I’ve been natural four years now. And in the last four years, I’m pretty sure I’ve subjected my hair to every type of damage possible — either by myself or at the hands of a hair stylist. I’ve experiences severe tangles that take hours to comb out and heat damage at the hand of a stylists. So over the last four years, I’ve done my fair share of research on hair damage: the signs, how to treat it, and how to prevent it.
It’s important to note that it’s impossible to avoid all damage. (It’s why you need a regular trim.) Damage occurs due to usual wear and tear. Think of your hair like a sweater. If you care for it, wash it with care, wear it out on special occasions, it will show less wear. If you damage your sweater, you may be able to repair it yourself or you may need to take it to a professional. But in some cases, you need to start anew. With that said, here are the most common types of hair damage:
Heat damage is the most talked about form of damage within the natural hair community. Signs of heat damage include: a loosened curl pattern, straight pieces of hair, reduced elasticity, dryness, frizz, and ultimately splitting and breakage.
Hair is comprised of three layers: the medulla, cortex, and cuticle. When heat is used at high temperatures without appropriate protection measures, damage to the cuticle layer can occur — breaking down protein bonds.
To prevent and treat heat damage:
- Only apply heat to healthy hair. Before you color your hair, it’s recommended that you deep condition your hair for a couple of weeks so that your hair is optimal condition. Similarly, you shouldn’t apply heat to damaged hair.
- Deep conditioning and moisturizing your hair is also important because moisturized hair is easier to straighten. Thus, you will resist the urge to use higher heat settings or pass the blowdryer or flat iron more times.
- Use a heat protectant. A heat protectant provides a protective layer while heat styling. It also reduces reversion when faced with humidity. Most heat protectants include “cones” as active ingredients. It is important to note that although grapeseed oil has a high burn point, it’s not considered a heat protectant.
- Invest in a good hair dryer and flat iron (we talk about some things to look for in your heat appliances here). Protecting your hair from heat damage, begins with quality hair products. You don’t have to spend a lot of money, but it is important that your hair dryer has multiple heat settings so that you can control the heat. Also, if you have a ceramic plated iron, purchase a new iron when the plates show signs of wear. I recommend this blow dryer for highly-textured hair or this flat ceramic flat iron.
- To treat heat damage, try protein treatments or other methods such as beer rinses. If your hair does not revert, then over time trim the heat damaged hair.
Mechanical damage refers to damage that occurs due to improper handling of the hair. Improper handing include: improper detangling techniques, tension (from braids, weaves, and tight ponytails), and over-manipulation. Signs of mechanical damage, include: thinning edges, knots (caused by combing tangles down the shaft), mid-shaft splits, and excessive splitting and breakage.
To prevent and treat mechanical damage:
- Handle with care! It is important to handle your hair with care — and find a hairstylist who also handles your hair care. Don’t rush. Take your time and be patient.
- Find a detangling method that results in the least amount of mechanical damage. Some prefer dry detangling with an oil concoction. While others, prefer to solely finger detangle. My personal method is to detangle with loads of conditioner (for slip) under running water (to lengthen the curl). I first finger detangle (to remove major tangles), and then detangle (in sections) with a seamless comb. Find a method that works best for you and stick with it.
- Pay attention applied to your hair when doing hairstyles that have some form of tension. If you scalp is red and/or your bumps appear, your hair is to tight.
- If you notice mechanical damage, re-evaluate your hair practices. Deep condition your hair to protect your strands. Search and destroy damaged pieces; and get a good trim.
Normal Wear and Tear
Normal wear and tear is damage that occur from your daily routine. It can include snagging your hair on your jewelry, breakage from your winter coat, or dryness from cold air. It is impossible to avoid normal wear and tear on your hair, but there are ways to reduce and treat it:
- Wear protective styles to reduce manipulation of your hair. Just make sure there is not too much tension, and that your properly cleanse and moisturize your hair.
- To protect your hair from winter garments, use a silk scarf or use protective styles — which can include something as simple as a bun — to protect your ends.
- Deep condition your hair so that it can withstand the daily wear and tear on your hair. When you deep condition, look for products that say “masque” or “treatment”. More tips for finding the right deep conditioner for your natural hair.
- Normal wear and tear is unavoidable. Because of this, it’s important to get regular trims so that split ends don’t cause further damage. The number of trims will differ based upon your hair and your hair regimen, but you WILL need to trim your hair. Read more here on how to determine your trim schedule.
What types of damage have you experienced? Any tips?
Tell us by leaving a comment in the comments section below.