Image courtesy @emmalisagrella
Hair breakage sucks, but the good news is it's reversible! We know that if there's one thing that can make having a good (hair) day turn bad, it's having hair breakage.
One of the most frustrating things about dealing with hair breakage is that there are so many ways it can happen. But it’s important to understand what is happening and WHY it’s happening so you can solve it.
Hair breakage, not to be confused with shedding, occurs when the cortex of your hair is compromised. The cortex is the inner core of the hair, where all the strength comes from. Various factors can cause damage to the cortex, and sometimes can be a multitude of these factors. But essentially breakage is hair snapping off mid-length, causing split ends.
Shedding, on the other hand, is when the hair releases from the root, and will typically have a bulb attached to the end — a completely natural and healthy cycle.
Why breakage happens:
The length of your hair is made up of cuticles. The cuticle layer is the outer shield. Much like a roof’s shingle, when the cuticle is damaged it will create holes in the hair shaft which weakens the hair starting from that point. This can result in the ends of your hair splitting, or having your hair break off from the weakened point.
Repeated behaviours are how you can make or break your hair, and some of the most common reasons for hair breakage are due to poor diet, over-processing, and constant hair tugging (this is a big one), among others. Let’s have a look at these in more detail so you can enjoy your most glorious hair.
Breakage is a major problem for individuals with curly, coarse hair, especially those with tightly coiled hair because the scalp's oil production cannot travel down the length of the hair shaft. The natural bend in curly and wavy hair means that the edge of the cuticles is prone to lifting - think of this layer like scales on a fish or shingles on a roof, if they are bent the outer edge can lift. This makes the hair at risk of snagging and tangling (think velcro!) But it also means curly and wavy hair suffers increased moisture loss which reduces elasticity.
Our hair texture changes as we age due to a loss of protein, among other things. As a result, aging hair is more fragile and tends to be resistant to moisture absorption. Because the hair’s cuticles naturally become thinner, losing their protective barrier, a loss of elasticity happens, making it more brittle and more likely to break.
Hot tools and heat damage:
Heat styling is a very common cause of your ends breaking off. The overuse of hot tools, used in excess at high temperature settings can cause severe damage to the cuticles. Without using a heat protector to shield your hair from direct heat, over time the cuticles will become dry and damaged. Try going a few days a week without using hot tools to style your hair. And we can’t say this enough ALWAYS USE A HEAT PROTECTANT! Every time you heat-style your hair, this must have product will prevent wear and tear on your strands.
Iron deficiency in women:
Women are naturally more prone to iron deficiency because menstrual periods deplete the body's iron stores. Low iron usually results in brittle hair. Iron plays a role in strong hair because of its impact on hemoglobin. Hemoglobin carries oxygen for the growth and repair of cells in your body, including the cells that stimulate hair growth. If you find that you are taking care of your hair every other way but still suffering breakage, you may want to speak with your doctor to investigate the possibility of being deficient in iron and other vitamins and minerals.
This means too many chemical treatments, such as highlighting or colouring your hair. When it comes to chemically treating your hair, we get it, it’s routine maintenance to keep your hair looking your best. But you need to consider the state of your strands and if they’re up to the challenge of your dream colour or texture. When you do these services too often, the treatments can break down the bonds (keratin) in your hair leaving it weak.
Permanent dyes often contain ammonia or peroxide, which can dehydrate hair and make it more prone to breakage. These chemicals cause the cuticle layer of the strand—which protects its inner structure from damage—to swell up and open so that colour molecules can be deposited. Stretching our hair appointments with glossing treatments will give you that feeling of freshly coloured hair, without the damage of actually colouring your hair. Consider demi-permanent dyes, and talk to your colourist about your concerns and your goals. Sometimes, it just means you have to gradually reach for that platinum blonde and not do it in one sitting.
Like, actual tugging. The biggest culprit of breakage is abrasive tugging on your hair. You don’t think you’re doing it, but trust us, you are. Studies estimate we touch our hair 96 times per day. That sounds like a lot! And whether you believe that number or not, you’re touching your hair way more than you realize. Your hairline is more fragile than other areas of the scalp, making it more vulnerable to hair breaking off if not cared for properly. Habits like too much tugging while styling, from pulling hair back into overly tight hairstyles, and drying product ingredients like alcohol can also weaken hair.
Hair ties, cotton towels, and pillowcases are also factors in the hair tug-o-war resulting in your hair never being able to grow past that certain length. When in doubt reach for silk or bamboo. They have a smooth, low friction surface so it doesn’t disturb the cuticle layer, which causes frizz, and split ends. So toss those cotton sheets and towels and invest in bamboo and silk options.
How to stop breakage - the million dollar question:
The best, and quickest way to stop breakage and prevent it from happening is to keep hair hydrated. When hair is hydrated and healthy it’s at its strongest if only because it’s more elastic. Using a moisture mask 1-2 times a week depending on your hair type will help strengthen the elasticity of your hair so it springs back instead of snapping off.
Frequent trims! Have you ever looked at your hair and noticed the ends look a little dull and fuzzy? If you’ve gotten to that point you are overdue for a trim. It sounds counterintuitive but without keeping your hair healthy by cutting off the split ends your hair will never grow. Think of spit ends like a run in stockings. The split will travel up the hair shaft if left unchecked and result in frizz and breakage - not a good look. Booking a trim every 6-10 weeks is that sweet spot where you can clean up your ends and continue growing your hair. It’s a win/win.
What products to use for hair breakage:
The wrong products can further damage your hair making it impossible to have healthy ends. Read labels, talk to your stylist, and find products suited to your scalp, hair and styling needs and you’ll have gloriously healthy locks. Here are our top picks of hair-strengthening products to keep the integrity of your hair strong and healthy.