According to trichologist and stylist Bridgette Hill with Paul Labrecque Salon and Skincare Spa in Palm Beach, baby hairs are scientifically known as "vellus" hairs, as opposed to the hair type and texture that grows from the rest of the scalp, called "terminal" hairs. "These finer textures would be visible around the frontal hairline as well as the nape," she explains. "Due to the fineness of the texture, these hairs can be slicked down with very little effort to create sleek, wave-like patterns or a smooth, sleek face-framing hairline, typically in contrast to their coily, tightly-curled hair textures."
But regularly styling those hairs with a brush and gel can cause damage at your hairline, which no one wants. It can sometimes be difficult to tell whether your baby hair is real baby hair or actually — gasp — breakage.
Let us help you spot the difference. We hit up our experts to tell us exactly when your baby hair is the real deal or if it's just damage, and solutions to fix that damage once and for all.
Treat Your "Baby" Hair Like Real Hair
Sadly, there’s no special baby hair-care plan — just as there is no guarantee that the hairline hairs will remain fine and sleek. "Depending on your hair texture, your baby hair will lay flat, wave, or curl up naturally," shares trichologist Sophia Emmanuel of Crown Worthy in New York City. "For some people, baby hair is a different texture than the rest of the hair on the scalp. It can be softer [and more] fragile. It needs gentle manipulation."
The two most important things you can do to care for your hairline are avoiding styles that place too much tension or pull the hair tight (this includes ponytails, buns, hair extensions, etc.) and making sure your wigs do not rub or add friction to your edges. "The repeated use of these hairstyles can cause hair loss, specifically called traction alopecia," adds Emmanuel. "Traction alopecia tends to affect around the hairline where the baby hair and edges are located. It can cause permanent hair loss if you continue to pull the scalp." Of course, that doesn't mean never wear a ponytail or a wig, just be sure you are not pulling your hair too tight. Same goes for any kind of extensions — make sure that they are being installed as gently as possible.
Take Note of Any Hairline Changes
The state of your baby hair can change, so it's important to watch your hairline and be mindful of your body so you can determine whether or not your baby hairs are natural or caused by hormonal or styling issues. "Your hair along the hairline may begin to recede or get thinner. A thinning hairline [can be caused by] hormonal changes or genetic predispositions to female or male pattern hair loss," explains Emmanuel.
Christine Shaver, a dermatologist at Bernstein Medical – Center for Hair Restoration in New York City reminds us that "it's important to differentiate genetic 'baby hair' from broken hair and miniaturized hair as they all can look similar. If hair is broken, then styling practices need to be reassessed as heat, chemical, and over-styling can cause more brittleness and cracking," she says. "Miniaturization is the shrinking of hair in genetic hair loss and can occur in both men and women." Thankfully, this can be reversed to some extent with medications like topical 5 percent minoxidil ( a.k.a Rogaine). In contrast to baby hairs, which are stable, the amount of miniaturized hair on a person’s head will tend to increase over time.
Additionally, Shaver adds that platelet-rich plasma (PRP) scalp injections can help women reverse miniaturizing hairs. "Both these therapies need to be maintained for their benefit to continue as the hair is always growing and cycling," she shares. "While Rogaine can be applied at home, PRP injections require periodic in-office treatments with your dermatologist."
Also watch for changes in texture, Hill notes. "The changes in the texture around the hairline are individual and impacted by your genetic makeup, hair type, texture, and hairstyling habits. Extensive tension, overuse of heat and styling tools, as well styling products can impact the texture as well as cause those finer hairs to grow in coarser and thicker."
Pregnancy can create baby (-looking) hairs temporarily. "Following pregnancy, there is often a large shed period of hair as the plentiful pregnancy hormones decrease in the body," explains Shaver. "Following this shed, hair initially grows back more wispy and fine and then over time strengthens, darkens, and returns to normal."
So, Is It Breakage or Baby Hair?
Ah, the golden question: Do you actually have baby hair or just breakage? Emmanuel weighs in: "If it is breakage, the hair along the edge of your hairline will feel dry, it will also be uneven in length and brittle. You will also notice split, frayed hairs," she says.
"If it is hair loss, you may notice a smooth, shiny surface with little or no hair — this may be due to traction, pulling your hair too tight, or overusing hot tools really close to the scalp. The scalp may look red and inflamed as well," Emmanuel clarifies.
How to Treat Hairline Breakage
So what to do if your baby hairs are really breakage hairs? First, cut back on heat styling. "These hair-care practices weaken the strength of bonding among hairs and can create brittle nodes which lead to premature cracking and breakage," Shaver explains. But if you absolutely cannot help yourself, "You should always try to use the lowest temperature possible when styling hair to avoid additional trauma."
Hairstylist Takisha Sturdivant-Drew agrees that heat styling should be eliminated or at the very least kept to a minimum. "A lot of women are doing no heat styling — none at all. But then again, that doesn’t work for everyone." If you're one of those people, don't use your flatiron more than once a week, and again, put it on the lowest setting possible and be sure to protect those edges from that heat. "Use a leave-in heat styling spray and apply it all [over] the hairline," she tells ishonest. After application, Justin Anderson, colorist and cofounder fo dpHUE suggests allowing the area to air-dry almost fully before you go in with the iron.
Even if you ditch the heat tools altogether (which is advisable), "condition, condition, condition," Sturdivant-Drew advises. "It nourishes and moisturizes the hair. [Plus,] leave-in conditioner is great to use on your edges because it still lays them down. A hair oil or a serum is even better to hydrate the edges."
As for color, because baby hair is often so fine, you should be very mindful when dyeing your hair — especially with bleach. "[If you highlight your hair,] ask your colorist to use a more gentle formula, specifically around the hairline," Anderson continues. "It needs to be treated with more care since this area can be under stress."
Also: choose your products wisely. "Minimize your usage of products that tend to have a more drying effect on the hair and scalp, like extra-hold hair sprays and super hold gels," says hairstylist Nikki Nelms. "The hair is already in a fragile state, so this is the time to add moisture to the hair, not remove it." She suggests the Maui Moisture Smooth + Repair Vanilla Bean Oil Mist to really baby your edges. "It's silicone-free and would be really helpful to someone dealing with broken hair around the hairline."
Don't forget to switch up your cleansing products, too. "Protein-rich conditioner may help prevent fine baby hair from breaking," explains Shaver. "Adding extra protein to the outside of the hair cuticle can help make a stronger barrier that is less susceptible to damage." Another helpful product? Heat-protectants, such as hairsprays of foams. "These can be applied to the hair before blow-drying, curling or flat-ironing to help prevent harmful heat from further breaking the bonds between hair and cause additional cracking," she adds.
If you're using an edge control, Hill encourages clients to prep your hairline with some type of leave-in beforehand to avoid excess breakage. She also suggests refraining from using an edge control daily. "[Those products] are created for a specific use to create a specific look." In short, let your hairline breathe. Even if it means it will be a little fuzzy — embrace it.
Know When to Ask for Outside Help
As with many things in life, there comes a point where you can’t do it all yourself and your need to call in backup. According to Anderson, once you have addressed any coloring, styling, and dietary issues but have yet to see an improvement, seek medical attention. "I almost always see a difference in my client's hair immediately when these issues are addressed," he says.
Damaged hair? Hair loss? These articles might help:
- Why Your Hair Sheds More in Fall and What You Can Do About It
- Here’s What Might Be Causing Your Hair to Suddenly Fall Out
- I Can’t Believe How Damn Shiny Virtue’s New Protein Powder Made My Hair Look
Now, watch Bretman Rock walk through his 10-minute morning face:
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