Have you ever colored your hair? Is your blow-dryer getting plenty of mileage? Do you brush your hair? If you answered yes to any of those questions—yep, even the last one—you have “damaged” hair. “As soon as your hair emerges from its follicle, it has external elements to contend with,” says Anabel Kingsley, consultant trichologist and brand president at Philip Kingsley. In other words, some degree of harm is unavoidable.
But don’t feel defeated. Unlike skin, hair is dead tissue and can’t regenerate itself, so it relies on you to keep it healthy. (Kinda nice to feel so needed, ya?) “How you care for strands has a huge impact on their strength, appearance, and manageability,” says Kingsley. And, as you might expect, the longer your hair, the more weathered it will be, particularly if you color, bleach, or straighten your strands, she adds.
Type and texture play a role as well. “Each hair texture requires different attention,” says hairstylist Bobby Eliot. “Coarse, textured hair, for example, can handle a little more heat, whereas finer hair is more delicate.”
More From Women's Health
TL;DR: What’s best for your head isn’t always so straightforward. These myth-busting insights will help you get to the root of damaged hair and how to repair it.
Does coloring your hair damage your hair?
Yes. Whether it’s natural balayage or neon rainbow, there’s always going to be some damage done to strands during the coloring process. “In order for hair to retain its color, the chemicals in hair dye have to cause some damage,” says Dendy Engelman, MD, a cosmetic dermatologist and Mohs surgeon at the Shafer Clinic. The dyeing process works by penetrating the cuticle, a hair strand’s protective outer layer, usually with ammonia. Then the hair is bleached to remove its natural color, and the dye gives hair a new color. “Using less bleach or less-permanent formulas will help minimize some of that strain,” says Dr. Engelman.
Does using a higher temperature on hot tools mean less passes and less damage?
No. The real culprit behind heat-styling damage is the wrong temperature. “You never want to use the maximum heat,” Eliot says. Of course, the Goldilocks just-right temp is going to differ depending on your hair type, texture, and color, but the overarching advice is to use the lowest heat setting possible that will still get the job (curling, straightening, drying) done. So, start on the lowest setting, and slowly up the temp only if you have to. And of course, don’t forget a heat protectant.
Are all hair brushes good for your hair?
No. Look for a brush with rounded, flexible plastic prongs. “These are gentle on both your hair and scalp,” Kingsley says. “Boar bristle brushes scratch away parts of your hair’s protective layer, weakening strands and increasing porosity.” Another pro to look for: a vented, cushioned base. “This allows heat to dissipate quickly when you style,” says Kingsley. A seamless, wide-tooth comb is also a good option for curls or coils. Since hair doesn’t have nerve endings, it’s difficult to tell when you’re hurting it, so Kingsley suggests the “back of hand” test: Run your bristles over the back of your hand—does it feel scratchy or leave red marks? Then it’s too harsh.
Can protective styles actually cause more harm than good?
Yes. Contrary to their name, protective styles can actually do more harm than good if they’re not managed properly, says celebrity hairstylist Annagjid “Kee” Taylor. “For a protective style to be effective, it has to be carefully installed, maintained, and refreshed.” She recommends not getting them too tight when you initially have these styles (cornrows, box braids, faux locs, etc.) done. If they’re pulling, it can “cause hair loss, breakage, painful sores, and scabs,” she says. Another don’t: leaving a protective style in longer than two months, as that can cause tangling, dryness, and more breakage.
Is there such a thing as too much dry shampoo?
Yes. While it’s great in a pinch, it’s not a complete substitute for sudsing up. “Dry shampoo is not something you should do for more than a couple of days,” says Kingsley. And when you do choose to use a dry shampoo, opt for one with bonus scalp benefits. “Look for calming ingredients, like aloe vera or chamomile extract, as well as an antimicrobial agent, like zinc PCA.” However, be aware that no dry shampoo will actually remove dirt or oils, or properly cleanse. That’s what a shower is for. Sorry!
Should you shampoo your hair every day?
It really depends on your hair type. Curly or thick hair may need just a weekly wash, while fine or oily hair might need cleansing daily. “If you don’t wash your hair frequently enough, it can accrue buildup that eventually inhibits hair growth,” Dr. Engelman says. “But washing too often—especially with a ’poo that strips natural oils—can dry out hair, leading to brittle strands.” Lifestyle and the season also matter. Play around to find what’s best for you.
Are scrunchies better for your hair?
Yes. Embracing this throwback will do your strands a favor. “I recommend silk scrunchies to prevent breakage,” Eliot says. Clips or jumbo U-shaped pins are also chic options. But no matter what, avoid making too-tight styles your go-to, as they can cause a type of
hair loss called “traction alopecia.” (Loose ponytails or braids are generally fine.)
Can you brush your hair too much?
Yes. Some people still believe this old wives’ tale, including one of Kingsley’s patients, who was vigorously brushing 100 strokes a day with a very scratchy brush, leading to major breakage. She recommends gently brushing or combing hair once in the morning and again before bed. It’s all about using the proper method. “Brushing your hair can create unwanted tension on the hair and literally break and snap your hair off,” Eliot says. “Always start from the ends and gently work your way up. Go slow and take your time. Never do this in an aggressive way. Treat your hair like you would an expensive fabric!” Look for a detangling brush to delicately get the job done.
Is dandruff normal?
A dry scalp during the change of seasons? Yes. Dandruff that doesn't go away? No.
"Dandruff is almost always oily, not dry," Kingsley previously told Women's Health UK. "Dandruff flakes can also be slightly sticky and yellow in color, whereas a dry scalp will produce dry and white flakes."
"Dandruff is a recurring, chronic scalp condition that, while it can come and go, tends to be a long-term issue. It commonly flares up when you are stressed, when hormone levels fluctuate, and when you eat certain foods such as full fat dairy products, like cheese." If you do indeed have dandruff, use an anti-dandruff shampoo and conditioner until it subsides.
Celia Shatzman (she/her) is a Brooklyn-based writer and editor who has penned stories on topics ranging from beauty to fashion, travel, celebrities, health, entertainment, finance and more. A graduate of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University, she is a beauty and style contributor at Forbes and her work has appeared in New York, Cosmopolitan, WWD, ELLE, Conde Nast Traveler, Afar, Travel + Leisure, Women’s Health, Marie Claire, Byrdie, Refinery29 and NYLON, among others.