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Preventing Hair Loss and Damage

Updated on December 9, 2016
Carola Finch profile image

Carola writes about mental illness, disabilities, and social issues. She manages a news website about disabilities.

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While undergoing chemo for breast cancer, I lost all my beautiful, thick, curly, and healthy hair. My mane came back dry, thin, and easily broken, feeling more like a brillo pad than anything else. It was more susceptible to damage, so I had to relearn how to care for it.

The appropriate use of hair care and cleansing products, and styling practices can minimize damage and breakage, say researchers at Johns Hopkins University. These methods must be used properly to avoid problems such as hair loss and damage. Directions on cleaning and conditioning hair products should be followed carefully. The risk of loss and damage increases with the use of thermal styling tools such as blow dryers and flat irons, chemical processing such as straightening and permanent dyes, and naturally tightly coiled hair.

People of African heritage tend to have tightly coiled hair that is at an increased risk for loss and damage. Their hair fibers have asymmetric curvature and shape that have points of weakness in the shaft. Curly hair also can also be drier and more susceptible to breakage. Chemical processing may damage the cuticle, the protective outer layer of the hair shaft and can change the protein structure of the hair. This altered state can expose cortical fibers and cause fraying that leads to the development of weak, breakable points.

Exposure to pool chemicals can also make swimmers more susceptible to damage. These effects can be countered by wearing a swim cap, immediately rinsing hair after swimming, using a specially formulated shampoo and deep conditioner, and drying it with a towel.

The American Academy of Dermatology has identified haircare habits that can cause damage such as rubbing shampoo into the length of the hair instead of gently massaging it or not using conditioner after shampooing.

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Steps to Preventing Hair Loss and Damage

Cleansing the Hair and Scalp

If the hair and scalp are not cleaned on a regular basis, product residue can build up, leading to conditions such as irritant and seborrheic dermatitis. The National Eczema Association describes some common symptoms of this condition as dry flakes (dandruff) to greasy yellow scales on red skin. Oily areas can also develop on other parts of the body such as the upper chest and back, and the face.

Choosing the Right Shampoo

Most shampoos contain surfactants, the active ingredients that bind water and sebum, a wavy, oily substance secreted by the sebaceous gland. Sebum coats the strands, waterproofing and lubricating the skin and hair. Some surfactants (anionic) are most effective for people with oily hair but can make hair feel dry and vulnerable to breakage. Others (Nonionic or amphoteric) work best for people with people who have dry, damaged, color-treated, or naturally black hair and are gentle and less likely to remove moisture. Shampoos should be gently massaged into the scalp and thoroughly rinsed rather than rubbed.

Determine Shampooing Frequency

The frequency of cleansing has an impact on the state of the hair. A number of factors determine how often people should wash it, including their ethnic origin, age, and the condition of the hair. People with tight curled, dry or damaged hair should shampoo no more than once a week. It is more difficult for sebum to coat strands of tight curled hair. People with straight hair should shampoo more often because the sebum can coat the whole strand, leading to oily hair. Those with straight hair can shampoo daily.

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Applying the Appropriate Conditioners

Applying conditioner temporarily mends damages to the hair shaft, eliminates static electricity and improves hair manageability. There are numerous types based on the desired effect such as:

Rinse-out: these conditioners are applied immediately after shampooing and rinsed out with water. They do not repair hair damage as effectively as other methods because they only on the hair for a short time.

Deep: This type of conditioner is left on the hair for at least 10 minutes and uses heat. This type is usually a deep cream that add moisture to severely damaged hair.

Leave-in: These conditioners are put on the hair and are not rinsed out after shampooing and conditioning. They can be applied daily to prevent the damage caused by everyday grooming.

Protein treatments: Conditioners that contain proteins are most beneficial to people with dry and damaged hair. These treatments may be formulated as rinse-out, deep, or leave-in types. These can help treat breakage, but should only be applied monthly or bimonthly to avoid brittleness.

Soak and smear method: This method protects hair from damage, increases moisture retention, reduces tangles, and enhances the elasticity of hair. Steps for this method:

  • After shampooing and conditioning, the hair should be lightly blotted with a towel
  • The water-based conditioner can be applied and then an oil or thick moisturizer such as coconut oil, jojoba oil, olive oil, mineral oil, or petrolatum
  • Allow the hair to air dry and then style
  • Repeat as often as needed.

Drying

There are several methods that can help to dry without causing damage

  • Wrapping a towel around your head to absorb the moisture
  • Allow hair to air dry when possible
  • If you need to blow dry, use the lowest setting
  • Limit time that a curling iron or hot comb is used such as once a week or less often
  • Use styling products that long-lasting hold – ideally have a haircut that does not require the use of these products

Brushing and Combing

Tips for brushing and combing:

  • Only comb and brush your hair to style it
  • Use a wide-tooth comb gently
  • Avoid tugging and pulling on hair while combing, brushing or styling
  • Untangle gently, using a moisturizing conditioner if needed

Straight hair should be allowed to dry and then gently combed with a wide tooth comb. Tight curls and textured strands should be combed when damp with a wide-tooth comb.

Changing Your Hairstyle

Hairstyles can affect the condition of the hair. Here are some ways of preventing or minimizing potential damage or breakage:

  • Chose a hairstyle that does not require the use of styling products
  • Avoid pulling hair back into a tight bun, ponytail, or cornrows
  • Do not wear hair extensions or weaves or wear them lightly so they do not pull (ask your hairstylist)
  • Pull back hair loosely, if desired, using covered rubber bands specially made for hair
  • Avoid coloring, relaxing or perming your hair, or if you do, stretch out the time between treatments

Concluding thoughts

The hair is made up of non-living tissue and cannot be totally repaired, but using proper cleaning and conditioning techniques can help improve its health and make it less vulnerable to damage. If these steps do not seem to improve its condition, a dermatologist may be able to help.

© 2016 Carola Finch

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  • connieow profile image

    Connie S Owens 11 months ago from El Cajon, CA

    Other hair loss issues tie into physical disorders, nutrition, hydration, and so much more. It does become a balancing act. Hugs.