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Protect Your Hair from Styling Damage

Mar 10 2021
6 min read
Woman getting her hair blow-dried at a salon.

Your styling skills can go a long way in contributing to a ‘good hair day,’ but so can protecting your hair from styling damage.

Though hot styling tools, hair products and other helpers may be what helps you achieve the look you desire, overusing them and engaging in other hair habits can cause breakage, dryness, color fading and unwanted buildup that even the best updo can have a hard time hiding.

You don’t need to banish your blow dryer to the linen closet or completely stop getting color treatments to protect your hair. Like most things, the key is a balanced approach that keeps your hair healthy while helping it look its best. Hang on to that signature red hue or those noteworthy curls, if that’s what you’d like. These tips can help you shield your hair from damage as you do:

Use Hot Tools Wisely

Blow dryers, flat irons, curling irons and other hot tools can reach temperatures upwards of 400 degrees. That kind of heat can lift or break your hair’s cuticle—the protective shaft that lays flat and smooth over each strand of hair—allowing moisture to escape.

Fix Heat Damage: Apply a deep conditioning treatment at least once a week. Coconut oil works well, if you prefer a natural option: Measure a teaspoon’s worth and massage it into your hair, starting at the ends and working your way to the middle of the strands. (Keep the oil on the shaft of the hair, not the roots, to avoid greasiness.)

Prevent Heat Damage: Consider wrapping hair in a microfiber towel after you shower; it’s more absorbent than terrycloth and will help cut down on blow drying time. You can also let your hair air dry a bit before blow drying, or completely before using a flat or curling iron to smooth frizzy sections. You may also find it helpful to take occasional breaks from heat styling altogether.

Switch up Your Style

Pulling your hair into tight updos, parting strands in the same spot and attaching hair extensions and other accessories can cause your tresses to break. In the worst cases, this kind of repeated stress on your hair can actually lead to a condition called traction alopecia—a type of gradual hair loss.

Fix Breakage: The best way to repair broken hair is to get a haircut. Your stylist may suggest strategically placed layers, or an overall shorter style, depending on the extent of the damage.

Prevent Breakage: Though that left-side part or ponytail may be your signature look, consider brushing hair to the right or wearing it down to give the root an opportunity to relax and recover. If having hair in your face bothers you, consider wearing a stretchy headband or rubberized bobby pins, which are far gentler than tight hair ties and clips. A hair extensions hiatus can also help, as can brushing hair with a gentler touch; a detangling spray can make it easier to comb through knots.

Combine Products Carefully

While it’s tempting to use several products for various reasons (shine, volume, anti-frizz, etc.), using too many at once can cause buildup that prevents your hair’s natural oils from being secreted. The combination of chemicals in all those products can also irritate your scalp and lead to redness or rashes.

Fix Buildup: If you typically use multiple products when hair styling, try a clarifying shampoo once or twice a week. These products contain a mild acidic ingredient, like citric acid, to cut through buildup. Or, rinse your hair with a mixture of one part apple cider vinegar and one part water once a week. The solution deep cleans your hair, removing product residue, dirt and excess oils.

Prevent Buildup: Most simply, cut back on the amount of styling products you use. If you want to try different options, alternate what you use each day instead of layering multiple products over each other. Look for products that do double-duty—serums that help smooth and shine; mousse that adds volume and reduces frizz.

Turn Down the Water Temp

Hair is at its weakest when it’s wet: Water breaks down hair’s natural hydrogen bonds, which are the links that keep hair strong. Extra-hot water can strip hair of its natural, protective oils and cause color-treated locks to fade faster.

Fix Damage: Hot oil treatments are a great way to restore moisture and shine to depleted strands. Deep conditioning treatments can also help fix hair damage due to repeated exposure to hot water. Follow product recommendations on when to use these treatments.

Prevent Damage: Dial down the shower faucet; lukewarm temperatures are best. Or wash your hair, put on a shower cap and then turn up the heat to clean your body, if you must. When towel drying, be gentle and avoid wrapping hair tightly.

Color Carefully

Whether you’re headed to the salon or setting up a color treatment in your own bathroom, the chemicals in highlights and semi-permanent dyes cause hair cuticles to lose their natural, protective moisturizers, leaving locks dry and damaged over time. In some cases, dyes can irritate your scalp too.

Fix Coloring Damage: Try a leave-in conditioner that will help seal cuticles and keep in moisture. Or consider a conditioning masque once a week, which can help repair brittle strands dried out by chemical processing.

Prevent Coloring Damage: While the best way to prevent hair damage is to stop dyeing your strands altogether, you can find coloring products that don’t contain harsh ingredients like ammonia, peroxide, coal tar and lead; ask the pros at your salon for their recommendations. Opt for shampoos and conditioners that are specifically made for color-treated hair, which can give you a moisture boost and help color last.