When this pursuit of perfection extends to a regimen that includes regularly subjecting hair to harsh chemicals and heated styling devices that can damage otherwise healthy hair, it can leave women looking like anything but the fashion plates they so often try to emulate.
“One of the most common misconceptions about hair is that it is alive when, in fact, hair is non-living and does not heal itself once it is injured,” said Dr. Zoe Draelos, a dermatologist and consulting professor at Duke University School of Medicine in Durham, N.C.
“For this reason, once the hair is damaged it cannot heal itself except through new hair growth at the scalp.
“Women need to understand that the very things they do to hair to make it appear beautiful, such as using hair dyes, perms, and products that straighten the hair, will eventually end up damaging the hair's structure and ultimately affect its appearance.”
Over time, damage to hair caused by artificial dyes and other treatments can turn glamorous manes brittle, so much so that the only corrective treatment is a “complete hair-care overhaul” to improve hair health and appearance.
When hair is damaged, the protective layer of fat on the outside of the cuticle responsible for making hair shiny is removed. Chemical damage is one of the most common culprits of hair damage, as processed hair loses its natural moisturizers. The result is dried-out, frizzy hair that does not hold its style and accounts for the hair's dull appearance.
“Many products have been developed to counter the effects of over-processed hair,” said Draelos, “and regular moisturizing is a must for women with visible signs of hair damage.”
He offered the following tips to help combat chemical damage.
— Use conditioning shampoos and conditioners regularly to improve the appearance of frizzy hair. Two-in-one shampoos that remove oil from the scalp, clean the hair, then condition the hair in the rinse phase also are good choices.
— Look for products containing dimethicone, which is available in shampoos, conditioners, sprays, and creams. This ingredient has been shown to decrease static electricity, increase shine, and improve manageability.
— Try newly introduced hair serums, which are applied by a few drops on the hands and rubbed through the length of the hair, but should not be applied directly to the scalp.
— Stop dyeing your hair.
— If you must dye your hair, stay “on shade” — or dye the hair within three color shades of its natural color. Dyeing hair darker, rather than lighter, is generally better.
Another source of hair damage can be traced directly to heat-styling devices and treatments, which can produce a condition known as bubble hair. This occurs when the water in the hair, which makes the hair flexible, gets heated and turns into steam. Hair bubbles then occur on the hair shaft, creating a loss of cuticle. Signs of this form of hair damage include hair that smells burned, frizzy ends, and hair that breaks easily.
“Dramatic temperature changes are hard on hair, and heat can, in a sense, cook the hair,” said Draelos. “Think of hair like a piece of steak — it starts out nice and soft and flexible. But when you cook it, the steak changes texture and becomes hard. Similarly, hair transforms when exposed to heat over time, resulting in brittle hair that breaks easily. Protecting hair from too much heat is essential to maintaining healthy hair.”
Hair damaged by heat cannot be repaired. The affected hair must be cut off and allowed to regrow as healthy hair.
Draelos offers these tips for heat-damaged hair.
— Allow hair to air dry, when possible.
— When using a hairdryer, do not use the highest heat setting immediately. Start out on the lowest heat setting first, and then gradually increase heat.
— To straighten hair with a ceramic iron, put a moist towel in the device to protect the hair from direct heat.
— Look for temperature-controlled devices to control the amount of direct heat to hair.
— Moisturizing the hair regularly will help the appearance of heat damaged hair to some degree, but stopping the source of heat damage is essential.
The pursuit of sleek, straight hair often leads many women to use ceramic flat irons. When a ceramic flat iron is used in combination with heat to straighten or rearrange the hair's natural bonds, this is known as keratin hair straightening.
Typically performed in salons, keratin hair straightening uses gluteraldehyde or formeldahyde rather than lye — a stronger bond breaker also used for hair straightening but that is even more damaging — combed through the hair to make it straight.
After one of the chemical solutions is applied to the hair, a keratin protein conditioner is put on the hair to make it less brittle. With this procedure, hair must be kept dry and not bent or manipulated for several days after the process.
For women considering keratin hair straightening, Draelos offers these suggestions.
— Avoid this procedure if you have tightly kinked hair; it will not work in rearranging the natural hair bonds.
— To minimize hair damage and loss, extend the time between treatments.
— If hair becomes frizzy and brittle, stop the procedure and let new growth replace damaged hair.