Welcome to the information age…where everything is literally available at your fingertips with a click of a few keys on your laptop. With todays wealth of information made available to professional and consumer alike, not only are the current trends being researched and applied, but so are the common mistakes and pitfalls to avoid. Some of the most popular videos on YouTube these days are the “Fail” videos… some unfortunate soul has been brave enough to post a video of some hair atrocity or another either being done TO them, or BY them, presumably in the hopes to alert others so that they may avoid the same miserable fate.
Professional product lines are getting in on the education action too. They are marketing directly to the consumer, to let them know about the latest and greatest innovations in products, tools, and techniques. This glut of information can be very overwhelming to clients sometimes, and armed with just enough knowledge to be dangerous, they are making requests of their beauty pros that may seem extraordinarily risky.
So, how and why does hair get damaged? Basically, hair is a natural organic fiber. This means that it is essentially a delicate fabric, and it has limitations on what can be expected of it before it starts to show signs of distress or damage. Many MANY things can cause damage. Some of the more common things are: overuse of chemicals, excessive heat, constant tension, exposure to harsh environments, even medication. Here are a few ways that you can stop these instances from taking their toll on your hair.
Overuse of chemicals: Probably the most common way to damage hair is the overuse or misapplication of chemicals. The rule of thumb when it comes to chemicals is that you have one, maybe two, applications of a chemical before damage will make itself obvious. A seasoned beauty pro takes into consideration your hair history, and will avoid exposing your previously treated strands to unnecessary chemicals. Haircolor, relaxers, and perms can ALL damage the hair beyond salvation if they are applied over previously chemically treated hair. A strand test is the only sure fire way to get a sense of what to expect if you proceed with a service. It probably bears saying that an almost guaranteed way to damage your hair is to attempt to apply a chemical service to yourself, at home. It’s virtually impossible to apply ANY chemical service, while avoiding overlapping onto previously treated hair, in the time frame necessary to not overprocess any portion of your head. Part of this is because you don’t have the training to do so. The other part is sheer mechanics…. You are ATTACHED to your body, making it virtually impossible to come at your hair from the same angles as your beauty pro. Chemical services are best left to a licensed professional who can advise you on the best strategy to achieve your look without damage.
Heat: the second most common way to damage hair. Thankfully, the days of straightening hair to within an inch of its life seem to be mostly over. Gone are the days when people want their hair to be bone straight, with no volume, a la Cher in the 1960’s. But hold on friend…ANY iron can cause heat damage, not just a straightening iron. Most irons being sold today are capable of achieving temperatures guaranteed to singe the hair right off your head. Don’t ask why companies would risk making these devices capable of doing this, I’ve never been able to understand it. Most pro’s will recommend that you keep your iron set at the lowest possible temperature to achieve your look, as it is entirely possible to boil the moisture naturally present inside your hair. Choose your weapon wisely: pick one with ceramic or tourmaline plates (they distribute heat more evenly and maintain more constant temperatures), pick one with an actual temperature setting (not just an on/off switch), only use them when your hair is 100% dry (have you ever ironed a blouse that was still damp and heard that hissing sound? Don’t do that to your hair!), and always use a heat protecting styling product that will help protect your hair from damage.
Constant tension may seem like a surprising cause of hair damage, but it’s a real thing. It’s called traction alopecia. You see it many times in hairstyles that use super tight ponytails or braids that stay in place for long periods of time. This constant tension in one spot causes weak spots inside the hair strand, that will eventually give up and just snap. Most beauty pros will caution ladies from wearing tight pony tails in the same exact spot (sorry ballerinas, cheerleaders, divers, and gymnasts!), as well as from wearing extensions for extended lengths of time. Instead, try to move the position of the pony tail around so that the source of tension is not constant. Try to limit the tension as well, but using silicone bands.
Environmental damage is probably the damage least in anyone’s control. Unless you’re working in an environment that has abnormal toxins, we’re mostly talking about the effects that sun and wind can have on your hair. Most people aren’t surprised to hear that the sun can have bad effects on your hair…who hasn’t spent a little too much time in the sun and gotten “natural” highlights…along with super dry hair? Many, however, are surprised that wind can have the same effect on your hair. Protecting your hair from sun and wind damage is most effectively done with a hat or scarf, but there are products out there that carry some environmental protection (such as UV protectant).
Finally, medications can really take a toll on your hair. The primary medication most people think about in terms of hair damage is chemotherapy, but hormone medications, heart medications, thyroid medications, and some skin care medications can also damage your hair. Unfortunately, the effects that these medications have on your hair are (rightly) much lower on your medical professionals list of concerns. Your health must always take priority. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t talk about your concerns with your medical professional, because many times there may be alternate medications or different doses that could have a positive effect on your hair health. It can’t hurt to ask!