What is a chemical haircut?
"Harsh chemicals from straightening treatments and coloring can cause severe breakage where the bonds in the hair are broken down to the point that the hair simply snaps off," says Tricomi. "There is an acceptable amount of wear and tear that the hair can take, but past that point your hair will just give up, making it necessary to cut off the dead, damaged hair."
What causes it?
"Overlapping is the main cause of most damage," says Wandrey, meaning previously processed hair is reprocessed along with untouched hair. "Every time you color over previously colored hair, it weakens it more and more, heightening your chances of breakage." Tricomi says this is common among actresses who drastically change their hair color from role to role. "Going from blonde (which requires peroxide), to brown, to red and back to blonde again is brutal on the hair."
How do you know if you're bound for breakage?
"It’s hard to predict when (it) will occur, but if your normal breakage is getting worse, that’s a good sign," Tricomi adds. If you're playing around with at-home treatments, keep an eye on your hair texture. "The hair begins to look "mushy," like wet cotton candy," warns Wandrey.
Your first course of action is to stop what you're doing. "Wash the chemical from the hair immediately, followed by a thorough rinse and a protein-rich conditioning treatment," says Wandrey, who also recommends in-salon treatments (he recommends the Redken Chemistry System) to rebalance your pH and calm irritated hair cuticles. At home, Tricomi advises you slather on the conditioner. "Get your hands on great strengthening products that help to repair damaged hair," he advises. But, really, what's done is done. "If the core of the hair is really destroyed, nothing can bring it back to its original state."
Stop messing with your hair. "Minimize how often you wash so natural oils can accumulate," advises Tricomi, who also says to eliminate all heat-styling products, especially if they contain alcohol. (In other words, drop the hairspray.) Vitamins (like biotin) also help to fortify strength and growth from the inside.
What's the bottom line?
Know that if you process your hair, there's no getting out unscathed, but you don't have to expect it to destroy your hair. "Any time you do a straightening treatment or color your hair, you run the risk of causing hair breakage, and it's completely normal to see some of that occur," advises Tricomi. "However, 95% of the time, this won’t happen to an extreme extent, especially if you are working with a competent stylist who can determine if your hair can hold up against the chemicals." In other words, leave the big hair transformations in the hands of licensed professionals.
Like this post? There's more. Get tons of beauty tips, tutorials, and news on the Refinery29 Beauty Facebook page!