How to Recognize Damaged Hair

Damaged hair
Photo: Dreamstime
The other day I was in line in a supermarket and overheard two women talking about their hair. One complained that her hair was lank and flat and very hard to style. Looking closer, I noticed that her hair was fine, sleek, and silky and looked very lustrous, albeit a little oily.
As I listened, I learned that she had seen a commercial for a conditioning treatment for "damaged" hair that promised sleek, silky, and manageable hair and had been using it almost daily for a month. The end result was hair that was over-conditioned.
By contrast, our cashier was a middle-aged woman whose hair had been cut to shoulder length, had obviously been colored and permed, and was frizzy and dry-looking. I always hate to be truly negative about other people's appearance, but her hair looked like a classic "bird's nest". This was a woman with damaged hair, and she obviously had no clue about it.
That got me wondering how it was possible for these two people to be so unaware of what it meant to have damaged hair. Had no one ever taught them the signs? Well, here are some of the signs of hair damage and ways to treat them effectively:
• Rough texture
• Overly porous
• Dry and brittle to the touch
• No elasticity and susceptible to breakage
• Becomes spongy and matted when wet
• Color fades or absorbs too rapidly
The most readily visible signs of damaged hair - rough texture, over-porosity, dryness, and brittleness - are generally caused by damage to and overextension of the cuticle layer of the hair shaft. This can come from blow-drying, wind, harsh shampoos, chemical treatments, heat-styling methods, and environmental influences.
By using conditioners that are pH-balanced, protein-enriched, and moisture-restoring, you can smooth the cuticle layer and protect the hair shaft from further damage. When hair is damaged, it is important to use a good, moisture-rich conditioning treatment every week until it shows improvement, and to use a light spray-on, leave-in conditioner daily during styling.
The problem of elasticity loss and susceptibility to breakage can sometimes be hard to diagnose. Healthy hair can stretch up to 150% of its normal length without breaking and return to its original state. Unless your hair shows lots of broken ends and significantly shorter hairs than you had noticed before, you may not be aware that there is a real problem. The best clue to poor elasticity may be sitting in your hairbrush.
Hair caught in a hairbrush
Photo: Rattanakun/Canva
Do you have a lot of hair caught in your hairbrush? Do you have to clean your brush often because of buildup of hair in the bristles? Unless you can tell that these hairs are all full-length and coming out at the root, in which case there may be other issues to be addressed, you can be reasonably sure that you have a problem with hair breakage. The best treatment in this case is a protein-rich conditioner and/or a weekly protein treatment, which will add strength to the hair shaft.
Issues with color absorption and retention, as well as sponginess and matting when wet, are also considered porosity issues, but on a more severe level. These levels of damage require very intensive treatment and constant care in processing and styling. Some people with this level of damage to their hair find it easier to cut off the damaged hair and start afresh. However, this may not be an option, so it is best if you take care of your hair before it becomes so damaged.
The most important thing to remember is that your hair is not alive once it emerges from the scalp. Just like the free edge (white part) of your fingernails, the hair is dead tissue. So, don't be tricked into believing promises made by products to heal or cure your hair damage. The conditioning treatments and products available today can help protect the hair and lessen some damage, but the best way to have healthy hair is always prevention.
See also: Damaged Hair Q&A