Heat damage occurs when too much heat is applied to hair resulting in the alteration of the hair’s fundamental chemical structure. It can happen at any time and may result if the temperature applied to the hair is too high or if a more moderate temperature is applied to the hair but for too long. Heat damage is unpredictable, and a lot depends on the texture of the hair. Fine, thin strands are more prone to damage but that doesn’t mean thicker strands cannot also become damaged. Because of this, there’s no way to predict beforehand if the hair will become heat damaged. You could use heat for years before there is any impact or you could use it once and your hair becomes irrevocably damaged, forever. Hair is made of protein, so if you want to know what happens when high heat is applied to protein, all you need to do is think about what happens when you fry an egg.
How to identify signs of heat damage
If you are in the habit of taking great care of your hair, then identifying issues would come easier to you than someone who is a little less focused on their hair. Paying close attention means you are better able to notice even small changes in your hair and this can be the difference between reversible and irreversible damage. You always want to be able to quickly notice changes so that potential issues do not have the opportunity to become huge, unmitigated disasters. The most common signs of heat damage are:
If your hair starts looking and feeling dry, that is an early sign of heat damage. As damage progresses, your usual products and techniques for moisturizing and styling your hair may not work and styling your hair will become more difficult. If after using heat for a while or even just once you realize your hair just isn’t “acting right” heat damage is almost certainly the cause.
Hair lacks shine
Even hair that is tightly coiled has some amount of natural shine, sheen or luster. Hair shines when the cuticles are laid flat and reflects light. Because heat damaged hair has raised cuticles, its shine is diminished, and hair becomes dull and lackluster.
Hair feels rough and looks frizzy
Raised cuticles are a classic sign of damaged hair, regardless of the type of damage, so while heat damage isn’t the only reason your cuticles could become raised, they are something you will encounter if you have heat damage. Raised cuticles give hair a rough feel. They also lead to frizz, so if your hair is frizzing more than normal, heat damage is probably your culprit.
Split ends and breakage
Once hair becomes dry and brittle, split ends and breakage become inevitable. Too much heat weakens the hair and once that happens, the hair strands will fray and split and breakage becomes constant.
Changes in curl pattern
If you have curly hair of any kind, then your curl pattern will become altered if your hair is heat damaged. Remember that heat breaks down the protein structure of hair, which is why curly hair becomes straight when heat is applied. If too much heat is applied, then the change in structure becomes permanent and irreversible resulting in that are looser and in severe case, damaged sections may become completely straight.
How to repair heat damaged hair
If you are experiencing heat damage, there are things that you can do to hopefully get your hair back to health. It can take several months to repair your hair so be prepared to be patient. Below are some tips for repairing heat damaged hair.
- Use a gentle moisturizing shampoo to clean your hair without further drying it out.
- Use a conditioner that can help to strengthen the hair. Look for conditioners that say things like fortifying or strengthening.
- Treat hair with a protein treatment. Light protein for slight damage, stronger protein treatments to help restore integrity to the hair.
- Use a deep conditioning treatment or mask to help restore moisture deep within the hair strand. Never do a protein treatment without following up with a moisturizing deep conditioner.
- Avoid coloring the hair while it is damaged and recovering, as this will further stress the hair.
- Trim any split ends.
- Eat a healthy, balanced diet to nourish hair from within.
- Hydrate and drink lots of water.
How to protect your hair from heat damage
Once you have been able to get your hair healthy, you will undoubtedly want to ensure that heat damage is not something you will ever have to deal with again. The good news is, heat damage can be prevented. The bad news is the only guaranteed way to prevent heat damage is to not use heat at all. However, for most of us, that’s just not a viable option. If you must use heat, ensure that you prep and protect your hair as best as possible. Even then, it’s a game of chance, so while you hope for the best, expect the worst when you use heat. Here are some tips to help protect your hair when you use heat.
- Start on clean, conditioned hair.
- Deep condition your hair after each wash, especially if you have curly hair or use heat frequently. This is a great way to restore moisture inside the hair strands and keep your hair from drying out.
- Use a heat protectant.
- Remove as much water from the hair before blow drying so that you need less heat to dry your hair completely.
- Blow dry on a cool setting or better yet, allow your hair to air dry.
- Get high quality tools, such as those that allow you to control the temperature of your tool. Not the kind that has numbers from one to ten or high and low as its settings. You need the kind that you can send to specific temperatures and then you want to use the lowest temperature necessary and not a degree more.
- Stretch tightly curled hair with techniques such as banding and threading.
There is a time and place for heat styling your hair, if you so choose. Here’s to making sure that we all do so responsibly!