Hair Damage 101: How To Fix the Breakage You Probably Don't Even Know You Have

two young people posing with beautiful hmu

Klaus Vedfelt / Getty Images

You might not think you have damaged hair, but whether you spent last week debuting new platinum locks (like Rita Ora) or just getting a blowout, you’ve probably racked up breakage and split ends from simple, everyday things. Going too long between trims, 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 two experts to learn how to rehab hair back to health and prevent damage from getting worse: Anthony Campbell, the man behind Jessica Biel and Emma Watson’s locks, and Sascha Breuer, who works with Anne Hathaway and Zoe Saldana. From the best restorative masks to the products you should be avoiding, you’ll find everything you need to know above. (And if you’re planning to undergo a big color change, read our tips!)

Invest in a High-Quality Mask

The No. 1 tip from both of our experts? You need a good hair mask! They suggest Wella’s Color Save Mask ($36). “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.

woman with curly hair in the sun

Klaus Vedfelt / Getty Images

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.

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 ($199) or Hot Tools’ Professional Spring Curling Iron ($35).

Stock Up On Oil

bottle and dropper of oil

Anna Efetova / Getty Images

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 ($56) or Macadamia Natural’s Healing Oil Spray ($15). (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 ($29), Conditioner ($29), and Repair Leave-in Cream ($30), or try the Restore Starter Kit ($18). “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 anything gel-based! Try Nexxus’ Mousse Plus ($14) instead.

Braids and Buns: Good; Tight Ponytails: Bad

young woman with braids holding fruit

Stephanie Nnamani / Getty Images

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 Ribbon Elastics, $7, by Goody.)

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.

Related Stories