Anybody who routinely bleaches or colors their hair has to learn about how to repair damaged hair at some point or other. Even the most gentle and careful processing will result in damaged hair at some point or other. Frequently heat styling your hair to fight the frizz or improve the texture doesn't help either. Keep reading to know more about how to repair damaged hair and prevent damage from happening in the first place.

What is Hair Made Of?

Hair is made of a protein called Keratin. The hair shaft is constructed in several layers, which grow from the hair follicles on your scalp. You have the medulla or core, the cortex, which defines the hair color and thickness, and the cuticle. The cuticle is a protective layer made of Keratin scales layered on top of each other. Under the microscope, they look a lot like roof shingles and very much like roof shingles. They point downwards and keep your hairs from tangling with each other. A close cuticle makes hair look smooth and reflects light for a glossy, healthy mane.

What Happens To Hair When It Is Damaged?

When the cuticle is damaged, the scales lose integrity and even open up, lying at the wrong angle. This exposes the hair fiber core, creating further damage along the way. The hair feels rough and tangly, the shine is replaced by dullness, and when you try to brush your hair, the tools don't glide anymore, and you feel snags. In some cases, the hair cuticle may have been entirely stripped or eroded, and the hair looks and feels like straw.

How to Repair Damaged Hair - Damaged vs Healthy Cuticle
This is how the cuticle looks like on hair that is damaged and hair that is healthy

When hair is damaged, moisture also seeps from the core, making your hair more dry and fragile. Frizz is also often caused by damaged hair because the exposed hair shaft reacts to the humidity in the environment. Significantly damaged hair will start splitting at the ends, and if that is not corrected, the entire hair strand can break and become thinner and even more easily tangled, compounding the problem.

What Can Cause Damaged Hair?

Keratin is quite resilient, but there are a few things that will cause hair damage:

  • Heat damage from heat styling your hair
  • Chemical damage from bleach or hair dyes
  • Mechanical damage from excessive or rough brushing
  • Sun damage (Yes, besides painfully burning your scalp, the sun can also damage your hair)
  • Aggressive weather (very cool or hot wind, arid environments) will suck the moisture right off your hair.

All of the above will pry open the keratin cells that form your hair cuticle, some quicker than others. And once those "shingles" have been misaligned, it's challenging to get them back to their original pristine solution. However, learning how to repair damaged hair is a significant first step to minimizing further damage and increasing your hair's health.

Can You Repair Damaged Hair?

The truth is, you can't repair damaged hair. The only way to go back to healthy hair is by letting new hair grow and cutting old the damaged hair. However, a lot can be done to improve the symptoms of damaged hair in terms of texture and shine.

You won't be able to seal that cuticle permanently, but you can make it look better and protect your hair from further protein and moisture loss. In many cases, you can even get back your natural hair texture and recover those curls or waves hidden by frizzy, damaged hair.

The only exception to this are bond repair treatments such as Olaplex, which repair the disulfide bonds that give hair elasticity and strength. It works particularly well for colored, heat-damaged, and bleached hair.

What Are The Symptoms Of Hair Damage?

There are different ways in which hair damage presents itself; most people will see several simultaneously. From less damaged hair to heavily sensitized manes, this is what you should look out for.

Tangles

The first sign of hair damage is tangling. Healthy hair has cuticles that are closed and pointing downwards, which means hair glides against each other instead of tangling. If your hair is suddenly tangling more than usual, you may be suffering from the first signs of hair damage.

Dull And Dry Hair

Glossy hair comes from either product or very nicely aligned cuticles that reflect the light at the right angles. If your hair feels dull and dry, the cuticle is open, and it's not holding to moisture properly. As a result of the Keratin cells being misaligned, the light is scattered, and the hair looks dull instead of shinny.

Frizz

Frizzy hair happens when the hair fibers are all running in different directions, scattering light and tangling with each other. While some causes of frizz are just structural, a well-defined smooth mane that becomes frizzy is often a sign of hair damage. A closed cuticle protects the cortex and keeps the moisture inside, but damaged hair doesn't have that shield. As the moisture levels rise in the environment, the hair fiber acts like a sponge and attracts moisture, swelling and becoming voluminous and frizzy.

Brittleness And Breakage

Split ends, brittle hair, and breakage are the signs of severe hair damage. In extreme cases, hair will break off at the root creating lots of flyaways and losing length. This often happens after excessive chemical processing or heat styling at incorrect temperatures. When the hair reaches this stage, the answer to how to repair damaged hair usually involves a haircut.

What Are The Types And Causes Of Hair Damage

Not all hair damage is equal, and some types are easier to fix than others.

  • Damaged hair cuticles cause dull and unruly hair. Often caused by heat styling or using flat irons
  • Fried, breakable hair has damaged cuticles and cortex. Most often caused by bleach or hair color
  • Thinning hair combines excessive fallout and patchy hair growth. In most cases, this can have a genetic component but can be made worse by product buildup and hair pulling from extensions, or excessive brushing
  • Split ends cause hair thinning and frizzing as they travel up the hair shaft splitting it, caused by not trimming your hair often enough or combing too harshly.

Some people have hair that is naturally tougher and can deal with more processing or heat styling before showing signs of damage. People with curly or coily hair often have more sensitive hair that will break more easily. Also, wet hair is often more elastic and fragile than dry hair, mainly processed hair. While your friend may be curling their hair with flat irons every day for years and have lovely hair, your hair may not be able to stand that. So it's always worth it to be as careful as possible with anything that could damage your hair and avoid damage rather than trying to figure out how to repair damaged hair after the fact.

How To Repair Damaged Colored or Bleached Hair

Is your hair damaged after bleaching it at home? Even the most careful hair color or bleaching process will cause hair damage. The only exception to this is color depositing vegetable dyes that wash off, and that's because those dyes don't need to enter the hair cuticle to deposit pigment.

Bleaching and coloring work by opening the hair cuticle so the bleaching actives can lift the pigment out of the hair cortex by oxidizing them and depositing new color pigments. After bleaching, the cuticle closes again, but the keratin scales never close again as tightly as before. Further bleaching or coloring rounds compound the damage, and hair becomes dry and damaged.

To repair bleached hair, you can do several things:

  • Increase hair moisture levels
  • Replace the lost protein in the hair
  • Use bond builders to refresh the hair bonds and repair the hair (Olaplex, SmartBond)
  • Use a keratin treatment to add keratin back to your hair temporarily

Keeping bleached hair healthy involves achieving a balance between moisture levels and protein levels. Hair that is over-moisturized will feel gloppy and shapeless, while hair with too much protein will be brittle. You should alternate deep conditioning treatments depending on how your hair is feeling. This will improve the feel and condition of bleached hair, but it won't repair hair damage.

Keratin treatments and Bond building services such as Olaplex, K18, or Smartbond repair the protein chains in the hair or cover the hair in a layer of brand new Keratin. This does repair damage, but you will need to get new treatments regularly as it will eventually wash out.

Products to Repair Bleached or Color-Treated Hair

If you consider how to repair damaged hair, you should give the following hair treatments a try.

Olaplex Hair Perfector No 3 Repairing Treatment

Olaplex was the original bond builder, and it's still beloved by hairdressers and bleach addicts everywhere. The in-salon treatments are famed for bringing dark-haired celebrities to platinum in one sitting without destroying their hair. There are also more accessible treatments that you can do at home for maintenance, such as the No. 3 Repairing treatment.

If you bleach your hair at home and have access to the hairdresser's exclusive Olaplex No 1 and 2, you should use them. They can do miracles in reducing bleach damage if used correctly (which is why they are restricted to trained professionals).

Olaplex Products

L'Oreal Professionnel Smartbond Conditioner

For those who want an alternative to Olaplex, the Smartbond line by L'Oreal also works similarly, protecting the hair bonds during the hair coloring or lightening service. At home, you can use the Smartbond conditioner to target weakened areas of your hair and improve its condition by rebuilding the broken bonds. The hair feels smoother and glossier and easier to style afterwards.

K18 Leave-In Molecular Repair Hair Mask

This leave-in 4-minute treatment repairs the broken keratin chains in your hair and restores its elasticity and strength. It's a leave-in product, which needs about 4 minutes to activate before you go on to style your hair. One of the best things about this product is that it comes in a minimal sample size to see if it works for your hair. This is a protein treatment, so it should only be used about once a week unless your hair is really damaged.

Repairing Fine Hair

If your hair is fine and suffering from a lot of breakage, you may need to consider a trim. Split ends often make hair look finer because they travel up the hair shaft splitting it and making it look less thick. Fine hair is usually dry, so you may want to lay off the protein treatments and consider some moisturizing to repair hair damage.

If you are wondering how to repair damaged hair without weighing it down, consider the following:

  • Use a moisturizing shampoo and conditioner
  • Rich hair masks should be a weekly occurrence, but only on your ends
  • Light leave-ins designed for fine hair can make a huge difference

Products to Repair Fine Hair

The following are some great options to repair fine hair that breaks and loses volume and manageability.

Pantene Hair Mask Miracle Rescue Shots

This is a deep, deep conditioning treatment from a favorite drugstore brand. Each ampoule is one dose, and it will repair the signs of hair damage and strengthen your hair. Focus it on the ends to keep your scalp from getting oily, making your hair look thinner. It has a fantastic effect on split ends, and while it won't replace frequent hairdressing trims, it's still a great way to keep your hair from breaking.

Shu Uemura Silk Bloom Treatment Mask for Damaged Hair

This is pricey, but it's worth every penny. This restorative deep mask conditioning treatment for fine hair will add body and volume to your hair while repairing the damage. Use once a week, and your hair will feel noticeably stronger and shinier. It uses Argan oil to improve the cuticle's condition and add moisture to dry hair. This one works great for bleached and colored hair as well.

Playa Ritual Hair Oil

PlayA Ritual Hair Oil

PlayA Ritual Hair Oil

  • Hair oils, silicone free hair oils, uv protection hair oil, deluxe hair oil

$22.95

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This leave-in treatment smells great and has a clean formula with multiple benefits. It doesn't have silicones that can weigh down fine and thin hair but still provides a shoot of protective moisture to repair the texture of damaged hair. It is not a bond builder, but it will help your hair feel better and make styling more straightforward as a leave-in conditioner. Great if you suffer from frizz and flyaways caused by hair damage.

Repairing Curly Hair

Curly hair may look thick and voluminous, but it can also be very sensitive and easily damaged. Coily hair textures, in particular, can be surprisingly fragile. Preventing damage is particularly important with curly hair, especially if you want to achieve longer hair. Learning how to repair damaged hair is also vital, as unless you are incredibly meticulous about hair care, damage will happen.

Curly and coily hair strands are much longer than they look, and the natural oils from the scalp often fail to reach the end of the hair. This leads to a lack of moisture and can cause breakage. Roughly detangling curly hair or brushing while dry can also lead to mechanical hair damage.

Products to Repair Curly Hair

Curly hair has its own needs, and using the right products is vital to keep curls healthy. Most curly and coily textures require a lot of moisture and less protein, as protein can make hair brittle. Methods such as the curly girl method can go a long way to repair damaged hair in curly and coily textures. Still, they are not for everybody, so try and test different product combinations and learn about your particular curly hair needs before settling on a routine.

Righteous Roots Rx Oil

Righteous Roots Rx 4fl oz - Growth, Anti Frizz and Thickener (Previously known as Hair RX)

Righteous Roots Rx 4fl oz - Growth, Anti Frizz and Thickener (Previously known as Hair RX)

  • “SCRUNCH OUT THE CRUNCH” After applying gel use Righteous Roots Rx to soften the gel cast.
  • PRE-WASH DETANGLE / PRE-POO: Separate hair into 4 sections. Add Righteous Roots Rx to your favorite…
  • SCALP MASSAGE / ANTI -ITCH Stimulate & massage into scalp 2-3 days per week preferably before…
  • HOT OIL / DEEP CONDITION HOT OIL TREATMENT: Generously apply Righteous Roots Rx from root to end;…
  • What ingredients are in the Righteous Roots Rx oil? COCOS NUCIFERA OIL (COCONUT), RICINUS COMMUNIS…

$19.89

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One of the first things you are told about curly hair is how important it is not to overwash it. However, that can lead to a less than healthy scalp, which will impact growth. This hair oil serum combines 12 essential oils to help detangle hair, reduce frizz, and care for your scalp. You can use it as a leave-in, hot oil treatment, deep conditioning, pre-wash, and endless possibilities.

Aphogee Balancing Moisturizer and Twostep Protein Treatment

This bundle combines a protein treatment with a moisturizing treatment to give coily and curly hair types everything they need. You need to apply the protein treatment under heat first and then the moisturizer. It dramatically reduces breakage and keeps hair elastic and healthy, repairing curls.

What To Do To Prevent Further Hair Damage

There are many things you can do to prevent instead of having to repair hair damage, and most of them won't cost you anything.

Switch to a Lower Maintenance Look

If you love heat styling your hair, creating complex hair-dos, or wearing weaves or hair extensions daily, you may be causing a lot of hair damage. At the same time, all those things are great fun in small amounts; if you are concerned about the health of your hair, alternate with low-effort hairstyles and air drying.

Loosen Up Your Style

Special mention here to the damage caused by wigs, hair extensions, snatched ponytails, weaves, cornrows, and any other hairstyle that pulls your hair back tightly. Too much mechanical traction, and you could even develop traction alopecia. At the very least, the baby hairs around your face will suffer damage, snap broken and give you a halo of frizz.

Get Regular Trims

Getting regular trims when you want to grow your hair feels counter-intuitive, but that's precisely how to repair damaged hair for good. Trims remove split ends and stop them from splitting the hair further up towards the roots causing even more damage.

Avoid Brushing Hair When Wet

Brushing wet hair can cause hair damage, as the hair is more fragile when soaked in water. If you want to detangle your hair while it's wet (as you should if you have curly hair), use a conditioner and a comb and work carefully from the ends.

Use Hair Sunscreen

The sun can do a lot of damage to your hair, including turning your hair green. If you know, you will spend time in the sun, wear a hat, or use a sunscreen designed for hair. Many products also double as leave-in conditioners and work great to prevent sun damage to your hair.

Limit Chlorine Exposure

And while we are on the subject of days out in the sun, try to limit your exposure to chlorine and pool water if you are going swimming. You can do several things to prevent chlorine from turning your hair green, and if you are a frequent swimmer, you want to take advantage of them.

Add in an Oil Or a Leave-In Conditioner

Oils and leave-in conditioners add a layer of protection to your hair and seal in moisture. This helps prevent environmental damage and can help repair damaged hair over time.

Lower The Temperature on Hot Tools

It doesn't matter if you use the best flat iron; you risk damaging your hair if you set it too hot. Fine hair often doesn't need the highest temperatures, and even thicker hair can benefit from not going all the way up, even if it takes a bit longer—the lower the heat, the lower the damage.

Always Use a Heat Protectant

If you use heat to style your hair, always use a heat protectant. Choose one that is designed for the type of styling you are after, and you will not only get a better and quicker result, but you'll keep your hair healthy in the process.

Heat Protectants To Avoid Heat Damage

Don't Wash Your Hair Every Day

Unless your hair is very, very oily, you are unlikely to need to wash your hair every day. You probably should look at your hair routine and see if you can change something to stop oily hair. If you need to wash your hair every day, consider using a no-poo cleanser instead of shampoo at least every other time to avoid stripping your hair from its natural oils and causing hair damage. Dry shampoo is your friend!

Start Paying Attention to Your Scalp

A healthy scalp means healthy hair, and regularly treating your scalp with conditioning, deep cleansing, or moisturizing treatments can go a long way to avoiding hair damage.

Bold Color Moves May Need A Professional

I am all for bleaching your hair at home, but if your hair is already damaged or you want to do something very radical, it may be worth going to a hairdresser. They have access to tools and training you may not be able to use. They also can tell you if your hair is too fried for anything besides a bleach bath. Bleaching and coloring damages hair, and sometimes the risk is just not worth it.

Learning how to repair damaged hair is the holy grail of people who love changing their hair color, styling their hair in different ways, or wanting to grow long hair. While it's not always possible, you can at the very least improve the condition of damaged hair and prevent further damage by following our advice.

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