DAMAGE CONTROL

How to Stop Hair Breakage Before It Starts

Products and pro tips that can save fragile hair, no matter how dire things have gotten.
Woman with long curly hair wearing a white mock turtleneck on a background of leaves
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Sure, there are some good types of breaks out there — coffee breaks, tax breaks, MTV's Spring Break — but most breaks are unwanted. The type that is the least welcome here at Allure is hair breakage, which is related to the actual fissures of hair fibers along the shaft. 

Trichologist and colorist Bridgette Hill with Paul Labrecque Salon and Skincare Spa in New York City explains that with hair breakage, strands are not being lost from the scalp as they are when you experience shedding. But it can still lead to hair loss, thinning, and slow growth. Hair breakage can cause you to lose your hair as it breaks — if the damaged hair strands are not trimmed off, the damage can further spread, causing you to lose more hair. You can differentiate damaged hair from healthy hair as hair that is damaged tends to be shorter with frayed ends. "Damaged hair also frizzes and is [more difficult to control]," Michele Green, a cosmetic dermatologist in New York City confirms.

The four major hair-care practices that can encourage breakage are using hot tools, chemical perms and relaxers, bleaching your hair and dyeing it with permanent color, and using products that dry out your strands. Dry hair in general can also lead to hair breakage, which is why it's important to keep your hair moisturized. We asked a few hair pros for their tips and techniques to help strengthen breakage-prone hair and make it Shawshank-proof. 

Check to see if your hair type is more susceptible to breakage

Curly- and kinky-haired people: You're far more likely to experience breakage than those with straight hair. "The spiral shape of the hair follicle and hair shaft predispose the hair to breakage.  This type of hair is naturally less dense and grows more slowly compared to other hair types. This puts the hair shaft at increased risk for significant damage when exposed to cosmetic treatments like heat or chemicals," New York City dermatologist Hadley King explains. Basically, the tighter the curl or coil, the more susceptible it is to breakage. 

Kinky and curly hair is also more prone to single-strand knots. You didn't need another reason to hate them, but though they are naturally-occurring, they can make it easier for breakage to occur during combing or brushing. 

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Also, highly-textured hair is not as coated with natural scalp oils. So, wash your hair, but not too often — you don't want to strip away the oils you do have. Shampooing once a week should suffice.

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Also, as much as we all love warm weather, some of our favorite activities to do when the temperature goes up can — you guessed it — cause breakage. According to Aura Friedman, a colorist at Sally Hershberger Salon in New York City, too much sun exposure and chlorine can be an issue for your precious strands.

Learn how to spot breakage before it happens, and how to treat it after it's too late

Luckily for us, breakage is easily recognized and spotted. When you're brushing your hair, look at the strands that are collecting in the comb — if they're about the length of your hair (especially if they have a little white bulb at the end), that's natural shedding. If they're shorter, have pointy and uneven ends, or both, beware. Hair prone to breakage also might be lighter in color than other strands. 

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Stasha Mabatano-Harris, owner and stylist at MagicFingersStudio, in Brooklyn has an easy way to identify breakage: "Blow-dry your hair as straight as you can, then comb the hair out and up at a 90-degree angle. Check for the end of hair where it begins to look shallow. Those shallow areas should be trimmed to prevent further breakage." Regular hair trims — meaning once every three months, not "whenever you remember" — are key to stopping breakage.

Depending on the severity of the damage, it may be time for a haircut. "Nothing, and I mean nothing, can repair the hair after the cortex has been damaged. There are various products and ingredients on the market that can help give the appearance of mending split ends, for example, but nothing can revive a damaged cortex," Kerry E. Yates, CEO of Colour Collective in Dallas, explained. Green confirms this, sharing that, "the cortex of the hair is the inner layer of the hair, [and] hair that is damaged within the cortex cannot be restored. Hair can only be restored from the follicles. Hair that is damaged beyond the follicle needs to be cut to prevent further damage."

Yates says that when you do cut, do so about an inch above where the hair is broken. "Thankfully, there are some great layering techniques so only you and your hairdresser will know that you had to adjust your hairstyle to eliminate the broken bits," she says.

While there may not be any official treatments for already-broken hair, making sure your hair is at its healthiest is the best move you can make. Every stylist interviewed for this piece was clear to reiterate that fact: Prevention is key. "It's important to remember and approach your hair regime from the perspective that your hair strands are actually dead. So, any product you apply topically to your strands is simply there to cover or coat dead hair strands. Nothing you apply can 'regenerate' your hair strands because they are not living," Maeva Heim, owner of Bread Beauty Supply shared. 

Green expands on that point, explaining that "hair grows from the scalp, but it is not a living tissue. Damaged hair can be treated with several ingredients which can make the hair look less damaged but it cannot restore spilt ends or damage to the cortex."

Don't stress

In clinical research, Neil Sadick, a dermatologist in New York City, found that stress can really damage your hair. Everything from a big moving day to grieving a loss can lead to micro-inflammation of hair follicles that makes hair weaker as it grows out and even causes you to shed more than usual. "Increased levels of stress hormones — mainly cortisol — disrupt the hair cycle," says Sadick. 

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A study from Carnegie Mellon University showed that just 20 minutes of mindful meditation for 14 consecutive days can lower your cortisol levels during stressful times. And speaking of hormones, when you’re about to start your period, your hair becomes less resilient: "The changes in your hormones can thin new hair, and thinner hair is more prone to breaking," says Daliah Wachs, a family practitioner in Las Vegas. "Try to avoid tight hair ties that week, which could put extra stress on the hair."

Look for these ingredients in your products

While there's no magic ingredient that will stop breakage forever, there are products that you can use to protect and prevent it. Look for products that have humectants and emollients — humectants draw in moisture from the air, and emollients lock them into place. We suggest Aveda's Brilliant Humectant Pomade or Dove's Amplified Textures Moisture Lock Leave-In Conditioner to prep the hair for styling while creating slip for easy, smooth detangling. Some ingredients to keep an eye out for include olive oil, coconut oil, shea butter, avocado oil, sea buckthorn berry, and other strength-promoting ingredients. 

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Hydrolyzed proteins are also great things to look for: We like the Bread Beauty Supply Hair Mask, a creamy deep conditioner containing a small amount of hydrolyzed protein to gently repair the hair as well as moisturizers like Australian Kakadu Plum seed oil to lubricate your strands and keep them soft. Amika's The Kure Intense Repair Mask has hydrolyzed keratin and wheat protein to strengthen and repair damaged hair.

Avoid these hairstyles

Everyone loves a really high, tight, snatched-for-the-gawds ponytail moment. However, this style might also be snatching off your hair. Hairstyles that pull and tug on your strands, like tight ponytails or buns, can definitely make hair prone to breakage. Be careful when getting your hair braided, too — heavy-handed braiding can cause too much tension on the hair fiber, too, so mind your cornrowing

If you're prepared to live a life where you do nothing with your hair except wash, condition, and gently brush it, that's the foolproof way to avoid breakage. But that also means you lose the fun stuff: Say bye to permanent color and bleach (which means no more highlights or balayage) and toss your curling wand and flatiron. Forget brushing your hair when it's wet, too. 

Yeah… all that just isn't realistic. Yates emphasizes the importance of talking to your stylist when you get services done that put you at risk. "Since we do not want to walk away from having fun with our hair, communicate to your stylist that they should not overlap your color — putting color on top of color creates the perfect environment for breakage," Yates tells Allure.

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Of course, regular heat styling is notoriously bad for your hair. Constantly straightening curly hair or using heat on straight hair are asking breakage to live rent-free on your head. A good protective style, one that's low in tension and works with your natural texture can help prevent that. "The natural hair community is continuously evolving and coming up with more protective styles and products for textured hair — knotless box braids are one of my favorite protective styles," Mabatano-Harris says. "Simple styles that require very little to no heat or less combing are always best for avoiding breakage."

The tools you're using might be an issue, too: "[A brush] that isn’t gentle enough can inflame the scalp and cause hair breakage," Hill explains. She recommends using a boar bristle brush or one that has a mix of plastic and boar’s hair bristles, like Crown Affair's Brush No. 001. There are also some good rubber brushes on the market. "The idea is to stay away from metal brushes, which can be abrasive on hair fiber and scalps."

Get some sleep — really

Healthy hair is, of course, achieved not only with good products. Hydration, vitamins, and a well-balanced diet — you know, all the stuff you usually hear about — help significantly. And of course, sleep. It's not just about getting enough sleep (and yes, breakage can be frightening enough to keep you up at night) but also about how you're sleeping. "Create a signature sleep hairstyle that allows oxygen to flow through the hair to the scalp and prevent tangling and matting in the occipital point of the head while you sleep," Hill suggests. "Twist the hair in large sections, pin curls, or two large braids or plaits. You can be creative — but refrain from ponytails." 

For curly or Afro textures, Hill also recommends "pineappling" your hair before going to sleep, or piling all your hair on top of your head in a loose hair tie and securing with a scarf so that you resemble, you know, a pineapple. "Make sure the roots and ends of the hair are 100 percent dry and remember to use satin or silk pillowcases and scarves."


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