Hair damage is a common concern amongst women and something most of us will experience at one time or another, but how can we tell if our hair is actually damaged rather than just dry? Or both? And so what, does it really matter? Read on to find out and learn more about the causes of damaged hair and what can be done about it.
I’m not really sure if my hair is damaged, how can I tell?
There are lots of tell-tale signs of hair damage, from the more obvious ones like hair knotting easily or looking dull and lifeless, to others that aren’t necessarily considered, such as premature colour fading or hair styles not lasting, quickly losing volume and hold.
You can also ‘feel’ for signs of hair damage by taking hold of a small section of hair and running your fingers down it from the roots to the tips – does it feel rough or smooth? Does the texture feel consistent? Do the very ends of the hair shed when you get to the tips? Look closely, can you see split ends? All of these are signs of hair damage.
Another test that lots of hairdressers will use to determine how healthy a client’s hair is, is the elasticity test which you can try yourself – take a single strand of hair and take hold of either end with your fingers and gently pull – healthy hair will stretch and give a little but will always return to its natural length. Damaged hair will stretch but not return to its natural length or worse, snap completely.
Some hair types are naturally dryer than others, so it may not be that your hair is damaged but it might just need some extra nourishment and hydration. Very curly hair for example can often be dry, as the natural oils produced by the scalp find it difficult to make their way down the lengths of the hair.
What could have caused the hair damage?
There are lots of contributory factors for hair damage but the most common are heat damage and chemical damage. Extreme heat from hair dryers and in particular from hair straighteners or curling tools, can overheat the hair and damage the delicate cuticles – imagine the cuticles of your hair like roof tiles or scales on a fish – they overlap each other and when lying flat have a smooth texture. When they are lifted however, which can happen with frequent exposure to high temperatures, the texture is rough, which translates to the hair feeling dry and looking dull as the ‘scales’ no longer reflect the light to the same extent.
Chemical damage from the over (or incorrect) use of hair colours or styling treatments such as perming and relaxing, can have a similar effect. Worse, when the cuticle layer is lifted, the inner cortex of the hair is exposed, meaning the structure of the hair can also be damaged, weakening the fibre and leading to breakage and split ends.
Other causes of damage include the sun, the environment and even some seemingly harmless hair styles such as pony tails – pulling them too tight or having the same pony day in, day out can strain and damage the hair follicles, which is where the root of each hair strand starts from your scalp.
Yikes! Can I do anything about it?
Yes! Don’t worry, all is not lost. There are lots of products available that can help restore lost vitality but there are also lots of things you can do to try and prevent the damage in the first place, or prevent further damage so that your hair, over time, can return to a healthier state.
Try to give your hair a break from heated styling if you can, or eke out the time between uses – often it’s the repetitive application of these processes that causes the most damage. If you’re using a hair dryer for lift, consider swapping to Velcro rollers once a week, or if you are going to be home for a while (thanks, lockdown) let your hair dry naturally every so often. Not forcing hair into an un-natural state (e.g., straight when it should be curly and vice versa) puts much less strain on the hair structure.
If you do have to use straighteners, make use of sectioning clips so you can straighten small sections at a time, rather than just repeatedly running the irons through all of your hair to achieve the same effect. And if you are a regular user of high-heat appliances, heat protection sprays are a great addition to your routine as they create a barrier between the hair and the intense heat, protecting the delicate cuticle.
It’s also a good idea to make sure the cleansing and conditioning products you are using are also designed to hydrate your hair (dehydrated hair is more prone to breakage) and help the cuticles lie flat, locking that moisture in. Our Nourishing Shampoo and Hair Mask are ideal for dry and damaged hair as they contain ingredients like hydrolysed wheat proteins that penetrate deeply into the hair fibre, to repair and restructure the keratin building block of the hair.
Also consider using a leave-in treatment such as the Anti-Ageing CC Cream that uses natural ingredients such as Baobab Extract and Sunflower Floral Water to protect the hair from heat, UV and pollution, so that hair looks and feels younger and softer.
If you colour your hair, we’ll assume you already know the benefits of using a high quality colour enriched with natural ingredients such as Naturtint (if not then click here to learn more!), but you should also think about how you use it in terms of maintaining good hair condition. Tempting as it may be just to apply the colour all over when your roots start to show, this is a bad idea as it means that the mid-lengths, and in particular the ends of your hair, will be coloured over and over again. Each colouring process opens the cuticles to deposit colour inside the hair fibre and over time if the cuticles are lifted repeatedly, they will stop lying flat. As well as damaging the cuticle and ultimately the hair structure, which will lead to breakage and lifeless hair, if the cuticle is left open the colour can leach from the hair so your colour will fade quickly and you’ll feel the need to recolour = vicious circle.