You might not think you have damaged hair, but whether you spent last week debuting new platinum locks or just getting a blowout, you’ve probably racked up breakage and split ends from simple, everyday things. Going too long between trims, picking the wrong hair brush, using a flat or curling iron that’s too hot—even wearing tight ponytails too often—causes damage, especially on long and color-treated locks.
Luckily, we checked in with four experts to learn how to rehab hair back to health and prevent damage from getting worse: Anthony Campbell, a celebrity hairdresser and stylist whose clients include Jessica Biel and Emma Watson; Sascha Breuer, a professional hairstylist based in Los Angeles, California, who counts Anne Hathaway and Zoe Saldaña as clients; celebrity hairstylist, curl expert, and the owner of 5 Salon & Spa, Ona Diaz-Santin; and certified trichologist and the founder of Thin Hair Thick, Tiffany Young.
From the best restorative masks to the products you should be avoiding, you’ll find everything you need to know about hair breakage below.
What Is Hair Breakage?
Hair breakage occurs when the hair shaft breaks, which then leads to split ends and shorter strands of hair.
"Breakage can manifest itself in many ways. The mid-length area of the hair looks fused or worn, think of a rope and how the fibers of the rope start to break first. The ends are frayed and have seen better days," celebrity hairstylist, Diaz-Santin explains.
But don't fear—not all short hairs point to breakage.
"A lot of interspersed short hairs at the scalp could be new hair growth and isn’t a cause for panic," explains Young. "However, if the hair is clustered in one area and is all a shorter length, that is usually from breakage."
What Causes Hair Breakage?
Strap in because there are quite a few culprits behind hair breakage.
Hair breakage can be caused by:
- Repetitive styling and tight hairstyles
- Heat styling without a protectant
- Towel drying
- Poor diet
- Harsh hair products
- Skipping out on regular haircuts
- Hair ties
One of the most common causes (and easiest changes) is repetitive styling and tight hairstyles. "In fact, hair breakage from wearing your hair in clips and tight ponytails is so common there is a name for the hair loss that results from it: Traction Alopecia," says Young. Her number one tip for avoiding hair breakage is skipping out on repetitive hairstyling. Anything that puts stress on the hair follicle is a no-go. "No ponytails at bedtime! Consider using hair-friendly materials like satin hair scrunchies, if you must wear your hair up."
Another common problem is dryness. Dryness could stem from many root causes from overdoing it on the heat styling to just plain dry weather. Break out the conditioner to tackle signs of dryness. Focus it on your ends to stop breakage before it has a chance to start.
"Keeping the hair well hydrated [and] moisturized will prevent the hair from snapping off," Diaz-Santin says before stating that banishing dryness is especially beneficial for preventing hair breakage in cold weather.
Other, more severe, causes of hair breakage are thyroid disorders and eating disorders. If you are having continuous problems with hair breakage but you handled the common causes like towel drying and restrictive hairstyles, it may be time to see a professional. A professional will be able to get to the bottom of your hair breakage problem to ensure you have a thick and healthy head of hair in the future.
How to Tell If You Have Hair Breakage
Are the short hairs around your hairline different lengths? Do you have seemingly more and more split ends? It's probably hair breakage.
"An easy way to see if you have hair breakage is to do a strand test," says Young. "Take a section of your hair—about an inch [in] diameter. Assess the diameter at your root and see the rate at which your hair tapers toward the ends. Some tapering toward the ends of the hair is normal. But, if you have hair breakage you’ll notice a marked difference between the density of your hair at the root compared to the ends."
Diaz-Santin states that hair breakage will often centralize at the hairline. You'll notice it from the root and you wind up with many short pieces of hair.
How to Fix Hair Breakage
Unfortunately, once hair is damaged you can't unbreak it. But you can make amends by treating new hair growth with care and making haircare decisions that bring out the best in your hair's current appearance.
Keep these tips in mind when trying to fix existing hair breakage:
- Rid your haircare routine of harsh chemicals.
- Say no to heat styling.
- Get your shine back with conditioner.
- Take a long hard look at your diet to ensure you're consuming enough protein, biotin, and iron.
How to Prevent Hair Breakage
The best way to deal with hair breakage is to keep it from happening. From hair masks to heat protectants, here's what you'll need to do to protect your hair from breakage.
Invest in a High-Quality Mask
The number one tip from both of our experts? A good hair mask. They suggest Wella’s Color Save Mask ($35). “Shampoo and condition your hair as you normally would, then apply a mask to towel-dried hair and let it sit between 30 minutes to an hour before rinsing it out,” Campbell says. (There’s no need to let it sit overnight, newer formulas work fast).
Protect Your Locks From Heat
Anyone with breakage should avoid heat completely, but if you must heat style it’s very important to use a thermal protection product. “They definitely work—but only to a certain temperature,” Breuer says. He recommends trying Kiehl’s Heat-Protection Silk Straightening Cream ($17) [Ed. note: This product is no longer available] on wet hair before blow drying. If you want to flat iron or curl hair, try Oribe’s Soft Lacquer Heat Styling Spray ($36). “It actually seals your ends and protects them from irons,” Campbell says.
Wash Your Hair Less
“The natural oils from your scalp help reduce damage,” Campbell says. Try adding an extra day or two between washing; ideally, he suggests lathering up only two or three times a week, but even skipping one day will help. And when you do wash, be sure to use a breakage-preventing shampoo, such as the Nexxus Unbreakable Care Anti-Breakage Shampoo.
Turn Down The Heat
Many flat and curling irons—even those with temperature settings—turn on at 400 degrees, a temperature that can literally cook the inside of your strands. “280 degrees is a good place to start,” Breuer says. “You want to use the lowest possible temperature to get your desired result.” No temperature setting on your irons? It’s time to upgrade. Try Solano’s Sleek Heat Flat Iron ($110) or Hot Tools’ Professional Spring Curling Iron ($55).
Stock Up On Oil
Obviously, a trim is the fastest—and best—way to get rid of damage, but if you’re in a pinch try Campbell’s trick: when he arrives on set and sees split ends, he immediately reaches for oil. “It brings life back to the hair,” he says. Coat your strands with Oribe’s Gold Lust Oil ($57) or Macadamia Natural’s Healing Oil Spray ($14). (Use the former for thick locks and latter for fine hair). Let it soak in and then gently smooth your ends with low heat and a round brush, which will give you temporary smoothness.
Clean Out Your Shower
Damage requires gentle, restorative products. Breuer recommends Living Proof’s Restore Collection of Shampoo ($30), Conditioner ($29), and Repair Leave-in Cream ($30). “Most products made for damage can weigh down your hair and make it look flat,” Breuer says. “But these are different—they’re very light.”
Avoid Alcohol-Based Styling Products
While you’re rehabbing damage, try to avoid products with a high level of alcohol, like certain dry shampoos, hairsprays, and mousse—and definitely avoid anything gel-based! Try Nexxus’ Mousse Plus ($16) instead.
Braids and Buns: Good; Tight Ponytails: Bad
The less stress you put on your hair, the less breakage you’ll have. Coat your hands with oil and wrap strands into a loose bun to conceal split ends, or a side braid to hide breakage until it starts to get better. (Use a soft elastic, like the these by scunci).
Know When to Seek Professional Help
If you’re at a point where your hair snaps just by brushing it, you need to turn to a professional, Breuer says. “Ask around for recommendations and set up consultations on your lunch break with new stylists to see what they can do to help you,” he says. It’s also time to ask yourself why you have so much damage in the first place. “It’s probably time to get a new colorist or lay off the heat,” explains Campbell.
Shop the Best Products for Hair Breakage
Shop these hand-picked products designed to rejuvenate and tend to your hair breakage.
If you have fine hair, you'll want to add Nexxus' Unbreakable Care Anti Breakage Shampoo to your routine. Made with a blend of advanced keratin protein, biotin, and collagen amino acids, this shampoo will gently cleanse and strengthen your strands.
If you want to keep things natural, you really can't go wrong with Viva Naturals Organic Extra Virgin Coconut Oil. Not only is it affordable but it's a multi-tasking product you can use for plenty of other home remedies beyond hair breakage.
This vegan and cruelty-free product can be used after conditioner or as a leave-in treatment. Unfortunately, there is a price on happy hair. You'll find this product is a higher-end option when compared to other hair breakage solutions. However, if you're short on patience and want to invest in a quick fix, this is the product to pick.
Can hair grow back from breakage?
Breakage (thankfully) isn't permanent. In most situations, you can make changes to your lifestyle to prevent future breakage while making the existing breakage less unsightly while you wait for your hair to grow out. Restoring your hair after breakage will require careful use of products and could require professional intervention.
How can I repair my broken hair naturally?
Home remedies can be used to boost the appearance of damaged hair naturally and ensure new hair growing in is healthy and gorgeous as ever. Natural treatments for damaged hair include using extra virgin olive oil, honey, aloe vera juice, coconut oil, or another natural ingredient. This process will take roughly six months to a year to complete before you're back to luscious and healthy hair.