Hair grows. At least that's what we tell ourselves after bleaching, styling, and brushing it to death. But, sometimes, hair doesn't just grow back in the way we want it to. No matter how many hydrating avocado hair masks we whip up, our hair damage lingers — as if it's growing in already damaged. And, combined with the external damage, our hair is not very pleased with us. So, we had to take a hard look at our lives and ask ourselves: Are we accidentally sabotaging our locks?
The answer, most likely, is yes. According to Elizabeth Cunnane Phillips, a trichologist at the New York Philip Kingsley Trichological Clinic, women are trained to think about our hair externally. "We're not conditioned to think about it as being a barometer of our health," she says. But, as experience has taught her, that's exactly what it is. Turns out, it's not just our flat irons and platinum that's causing our tress distress (though that's definitely not helping).
So, what is making our locks thin and lose their luster? We talked to a handful of experts to figure it out. From our breakfast routines to our ponytails, our worst hair habits are things we didn't even realize were destructive. Click through to check out the surprising things we're doing to destroy our hair — from inside to outside.
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According to Phillips, skipping breakfast means serious bad news for hair. "The body considers hair to be a nonessential tissue," she says. "So, when you avoid putting nutrients in your body in the morning, you're starting the day in a deficit." Meaning: Your body uses nutrients for more important things first and if there's nothing left for your hair? Well, too bad. This kind of damage will reveal itself by causing hair to shed and grow more slowly — more so if you're a chronic breakfast skipper. The easy fix, Phillips says, is to start the day with protein and a complex carbohydrate to make sure that the nonessential tissue can get what it needs to thrive.
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Being a vegetarian is a wonderful, admirable thing. However, it's important to remember to still have a well-balanced diet — one that includes all the right amino acids. "People think that vegetarianism is automatically healthier," says Phillips. "It's not that simple, though." If you've recently gone veg and have also noticed that you're losing more hair in the shower, it might be time to take a look at your diet and make sure you're not leaving anything out. Like, you know, protein.
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"Women often come to me and say, 'I've never been this healthy in my life — but my hair is shedding,'" says Phillips. "I'll ask them what their journey to healthiness was, and they will very frequently say that they did a juice cleanse." Much like skipping breakfast, a juice cleanse deprives the body of nutrients. Phillips says that because your body doesn't know where it's going to get its next nutrient from, it holds off on supplying nutrients to the hair. "And, the hair is traumatized by that," Phillips says. A great alternative to a juice cleanse? A consistently healthy diet.
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Sure, we all know that overusing heat-styling tools leads to unhappy hair, but we weren't sure why. According to Phillips, it's not taking it from wet to dry that's the problem — it's taking it from dry to over-dry. You know those last few minutes of blowdrying, when you put the finishing touch on your already perfect look? Phillips says it's within those extra, typically unnecessary minutes that we're doing the most damage and dehydrating our hair. "Hair is a very strong fiber and can take this sort of drying about once a week," she says. "But, if you're over-drying all the time, you're cumulatively damaging it and creating a vulnerability that will lead to breakage." If you're unwilling to give up those final styling moments, Phillips suggests turning the temperature down on your tools.
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If you're growing your hair out, obviously one's first instinct is to, well, grow it out — without trimming it. Of course, not trimming it means getting stuck with stringy, damaged strands, all in the name of longer locks. On average, Phillips says, hair grows about half an inch per month, which is six inches a year. "All it takes is a quarter-inch trim every eight weeks to improve the integrity of your hair," she says. Sure, it'll be a difference of two inches in length after a year, but we'd rather have fuller, healthier hair, anyway.
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Ponytails. Harmless, right? Wrong. We're all familiar with the soreness that goes hand in hand with a day spent in a tight pony. Phillips says that this soreness actually means it's too tight for the hair follicles, which creates a vulnerability to the hair around your temples. "You can get away with it for a couple of years, but it's not something you'll be thrilled about in your 30s and 40s, when subtle changes occur," she says. What those subtle changes will be? Hair loss. Yeah, that doesn't sound worth it to us, either.
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When it comes to brushing our hair, we all go for a top-to-bottom motion. It's just what we were raised to do. According to Sean James Deceurs, stylist at the Rita Hazan Salon in New York City, this go-to habit actually puts us on the fast-track to breakage city. "If you have a lot of knots, when you brush from the roots down, you are brushing those knots into each other and tightening them," he says. Instead, just start from the bottom and work your way up.
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Sure, we've all dealt with the occasional dry, itchy scalp. But, if our hair still looks good, we generally ignore it (if it's not broken, we definitely don't have time to fix it). According to Phillips, this is a big mistake. "If your scalp is dry and itchy beyond a couple of days or a week, you need to do something about it. When your skin doesn't feel good, it means it needs something." You wouldn't ignore a dry, itchy face for more than a week, right? Time to spread that same love to the scalp. "Studies show that even the mildest form of dandruff contributes to shedding," Phillips says. Luckily, there are plenty of dandruff shampoos that can help, like Klorane's Soothing Shampoo With Peony Extract (which also happens to be a beauty-team favorite).
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Getting a keratin treatment and then dyeing your hair might sound like a really great idea — who wouldn't want straight, freshly colored hair? According to hairstylist Bethany Brill, coloring hair after keratin is a big mistake. She says, "The keratin will change the porosity of your hair. So, if you're going darker, it'll oversaturate the color. And, if you're going lighter, it'll just damage it like crazy. It's damage on damage."
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Sure, straightening our hair without brushing saves time. But, what it doesn't save? Our hair. Deceurs says, "Using a flat iron without using a comb directly in front of the flat iron as you pull the iron down the hair definitely causes breakage. It'll make your hair look frizzy and dry." This is an easy fix — just use a comb, and straighten the hair as you comb through each section.
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Iron's important for a lot of things, but we were surprised to learn that it's essential for growing hair. "Your system will operate okay without enough iron," Phillips says. "You might not feel totally great, but we all have ways we like to explain that away. However, hair will frequently suffer without sufficient iron." The sign? Shedding. If you're noticing a ton of hair coming out in the shower, that's usually not a good sign — because, as Phillips says, "It won't seem like it's making an impact until one day it does."