Best treatments for dry, damaged hair according to dermatologists

Your hair puts up with a lot, and hair damage is more than just split ends. Extremely damaged hair develops cracks in the outermost layer of the hair shaft (called the cuticle) and leaves hair more prone to further damage and breakage. This results in frizzy, dull, brittle, unmanageable hair. Damaged hair cannot absorb or retain enough moisture to keep its shine and texture, so lackluster and fragility are common signs of dry hair.

What does damaged hair look like?

Hair comes in all different lengths, textures, and styles, but one thing that is inevitable for all hair types is damage. Here are some telltale signs that your locks require some TLC.

Frequent split ends

Split ends can be noticed by scanning your hair's ends and seeing if strands are split into two. Now, split ends are unavoidable and will generally appear 6 - 8 weeks after a haircut, but if you find that split ends are popping up sooner than later, take it as an indication of damaged hair.

Rough to the touch

Run your fingers through your hair. Does it feel smooth and silky or rough and bumpy? Uneven texture and brittleness often mean your hair suffers damage, and there are gaps in the protein cells that make up your hair strand.

Unnecessarily tangled

In healthy hair, cuticles lay flat so hairs can slide against one another. When your hair is damaged, cuticles become raised and cause more tangles and snarls. A few occasional snags are nothing to worry about, but consistent entanglements are a bad sign.

Dull, lifeless appearance

If your hair appears dull and limp, your scalp and strands have most likely been overexposed to too many chemicals or pollution. Healthy hair should have a natural shine; lackluster under direct sunlight usually signifies damage.

Sudden breakage

Healthy hair is strong and has significant elasticity. A single strand of hair can undergo some severe tension without breaking. On the other hand, unhealthy hair will break and snap very easily.

What causes damaged hair?

If you know where your damage came from, you can learn how to prevent further harm and smooth over your unwanted symptoms. By stepping up your hair care game, you can say goodbye to unruly frizz and brittle hair.

Hair damage culprit: Bleaching and coloring

Giving yourself a full-color makeover may seem harmless, but it's actually one of the most prominent causes of hair damage. When you color or bleach your hair, you're forcing each of your cuticles to open so they become porous and can remove the previous pigment of your hair color. This weakens the hair strands, making them more susceptible to breakage, split ends, and dryness.

Hair damage culprit: Heat styling

Flat irons, blow driers, curling wands, and heat brushes impose extreme thermal stress on hair strands. This strips hair of its natural oils and proteins by breaking down hydrogen bonds. Dehydration, rapid water loss, protein damage, and pigment particles' oxidation from heat styling can all cause damage.

Brunette getting her hair straightened

According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), flat irons should be used every other day at most in a low heat setting. Curling irons should be held in place for no more than two seconds to minimize damage.

Hair damage culprit: Excessive sun exposure

Just as you need to protect your skin from the sun's harmful rays, the scalp and hair must also be protected. Too much exposure can dry your hair and even cause it to burn, leaving hair discolored, dry, brittle, and frizzy.

Other things that lead to damaged hair include:

  • Poor diet
  • Stress
  • Tight hairstyles
  • Elastic hair ties
  • Improper towel drying
  • Lack of regular hair trims

What are the best treatments for damaged hair?

The first step in restoring hair health and texture is to change your diet. A diet rich in vitamins and nutrients will improve your body's internal functions and positively reflect your skin and hair's appearance. Be sure to include plenty of lean proteins, biotin, iron, and vitamins E, C, and A into your daily meals.

In addition to a diet change, there are other things you can do to improve the condition of your damaged hair.

Head to the salon for a cut

The fastest way to rid yourself of damaged tresses is to cut them off! However, if you aren't ready for a dramatic chop, a professional trim can do the trick. Unhealthy hair can weigh down new growth and cause more split ends; keeping up on regular cuts can help you stay on top of damage. If you need to opt for a more drastic cut, ask your hairstylist about different styles that work best for your features.

Switch your shampoo and conditioner

Look for shampoo and conditioner formulated with hair-supporting ingredients like protein, antioxidants, and moisturizing oils to help restore health and strength. Avoid products that contain harsh sulfates, surfactants, or salts that can strip the hair.

Incorporate deep conditioning and restorative masks into your routine

As you can imagine, dry and damaged hair is often in desperate need of hydration - that's where hair masks or a quality deep conditioner can save the day. It only adds a few extra minutes to your shower routine, but it can make a difference! Conditioning and restorative masks are great at nourishing and smoothing hair to revive lifeless locks and radiance.

Masks are thicker than ordinary conditioners. When applied to the hair, they stay put, so there is time for the formulas to deeply penetrate the hair shafts and fill in the gaps that develop on the damaged surface hair. After shampooing, squeeze excess water out of wet hair, apply the treatment to your hair, and gently comb through. Be sure to read the directions, though, as some masks require use BEFORE shampooing!

woman combing hydrating hair mask through hair

Take a break from the heat

Let your heat styling tools take a break. Post-shower, gently blot your hair with a microfiber towel and allow it to air dry. Some products help form and hold your hair without any heat, so you can still get the same sleek and styled outcome without the damage!

If you must blow dry your hair, use the lowest setting possible, and be sure to use a heat-protectant product before use.

Embrace high-quality leave-in products

Leave-in treatments and conditioners act as bodyguards for your hair. Some options offer UV protection, moisturizing ingredients for frizzy hair, protein-rich formulas for therapeutic properties, and more! These should be applied to damp hair and combed through with a wide-tooth comb for even distribution for best results.

Whip up a DIY mask

If you're more of a "do it yourself" kind of person, there are plenty of awesome DIY masks you can whip up at home. Ingredients such as coconut oil, olive oil, jojoba oil, almond oil, and argan oil are great for creating a hydrating hair treatment.


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