Hair breakage is a break anywhere along the length of a strand. The health of your hair largely depends on your cuticle, which is hair’s outermost layer. The cuticle consists of transparent scales that overlap each other, resembling roof tiles or fish scales. It acts as a protective barrier, staving off damage to your strand’s inner layers and holding them together. Any factor that damages these scales will lift open your hair cuticle and cause it to break.
Hair breakage causes and fixes
Overusing heat styling tools
While hair stylists have turned up the heat for 2022, using heat styling tools too much or in the wrong way ruins your hair cuticle. Curling irons, blow dryers, and hair straighteners undermine your hair’s structure, causing it to split easily.
Quick fix: One tip, as recommended by the American Academy of Dermatology, is to limit the use of these appliances to once per week or less. Curtailing thermal devices helps restore your strands and gives them a break needed to repair from heat damage.
Using thermal hair tools incorrectly
Not only does how frequently you style your hair matter, but how you use your hair styling tools also packs quite a punch.
Blow drying your hair at higher temperatures, from a closer distance, and without any protection — does more harm than good.
- Keep your dryer at about 15 cm (six inches) from your hair.
- Constantly move your hand around instead of focusing all heat on one area. A 2011 study revealed that blow-drying your strands this way is safer than letting them air dry.
- Use the lowest heat setting.
- When using a curling or flat iron, limit the time your hair stays in contact with these tools.
- Before applying heat to your tresses, don’t forget to spray a heat protectant. A thermal protectant works by locking in moisture in your hair and forming a protective barrier, minimizing heat-induced hair damage and breakage.
Don’t skip a thermal protectant
As listed above, if you constantly skip your heat protectant, you risk frying your hair, eventually rendering it more susceptible to injury and cracking.
Quick fix: Spritz a good-quality heat protectant spray from root to tip prior to styling to keep thermal damage and breakage at bay.
Overzealous hair washing
While washing your hair helps rid of excess oil, impurities, and product build-up, vigorous cleaning can take a toll on your tresses. Wet hair is in its most vulnerable state and needs to be treated tenderly.
Quick fix: Be gentle while shampooing your scalp and apply conditioner smoothly from your ends to your roots. Go a bit longer between your washes.
Aggressive towel drying
Your mane is fragile and more likely to break when fresh out of the shower. Your hair’s middle layer, made up of keratin proteins, helps keep each strand in place. Keratin forms weaker hydrogen bonds when it encounters water, making wet hair more fragile and easily breakable. Rubbing it vigorously with a towel at this point is likely to cause long-term hair damage and breakage and promote frizz.
Quick fix: Be gentle when you’re towel drying. Flip your hair to one side, wrap a towel, and wring out excess water. Next, split your hair into sections and gently blot with a towel.
Bad brushing and combing practices
Combing your hair does not usually contribute to hair loss if you’re doing it correctly. However, habits like aggressive brushing and combing, whether on dry or wet hair — create friction. Constant forces on your hair shaft can cause inflammation at your roots.
These inflammatory episodes slowly damage your strands, which finally cause those pieces to break off. And as listed above, keratin in your hair makes weaker hydrogen bonds when your tresses are wet. Harsh brushing on already fragile, damp hair adds insult to injury.
Quick fix: Avoid detangling your mane with a brush, especially when wet, as this can induce cuticle damage, unless you're using a customized detangling brush.
Also, note that using fine-tooth combs can promote more hair breakage, whether using them on dry or wet hair. This approach is not relatively healthy. Additionally, if you’re one of those women who detangle their hair at the roots first rather than at the ends, you’re doing no good to your hair health.
Quick fix: Use wide-tooth combs that are always better than the finer versions. Moreover, start detangling your hair a few inches off the bottom while gradually working your way up the strand in short strokes. This technique is much more efficient at preventing unwanted hair damage and breakage.
A bonus tip: If you have knotted or tangle-prone tresses, gently run your fingers through them before grabbing a styling tool, a brush, or a comb. This will help smooth out knots without tugging onto your strands.
Wearing tight hairstyles
Wearing styles that put a great deal of traction on your hair also weaken your strands, causing hair pieces to snap off and eventually lead to traction alopecia (hair loss caused by traction).
Quick fix: Try to avoid repeatedly wearing hairstyles such as:
- Overly tight ponytails, up-dos, or braids
- Styles that cause excessive tugging and pulling while styling
- Styles that cause your scalp to itch, which can cause your strands to split open
A piece of mounting evidence shows the link between stress and hair fall in telogen effluvium. Any form of intense pressure can push your follicles into the “resting” phase, hindering the growth of new strands. Moreover, chunks of hair may break off halfway during a growth cycle.
Quick fix: Learning to cope with stress and managing your stress levels can help end stress-induced hair breakage.
Finally, as the adage goes, “you are what you eat” stands not merely for your well-being but also your skin and hair. Your hair requires certain nutrients to maintain its health and growth. A diet lacking essential nutrients will give rise to flyaways and broken hairs.
Quick fix: A well-balanced diet packed with the following nutrients is your hair’s best buddy:
- Biotin, or vitamin H (one of the most popular ingredients found in hair, skin, and nail vitamins)
- Vitamin A (richest sources include carrots and tomatoes)
- Vitamin D (primarily found in dairy, fatty fish, and fish liver oils) activates new hair follicle growth
- Omega-3 fatty acids (richest source is fatty and fish liver oils)
Hair breakage is caused by a number of factors, and can be solved by using heat styling tools and washing your hair less frequently, eating a healthy diet, and avoiding tight hairstyles, rough toweling and stress.
Hair breakage can be upsetting.
The good news is that you can fix it by making a few lifestyle tweaks.
If lifestyle changes don’t help resolve your issue, it may be time to get in touch with a healthcare professional to rule out any serious medical problems.
American Academy of Dermatology. Hair Shaft Damage from Heat and Drying Time of Hair Dryer.
Lee, Y., Kim, Y.D., Hyun, H.J., Pi, L.Q., Jin, X., Lee, W.S. (2011). Hair shaft damage from heat and drying time of hair dryer. Annals of dermatology.