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Reviewed by Katelyn Hagerty, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Many chemical hair treatments can create stunning results, whether it’s a subtle change in your hair color or a complete transformation. However, they can also leave your hair feeling dull, dry and damaged, especially when they’re overused.
If your hair has damage from bleaches, dyes or chemicals used in perming hair, you may notice that it starts to lose its natural shine and smoothness. It may feel overly brittle and weak, leading to breakage and a loss of volume.
The good news is that even severely chemically damaged hair can usually be repaired with the right combination of time, patience and good hair care habits.
Below, we’ve shared 11 simple techniques that you can use to repair chemically damaged hair and improve your hair’s smoothness, strength and elasticity.
We’ve also discussed why it’s best to avoid damage in the first place, as well as the effects that chemical damage can potentially have on female hair loss.
With the right habits, even severe damage from bleaches, hair dyes and styling products can usually be improved. Try the 11 tips and techniques below to reverse chemical damage and grow thick, smooth and healthy hair once again.
Shampoo helps wash away dirt, sweat, dead skin cells and sebum — a type of natural oil that can build up on your scalp over time.
It’s important to wash your hair regularly with shampoo in order to keep it clean. However, a key to effectively cleaning your hair is to choose a shampoo that’s designed to match your hair type and its specific needs.
Choosing a shampoo that’s a poor match for your hair type, or overusing a shampoo, can harm your hair cuticle and leave you with overly frizzy, dry hair.
To repair chemical damage and avoid dry, brittle hair, choose a shampoo that’s formulated with your exact hair type in mind. For example, if you have harsh, damaged hair, try washing with a two-in-one shampoo that’s designed to moisturize and repair damage.
Or, if you bleach and color your hair, choose a shampoo that’s formulated to maintain your color and keep your hair healthy.
Need help picking the right shampoo? Our shampoo is formulated to strengthen and moisturize your hair, all while controlling excess hair shedding and helping you maintain thick, healthy hair in any environment.
One of the most important steps that you can take to repair chemical damage and prevent brittle hair is to condition your hair every time you wash it.
Conditioner works by reducing static electricity and flattening the hair cuticles scales that can be found over each of your hair shafts. This smooths out your hair and adds extra moisture, giving your hair more luster and volume.
Conditioning regularly can help to strengthen your hair and reverse some negative effects of chemical treatments. It’s also a great way to give your hair some additional protection from UV radiation.
To get the best results from conditioner, apply it as soon as you finish rinsing away any leftover shampoo. Try to concentrate the conditioner on the tips of your hair. This gives the outer layers of your hair extra moisture without making your hair look limp and lifeless.
If you have very dry or frizzy hair, consider using a deep conditioner. Your hair salon may offer this type of conditioning service before chemical treatments, such as straightening or coloring.
Not sure which conditioner to use? Our conditioner is formulated specifically to strengthen and repair your hair, all while providing much-needed moisture to keep your hair looking and feeling its best.
One easy way to reduce the severity of chemical hair damage is to wait for a longer amount of time between hair treatments.
Instead of touching up your hair’s color each month, try to wait for eight to 10 weeks, especially during winter. This gives your hair time to recover and reduces the risk of dry air worsening any existing damage to your hair.
If you use multiple styling techniques to improve your hair’s appearance — for example, a perm and coloring — consider having them performed separately instead of in a single session. Even a two-week break between services can help to limit the damage from chemical treatments.
Heat styling can cause serious damage to your hair shaft, which might result in breakage if your hair is already weakened due to chemical exposure.
To help your hair recover from bleach or dye damage, avoid using any styling tools that expose your hair to heat. These include hot combs, hair straighteners, curling irons and even your blow dryer.
When you do use these hot tools, choose the lowest heat settings and apply them as sparingly as possible — for example, once per week. This may help to reduce damage and prevent your styling tools from getting in the way of your hair’s natural recovery process.
Contrary to popular belief, brushing your hair 100 times a day doesn’t stimulate growth or have any positive effects on your hair’s strength and thickness.
In fact, brushing your hair excessively — or brushing it when it’s weighed down by moisture or styling products — is far more likely to worsen chemical hair damage than it is to improve your hair’s health and durability.
To help your hair recover from damage, only brush it when you absolutely need to in order to remove knots and tangles. When you brush, use a wide-toothed comb and avoid pulling or tugging on your hair strands as you move the comb through your hair.
Most importantly, never brush damp or wet hair. Instead, let wet hair dry naturally (or dry with a towel if you’re in a hurry), then gently brush your hair until it’s straight and tangle-free enough to style.
The only exception to this rule is if you have tight curls or textured hair. In this case, it’s best to carefully brush damp hair instead of brushing your hair when it’s completely dry.
Just like the rest of your body, your hair follicles depend on a steady supply of nutrients to grow strong, healthy hair.
While there’s no single food that will instantly repair chemical hair damage, a healthy, balanced diet that’s rich in fresh fruits, vegetables, lean protein sources and essential minerals may help to stimulate hair growth and keep your hair healthy.
Try to maintain a healthy diet. While it’s okay to indulge every now and then, it’s best to include nutrient-rich foods in most of your meals, all while limiting the amount of junk food you eat on a regular basis.
Many chemical treatments can damage the outer layer of your hair shaft, leaving you with brittle hair and a dry scalp.
In addition to conditioning regularly, you can help to relieve dry hair and avoid unwanted frizz by applying a hair mask. Our Rapid Repair Hair Mask is designed to condition your hair deeply and improve hydration in just five minutes. Our guide also discusses all the benefits of a hair mask for hair loss.
Traction alopecia usually first develops as flesh or white-colored bumps around your hairline. It can eventually lead to permanent hair loss, as the hair follicles in areas of your scalp subjected to pressure suffer from mechanical damage that prevents new hairs from growing.
You may be more at risk of this type of hair damage if you’re a woman of color, or if you choose a tight hairstyle such as braids, cornrows, heavy locks or a tight ponytail. Products that clip into your hair, such as hair extensions, can also pull on the hair follicles and cause damage.
If you have chemically damaged hair, try to avoid tightly pulled back hairstyles that pull on your hair follicles. Not only can they cause traction alopecia, but the extra tension may increase the risk of your hair breaking.
Instead, try to wear your hair down as much as possible. If you need to tie your hair up, go for a loose ponytail over anything tight and potentially damaging.
Exposure to bright, strong sunlight doesn’t just damage your skin — it can also worsen chemical damage to your hair.
When your hair is exposed to UV radiation in sunlight, it can break down the structural proteins that give your hair its strength and thickness. The end result is hair that’s dry, brittle and frizzy, without its usual density and shine.
This damage can be especially severe if you’ve bleached your hair — a process that strips away the natural pigments that provide your hair with protection from UV radiation.
To let your hair recover from chemical damage, it’s important to keep it protected whenever you spend time outdoors on a sunny day.
You can shield your hair from sunlight by wearing a wide-brimmed hat. Try to cover as much of your hair as possible, and avoid spending too much time outdoors during peak sunlight periods such as between 10am and 2pm.
Another good way to protect your hair is to apply a leave-in conditioner, which can provide extra moisture throughout the day.
Swimming can be a fantastic workout, as well as a fun way to relax and make the most of sunny summer weather. However, the chemicals in many swimming pools can harm your hair and may make certain types of chemical damage worse.
More specifically, the chlorine that’s added to swimming pools to keep them free of bacteria can break down the natural fats that keep your hair moisturized and protected, leaving it dry, lifeless and brittle. This can make any hair breakage caused by chemical damage even worse.
To stop chlorine from damaging your hair, try applying oil or leave-in conditioner before you get in the pool, then rinse and wash your hair as soon as possible after you’re done swimming.
Washing your hair gets rid of any residual chlorine. For best results, follow up with your favorite conditioner to provide some extra moisture and rebuild your hair’s protective barrier.
You should wash your hair after swimming regardless of its color, but it’s especially important to wash away any leftover chlorine if you have blonde hair. This is because the mix of chlorine and copper in many swimming pools can give your hair a slightly green hue.
To make washing away harmful chemicals easier, try keeping two small bottles of shampoo and conditioner in your personal care bag whenever you go to the swimming pool.
The right combination of products and hair care habits can have a huge positive impact on your hair’s health, strength and appearance. However, restoring your hair health takes time, meaning it’s important not to expect results overnight.
Instead of focusing on immediate improvements, try to make the habits above a regular part of your hair care routine.
Over time, you’ll likely notice that your hair begins to feel smoother, look better and retain more strength than before. Remember that dense, healthy hair takes time to restore and that there’s no overnight treatment for chemical damage.
Not only can chemical damage make your hair look and feel terrible — it can also contribute to certain types of hair loss.
Most permanent hair loss that affects women is the result of androgenetic alopecia, or female pattern hair loss. This type of hair loss occurs as a result of genetic factors and your levels of androgen hormones, such as dihydrotestosterone (DHT).
The chemicals used in hair dye and styling products don’t affect your DHT levels or cause this type of hair loss. However, some chemicals used for hair coloring, perming and other types of styling can potentially contribute to hair shedding over the long term.
If you’re starting to lose hair, you may want to consider treatments such as minoxidil, which is formulated to activate your hair follicles and stimulate hair growth.
Our guide to female pattern hair loss goes into more detail about how women’s hair loss can occur, as well as your options for maintaining healthy hair growth. You can also learn more about what chemicals cause hair loss in this guide.
The right combination of hair care products and healthy habits can help you to grow beautiful, healthy hair throughout your life. They can also help to reverse some of the chemical damage that occurs when you bleach, dye or style your hair.
Repairing chemical damage takes time, but the results are worth it. Try using the techniques above to make your hair stronger, smoother and healthier one day at a time.
For more information about caring for your hair, check out our list of simple hair care tips for different hair types.
Kate Hagerty is a board-certified Family Nurse Practitioner with over a decade of healthcare experience. She has worked in critical care, community health, and as a retail health provider.
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