What Causes Damaged Black Hair and How to Fix It

Sometimes hair problems go beyond singular issues such as dryness or frizz. There are times when damaged hair is beyond repair. No amount of conditioning, protein treatments, or any miracle product can help. There are a few ways you can address what went wrong, so can you make sure it never happens again. To get the 411 on the leading causes of hair damage, we reached out to Lorraine Massey, founder of the Curly Girl Method and the owner of Spiral (x,y,z) Salon and celebrity stylist and master hair educator, Larry Sims.

Meet the Expert

  • Lorraine Massey is the founder of the Curly Girl Method, the owner of Spiral (x,y,z) Salon and the sulfate-free, silicone-free, paraben-free, fragrance-free line of hair products, CurlyWorld.
  • Larry Sims is a celebrity stylist and master hair educator, who works with Gabrielle Union, Danai Guirra, Kerry Washington and Alicia Keys. Sims is also the co-founder of Flawless by Gabrielle Union.

We're going to talk about a few of the most notable ways your hair can become damaged, but we want to ensure that no matter how you decide to wear your hair, you don't feel shamed for doing so. Black hair is versatile and can be worn relaxed, texturized, natural, and looks amazing with color. We want to arm you with tips that help you pay attention to when your hair is in need of a little TLC (or a significant trim).

Be Careful With Chemicals

Chemicals like relaxers, texturizers, and hair color are among the major causes of damaged hair. However, it is still possible to maintain healthy hair with these services, as long as you're working with a professionally trained stylist. Products like relaxers and hair color are easily accessible. Most anyone can buy them and use them. Often, they aren't used properly, and that's where damage can come into play.

Applying color can have a similar effect, especially if the hair is already chemically processed. For example, blonde hair color on bone-straight relaxed tresses is just asking for trouble. The lifting and depositing process on top of hair that's already processed is too harsh to leave in the hands of anyone who doesn't have experience treating double-processed hair. When it comes to healthy hair, you sometimes can't have it all (well, at least at the same time). So always seek out a stylist you trust for guidance on how to potentially achieve the look you're hoping for at your next appointment.

Limit Heat Usage

Whether your hair is chemically processed or natural, too much heat can hurt it. Yup, those flat irons, curling irons, and pressing combs might cause irreversible damage, usually taking a big chop to correct. There are a few adjustments you can make if giving up heat entirely isn't an option. Preserving your hair at night by wrapping it or pin curling the hair at night, so you don't have to add any heat the next morning is a game-changer.

Besides nightly maintenance, starting with a good foundation is key, says Larry Sims, master hairstylist and co-founder of Flawless by Gabrielle Union. "Make sure when heat-styling or even [when] exposed to a lot of sun [to] use a heat protectant," he encourages. Heat protectants are meant to not only help smooth the hair cuticle for frizz-free hair, but also to create a barrier between your hair and your styling tools.

Don't Forget Your Silk Scarf

"Polarizing your hair at night is really great for longer hair generally because the movement during sleep often agitates and knots up your curls," says Massey. She recommends a "pineapple-like updo" to secure your curls at night, especially if you're hoping to stretch your washday curls out for a few days. "Think of it as a Christmas tree in a netted wrap, all bundled up in its natural position, and when you get home, you take it off, and [it] splays open into its natural state." If you find your curls in need of a little fluffing, Massey recommends applying, "[a] silicone-free conditioner in your hands, slightly run it under the water tap and refresh your curls or spray with lavender water and some conditioner mixed."

Nourish Your Body

We've all heard the saying you are what you eat (and drink). Healthy fats like omega-3 fatty acids are essential to growing strong, healthy hair. Sims agrees. "In some cases, you may need to look internally and assess your lifestyle—diet, water intake, and exercise to improve hair health." Avocado, salmon, chia seeds, and eggs are all healthy food staples that may nourish your body (and hair) from the inside out.

Deep Condition

Preventative hair care is vital so that you can stop damage in its tracks. Sims recommends using deep conditioning masks with avocado, coconut, aloe vera, and shea butter. "Cocktail [them] together," he says. "The shea butter is for the consistency, and the nourishing oils aid in restoration and moisture in your hair. Sit under the dryer for 20-30 mins or cap heaters for best results."

Say Goodbye to Split Ends

We're sorry to have to break the bad news to you, but those split ends you've been working so diligently to repair have to go. Try regular trims for hair health and growth.

Develop a Hair Routine

Truly healthy hair doesn't just happen. It gets to be that way with routine care, meaning you should have some type of routine in place. Some women see the word "routine" and think this involves hours upon hours of styling, grooming, and pampering. Not so! Every good hair regimen should have the following in place:

  • Shampoo
  • Conditioning
  • Deep conditioning
  • Protein (optional)

You can also add other treatments such as pre-poos and oil rinsing, to the mix for added benefits. Smart style choices and a simplified care plan can result in spending no more than 20-30 minutes on your tresses most days, not counting wash and deep conditioning days.

Seek Out a Pro

"Finding a stylist you can trust is imperative for curlies," says Massey. "Hearing the words from people around us and on products that feed into our insecurities like your hair is unruly, needs taming, it should be controlled, [or] you must combat the frizz and smooth it out is around us constantly." For this reason, she says finding a stylist who understands how to care for your hair and listens to your experiences is invaluable.

Not to mention, finding the right stylist, at least for curly hair, means you have to visit the salon less. "If you have curly hair and you start to really take care of it as it is, through process and consistency, you find that you may not need a haircut as often. Your trusted stylist will be almost like a mane' tenance check-up every 4-8 months." We like the sound of that.

Sims adds that seeking out a pro is especially helpful in preventing unnecessary damage from over-processing or overheating the hair. "A lot of people are over- processing hair with chemicals and excessive heat on the hair technique. It's hard to see your own scalp, [and] really [be] able to assess your scalp and what it's doing." For those who find themselves with flaky scalps that don't seem to be remedied by shampooing weekly, he says a professional's advice is essential. "Different sizes of flaking mean something different. A professional stylist is best to give guidance and handle your hair with the proper TLC it deserves," says Sims.

Once hair is fried past the point of no return, you might think getting it back on track is impossible. We are here to tell you that is so far from the truth. Will getting your hair back to itself take some work? Sure. But, taking the time to nurture your hair means you're taking time to care for yourself. Following the steps we listed above is a great place to start to rebuild your strands.

Investing in new products post-appointment with your chosen hair care pro is just the beginning. Sticking with your set routine even when life gets busy is key to your hair success. Think you don't have time to deep condition? When you're watching your favorite show on Netflix, pop on a hydrating mask (and a plastic cap), and sit under the dryer for 30 minutes. Your hair will thank you! We wish you the best of luck on your hair journey. You've got this!

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