Consider this a rescue operation for your damaged hair
From fried strands to split ends, the experts help you correct that mane mismanagement
The ’80s disco era brought with it polka dots and perms. The 2000s were all about chemically straightened hair. What did these decades have in common? Overeager trend junkies who curled, tonged, dyed and fried, without protecting against damaged hair.
Sometimes, we don’t realise just how bad things are until we see our shiny natural roots contrast against our jhadoo-like ponytail.
“Hair damage is treatable but not always reversible,” says Dr Neha Pakhare, consultant-trichologist, Trica at Jean-Claude Biguine Salon & Spa.
When we talk about damaged hair, we’re focusing on the hair shaft and its health.
The cuticle — the outer protective barrier — is what gives our hair its shine and gloss. Lying below it is the melanin, the very same in our skin, that’s the source of your natural colour.
Treatments and colouring alters the natural state of our hair’s protein bonds (keratin).
Here’s looking at some of the most common culprits behind damaged hair and how to better care for it.
How to care for damaged hair
Chemical treatments and hair colour
Bleach and dyes have ingredients such as ammonia, monoethanolamine and peroxide, which cause the hair cuticle to break and lift, allowing you to change your natural brown to a fiery red or Bollywood blonde.
The flipside is that some cuticles remain open, and become weak over time. Permanent styling (perms and straightening) also change the structural lipid bonds of your hair strands.
Picture the process like popping a pill out of its packaged strip, where the little foil flap over the empty pill socket is a stand-in for your hair cuticle. Once you take the pill out, you could put another one in and press down on the foil, but it never fully closes.
How to save your hair: This is not to say that your hair dyes are shraap in a box. As celebrity hairstylist Priyanka Borkar explains, prep beforehand.
“Make sure your hair is well-nourished before colouring by oiling it or using hair masks available in salons,” says Borkar. She personally likes Wella Oil Reflection treatment.
Make that expensive balayage last longer by using colour-protecting shampoos, conditioners and masks which are usually sulphate-free. Washing your hair too often and tight hairstyles also go on the no-fly list.
Use a dry shampoo in between hair wash days if your scalp is like a plate of McDonald’s fries. Just remember to gently brush out the product from your roots (it can build up) before you wash your hair.
Ultraviolet radiation and sun damage
Ultraviolet radiation plays truant on your hair, as much as on your skin.
The rays attacks the lipids and proteins of our hair, mainly the outer hair shaft. Our hair cuticles receive the brunt of it, becoming the main victim here, leading to lacklustre, brittle and dry hair.
The effect of the sun on darker pigments is less than for those with naturally lighter coloured or blonde hair. Grey hair is even more susceptible to sun damage.
How to save your hair: If you live in a region that has harsh summers and high UV index (hello, India) pick products that come with UV filters to products your hair, especially if you know you’re going to have a long day outdoors.
“Protect your hair in the sun by using a leave-in conditioner that contains zinc oxide,” adds Pakhare, explaining that such a conditioner can also protect it from damage caused by pollution.
Haircare products with sunscreen aren’t that easy to find or budget-friendly in India. So, your best bet is a good ‘ol hat.
Heat styling tools and physical stressors
Heat from your trusty blow dryer, flat iron or curling iron is the chief culprit of damaged hair. Directly applying heat to the hair interferes with its keratin structure, leaving the door open for uninvited guests like breakage and split ends.
Yanking your hair into an Ariana Grande style topknot is another physical stressor that your strands could do without.
Like an expert yogi, wet hair can naturally stretch up to 30 per cent without being damaged. Too much wrestling with the hairbrush, and the shaft will fracture.
While bathtime rituals are sacred, you don’t need to build a mushroom of shampoo foam on your head by scrubbing. Shampoos are designed to cleanse the scalp, and when you wash it out, it rinses through the rest of your hair, taking away any oil or debris you’re worried about.
How to save your hair: If you can break up with your blow dryer, do it gently. Or use a heat protection serum or spray to act as a buffer.
If you’re going to insist on brushing wet hair, use a wide-tooth comb. Ditch the high ponytails for loose buns and braids, many of which don’t even require heating tools to create.
Water damage in its many forms
The hard water commonly found in Indian households has high mineral content (calcium and magnesium, namely) that don’t complement our hair and skin.
They’re also infuriatingly stubborn and don’t always wash away with shampoo either.
How to protect your hair: You could instal a water softener over your shower head, but they are pricey.
Some shampoos contain chelating agents, compounds that can extract the mineral build-up in hair, such as EDTA and phytic acid. A weekly wash with a chelating shampoo can clear your hair of build-up, keep it moisturised and healthy.
And for future dates with the swimming pool, pop on a cap. It may not be very Instagram-friendly at that moment, but your hair will remember and return the favour.