We’ve all been there: split ends, brittle strands, and a seemingly unmanageable mane. These are all telltale signs of damaged hair. “The causes of hair fiber damage often have internal causes layered with the mechanical external causes,” explains New York City trichologist Bridgette Hill, citing prescription medicine intake, diet, vitamin and mineral deficiencies, age, hormones, products, and styling habits as causes of damage. Similarly, Shab Caspara, New York City-based trichologist and founder of hair-care platform Leona, emphasizes that a poor regimen can deliver weaker, frizzier, and more brittle hair over time. “The common causes of hair damage include mechanical damage (excessive wear and tear from brushing, hair ties, extensions, and overall friction), chemical damage (overly bleached or processed hair), and thermal damage (flat and curling irons),” she details.
“Healthy hair is an oxymoron,” says Hill. “Hair is a fabric not a living cell or organ, and therefore has no true ‘health quotient.’ Hair strands are literal protein threads, once they protrude out of the hair follicle, it becomes a fine fabric.” Essentially, hair should be treated like a delicate textile. However, she explains that hair in its uncompromised, well-maintained state should have a proper balance of hydration and elasticity, body movement, and respond to the products designed for that hair fiber type and texture.
While you can’t heal a compromised hair fiber, you can take measures to prevent damage. “The goal is to first prevent further damage by adjusting the hairstyling habits that created the problem and implementing practices that promote hair health and nourishment to the hair fiber,” says Hill, continuing that the second goal is to weekly deep treatment routine consisting of nourishing ingredients like fatty acids, silk proteins, conditioning oils, and humectants. You might also schedule a check-in with your doctor to determine if any preexisting conditions are impacting your hair health.
That said, read on to discover ten steps to repair damaged hair according to our experts.
Tend to the Scalp
“Scalp is skin, it’s where good hair starts,” insists celebrity hairstylist Bridget Brager. According to Hill, it’s best to address what issues your scalp might be experiencing as a result of color and keratin treatments, extensions, excessive heat, tension, and product buildup. “First, begin with an appropriate scalp mask or oil that addresses the current needs of your scalp condition and provides cellular turnover and has anti-inflammatory properties,” she insists. “Additionally, apply a pre-shampoo oil or mask from root to ends layering over the scalp pre-shampoo treatment.”
Wash Hair With Sulfate-Free Shampoo & Conditioner
“Great rule of thumb is to never skimp on shampoo and conditioner, the thing you use the most!” says Brager, highlighting that sulfate-free products are the way to go. While those looking to promote hair growth might reach for Vegamour’s duo powered by vegan silk proteins, those experiencing increased dryness should consider these picks by Briogeo and Alterna to restore softness, shine, and moisture. Color- or chemical-treated hair, on the other hand, might benefit from Davines’ Nounou collection to revive processed strands with ease.
Use Thermal Protectants
“Thermal protectants work wonders protecting hair from thermal damage as they provide a coating that won’t allow hair to burn so easily from excessive heat,” Caspara explains, though the first rule of thumb is to air dry or power dry with your fingers to get most of the moisture out before reaching for hot tools. Brager recommends Rodan+Fields’ oil that she will not start a red carpet style without, as it not only protects the hair, but adds hydration and shine. Otherwise, look to heat protectants by Oribe, Mizani, and Pureology before drying and styling to properly shield your precious strands from the elements.
Reduce Temperature of Hot Tools
Even when using heat protectants, Brager recommends lowering the temperature of your hot tools altogether. Though Dyson’s beloved blow dryer is designed to protect hair from damage despite its fast drying times, try a lower heat setting than you normally would. You can never be too careful! Brager is a fan of T3’s Smooth ID tools that can personalize heat settings to your hair type.
Handle Wet Hair and Style With Care
“Wet hair is very fragile; handle wet hair with care,” says Brager, who urges the use of a wide-tooth comb or wet brush. Her advice is to work from the ends of the hair up and let the hair air dry as much as possible before styling. This same kind of hair is necessary when you’re blow drying. “Choose a boar bristle brush or one that has a mix of plastic and boar’s hair bristles,” says Hill. “The idea is to stay away from metal brushes, which can abrasive to hair fiber and scalps.”
Consider Bonding Treatments
Bond-building hair products have been all the rage in recent years, and for good reason. “You can improve the quality of hair after slight chemical damage using bond-building products that will rebuild the amino acid bonds that make up the keratin in hair, however, you cannot restore split ends or breakage in severely damaged hair,” details Caspara. Options by Olaplex and K18 are two of the market’s most talked about formulas, though Living Proof and Bumble and bumble promise to strengthen hair and resist future damage.
Get Regular Trims
“The only way to rectify severe thermal or chemical damage is to frequently trim off dead ends and allow for healthier hair to grow down without being affected by lingering damage,” says Caspara. Severe damage aside, Brager notes that regular trims can reduce split ends from fraying and breaking off.
Use Dry Shampoo Between Washes
Once your hair is done, you want to extend the life of your style for as long as possible. “Skip a wash day and use a clean, dry shampoo between washes to give your hair a break,” Brager says. She prefers Rodan+Fields’ dry shampoo that reduces oil, adds volume at the root, and soothes the scalp between washes through chamomile extract. Klorane’s formula is soothing too, thanks to balancing and soothing properties of oat milk.
Embrace Your Natural Texture
In an effort to maintain your style, it can be helpful to embrace your natural hair. “Style hair when it’s necessary and let your natural texture flow whenever you can. Low-maintenance hairstyles are very on trend leading us into spring and summer,” says Brager. Try a spritz of Ceremonia’s texturizing spray to achieve soft, beachy waves, or revive days-old curls with Vernon François’ Nourishing Water powered by natural botanicals, oils, and amino acids.
Protect Hair While You Sleep
Another way to extend your style? Protect it while you sleep with satin or silk pillowcases, scarves, and bonnets. “Create a signature sleep style that allows oxygen to flow through the hair to the scalp, to prevent tangling and matting in the occipital point of the head while you sleep,” explains Hill, citing twists, pin curls, large braids, or the pineapple method as excellent sleep styles.
Originally published in Vogue.com