I write about a variety of topics for many different websites, but my passion is writing about natural health and wellness.
Treating Damaged Hair
Damaged hair is definitely a sign of the times. There are few modern people who have not suffered the effects of chemical dyes, bleaches, perms, heated styling appliances, harsh styling products, and under-trained stylists. Even the sun, wind, and water can have a devastating effect on the hair, turning gorgeous, flowing locks into something resembling a haystack. There have never been so many available products, devices, and techniques to enhance and decorate the hair, which was designed to keep our head warm. Because today, we use our hair primarily to express our self-image. When the mood strikes us, or we want to present a different image to the world, we change our hair, usually to the detriment of its health.
No matter the latest trend, however, shiny and healthy hair is always beautiful. This doesn't mean you have to give up styling, but you will have to avoid damaging products. Choose a design cut that compliments your features instead of destroying your hair with chemical treatments. Use mild, gentle cleansers and rinses, and get rid of the blow-dryer. Then, you'll begin to see a difference, but you'll also have to keep up the regimen, or your hair will soon return to its previous damaged state. In addition, there are numerous damaged hair treatments to help you on your journey to healthy hair.
How Hair Becomes Damaged
Hair is externally damaged in one of four different ways: heat, chemicals, over-manipulation, and any combination of these factors. In rare cases, damaged hair may be caused by internal problems such as malnutrition or stress, but in this Hub, we're going to focus on treating hair that's been damaged by elements we can control. If you're unsure why your hair is damaged, look at the hair near the scalp. If it's shiny and appears healthy when it grows in, your problems are most likely caused by an outside force.
Your hair is 97 percent protein (keratin) and consists of three different layers. The outermost layer, or cuticle, is made of cells that stack like roof shingles, reflecting light, protecting and holding moisture in the hair. When this outer layer is damaged, the hair becomes dry and brittle. The middle layer, or cortex, gives hair its elasticity and color. The core of the hair shaft, or the medulla, is found only in dark and thick hair. Fine hair and naturally blond hair does not contain a medulla. Its purpose has not yet been fully determined, but it may play a part in your hair color.
The oil secreted into the hair by the sebaceous glands is our own personalized conditioner. In times past, people washed their hair only rarely, and this natural oil remained there, coating the hair, protecting it and keeping it in excellent condition. Today, we wash our hair much too often using harsh shampoos and chemicals, but we can help restore what's been lost and protect our hair as much as possible. To start, take a closer look at your hair care routine and find ways to replace or get rid of the harmful products and techniques you use.
Dry heat damages the hair by upsetting its delicate moisture balance. Listed below are several commonly-used items that cause dry heat damage and suggestions for minimizing their harmful effects.
- Blow Dryers: One of the worst offenders, blow dryers leave the hair damaged, dry, and brittle. Allow your hair to air dry as often as possible and avoid blow-drying. When it's necessary, use on the lowest setting and keep it moving constantly. For the best results, allow a small amount of moisture to remain, which will quickly dry. This way, you can be sure you haven't caused too much damage by over-drying.
- Curling and Flat Irons: These styling tools are widely used, but cause a lot of damage to the hair shaft. Avoid them at all costs, and if you feel you must use them, do it only when necessary while using a high-quality product. A ceramic flat iron is best, though the concentration of heat on the hair is always going to cause damage over time.
Chemicals are perhaps the most responsible for today's epidemic of damaged hair. They're everywhere: in most products, and many times inescapable. Chlorine in tap water, pollutants in the air, and poor hair care products on the market all largely contribute to the problem. Listed below are several of the products we can avoid using to help keep our hair healthy.
- Hair Dye: When you dye your hair using chemicals, the cuticle is raised by the hydrogen peroxide, and the color is deposited into the middle layer of the hair, the cortex, which permanently tints the hair. Both moisture and elasticity are lost during this process because the cuticle's job is to protect the hair. When it's damaged, the entire shaft becomes damaged. The hair is left dull and dry, and this becomes worse each time the hair is dyed. Avoid hair coloring with chemical dyes completely if you want healthy hair. If you must color your hair, use natural hair dyes that don't penetrate the cuticle. They'll require touch-ups more often, but they strengthen the hair instead of destroying it. Henna, for example, lasts for 6 to 8 weeks and works with your natural hair color to create a new color unique to you.
- Bleach: Applying bleach to your hair causes devastating damage. When you bleach, the cuticle is lifted, and the natural color removed from the cortex. The protective outer layer of the hair sustains damage and can't retain moisture. The process leaves the hair dry, brittle, and lifeless. Avoid bleach, unless you want damaged hair.
- Shampoos: Most shampoos on the market are actually detergents that leave behind a residue that dulls and damages the hair. Avoid cheap supermarket shampoos and use professional products or mild, organic shampoos instead. Aloe vera shampoos are especially nourishing to the hair. If this isn't possible, opt for baby shampoo, as it's less drying to the hair. I often use plain Castille soap with a few drops of essential oil to wash my hair. It doesn't produce mounds of suds, but it cleans gently and without causing damage. Read the ingredients before purchasing shampoo and make sure it doesn't contain a lot of unnecessary or harmful ingredients.
- Styling Products: Numerous other hair styling products exist, including gels, hair sprays, conditioners, and lotions. These products are usually not good for your hair and can typically be avoided. If you feel the need to condition your hair, use apple cider vinegar or a hot oil treatment once per month. Gels and hair sprays are unnecessary (not to mention out of fashion), but if you must, use natural products that don't damage the hair.
Over-manipulation includes things like pulling in rubber bands, rolling too tightly in rollers, teasing, back-combing, brushing the hair while wet, and using the wrong type of hairbrush. All of these techniques can cause damaged hair.
- Pulling: If you wear your hair in a ponytail, don't pull it forcefully out of the hair. In fact, try to avoid using rubber bands on your hair at all, as they are notorious for breaking and damaging the hair. Use fabric-covered hair ties if you feel they're necessary. Pulling the hair in the same direction over a long period can discourage new growth and even cause traction baldness.
- Brushing When Wet: This is a fairly common mistake that can cause serious damage. Hair is extremely vulnerable when wet, and its elasticity is stretched so that it can easily be stretched beyond its normal strength. When it snaps back, the shaft has been damaged. If you can't stand waiting for your hair to dry first, use your fingers or a wide-tooth comb to go over it a few times and finish after it's dry.
- Using Synthetic Hair Brushes: A natural bristle brush is recommended because it has the ability to spread the sebum from the scalp throughout the hair. Synthetic (nylon and plastic) brushes do not accomplish this task, and they also cause breakage. With a natural bristle brush, the act of brushing conditions the hair in itself.
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Treatment Options for Damaged Hair
In addition to avoiding the products and techniques listed above, there are also several damaged hair treatments that you can apply, such as deep conditioners and various homemade conditioning packs. Try them in conjunction with making changes in your routine, and you'll soon combat previous and future damage to your hair.
Herbal Conditioning Blend
This all-purpose herbal conditioner provides nutrients and protects the hair.
- 6 parts dried rosemary
- 3 parts dried nettles
- 3 parts dried chamomile flowers
- 1 part dried lavender flowers.
- Steep ¼ of the herbal blend in three cups boiling water for about 20 minutes. I usually pour the water over the herbs and then shampoo my hair.
- When I'm done, I strain the herbs from the liquid and add a few drops of rosemary essential oil.
- Then, I pour the conditioner through my hair over the sink, pouring slowly and massaging the mixture into the hair and scalp.
- I squeeze my hair to remove any excess, then wrap in a dark-colored towel to dry. I do this every time I wash my hair—about three times per week.
NOTE: Don't rinse this mixture out of your hair and always apply when the hair is still wet. This allows the herbs to penetrate more easily.
A conditioning pack is the most effective damaged hair treatment, and for hair with severe damage, you can apply a pack once or twice per week. They put moisture and oil back into the hair. For hair that's not extremely damaged, applying once or twice per month is sufficient. Apply the packs to clean, damp hair, and for the maximum benefit, keep them warm while on the hair by wrapping the hair in plastic followed by a warm towel.
Damaged Hair Oils for Use in Conditioning Packs
In addition, when a recipe calls for oil, you can't just use run-of-the-mill vegetable oil on your hair. Use one of the following oils, as they most benefit damaged hair:
- Castor oil
- Almond oil
- Avocado oil
- Olive oil
- Sesame oil
- Sunflower oil
Damaged Hair Treatment Packs
- Hot Oil Pack: The hot oil pack applied to clean, slightly damp hair is one of the most effective dry hair treatments. It will deep-condition, moisturize, and fortify. To make, warm enough oil to coat your hair (usually around 1/8 cup for short hair, ¼ cup for medium hair and ½ cup for long hair), and then massage into the hair. If you desire, you can add a few drops of rosemary essential oil before applying, but the oil alone will still provide excellent results. To use, Cover your hair with a plastic cap, wrap in a warm towel, and allow the oil to remain for at least 45 minutes. To remove, apply a gentle shampoo directly to the hair, rinse and then shampoo again.
- Sweet Oil Conditioning Pack: This protein-rich conditioning pack will add shine, bounce, and moisture to the hair. To make, beat one egg yolk with one tablespoon oil (see options above), one teaspoon honey and one teaspoon vinegar. To use, apply to damaged hair, cover with plastic and allow to remain for 30 minutes before shampooing and rinsing.
- Avocado Conditioning Pack: Avocado is one of the best substances for damaged hair repair, as it moisturizes and provides protein. To make, mash together one ripe, peeled avocado with one teaspoon oil (see options above). To use, massage the mixture through the hair and scalp, cover with plastic and allow to remain for about an hour. Shampoo and rinse thoroughly.
- Egg and Yogurt Conditioning Pack: This gentle treatment for damaged hair utilizes ingredients you probably already have on hand. To make, beat one whole egg until its frothy, and then add ½ cup plain, whole yogurt. To use, apply to your damaged hair, leave on for 10 minutes, then rinse well with cool water. You won't need to shampoo unless you're due for it anyway.
The key to obtaining and keeping beautiful, healthy hair is getting rid of the causes of damage, particularly when they're unnecessary. Following this damaged hair treatment guide, you will see results quickly as long as you don't go back to your old habits.
How to Make an Oil Mask
This video will show you step-by-step how to make your own oil mask treatment for damaged hair using natural oils and lemon juice. It's a good recipe, but you could also substitute any of the damaged hair oils listed above if you don't have one of the required oils on hand.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2010 Willow Sidhe
Nathalie on June 15, 2017:
Please help. My hair has always been my pride and joy. I figured since it is pretty damn healthy, it could deal with some bleach damage. And I figured the master stylist who did all the color-corrections would know how much would be too much. I was wrong, and now I want to burst into tears every time I look at my hair or touch it. I just don't know what to do. my hair has also NEVER been shorter than this and it breaks and falls out. What should i do to regrow hair?
nancy on October 24, 2016:
Best I have ever used is the Karmin Spray Heat Protector =)
lilibees on December 01, 2010:
This is great I have very damaged hair especially during the winter months, and also due to the calcium in my water great hub!