Whether from a blow dryer or a straightening iron, heat can fry the cuticle, causing irreversible damage that leaves you with no option but to cut your hair off and let it grow out again. Extreme temperatures can even break down the structure of the hair fiber, making it less elastic and more prone to break. On an aesthetic level, it can appear frizzy, dull and brittle. Not a strong look.
Heat styling hair when it’s soaking wet (instead of damp) is a surefire to scorch the cuticle and cause split ends. Many ‘thermal protectors’ can help reduce damage to hair by coating each strand in an artificial protective layer but it’s still important to towel dry hair until it’s damp before heat styling.
ENVIRONMENTAL (UV DAMAGE)
Not only does UV light have an aggressive effect on the state of our skin, but it can ravage the inner structure of the hair as well. ‘Photodamage’ to the hair shaft can result in loss of keratin protein, faded colour (both natural and artificial), thinning and dehydration. UV rays cause the cuticle cells to lift and thin, affecting the way hair both looks and feels.
It follows, then, that a sunscreen for your hair is just as important as a sunscreen for your skin. Many shampoos and conditioners now come with protective ingredients or even a UV filter, but a hat will do a better job at deflecting the sun’s harmful rays.
Colouring or chemically straightening your hair might get you the look you’re after but it comes at a price. These aggressive processes destroy the hair cuticle, ripping into its moisture content and zapping away any natural shine and strength. Bleaching, for example, actually lifts the scales of the cuticles in order to penetrate the hair and change its colour. The more extreme the treatment (from dark hair to blond or from curly to poker straight), the more damaging it is.
It’s often safer to opt for gradual treatment, rather than use harsh chemicals to achieve an instant result. The long-term problem is that chemically treating your hair begins a vicious cycle: once you start colouring, you need to keep on ‘topping up’ every time roots appear or colour fades. If you straighten your hair, the roots will still come through curly so, like colouring, you’ll need further treatment every couple of months. For these reasons, and many more, it’s always best to consult a professional hairdresser if you’re thinking of chemically processing your hair.
BRUSHING & COMBING
It might seem hard to believe but getting carried away with a paddle brush can actually cause some serious damage to your locks. This is particularly true if you style your hair while it’s still soaking wet and less likely to bounce back from all the stretching caused by brushing. The teeth on a comb or the bristles on a brush can tug at the fragile cuticle scales, causing them to lift and eventually tear off. Backcombing is especially bad as you’re going against the cuticle scale and forcing them to ‘stand up’.
If you must brush, do so gently so as to reduce the amount of potential damage. And if you combine aggressive combing or brushing with any of the other damaging effects listed here, it would be wise to limit damage with a good conditioner or reparative mask.