5 Ways To Tell If Your Hair Is Damaged — & How To Fix It

Photographed by Alexandra Gavillet.
Do you know what damaged hair looks like, feels like, and even acts like? Often, we get used to the way our hair behaves (or doesn’t) and ignore the signs of true damage. Bald patches, clumps of hair falling out, or thinning edges — these are easy to spot. But what about the other, less-obvious signs that your hair is in serious trouble?

If you comb, brush, shampoo, chemically straighten, or use heat-styling tools or permanent color, the fact is, you are in some way or another harming your hair. Even pulling your hair into a ponytail too often can be destructive. Before you throw your hands up in the air and surrender, know that it is possible to prevent this damage. You just have to know what to look for.

Split Ends

Easily mistaken for frizz, split ends are the damaged tips of the hair shaft that have split into two or three fragments. The ends are the oldest part of your hair and tend to grow increasingly porous over time, which is why many naturally curly girls emphasize oiling their ends. If your hair looks full and voluminous at the roots and much thinner at the ends, your ends are probably damaged. Getting a trim and focusing on moisturizing hair care are crucial to staving off further issues.

Read more: 12 Things You Can Do Today To See Fewer Split Ends

Lack Of Elasticity

Hair is elastic, especially when wet, but one of the biggest problems with elasticity loss is that it can sometimes be hard to diagnose. Healthy hair has a high level of elasticity, and this is what gives hair its body, bounce, and texture formation. Elasticity is what makes hair styling possible and is a telltale sign of hair health.

To test if your hair has lost its elasticity, stretch a strand while it's wet. If a strand breaks with little to no stretching, it may need more moisture. If it stretches a bit and then returns to its natural state, you have normal elasticity. If it stretches more than usual and then breaks, or feels limp and mushy between your fingers, then it needs protein. It’s important to have a balance of moisture and protein in our hair, and the best way to do this is with protein treatments. (Ideally, have yours administered by a professional, as too much protein can also cause damage.)
Photographed by Mike Garten.
High Porosity

Porosity is how easily hair (like a sponge) can absorb moisture and chemicals, and damaged hair is more porous than healthy hair. Chemical treatments like coloring, chemical straighteners, and heat applications can cause hair to become overly porous. If you dye your hair, then you may have noticed the dye absorbing or processing more quickly on hair that is damaged than on the healthy parts of your hair. The flip side of that problem is that the color may fade more quickly in the highly porous sections every time you cleanse.
The best way to prevent this damage is to decrease the chemicals and heat-styling products in your life. Since damaged hair is more vulnerable when wet, try styling or manipulating it when it’s dry and consider damp detangling to cause less damage. Incorporate protein treatments to add strength to the hair and temporarily close holes in the hair’s cuticle. Deep-condition and consider using apple cider vinegar and aloe vera to restore the hair's pH balance. Then, seal with an oil to help retain as much moisture as possible.

Read more: 4 Ways to Moisturize Your High-Porosity Hair

Dry, Brittle, Lack Of Moisture

Healthy hair is soft and supple and should never be dry and brittle. Not sure why your hair is dry no matter what you do? Consider these questions:

1. Are you deep-conditioning after cleansing? You should.

2. Are you protecting your curls at night by using a satin scarf or satin bonnet or sleeping on a satin pillowcase? You should.

3. Are you drying your hair with a blowdryer on high heat? You shouldn’t.
4. Do you incorporate oils into your regimen with pre-poos, hot oil treatments, or sealers? Maybe this is the time.

Pick up a couple strands of your hair and run your fingers through it from root to tip. If it feels rough, that is a sign of dryness and possible damage. Do this test the day after washing your hair, as dryness can also be an indication of product buildup. Sometimes, dryness can be caused by the weather, hormone changes, or even medications, but often it’s simply too much heat, chemical treatments, or not properly moisturizing and conditioning your hair.

Unruly Tangles

Textured hair is more prone to tangling than straight hair is. If you are doing all the right things in your detangling session and are still wrestling with unruly tangles, then your hair may be damaged. This is a sign that you’re likely dealing with a few of the issues above; dry hair with roughened cuticles and frayed split ends is likely to snag and form knots. And, if your hair lacks elasticity, it will likely snap as you attempt to remove those knots. This calls for more frequent deep-conditioning and is potentially a sign that it’s time for a trim. Even if you want long hair, you can’t reach mermaid status by holding onto damaged strands that need to go.

You know your own hair. If it was soft and full before and now it’s dull, thinning, tangled, and will not hold a style, then you know something isn’t right. If it feels different, looks different, or your old products just aren’t doing the trick, investigate to see if you have any damaging habits — and then stop doing them! Your hair will thank you.

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