Hair Damage – Causes and how to avoid

All of us long for healthy and lustrous hair as your hair is considered your crowning glory. How your hair looks on a particular day makes a lot of difference to your appearance . But alas, I remember in my younger days when I had a crown not of glory but of thrones. My hair was unmanageable with lots of split ends. To tame my curls, I would comb my hair every single day hoping for better hair day but all in vain. My hair was so damaged and unmanageable that I would always keep my hair tied down. I never knew how one could use different products to define the curls. And this is the problem with most of people with curly and wavy hair. The foremost cause of this persistent problem is people are just not aware of how to take care of their hair and how to use products to define their curls. Even salon professionals are not able to help you in taking care of your hair and to get the defined curls and waves.

If you are a regular reader of my blog, by now you already must have known different ways to get the defined curls. But the other important thing is to keep your curls healthy. To achieve that goal, we should first know what damages our hair.

Appearance of our hair depends mostly on the quality of hair cuticles. Cuticles are flat, overlapping scales like shingles on the roof which provides a resistant barrier protecting the hair from outside environment and play a very important part to keep the hair healthy. Cuticles are hydrophobic (water resistant) in nature and keep the hair away from excessive moisture and humidity (know how excessive moisture and humidity affects hair). The more damaged the cuticles are, the more unmanageable are our hair and we can see this cuticle damage by noticing below things.

  • Fly aways and static charge on hair – Our hair carries negative charge. More the hair is damaged, more negative charge it carries.
  • Frizzy, out of control hair – Due to damaged cuticles, hair absorbs more moisture from air and swells to cause frizzyness.
  • Dry and rough to touch hair – Hair loses its moisture due to damaged outer cuticle layer.
  • Tangled hair – Hair gets more knots due to damaged cuticles.
  • Dull hair that lacks shine
  • Breakage
  • Split ends

So, lets see what are the causes of cuticle damage.

Mechanical Damage

Everyday grooming routine such as shampooing, combing or brushing and tie your hair with clips and rubberbands can result in hair damage. These actions result in friction between hair fibers and also friction between hair fiber and the grooming tool like comb, brush, bands etc. Due to this friction, the hair cuticles get lifted and results in separation from the underlying cuticles called de-cementation of cuticles. Also, when you brush or comb through tangled hair, it stretches and elongate the hair causing strain on hair fiber which results in breakage and split ends.



De-cementation of cuticles


So, it becomes really important that you comb your hair only when it is loaded with a conditioner which helps to detangle the hair and lessen the strain on hair due to pulling. Never ever comb your curly hair when it is dry. Not only it opens up your curl and makes it frizzy also it leads to damaged cuticles.

Now, would you still believe if anyone tells you to brush your hair 100 times before going to bed to get healthy beautiful long hair?


Thermal Damage

Thermal damage results from the styling tools such as blow dryer, curling iron and flat iron. These tools not only cause thermal damage due to heat but also adds to the mechanical damage to hair.

The heat from these devices results in de-cementation and lifting, vertical cracking, shear band formation (split ends), bulges and craters on cuticle layer. Damage to the cuticle layer causes inner layers on the hair fiber to get exposed resulting in split ends, breakage and dullness of the hair fiber.


Longitudnal cracks

Vertical cracks on cuticles layer



Bulges on cuticles layer


Curling irons and straightening irons that come in direct contact of the hair fiber typically have surface temperature above 150° C. At this elevated temperature, the hair cuticle endures a significant amount of stress resulting in loss of the cuticle or protective coating, thus resulting in the fiber being more hydrophilic (water-loving) in nature.

When the hair is wet, the cortex of hair swells. Upon blow drying, the heat hits the hair surface resulting in shrinking of cuticles. With cortex (inner layer of hair fiber) still swollen, it exerts pressure on the cuticle that are still trying to tighten. This results in the vertical cracks in the hair cuticle. Although, vertical cracking does not happen if the temperature of blow dryer is increased gradually.

To avoid thermal damage, avoid using flat iron or curling iron. Also, if you use a blow dryer, always use a diffuser and keep the temperature at low setting.


Chemical Processing Damage

Chemical damage is caused by the hair treatments done at salon like hair coloring, smoothening, and hair straightening or permanent curls. Due to the high pH value (see how pH value of products affect hair) of the products used for these treatments, hair fiber gets extremely swollen and some cuticles start to chip away from the surface of hair. Hair fibers swells up to 60-80% in their diameter during treatment causing vertical cracks and horizontal cracks in hair fiber. Chemical treatments are the worst thing you can do to your hair.


Environmental Damage

It includes damage done by sun, wind and water. UVB rays are responsible for hair protein loss and UVA rays changes the color of hair. The amino acids of the cuticle are altered to a greater extent than those of the cortex because the outer layers of the fiber receive higher intensities of radiations. This exposure can cause rupture and detachment of the external layers resulting in splitting of the ends. Portion of certain amino acids depends on the type of hair. Dark and black hair has more photosensitive amino acids (for example cystine) than fair hair. Therefore dark and black hair has the biggest protein loss in the cuticle area. To avoid the damage due to sun, use products that provide UV protection and cover your head when you go out in the sun.

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