Wait—Do Rubber Bands and Hair Ties Actually Damage Hair?

Close up of a woman's ponytail, held by a scrunchie

Thais Varela / Byrdie

Many of us have moments in the day when we may need to reach for a rubber band or hair tie. Depending on your specific hair type, they may even be used when creating a protective style. But could using them excessively be doing more harm than good to your tresses?

It’s no secret that hair ties pull on the hair and can create breakage; however, it isn't exactly realistic to keep one's hair down and loose 24/7/365. So how can you sweep your hair up into a fuss-free ponytail or opulent updo without putting the health of your strands in jeopardy? We reached out to board-certified dermatologist Mona Gohara, MD, and trichologist and colorist Sophie MacCorquadale to find out; read on for their insights, tips, and tricks.

Meet the Expert

  • Mona Gohara, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist based in Connecticut.
  • Sophie MacCorquadale is a trichologist and colorist at Salon Sloane in London.

Are Rubber Bands and Hair Ties Bad for Your Hair?

Rubber bands and hair ties can indeed cause hair damage. "Rubber bands create friction and rub the hair follicle in an isolated area, and this is what causes damage to the cuticle layers, " MacCorquadale explains. "Over time, this friction wears away the cuticle layers and weakens the hair structure, causing irreversible damage. I see many clients who have a layer of hair breakage in areas where they tie their hair up."

While rubber bands and hair ties can cure a bad hair day, it can be helpful to understand the science behind why they shouldn’t be used every single day. "The cuticles are the protective outer layer of the hair and they work a little like roof tiles, [protecting] the internal structural bonds in the cortex of the hair," MacCorquadale says. "The same bonds also give hair its strength and structure, and if the cuticle layers are damaged, the bonds become exposed and more vulnerable. This is what makes hair weaker and more likely to split and break."

MacCorquadale advises against using hair ties and rubber bands on wet hair and minimizing use on dry hair. "On wet hair, the structural bonds are in their most vulnerable state, so there’s a higher probability of hair breakage and splitting. When hair is wet, I recommend brushing it gently with a wide tooth comb and never tying it up," she shares. 

Although all hair types need to be mindful of using rubber bands and hair ties, you might need to approach them with extra caution if you have overprocessed hair or hair that is fine in texture. If your hair is overprocessed and heavily colored, the cuticle layers will already be sensitized, so rubber bands and hair ties can in fact cause greater damage to the hair. MacCorquadale tells us that finer hair has fewer cuticle layers to protect the internal bonds of the hair, making it more prone to breakage when it is tied up. 

Being aware of how you are styling your hair is also important when wearing rubber bands and hair ties because, in addition to breakage, excessive use can cause the hairline to diminish and lead to long-term hair thinning. "Tight ponytails, for example, can cause a lot of damage as the hair tie can cut into the shaft of the hair, causing fraying, and in some cases, hair loss occurring from the root," says Gohora. "Never use a rubber band or hair tie without material covering it on your hair."

What Are the Safest Ways to Tie Up Hair?

Both experts agree that silk and cotton hair ties are much kinder to hair. (Gohora recommends invisibobble’s SPRUNCHIE DUO Pack, $10) If you're going to go for a traditional hair tie or (in a pinch) a rubber band, MacCorquadale suggests wearing a plait so the impact of the rubber is at the ends of the hair: "This allows the damage the hair tie may cause to be cut off at your next visit to the hairdresser," she says.

How to Safely Remove a Rubber Band or Hair Tie

Never pull a rubber band or hair tie from your hair, as you run the risk of pulling your hair out with the band or tie. Here are some tips for removing a hair tie or rubber band that has gotten stuck in your hair.

  • Hold the root of your hair as you gently slide the hair tie out of your hair.
  • Fully unwrap the hair tie before removing it. 
  • Don’t pull a tightened band through the length of the hair; this will split the hair shaft and cause more damage to the hair.
  • Cut it out.

The Final Takeaway

Rubber bands and hair ties should be used with caution to prevent hair damage. For those who use rubber bands and hair ties on a regular basis, our experts highly recommend reducing usage or opting for silk- or cotton-covered accessories instead, as they are much kinder to hair.

We know that rubber band hairstyles are really popular at the moment and you may find yourself tapping into the trend, but be sure to add protective products such as serums and protectant sprays to the hair before tying it up, as they add a slight protective barrier. Additionally, anyone using a rubber band or hair tie shouldn’t tie their hair up too tightly, as this can cause tension which can lead to breakage. Prioritize your hair and scalp health: If a rubber band or hair tie feels uncomfortable, stop wearing it immediately. Wearing your hair up—or in whichever other style you choose—should always be an easy, pain-free experience.

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