If you’re anything like us, you’re obsessed with hair. It’s fun to switch things up and experiment with flat-ironing, curling, and coloring. Unfortunately, these treatments can wreak havoc on your locks. Many of the chemicals used for perms, relaxing, bleaching, and dying strip hair down, giving it a “fried” look overtime.
Your Complete Guide to Rescuing Damaged Hair
If you’re looking to restore your hair to its former glory, the first step is to assess how damaged your hair is. There are a number of factors that can damage your hair, even a day at the pool can put your hair through the ringer between the sun exposure and chlorine. However, there is a major difference between hair that has seen years of bleaching versus hair that’s been exposed to summer’s elements. It’s not as simple as classifying hair as damaged or not damaged, since chemical treatments, nutrition, the environment, pulling and styling can all contribute to breakage.
Understanding Different Levels of Damage and Porosity
The basic structure of the hair shaft is made out of the cuticle, the cortex, and the medulla. The medulla is not always present in all hair. Thicker hair is more likely to have this layer, where fine hair sometimes does not have the medulla in the hair shaft. The medulla is composed of round, loosely bound cells containing the protein keratin. The cortex is the middle layer, which give hair its color, shape, and elasticity. The cuticle is a transparent layer that protects the inner structures from damage.
In the bottom photo, you see that there are three microscopic images of hair shafts. The one on the left has low porosity, meaning that when this hair is wet, moisture has a tough time penetrating the cuticle. However, when moisture does penetrate it stays there, keeping the cortex well moisturized. The middle photo shows a slightly raised cuticle layer; this is the most ideal since it provides sufficient room to capture and retain moisture. The photo on the right shows hair with a damaged cuticle. In this case, moisture enters easily but is difficult to retain.
Both conditions of low porosity and high porosity can make hair appear dry since moisture is what provides hydrogen bonding between the keratin fibers. This bonding is essential for the maintenance of hair strength and elasticity. Without moisture in the cortex, the hair becomes thin, frizzy, and much more prone to permanent damage and breakage. There is an entire spectrum of how damaged or how porous your hair can be, which is why we’ve broken down 5 different grades of hair health.
Grade 1: Virgin Hair, Never Colored and Heat Styling is Seldom
Your hair is virtually unprocessed. Meaning that you’ve steered clear or coloring, bleaching, and perms. You may have used a curling iron or flat iron on occasion, but you wear your hair in its natural state most days. If you have virgin hair, you’ll likely only need to dust the ends with a trim every 12 weeks to avoid split ends.
Grade 2: Mild Damage from Chemical Treatments
You have colored your hair, but you haven’t gone beyond four shades from your natural color. Chemical treatments such as coloring take a toll on hair cuticles, making them more porous and prone to breakage. At this stage you should be investing in a weekly hair mask and invest in a sulfate-free shampoo and conditioner.
Grade 3: Moderate Damage Resulting from Regular Use of Heat Styling Tools
You fuss with your hair often. Your flat iron is your best friend and you love a blowout. If your hair isn’t done, it’s usually up in a ponytail or braids. You rarely, if ever, wear your hair natural. You’re probably not a stranger to color, but steer clear of anything too extreme. Our recommendation would be to make sure you’re at the very least using a heat protectant before touching any hot tools. Avoid using too high of a heat and opt to air dry more often.
Grade 4: Long-Term Bleaching/Perming
More severe damage results from long-term bleaching. Hair appears puffy and frizzy at the ends. You’ve been lightening, relaxing, or perming your hair with chemicals for years. You notice breakage whenever you brush and you need a lot of product to tame your frizz, particularly at the ends. If you’re preparing to transition away from bleaching, we recommend asking your stylist to work layers into your hair. Since the underside of hair is usually less processed, this will expose the healthier hair underneath. Just make sure that your stylist avoids the razor technique since this makes hair more prone to splitting. Also visit your stylist every 6-8 weeks for regular trims to avoid split ends. If you have stark roots, opt for a gloss or low-lights to soften the transition back to your natural color. Jennifer Lawrence made the transition from golden blonde to light brunette with this technique a few years back when she was transitioning into her role as Katniss in The Hunger Games.
Grade 5: The chemical cut stage
This occurs when the damage from heat and chemical treatments is so problematic that breakage is constant. We call this the chemical cut stage since the long-term use of chemical treatments has your hair in such a state of mush, the only salvation is to make the big chop. After sporting a platinum lob for a few months, Katy Perry opted for a groomed pixie cut. If you’re feeling apprehensive about opting for a short style, our recommendation would be to cut off as much as you feel comfortable with. If you want to rid yourself of the damage while trying to grow it out, work in a topical solution and quality shampoo and conditioner into your routine so you can rid yourself of the damaged portion that much faster! Since damaged hair is more prone to split ends and breakage, you’ll need to start getting trims every 6-8 weeks to avoid further breakage.
Regardless of how damaged your hair is, a moisturizing shampoo and conditioner is essential to keeping hydrogen bonds strong and maintaining a healthy elasticity. To avoid breakage and frizz, make sure to get regular trims every 12 weeks for mild-moderate damage and every 6-8 weeks for severe damage. Hair masks and topical solutions will help you maintain the best hair health in between salon visits.
What are you doing to keep your hair healthy and strong? Let us know in the comments below!