Any time that hair is exposed to a damaging element, the cuticle becomes desensitized. As the cuticle wears down and the cells roughen and flake up, the cuticle starts to break off, leaving the cortex (the soft inner part of the strand) with no means of protection—it slowly breaks down, too, becoming dry and dull. “Now, the cortex is exposed to everything damaging like water, chemicals and physical aggression,” says celebrity hairstylist Kevin Mancuso. “Once the cortex is out in the open and the bundles of microfibrils are compromised, hair starts to split and break.” Splitting and breaking typically happens at the bottom of the hair where the hair is older. “This causes a change in the structure of the shaft that weakens the hair or causes it to become dry, brittle, knotted or frizzy,” says Dr. Craig Ziering. Damage can show its effects as soon as directly after a double process color, or it can take months to surface.
According to Beverly Hills, CA, dermatologist Jennifer Ahdout, MD, eating healthy fats helps hair to retain moisture, so it’s less likely to become dry and break.
Chemical vs. Physical Damage
Hair can become damaged in one of two ways: either chemically or physically.
Coloring (any type), bleach, perms, relaxers, and straightening and keratin treatments all break the natural structure of the hair, leaving it damaged. “Damage occurs every time a process is done, even when it’s performed by the highest level salon professional,” says Mancuso.
Caused by excessive and aggressive brushing, back-combing and styling that strips away the cuticle. Hot tools cause physical damage, too.
“A split end is like a wishbone that tears more as you go up the hair. It is a lever for the hair to break even further up the shaft.”-Dr. Ahdout
Why Split Ends Form
A common sign of damaged hair is split ends. “Split ends are like a zipper ‘unzipping,’” says Living Proof chief commercialization officer Eric Spengler. “They occur because the protective outer coating has been damaged. And, the inner cortex starts to unravel.” Neglecting to cut your hair regularly can lead to split ends since the bottom part of the strand is narrow and prone to naturally splitting. “Split ends can be mended, or treated, but the effects are only temporary. The only way to really eliminate them is to cut them off with a good haircut.”
Pay Attention To Your Scalp
Your scalp has a direct influence on the health of your hair and, even though damage can stem from a multitude of things other than your scalp, if your scalp isn’t healthy your hair won’t grow healthy. “The scalp is where hair grows. Beneath the scalp’s surface is where the follicle (the only living part of hair) gets its blood supply and nourishment for a long and healthy growing cycle,” Mancuso explains. A proper diet, with enough iron, vitamin D, zinc, biotin, calcium and protein, rest and stress reduction are all important for great hair.
Cut or Treat?
It’s always easier to prevent damage before it occurs than treating it once it exists. A good haircut is a surefire way to rid your hair of damaged ends, but the right treatments can help, too.
Cut Your Hair if…
The cuticle is severely damaged and past the point of any repair. Extreme split ends need to be cut to permanently rectify the problem.
Treat Your Hair If…
It is brittle and dry. “One of the best treatments for severely damaged hair is Nexxus Emergencèe Restorative Strength Conditioning Treatment because it reduces damage before and between chemical processes,” says Mancuso. $15, nexxus.com