Is Your Hair Really Damaged — Or Is It Overloaded With Metal?

Photographed by Hayleigh Longman.
There are a handful of culprits known for causing dull, damaged hair. Bleach is probably the most obvious of them all, as the harsh chemicals can disintegrate hair bonds, resulting in parched, broken strands. Then there's the sun, an offender we've all become well acquainted with thanks to various heatwaves this summer. That's before we've touched on heated styling tools like straighteners, tongs and hairdryers. But there might be another factor causing your hair to look and feel less lustrous. Chances are, you haven't given it any thought until now.
From Living Proof to L'Oréal Professionnel, haircare brands are shouting about metals like copper, specifically how the tiny particles in our water could be latching onto hair strands and affecting their look and feel. A quick Google search will serve up numerous anti-metal serums and detox shampoos. Is metal overload really something you have to consider on your quest for healthy hair — or is it a reach?

Are metal particles really ruining your hair?

It all depends on how porous your hair is, according to Antony Rawlings, hair expert and creative director of Lockonego salon. Porous hair is rather sponge-like and easily absorbs things like moisture and oils — and metals. "When washing your hair, the water used runs through metal pipes and showers, which erode and cause [metal] to be carried in the water," explains Antony. "These micro particles, depending on the porosity of your hair, are carried and accumulate in your hair fibre."
L’Oréal Professionnel global ambassador Min Kim seconds this school of thought. As well as metal being carried through pipes, she says that it is also found in pool water. "With each wash, metal particles are deposited in the hair," confirms Min.

How do you know if your hair is porous or not?

Repeated bleaching, heat styling, relaxing and perming can cause your hair to become porous. But lots of hair types may be porous naturally or thanks to things like hormones and age. There are three types of hair porosity, says hairstylist Stefan Bertin on behalf of Shea Moisture: low porosity, medium porosity and high porosity.
"If you were to look at hair that's highly porous under a microscope, you would see a hair fibre that has lots of holes or gaps in the cuticle," says Stefan. "Now, you'd think that those holes are good because it means that your hair can absorb moisture really easily. But just as easily as it's absorbed, it also easily leaks out." Stefan says that if your hair tends to be frizzy, tangles easily, lacks shine or looks dull, if it gets completely wet in the shower very quickly and then dries super fast, if it sucks up product and it feels like you can't put enough on, or if it looks and feels dry, then it's likely you have highly porous hair.

What does metal buildup look like?

So we know what causes metal buildup and that it's more likely in highly porous hair. But how can you tell whether your hair has been affected? "Metal buildup can cause your hair to be discoloured," explains Min, "making it look green, grey or flat with no shine." Min says that hair can also feel tacky, sticky, dry or become porous depending on your colour history, the length of your hair or your lifestyle (for example if you swim regularly or wash your hair every day). "You will start to feel your hair getting dry or overly tangly," adds Min. "You may even experience more damage or breakage during your styling routine."
For Antony in salon, the most obvious indication that a client has lots of metal in their hair is during the bleaching process when using foils. He says that the foils can become hot and sometimes even smoke. Like Min, Antony cites dull, flat and lifeless hair as markers of metal overload.

Do you need to do anything about the metal in your hair?

If you've found a haircare routine that works for you, then great. But if you think your hair could be a little brighter and softer, Antony and Min suggest investing in a metal-detox shampoo. "Lots of these products include the active ingredient glicoamine," says Antony, "which will bind to, break down and then neutralise the metal in your hair."
Min says you'll find this smart ingredient in L'Oréal Professionnel Serie Expert Metal Detox Shampoo, £26, and Serie Expert Metal Detox Anti-Deposit Protector Mask, £26. She also suggests using these products before any colour service in salon to remove metal from the hair and to help repair your damaged strands.
R29 also rates Living Proof Perfect Hair Day (PHD) Triple Detox Shampoo, £25. The formula is akin to a clay mask but lathers up instantly, making hair feel softer and cleaner. Bottle blondes tout it as a saviour for breathing life into their colour, getting rid of dullness. Antony also recommends Redken Hair Cleansing Cream, £20, and Color Wow Dream Filter Hard Water Hair Detox, £26. If you're on a budget, try Noughty Detox Dynamo Clarifying Shampoo, £6.99, or Aveeno Clarify and Shine+ Apple Cider Vinegar Shampoo, £8.99.
Anti-metal hairsprays are also gaining traction among hair professionals, like The Hair Boss Blonde Brightener Detox Spray, £9.99, which helps to neutralise mineral and metal deposits that dull blonde hair. It's also a popular post-swim spray to remove chlorine that your shampoo may have missed. In a salon setting, your stylist might enlist Serie Expert Pre-Treatment Spray before treating your lengths to bleach or dye.

Do filtered shower heads work?

Antony suggests looking into a filtered shower head if your hair is really on the dull and damaged side but says that it's difficult to regulate water from the source. They also need changing regularly and considering their price, it might not be an affordable option in the long run. For that reason, your best bet is to switch up your shampoo.
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