Heat Damaged Hair: Causes, treatments, and prevention
What is heat damaged hair?
Hairstyling includes the use of many hot tools, from blow dryers to flat irons and curling irons. While these tools can help you achieve your perfect look, they can also lead to heat-damaged hair. According to Phys.org, researchers have found that flat irons and curling irons can damage 85% of your hair’s keratin proteins, causing it to become brittle and dry.
Damaged hair happens when the hair cuticle breaks down. The cuticle protects from mechanical and chemical damage, keeps hair shiny, and serves as the shield for the cortex. The cortex gives your hair strength, elasticity, and color. When there's a break in the shield, it allows for damage to occur.
What causes heat damaged hair?
A survey conducted by InStyle found that frizz is the most common hair complaint (63%). The top eight complaints also included breakage or split ends (60%) and dryness (55%).
Hair that looks frizzy and dull and snaps off easily has been damaged, and the biggest culprit is often heat.
Each strand of hair is made up of three bonds: fats and oils (4%) that act as a glue to help hold the structure together and make it water repellent, water (17%), and protein (79%) that gives hair its shape and structure. When you style your hair with heat, you “wake up” these bonds and they stretch, tense, and reform.
Flat irons and curling irons are made to reach temperatures of up to 450°F. Many of us may assume that hotter is better for achieving our desired look, but using these tools at high heat settings can damage the hair cuticle.
Using hot tools on unwashed hair can cause further problems for hair damaged by heat because certain styling products like texture sprays and dry shampoos contain ingredients that are not meant to be heated. When you use your curling iron or flat iron over these products, it causes hair to break down even more.
Coloring your hair too often and bleaching can cause damage and can also exacerbate heat damage. Color treatments aggressively break the bonds in your hair’s cortex and cuticle, which affects the strength and stability of your hair. Adding heat can further weaken your hair’s structure.
Signs of damaged hair
What does damaged hair look like? According to Prose, when a healthy strand of hair is examined a under a microscope, it appears regular and smooth as one complete piece, thanks to an intact cuticle. A damaged strand of hair under a microscope has a broken cuticle, which appears as irregular and open with small breaks throughout.
Even without the microscope, the signs of damaged hair are obvious, so you'll know right away if this is what you're experiencing. Whether you have heat damaged curly hair or damaged hair that's straight, these are some of the tell-tale signs:
Damaged hair doesn't lay flat, making it easy for it to become knotted and tangled, which can lead to more breakage and damage.
Damaged hair becomes dry and brittle. It becomes susceptible to split ends and loses its elasticity, making it more suspectable to snapping and breaking.
Lack of shine
A healthy hair cuticle is what gives your hair shine. When hair cuticles are damaged it causes your hair to appear dull and matte rather than lush and shiny.
An excess of frizz and flyaways happen when you have split ends and your hair has broken because the texture of your hair changes when it's damaged.
Can damaged hair be repaired?
There isn't a quick and easy “fix” for damaged hair. Once your hair becomes damaged by heat, it's irreversible, but there are ways to minimize the symptoms, such as masks, creams, oils, and conditioners. One solution is to get a haircut that removes the damaged parts of your hair. You may have to cut off quite a bit, depending on how extensive the damage is to your hair. Most damage appears at the ends of strands, but left untreated, issues like split ends can move further up the hair shaft, meaning you'll need to cut off more inches.
If you're not ready to make a dramatic hair change, there are damaged hair treatments you can try:
- Apply a weekly deep conditioning mask to your hair for at least 20 to 30 minutes helps to moisturize and create smoothness by sealing the hair cuticles.
- Allow hair to air dry naturally gives your tresses a break from hot tools. This can be an adjustment if you're used to blow drying and straightening or curling your hair often, but damaged hair from heat requires a break from such treatments.
- Invest in quality products for your hair, including shampoo and conditioner made for your specific hair type, a leave-in treatment, hair oils like argan or marula oil, and a heat protectant product.
- Instead of brushing your wet hair, use a wide-tooth comb. This is glide through your hair easier and is gentler for getting out any knots.
- Schedule regular trims. While it may seem counterintuitive to cut your hair frequently if you're trying to grow it out, it's important for the health of your hair to remove any split ends on a regular basis. This ensures that the splits don't travel up the hair shaft and do even more damage.
- Try not to color your hair. Hair color is a chemical process that can cause damaged hair. Allowing your hair to go longer between coloring sessions gives the treatment products time to work. When you do color your hair, apply the dye to the roots only.
How to prevent heat damaged hair
The best way to deal with heat-damaged hair is to prevent it. Instead of dialing up your curling iron or flat iron to the highest degree, try a temperature in the range of 200°F to 300°F. The lower end of that range is recommended for thinner, finer hair, while thicker, coarser, or curlier hair can handle the higher end closer to 300°F.
Consider switching to shampoos and conditioners that are gentler on your hair but avoid over-washing. Washing your hair too frequently can dry out your tresses. Allowing some of the natural oil to build up provides a layer of protection for your hair.
Follow up your shower routine with a haircare routine that includes a hydrating oil and heat protectant if you plan to use hot tools. Using a weekly hair mask can also help keep your hair moisturized and healthy. Investing in quality machines that offer Intelligent heat control technology allows you to style your hair the way you like without needing high temperatures to achieve the desired look.
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