You know the perfect cat-eye or deep red lipstick can drastically change up your look, but nothing so universally sets the stage for one’s style than hair, your crowning glory. But while many of us spend lots of time on our skin (and rightly so), we tend to brush off nurturing our manes. Could we unwittingly be damaging our hair with our own bad hair care habits? It’s possible. Some of the very things we think we’re doing right can seriously cramp our hair’s style.
The Composition of Hair
Hair is a non-living tissue. It’s essentially a derivative of the epidermis, the outermost layer of the skin.1 The visible strands are called the hair shaft. The root of the hair, which consists of the hair follicle, is embedded in the outer layers of the skin. This is why a hair tug causes us to wince, but haircuts are totally painless.
The hair shaft is composed of three layers. The innermost layer is the medulla, which is a honeycomb-like keratin structure. The middle layer is the cortex, which contains melanin (color pigments). The outermost layer is the cuticle, which is made up of transparent layers of keratin scales and lends stretching power to hair.
Hair damage occurs when the cuticle breaks or snaps. The good news is that it’s oftentimes preventable since the harm often results from overzealous grooming habits.2
Now let’s take a look at four of the most common bad habits – and some solutions or alternatives that may help keep your tresses healthy:
1. The Problem: Over-Shampooing
Unless you’re participating in a mud run, hair does not get dirty that quickly. Shampooing should be minimized as much as possible. In fact, many people with dry, curly hair can pull off sudsing up just once a week. A lot of shampoos are too harsh, containing chemicals that strip hair of its natural oils – not only causing damage to the hair shaft but also the hair follicle – which can impair hair growth. 3
The Solution: If you feel you absolutely must wash every day, switch to natural, chemical-free brands that offer cleanliness without the steep cost of damage. And remember to shampoo just the scalp – the hair itself does not need to be shampooed, as the suds alone are enough to clean it.
2. The Problem: Over-Conditioning
Generally speaking, the function of a conditioner is to reduce damage caused by abrasion and grooming as well as repair any cuticle damage by filling in any gaps with protein.
Over-conditioning your hair with products that have lots of moisture – but little protein – can actually create a protein imbalance in your hair, leaving it prone to breakage and looking limp and dry. Many conditioners also have ingredients with positively charged ions that tend to stick to the hair, making it heavier and therefore, weaker. 4
The Solution: Studies have also proven the efficacy of oil as a good alternative conditioner, whether it’s used a pre-wash treatment or lightly applied after a shower.
3. The Problem: Excessive Grooming
Grandma’s advice to brush your hair 100 strokes each day may, in fact, be ruining your hair. Research has shown that even a simple detangling of the hair can create damage to the cuticle (and newly sprouted hair shows no damage until it’s combed). 5
The Solution: Gently brush your hair through to detangle, use a good leave-in conditioner, style as you like and then leave your hair alone for the day.
4. The Problem: Tight Hairstyles
Taut chignons, tight braids, face-lifting ponytails and other suffocating hairstyles may look sleek and keep your tresses out of your face, but the damage they cause isn’t pretty. The same goes for heat styling – it’s essentially frying your hair.
The Solution: According to the American Academy of Dermatology, hair should be fully dry before being heat-styled, and you should always spritz on a formula meant to protect your strands from the unusually high temps. And here’s something else you don’t hear often: Try not to wear the same style over and over, as that causes damage to the same areas of your hair and scalp. 6
The hair shaft may not be alive, but you can feel the pain of its damage deeply. A good haircare routine and styling just once a day will make a way for healthier, shinier, and bouncier hair.
For more health and beauty tips, keep reading on our blog here: