gentle cleansers. These will not be as harsh on your hair.
Ensure you use moisturizing products especially when you have afro-textured hair. Moisturizing conditioners and deep conditioners infuse your hair with the moisture it needs to keep it soft and manageable.
Use protein treatments regularly. You can do this once every three to four weeks to strengthen and repair any cracks in your hair’s cuticle layer. Make sure not to overdo it though as there is such a thing as too much protein in your hair. You can tell that your hair has too much protein in it when it starts to feel stiff and brittle.
Use wide-toothed combs when detangling your hair. Or better yet finger detangle your hair first before using a comb to avoid snagging off the tangles. Make sure to use products with enough slip to allow for easy detangling sessions. Finally, never detangle your hair while it is dry.
Trim your hair regularly. If trimming seems a little too much, consider dusting it instead. Trimming helps to get rid of those dead ends and give your hair bounce. It also makes the hair easier to manage.
Moisturize and seal your hair properly. Make sure to pay special attention to your ends, sealing them by applying a small amount of oil or butter like shea or cocoa butter to leave them looking and feeling soft and smooth and to prevent single strand knots.
The best way to deal with damage is to prevent it altogether. However, we recognize that this is nearly impossible. When you do find yourself in this unfortunate predicament, the above tips should help you make the right steps towards healthier, happier hair.