Hair breakage has many different causes. Healthy hair depends on an inner cuticle with overlapping scales that keep your strands together. When these scales fall apart, your hair can get dry and eventually separate, leading to damage. This causes breakage, along with other symptoms, such as frizz and dryness.
Learn more about some of the most common causes of hair breakage and what you can do about them.
There’s actually a lot to the old saying “you are what you eat,” especially when it comes to hair health. Certain nutrients help your hair grow and stave off breakage from damage. Make sure you’re getting enough zinc, iron, and folic acid in your daily diet. Adequate protein and antioxidants (found in plant foods) can also keep your hair damage-free.
There’s a multitude of evidence showing links between stress and hair loss, but it’s also known that stress can lead to hair breakage. Telogen effluvium is the type of stress most likely linked to hair damage. This type of stress makes your follicles go dormant, so hair that’s in the middle of a growth cycle may break off. You might notice old hair fall out, too. Managing your stress may result in healthier hair.
Unusually dry hair is one of the precursors to damage and breakage. It’s also caused by a variety of factors, including dry weather, low humidity, and too much heat. Be sure you use warm and not hot water when you wash your hair — the latter leads to further drying.
If your ends are dry, consider concentrating shampoo on your scalp only. Skipping conditioner is also a no-no. If you’re pressed for time, spritz on a leave-in conditioner before combing wet hair.
To get the best results from your hair dryer, flat iron, or curling iron, you need high heat. However, when you use these tools incorrectly or too much, you risk damaging the cuticle from extreme temperatures.
One way to prevent overall heat damage is to give your strands a break from all styling tools at least once a week. To reduce the actual heat damage from your styling tools, select ceramic versions — these heat up more evenly so you don’t have to keep using them on the same sections of hair repeatedly. It’s also important to protect your hair before you apply the heat.
Perms, relaxers, professional straightening, and coloring can all make your hair seem like it’s healthier after the first session or two. But if you do these services too often, the cuticle can break down and cause hair damage.
The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) recommends extending the time between your sessions to 8–10 weeks, if possible. In the meantime, try a hair mask to extend your results, such as this color-protecting mask.
If you have oily skin, you’re also more likely to have excess sebum (natural oil) production in your scalp. This can lead to the temptation to wash your hair more often than you need to.
While daily washes are fine if you have oily hair, you shouldn’t wash your hair multiple times per day. On the flipside, extremely dry hair may only need weekly shampooing, according to the Nemours Foundation. Also, be sure you shampoo gently at the scalp and apply conditioner smoothly from your ends to your roots. If you need extra oil reduction during the day, try out Living Proof’s Perfect Hair Day Dry Shampoo.
Improper towel drying
When you step out of the shower, it’s a natural response to rub a towel on your skin and hair. However, this rubbing motion actually damages your hair when it’s most vulnerable (after being wet). Instead of rubbing water out of your hair, blot an absorbent towel around your hair instead. You can also leave a towel in your hair as a temporary measure to absorb excess water.
Elastic hair ties
Elastic hair ties are must-haves for keeping your hair out of your face while working out. And, let’s face it, they can come in handy on bad hair days or when you’re in a hurry.
The problem with hair ties is they pull on your scalp and hair cuticle. You may even notice some hair falls out every time you undo your ponytail. You can fix this by wearing your hair down once in a while, or by making your up-do a bit looser so it doesn’t pull on your hair so much. Also make sure you’re wearing real hair ties, and not just rubber bands that can damage your hair.
Incorrect brushing and combing
You may have heard that brushing your hair 100 strokes a day is good for your hair, but the AAD says that’s simply a myth. They recommend that you instead only brush and comb when styling your hair. Make sure you used wide-tooth combs to prevent breakage. You should also only use a brush for when your hair is dry, and avoid using plastic bristles. Try a brush with natural bristles instead.
Lack of hair trims
It may seem like cutting your hair can damage it. Ironically though, hair trims help keep your hair healthy and free of split ends. You can think of a hair trim like you would exfoliation for skin — in both instances, you need to remove some of the old cells to help new ones grow. When you have split ends, these splits in the cuticle can travel up the rest of the length of your hair and lead to breakage.
See your stylist at least every eight weeks. Even if you’re growing out your hair, trimming damaged ends can prevent further breakage.
Hypothyroidism (low thyroid disorder) occurs when your thyroid gland doesn’t produce enough thyroid hormones. Although the thyroid itself is small in size, it plays a large role in keeping your body functioning. This includes your metabolism, heart rate, and even your hair growth.
People with low thyroid might notice excessive hair damage and loss, especially in the shower or after brushing. If you have dry, damaged hair combined with low energy, sudden weight gain, and depression, see your healthcare provider for a thyroid check. Learn more about the effects of hypothyroidism on the body.
If you or a loved one has an unhealthy relationship with food, hair damage is a possible symptom. This is especially true of eating disorders that cause malnourishment, such as anorexia and bulimia nervosa. In such cases, hair follicles don’t have the nutrients they need to produce new hair and the process is terminated altogether. You may even notice new hairs that break off in the middle of the growing cycle.
Eating disorders can lead to even more serious consequences and require medical treatment. Reading personal stories of those who have overcome eating disorders may help inspire you or your loved one to seek treatment.
Tips for Healthy Hair
To prevent future hair breakage, consider the following must-do hair care tips:
- Wash and condition your hair daily, but gently.
- Use a swimmer’s shampoo and conditioner set after going to a pool.
- Try to let your hair air dry when possible.
- Make sure all weaves and extensions are light so they don’t pull on the scalp.
- Consider a new hair style that requires less damaging maintenance on your part.
- Eat a balanced diet to make sure your hair gets all the nutrients it needs.
- Avoid wearing tight hats for fashion — save these for sun protection only.
Hair breakage can be frustrating. The good news is that most underlying causes may be corrected with lifestyle changes. If you still experience hair breakage after making changes to your diet and hair routine, it may be time to see a healthcare professional to rule out any underlying medical issues.