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What Causes Hair Breakage and How to Repair It

Sara Perkins

Reviewed by Sara Harcharik Perkins, MD

Written by Sheryl George

Published 12/02/2021

Updated 11/15/2023

We’re entering our “that girl” era, leaving behind broken relationships that don’t serve us along with our broken hair (welp!). To get to our healthiest hair, we have to work on regaining strength so we can be in prime condition from top to bottom.

While it may be tough to restore your hair to its former glory once the damage is done, we have 11-science backed tips to help repair and prevent hair breakage. We’ll also dig into some of the signs of hair breakage to look for, the things that cause hair breakage to begin with and the different treatment options at your disposal.

Well, let’s dig in.

Hair Breakage Causes

First things first: what does hair breakage even look like? 

It can appear as split ends, or even hairs that are split or broken higher up the strange, like hair breakage around the face. Broken hair can also look dull and dry and feel brittle. 

Damage starts at the surface of the hair's cuticle and, over time, travels inward until it causes breakage.  And how did that damage occur? Well, a few different factors can come into play, including things like:

  • Bleaching and coloring

  • Heat damage

  • Chemical damage

  • Tight buns, ponytails or braids

  • Aggressive handling (brushing, towel drying, etc)

We know this rules out a lot of what we do our hair daily, but it’s worth knowing the facts — we love beautifully styled hair, but at what cost? If you’re not careful, that beautiful mane can cause you problems.

11 Ways to Stop Hair Breakage

So, now you know there are an abundance of ways you can harm your hair. Great. Knowing is half the battle. 

Luckily, there’s also plenty that you can do to help stop hair breakage from occurring in the first place. There are many things you can try to keep breakage at a minimum, but 11 surefire ways to stop hair breakage include:

  • Minimizing tight hairstyles

  • Limit heat styling

  • Avoid strong-hold products

  • Be gentle with brushing

  • Pick the right shampoo

  • Condition hair every time you wash

  • Avoid aggressively towel drying

  • Reduce stress

  • Eat a healthy diet

  • Check your thyroid

Below, you’ll find a full breakdown of each of these tips so you know exactly how to stop hair breakage. 

Be Careful with Tight Hairstyles

Listen, there’s nothing like an Ariana Grande-style ponytail to snatch a face. But there’s also nothing like an Ariana Grande ponytail to cause hair breakage.  Seriously, ponytail hair loss is a real thing! 

Tightly pulled back ponytails, buns and braids can put a lot of tension on your hair, causing — at best — hair breakage and — at worst — traction alopecia.  

This type of hair loss is initially reversible once you stop going for tighter styles, but when you constantly put your hair strands under strain and stress, permanent hair loss can result. Save these styles for occasional use and opt for looser looks on the regular if you’re experiencing breakage.  

Limit Heat Styling Your Hair

If you’re using one of those blow dryer brushes or are a fan of curling irons and flat irons (we are, too), you may want to dial down the heat. Research indicates that high heat can damage the hair shaft, which means… You guessed it — hair breakage. 

One study showed a hair dryer causes more surface damage than natural drying. To lessen your chances of breakage, use a hair dryer approximately six inches from the hair shaft. Try to continuously move the nozzle so you’re not focusing too much heat on one section of hair for too long. The same study showed that following this technique and using the hair dryer on low heat causes less damage than naturally drying.

Plus, if you color or bleach your hair, your follicles may be extra sensitive to high heat. 

Avoid Strong-Hold Styling Products

Freeze! If you’re loading up on extra strong hairsprays or crunchy mousses, you may want to take a pause. 

Using excessive amounts of strong-hold hair products (sprays, gels, waxes, etc.) are great ways to achieve hairstyles that go against our typical hair lines and part patterns, but they can also wreak some havoc on follicles by tugging and pulling on them, which can — you guessed it — contribute to hair breakage. 

Plus, combing these products out of your hair subjects it to even more stress and strain, and increases that risk. 

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Only Brush Your Hair When Needed

Remember the old adage about brushing your hair 100 strokes before bed? Yeaaa, you may want to hold off. Excessive brushing can put too much tension on the hair shaft. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends not brushing wet hair, period. And even dry hair needs gentle care. 

Use a wide-toothed comb to gently detangle your hair strands and then spritz in a moisturizing leave-in conditioner if you’re especially prone to knots. And no matter what, don’t tug or yank at your hair because, believe it or not, that too can lead to breakage. Learn more about the best hair brushes you can use to ensure healthy hair. 

Shampoo the Right Way, With the Right Things

Lather, rinse, repeat. Simple, right? Well, sort of. 

We’ve touched on it, but how you shampoo your hair can make all the difference between dry, damaged hair and the luscious locks you’ve been dreaming of. 

When lathering up your hair, try not to pull or twist on your hair. Apply shampoo near your roots and scalp, and give the suds some time to work their way down your strands before rinsing.

It’s also important to shampoo with the right ingredients. Believe it or not, plenty of ingredients are bad for hair health

For instance, you want to make sure you’re not using a formula that’s too drying.  Excessively cleaned hair can be harsh, rough, dull with frizz and prone to tangling, so using clarifying shampoos on the daily are a no-go. 

Instead, look for formulas that will boost moisture with hydrating ingredients like coconut oil or argan oil, which you can find in Hers’ volumizing shampoo.

We know that sounds like a lot, but it’s worth doing the research.

Use Conditioner Every Time You Shampoo

Complement your shampoo with an additional boost of moisture with a volumizing conditioner after every wash. The use of conditioners with natural oils or silicones are important to minimize the rubbing and friction of the cuticle cells. 

When you’re applying, focus conditioner on the ends, as they’ll need TLC far more than your roots. 

Wrap Your Hair in a Towel to Dry

After washing and conditioning, resist the urge to subject your hair to a full-on towel rub. Instead, reduce friction on your hair strands by gently wrapping it in a towel to absorb excess moisture.  Remember, reducing friction points will help prevent breakage. 

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Take Steps to Limit Stress

While stress may not directly cause hair breakage, it can sometimes lead to hair loss. If your hair has looked thinner recently, consider the reasons why.  

Things like a sudden illness or a toxic boss can stress you out enough to make your hair fall out. This type of excess shedding after a stressful event is known as telogen effluvium. Telogen effluvium usually results in sudden hair thinning across your entire scalp, resulting in more hairs on your pillow, in the shower or on your hairbrush.  

Talking to a mental health professional and getting stress under control can help reduce this shedding. Not the type to sit on someone's couch and spill? You can try online therapy from the comfort of your own home. Learn more about how to handle stress in this comprehensive guide. 

Eat a Balanced, Healthy Diet

You are what you eat. Okay, maybe you’re not broccoli — that would be weird. But getting the right nutrients is super important for healthy hair growth. 

Include lots of vegetables, fruits and protein which are loaded with essential vitamins and minerals. Yes, believe it or not, there are foods to eat for healthy hair

And if you realize you’re a picky eater who may have a nutritional deficiency, add in the appropriate vitamins and supplements as needed. 

Get Checked for Thyroid Disorders

One study showed those with thyroid conditions can have altered follicle function, which can appear as dull, dry and brittle strands. 

The same data has also shown that thyroid hormones (T3 and T4) can impact the hair growth cycle. While the study looked at follicles in vitro, it’s plausible, as hair shaft abnormalities have been clinically reported in both hypo-and hyperthyroid patients.   

Thyroid issues can also cause diffused hair loss across your entire scalp, rather than localized hair loss around your hairline, temples or crown. 

Work with your healthcare provider to find the best treatment plan so both you and your hair can feel its best.  Think this may be you? Our guide to hair loss in women goes into greater detail on thyroid hormones and their involvement in hair growth.

Use Minoxidil to Treat Hair Thinning

One of the most studied hair loss treatments, minoxidil can be an effective treatment for hair loss and thinning. Commonly sold under the brand name Rogaine®, minoxidil is a topical or oral medication that stimulates hair growth.  

Though its exact mechanism of action is still unknown, it’s believed to work by encouraging more oxygen, blood and nutrients to the hair follicles. You can try different varieties, including: 

  • minoxidil drops:  In a 2014 placebo-controlled trial, researchers found that both 2% and 5% versions of minoxidil improved hair thinning. This 2% solution comes in an easy-to-apply drops format. 

  • oral minoxidil: This once-daily pill can be especially helpful for those who may not respond well to the topical version. Plus, no added residue on the hair to consider. 

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Prevent Hair Breakage Going Forward

Hair breakage ain’t pretty — we know it.  And while it can take some time to restore dry ends and encourage healthy new hair growth, it is possible. Remember these key points:

  • Take it easy. Make sure to be gentle when blow-drying or towel-drying your hair. Taking a break from frequent coloring and heat styling can also be helpful.

  • Get the proper hair care routine down and use the right hair care products for your hair type. Remember: moisture is a bestie for hair damage.

  • Rule out underlying conditions. Talk to your healthcare provider to make sure you don’t have a nutritional deficiency or a thyroid condition that can affect your hair. 

  • If you want to treat thinning as a result of hair breakage, there are effective hair loss treatments available. 

  • Be chill. Yes, really. Make sure to limit stress to help prevent hair loss.


Lastly, if you think dry and brittle hair is a major concern, read our guide to learn more about steps you can take. If you need a little help figuring things out, we got ya! Start a consultation with a healthcare provider today.

12 Sources

Hims & Hers has strict sourcing guidelines to ensure our content is accurate and current. We rely on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We strive to use primary sources and refrain from using tertiary references.

  1. Kaushik, V., Chogale, R., & Mhaskar, S. (2020, April 9). Alternative Protocol for Hair Damage Assessment and Comparison of Hair Care Treatments. NCBI. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7276157/
  2. Pulickal, J. K., & Kaliyadan, F. (2022, August 8). Traction Alopecia - StatPearls. NCBI. Retrieved April 25, 2023, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK470434/
  3. SooLee, W., Lee, Y., Kim, Y., & Hyun, H. (2011). Hair Shaft Damage from Heat and Drying Time of Hair Dryer. NCBI. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3229938/
  4. D'Souza, P., & Rathi, S. K. (2015). Shampoo and Conditioners: What a Dermatologist Should Know? NCBI. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4458934/
  5. Reis, M. F., & Dias, G. (2015). Hair Cosmetics: An Overview - PMC. NCBI. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4387693/
  6. Kaushik, V., Chogale, R., & Mhaskar, S. (2020, April 9). Alternative Protocol for Hair Damage Assessment and Comparison of Hair Care Treatments. NCBI. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7276157/
  7. Hughes, EC & Saleh, D. (2022)Telogen Effluvium. StatPearls - NCBI Bookshelf Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK430848/
  8. Katta, R. (2017, January 31). Diet and hair loss: effects of nutrient deficiency and supplement use. NCBI. Retrieved May 1, 2023, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5315033
  9. van Beek, N., Bodó, E., Gáspár, E., Meyer, K., Zmijewski, M. A., Slominski, A., Wenzel, B. E., & Paus, R. (2022, July 29). Thyroid Hormones Directly Alter Human Hair Follicle Functions: Anagen Prolongation and Stimulation of Both Hair Matrix Keratinocyte Proliferation and Hair Pigmentation. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism. Retrieved from https://academic.oup.com/jcem/article/93/11/4381/2627273
  10. Rossi, A., Cantisani, C., Mellis, L., Iorio, A., Scali, E.,& Calvieri, S. (2012, May). Minoxidil use in dermatology, side effects and recent patents. PubMed. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22409453/
  11. Blume-Peytavi, Ulrike, Hillmann, Kathrin, Dietz, Ekkehart, Canfield, Douglas & Bartels, Natalie Garcia. A randomized, single-blind trial of 5% minoxidil foam once daily versus 2% minoxidil solution twice daily in the treatment of androgenetic alopecia in women (2011). Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21700360/
  12. Reis, M. F., & Dias, G. (2015). Hair Cosmetics: An Overview - PMC. NCBI. Retrieved May 3, 2023, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4387693/

This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment. Learn more about our editorial standards here.

Sara Harcharik Perkins, MD

Sara Harcharik Perkins, MD, FAAD is a board-certified dermatologist and Assistant Professor in the Department of Dermatology at the Yale School of Medicine. She is the director of the Teledermatology Program, as well as the Associate Program Director of the Yale Dermatology Residency Training Program. Her research focuses on telemedicine and medical education. Her practice includes general medical dermatology, high-risk skin cancer, and procedural dermatology.

Dr. Perkins completed her undergraduate education at the University of Pennsylvania and obtained her medical degree at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. She completed her medical internship at the Massachusetts General Hospital, followed by residency training in dermatology at Yale University, after which she joined the faculty.

Dr. Perkins has been a member of the Hims & Hers Medical Advisory Board since 2018. Her commentary has been featured in NBC News, Real Simple, The Cut, and Yahoo, among others.

Publications:

  • Ahmad, M., Christensen, S. R., & Perkins, S. H. (2023). The impact of COVID-19 on the dermatologic care of nonmelanoma skin cancers among solid organ transplant recipients. JAAD international, 13, 98–99. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC10518328/

  • Ahmad, M., & Perkins, S. H. (2023). Learning dermatology in medical school: analysis of dermatology topics tested in popular question banks. Clinical and experimental dermatology, 48(4), 361–363. https://academic.oup.com/ced/article-abstract/48/4/361/6869515?redirectedFrom=fulltext&login=false

  • Belzer, A., Leasure, A. C., Cohen, J. M., & Perkins, S. H. (2023). The association of cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma and basal cell carcinoma with solid organ transplantation: a cross-sectional study of the All Of Us Research Program. International journal of dermatology, 62(10), e564–e566. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/ijd.16700

  • Ahmad, M., Marson, J. W., Litchman, G. H., Perkins, S. H., & Rigel, D. S. (2022). Usage and perceptions of teledermatology in 2021: a survey of dermatologists. International journal of dermatology, 61(7), e235–e237. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/ijd.16209

  • Asabor, E. N., Bunick, C. G., Cohen, J. M., & Perkins, S. H. (2021). Patient and physician perspectives on teledermatology at an academic dermatology department amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, 84(1), 158–161. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7491373/

  • Belzer, A., Olamiju, B., Antaya, R. J., Odell, I. D., Bia, M., Perkins, S. H., & Cohen, J. M. (2021). A novel medical student initiative to enhance provision of teledermatology in a resident continuity clinic during the COVID-19 pandemic: a pilot study. International journal of dermatology, 60(1), 128–129. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7753449/

  • Cohen, J. M., Bunick, C. G., & Perkins, S. H. (2020). The new normal: An approach to optimizing and combining in-person and telemedicine visits to maximize patient care. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, 83(5), e361–e362. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7316470/

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