Haircare is a serious undertaking, especially since there are plenty of us who love to experiment with different hairstyles. We all love our slick ponies and tight braids, but did you know that your adorably chic hairstyle could be hurting your hair? Yes, damaging hairstyles most definitely exist, and you could be causing some serious damage without even knowing it.
But don’t freak out quite yet, because it looks like the key to preserving our gorgeous hair is just to not go overboard with these hairstyles and to allow hair days to recover and rest. Everything in moderation—that's the rule, right? Here, check out some popular hairstyles that may be damaging your strands.
Meet the Expert
The Exact Same Ponytail Every Day
We get it—ponytails are a quick and easy way to style dirty hair and give you a polished look in seconds, but (and yes, there is a but) they can be one of the most damaging hairstyles out there. "But when you wear your hair in the same ponytail every day, you're adding stress to the same spot over and over and over again, and eventually that's going to cause your hair to snap and break off at the base of the ponytail," explains Shafer.
So, throwing your hair up in a quick pony for the gym every once in a while is okay, but when you’re using the ponytail as your go-to hairstyle every day, it can become a problem. And yes, this policy applies to buns, too. However, if you absolutely cannot go a day without your beloved pony or bun, don’t worry—your hair isn’t totally doomed. Try ditching your rubbery elastic bands for thick, fabric-coated hair ties, like Emi Jay’s Hair Ties ($11) for a secure hold that’s gentler on your hair.
Braids of varying degrees of difficulty have been worn throughout history since 3500 BC. We’re not expecting anyone to banish braids from the hairstyle archives completely (nor would we want to!), but rather to ease up on them (literally).
If the hair is pulled back too tightly, it can break away from its roots, which may result in splitting, hair weakness, and follicle damage, so make sure you keep the start of the braid loose.
Braids that are too tight can also cause tensile stress, which occurs when there is constant tugging on hair follicles. "These types of braids can be damaging depending on how tight or heavy the braids are. The stress on the follicle can weaken it and sometimes cause hair loss," says O'Brien.
Regular tensile stress can lead to serious hair loss conditions, such as traction alopecia, which can be caused by wearing tight hairstyles for a long period of time.
However, all hope is not lost. You can still wear braids without taking such costly risks. "The best way to wear braids with minimal damage is not braiding too tight at the scalp, taking breaks between wearing braids, and moisturizing your scalp before, during, and after wearing braids with essential oils," O'Brien says.
Like we said, everything in moderation: We're not saying you should never wear tightly styled braids, just be sure they're not too tight and causing unnecessary stress on your scalp. (Check out our big, badass braid guide for tons of inspiration for every occasion.)
This goes right up there with the tight ponytails and buns. If ponytails and buns with dry hair can do damage, can you even imagine what can happen when you form an updo with wet hair? "Hair is the most delicate when wet. When the hair is in a wet ponytail as the hair is drying in an updo it pulls even more. This could result in thinning hair/hair [loss]," says Bergamy.
You should never tie up your hair when it is wet. Don’t believe us? Look at your elastic hair tie next time you remove it after a wet-updo day. See that hair wrapped around your hair tie? We rest our case.
"If you have any weak points on your hair strands—which chances are, you definitely do!—then those spots are going to be even weaker when wet. So, twisting, pulling, or stretching your wet hair into an updo is just asking for it to snap off. Delicate ends that are already prone to breakage tend to suffer the most, since updos are often secured with bobby pins or tight elastics that can create new split ends and fray current ones even further when used on wet hair," explains Shafer.
So if your hair is tied up or braided tightly when it's wet, the tension increases as it dries. While a glistening wet updo may look cute, it’s so not worth the potential hair loss. If you really want a glossy shine to complement your updo, try a shine spray, like Kenra Professional’s Shine Spray ($18), instead. Your hair will thank you.
Your Blowout-Preserving Bun
While sleeping with your hair in a bun may help to preserve your salon-professional blowout, it can also have some serious repercussions for your overall haircare. "It’s important to always wear our hair out with no tension while sleeping. [A] preserving bun can create tangles and tug [on] the hair while sleeping. Rolling around while you sleep can cause friction and tugging at the hairline," says Bergamy.
If you love sleeping with your hair up and don’t want to change, try opting out of your cotton pillowcases in favor of satin or silk ones. The slippery material will allow your hair to glide with you over your pillow and help avoid any unnecessary friction that can lead to breakage.
We recommend Spasilk’s Satin Pillowcase for Hair and Face ($9) to keep your hair from being pulled on all night. Now, that's what we call beauty rest.
Some of us love nothing more than smooth, pin-straight hair. However, this style can come with a price. Celebrity hairstylist and colorist, Bianca Hillier, says that straightening the hair causes the hair bonds to break. "Using multiple passes of thermal heat is physically changing the inner molecular structure of the hair. It opens the most outer cuticle layer and enters inside to break the bonds of the hair (or the skeleton of the hair). This is how split ends are formed," she explains.
If you cannot go a day without straightening your hair, Paul Lebrecque of Labrecque Salon and Skincare Spa recommends adding products with amino acids to your haircare routine or getting a keratin treatment to minimize any potential damage. "[These will] help give you hair that is much easier to straighten without breaking down any of your strands' disulfide/cystine bonds," he says.
LA-based celebrity hairstylist, Bradley Leake, agrees that using the right products in your routine can definitely mitigate hair damage. "I love Color Wow's Dreamcoat ($12) to create a 'glass hair' moment. A new beauty trend is 'steaming' the hair. These steam-infused flat irons leave the hair shiny and smooth while sealing the moisture into your hair for a healthier hair journey. For those looking for a wider flat iron, the L’Oréal Professional Steampod ($250) is a great option," he says.
Wearing Hair Extensions
Hillier says that wearing extensions and failing to take care of them can cause significant damage to the hair. "Let’s be real, no hair extensions are good for the hair even if you have the best application in the world. Hundreds of hairs tugging on your individual hairs hanging from your scalp—that sounds like a nightmare! The weight of these additional strands is constantly pulling on your virgin hair close to the scalp and can cause breakage," she explains. But there's more: "If extensions are not properly maintained, they will without a doubt cause knots at the new growth and definitely break down the hair where the bonding has been applied," she adds.
To make sure your extensions aren't inflicting considerable damage on your mane, Leake recommends trying semi-permanent hair extensions that can be applied in the comfort of your own home. "The halo-style extensions like the ones from Hidden Crown require no clips or glue. The extension-style headband sits on the crown with an invisible wire and molds to the head shape. Semi-permanent options such as clip-in hair extension options are less damaging and the fewer the clips the better to minimize any potential damage," he says.
Color-treated hair can sometimes cause more trouble than it's worth. "Coloring hair can often cause damage, especially when lightening," explains Hillier.
To reduce the possibility of hair damage, Labrecque advises choosing a color that is close to your natural hair. "If you are going grey and want to change that, keep your base color lighter," he adds. "As the seasons change, adding depth with semi-permanent glosses is a great way to try out a new hair color without any long-term commitment," says Leake.
Sporting long locks will always be in style but they can also have an adverse effect on the hair's texture. Long, heavy hair can thin out from its weight and force of gravity. "Parting lines can also become permanent from added length weight. Your hair ends will become even more fragile and prone to knots if you try to maintain an excessive length," explains Labrecque.
However, you can still have long locks minus the damage with routine trips to the salon. "For anyone with extremely long locks, the best way to minimize damage is to get trims regularly every 8 to 12 weeks to keep the ends fresh and healthy," recommends Leake.
Billero V, Miteva M. Traction alopecia: the root of the problem. Clin Cosmet Investig Dermatol. 2018;11:149-159. doi:10.2147/CCID.S137296