If you've experienced a bad hair day with frizz and fly-aways that just won't give up, you know what a hassle and frustration styling before work, running errands or going out on the town can be. For many, bad hair days happen infrequently, and the problems that cause them like humidity or going to sleep with wet hair are temporary. Damaged hair, however, can make every day a bad hair day, causing problems every time you pick up a brush to get ready to go out.
Understanding the structure of a strand of hair makes it easier to understand what leads to the frizz and fly-aways that make damaged hair so difficult to manage. The hair consists of two or three basic layers. The thickest hairs have a medulla or inner core that gives the hair stability. Found in all hairs, the next layer is the cortex, the center for a hair's strength and the location of the pigments that give it color. On the outside of the hair is the cuticle, a thin protective coating.
All three layers of a hair strand are composed of keratin protein molecules along with other elements. When your hair emerges from the follicle, the tissue is already dead, meaning that the cells cannot produce more keratin. Hair becomes damaged when something breaks the keratin molecules in the cuticle, exposing the cortex of the hair. This gives hair strands an uneven texture that causes them to become frizzy. When the hair absorbs moisture, the holes in the cuticle cause the cortex to swell unevenly, which gives rise to unmanageable fly-aways.
A number of things can affect the cuticle and lead to damage and breakage. Some common culprits include:
- Chemical treatments like perms, straighteners and hair coloring can all affect the protein structure of the hair, particularly if they are not performed properly or repeated too often.
- Heat from blow dryers, flat irons, curling irons and hot rollers can actually burn the hair strand, damaging the cuticle.
- Excessive dryness makes the hair brittle and less pliant, causing imperfections in the cuticle to form.
- Sunlight's ultraviolet rays can cause cellular damage, destroying protein cells.
- Chlorine from swimming pools may cause damage if you swim frequently.
- Styling damage from putting your hair in ponytails and up-dos and from brushing and drying too aggressively can result in the damage of keratin protein cells in the cuticle.
If your hair is damaged and difficult to work with, there are steps that you can take to help improve its texture and manageability. Among the options available are home remedies, salon and spa treatments and hair care products.
To treat damaged hair at home, you'll need to prepare a hair mask using ingredients that can replace the lost protein in the cuticle. One mask combines honey with egg whites to strengthen the hair strands. To create the mask, mix one tablespoon of water and the whites of two eggs in a bowl. Mix well with a whisk until the solution is slightly frothy. Then, add one tablespoon of honey and mix until blended. Rinse your hair with warm water and then apply the mask. Let it rest in place for up to 30 minutes. Then, rinse with cold water. Repeat the mask weekly until the damage improves.
If your hair is very dry, you can also apply coconut oil to help soften and moisturize the strands. Thin the oil with a splash of water and then massage it through your hair. Apply a shower cap or wrap your head in plastic and let the oil remain in place over night. In the morning, rinse with cold water and then shampoo and condition as usual.
Some salons and spas offer protein treatments to help ease damage caused by a variety of factors. These treatments involve applying a solution to your hair and leaving it in place for an extended period of time. Then, your hairstylist will rinse away the treatment, just like you would a hair mask at home. A deep conditioning treatment is a good follow-up to help keep your hair supple and more resilient to damaging elements.
If your hair is extremely damaged and other treatments just aren't making a difference, you may want to simply cut your hair to a short length to remove as much of the damage as possible. Talk to your stylist about what shorter haircuts would suit your face and look online and in magazines to find inspiration to get a healthy, more manageable style that you'll love.
Hair Care Products
Damaged hair needs special care, making it important that you select a shampoo that is formulated especially for problem hair. These shampoos frequently contain protein-rich ingredients as well as emollients to help smooth and soften the hair strands. Always follow up with a conditioner for damaged hair to get the best results.
Many top hair care brands offer special treatments for damaged hair. Among them are rinse-away hair masks that produce results in as little as 10 to 15 minutes and those that are designed to be worn overnight. You'll also find leave-in, no-rinse conditioners designed to repair damage. Typically, masks and leave-in treatments are intended for use one to three times per week to complement damaged hair shampoos and conditioners.
To prevent damage from occurring or worsening, there are a number of easy steps that you can take.
- Only have a professional, licensed stylist perform chemical treatments on your hair.
- Follow your stylist's recommendations for the frequency of chemical treatments.
- Visit your stylist every 4 to 6 weeks and have at least .25 inches trimmed from the ends of your hair.
- Before blow-drying or using hot styling tools, apply a thermal barrier spray to your hair. This will minimize the risk of burning.
- Never blow-dry your hair until it is completely dry. Stop while it's still wet.
- Don't use hot styling tools every day and let your hair air dry at least once per week to minimize your hair's exposure to heat.
- Spray on a leave-in conditioner with a sunscreen to protect your hair from sun damage when you'll be exposing your hair to the sun for hours on end.
- Rinse your hair with spring water before you swim and then rinse it as soon as possible afterwards to minimize the effects of chlorine.
- Only use a wide-tooth comb on wet hair, never a brush.
- If your hair has become damaged in the past, don't twist it up in a towel when you get out of the shower. Pat it dry with an ultra-absorbent towel instead.