Damaging Hair Care Practices


As naturals our search for hair care knowledge usually fulfills a couple desires:

1. To achieve “healthy hair”

2. For our hair to grow

Well, that’s not what we really mean is it? Our hair grows. It grows at varying rates monthly and throughout the year and its growth is based on our genetics, our overall health, nutrition, hormones, etc. But it does grow. What we are most interested in is the retention of length. If your hair breaks just as much as it grows then you’re not going to see the lengths adding up. The truth is that our hair care regimes – as simplistic or complex as they are – are implemented to prevent damage.

With all the care you’ve taken of your hair, would it surprise you to know that even if you don’t have overt signs that your hair is in fact damaged? And the longer your hair is, the more damage it has sustained? And that many things you’re doing – knowingly or unconsciously – are contributing to your hair not looking it’s best and you NOT loving your hair?

“Hair Damage” is a condition where one or more of the hair structures – the cuticle, cortex, medulla, etc. – are physically or chemically altered so much that they are unable to return to their original state. Cuticles can become cracked and frayed, the hair shaft can become cracked damaging the cortex and medulla, and the hair fiber can be exposed and unprotected in extreme cases.

The question is, to what extent is your hair damaged?

Main Causes of Damage

Common causes of hair damage include that from regular hair care practices such as mechanical manipulation, to extreme processes like chemical altering.

Number 6: Mechanical damage includes damage from friction and tension. Friction occurs when the hair strands rub against each other. In some hair types and textures this can lead to a build up of static electricity and flyaways. This is rarely the case for textured hair. What we tend to experience is the rising of the cuticles and tangling. Causes of friction include combing, brushing, manipulation of the hair with our fingers, shampooing and conditioning the hair.

Number 5: Tension is another culprit when it comes to damaging the hair. A common example of this is traction alopecia which results in hair loss along the hairline. It’s caused primarily by pulling forces being applied to the hair, and occurs commonly from tight ponytails, puffs or braids.

Number 4: Heat styling is a major source of damage especially when the hair is being manipulated with a brush while being styled. These tools can deplete the hair of moisture resulting in dryness.

Number 3: Shampoos that have a pH higher than 5.5 can cause a pH imbalance and affect the cuticle. If it contains harsh surfactants such as sodium lauryl sulfate the hair can be stripped of its natural oils located in the epicuticle, or the outermost cuticle layer. This can result in mechanical damage due to combing and styling. In addition, the intercellular “glue” which binds the fibers of the cortex together can be dissolved by repeated shampoos with a high pH and harsh detergents. This can lead to damage to the cortex (which accounts for the hair’s strength). Numbers 1 and 2: Lastly, hair can be damaged from modifying its chemistry through the application of chemical relaxers, texturizers and permanent colours. When the hair is damaged in this way, the fatty acids cuticle are stripped away leading to an increase in the porosity of the hair. More water will enter the hair shaft causing it to swell. A swollen hair shaft can result in a lifted cuticle, more friction, tangles and damage. Are you implementing hair damaging practices?

The reality is that the longer your hair is, the more exposure it’s had to physical manipulation. The hair towards the end of your hair is the oldest and most susceptible to being damaged from combing, brushing, exposure to UV rays, manipulation, friction, etc.

For women who are natural, damaged hair usually occurs from washing and combing the hair (which causes damage to the cuticle), bleaching and colouring the hair and from weathering. No, we’re not talking about the climate. Hair weathering is the deterioration of the hair shaft from root to tip from a wide range of cos­metic and environmental factors. Combing, brushing, braiding, weaving, hair extensions, straightening, waving, perming, and dyeing, as well as environmental factors such as exposure to UV light, can lead to structural damage to the hair fiber. The cuticle becomes raised and porous, exposing the cortex to further damage. This can result in a hair that looks dull and lacks shine, a reduction in elasticity, and strength, ultimately leading to hair breakage.

So what is “healthy” hair?

In her book “Hair Care Rehab: The Ultimate Hair Repair & Reconditioning Manual”, Audrey Davis-Sivasothy describes healthy hair as “damaged hair that is well-maintained”. According to Audrey, characteristics of healthy hair or hair that is in good condition include the appropriate balance of the following properties: 1. Elasticity – the ability of the hair to be stretched or manipulated without breaking. 2. Porosity – the ability of the hair to absorb moisture.

3. Strength – The ability of the hair to resist breakage with manipulation.

Now this section is important. Healthy textured hair should:

  • Have minimal breakage;
  • Feel soft to the touch;
  • Appear shiny or possess sheen;
  • Have the ability to PROPERLY RETAIN MOISTURE;
  • Hair a fairly uniform curl pattern from the base of the hair to the ends;
  • Snap back to its original position after being stretched.

How do you know if your hair is damaged? Well, if you have split ends, mid-shaft splits or breakage then your hair is damaged and has the potential to become even more damaged. Yep, I’m with you if you answered yes to any of these. Hello, my name is Susan, and I’m a naturalista with damaged hair!

Once hair has been damaged there is no way to repair it. The only way to rid the hair of damaged areas is by cutting. Companies market products as having the ability to “repair the hair” but this is not entirely true. What the products can do is temporarily improve the state of the hair to make it look, feel and perform like hair that is healthier, as well as prevent future damage.

So that was the bad news. The good news is there are a few strategies you can use to minimize damage to your hair in the first place.

In the meantime, how damaged is your hair? Let’s get a discussion going!


  1. says

    This article is extremely helpful. I was natural for seven years and made the titanic mistake of relaxing my hair. Now that I’m older and have my head on right (well, smarter than before) I am going back to natural. Thanks for this informative post. Learn more

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