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Brittle Hair: Symptoms, Causes & Treatments

Kristin Hall

Reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP

Written by Our Editorial Team

Published 07/12/2019

Updated 08/17/2023

It’s a safe bet that many of us dream of having luscious, healthy hair that’s perfectly hydrated and as soft as a kitten.

The reality for many women though is that their hair feels parched and dryer than the Sahara. Maybe that’s an exaggeration, if running your hands through your coarse strands leaves you wondering “why is my hair so dry and brittle?,” we have some answers for you.

But there can be several causes of brittle hair, from what you eat (or don’t eat) to the hair care products you use to underlying health issues. Fortunately, there are also many treatments for dry brittle hair that can help you recover your hair health.

Below, we’ll explore all the different causes of brittle hair that could be affecting your strands. We’ll also provide you answers to how to fix brittle hair, so you can finally have the soft, hydrated hair of your dreams.

What Dry, Brittle Hair Looks Like

Your hair is as unique as you are — meaning your hair type determines its volume and texture, as well as your options for styling. 

Knowing the different hair types can help you recognize the signs of dry and brittle hair, as well as help you figure out the right treatment and styling options. For instance, some hair types simply don’t respond as well to heat and styling products as other types.

Hair usually falls into four categories: straight, wavy, curly and kinky. Within those categories are subcategories that describe how thick your hair is (fine, medium or thick).

Generally speaking, curlier and thicker hair can have more frizz than other hair types. This is because straight, fine hair has a tendency to become greasy, as oil from the scalp travels down the hair shaft more quickly.

This doesn’t mean that straight or fine hair can’t turn into dry brittle hair though. When your hair feels dry and like it’s breaking easily, it’s most likely hair damage. 

You’re probably all too familiar with the feel of dry brittle hair, but in case you need a refresher, here are some common signs of damaged hair for all hair types:

  • Frizzy hair

  • Hair that tangles easily

  • Split ends high up on hair 

  • Dry hair

  • Hair that breaks off easily

  • Hair that feels straw-like

If you find that your hair doesn’t hold color or style well, this could be another sign of hair damage.

So what causes dry and brittle hair? Keep reading to learn more about the potential reasons.

Causes of Brittle Hair

Brittle hair can be caused by everything from seemingly harmless actions like how you wash and style your hair to underlying medical conditions.

More often than not, however, the answer to why your hair is so dry and brittle lies in your hair care routine.

According to the American Academy of Dermatology, these hair care habits are actually causing your hair to become dryer and more damaged:

  • Using shampoo on the entire length of your hair

  • Skipping conditioner

  • Rubbing your hair with a towel to dry it

  • Brushing wet hair

  • Using heat styling tools like blow dryers, curling irons or flat irons

  • Using long-lasting hold styling products

  • Pulling hair into tight hairstyles

  • Wearing hair extensions or a weave

  • Coloring or perming hair

  • Excessively brushing your hair (100 strokes a day or more)

You may not even realize it, but if you regularly do any of the above, you could end up with frizzy, dry hair.

Take shampoo, for example. Yes, shampoo is meant to clean your hair and contains ingredients such as sulfates to rid your scalp of oil, dirt, sweat and more. But while shampoo can help an oily scalp, the ingredients are harsh and often leave hair dry and brittle, making it most suitable for just the scalp.

While using hair dye now and again to change up your look is fun, the chemical treatments from hair dyes or bleaching and high-heat products like perms can lead to dry brittle tresses that breaks easily. This applies to heat styling tools as well, which can break down your hair the more you use them.

A poor diet can also be reflected in your body and your hair. Deficiencies of certain nutrients and vitamins could not only be the reason your hair is dry and brittle, but may also lead to hair loss.

Another reason your hair is brittle? Hypothyroidism, or an underactive thyroid, which is a medical condition where your body doesn’t produce enough hormones to keep the body running normally. One of the many symptoms of hypothyroidism is dry, thinning hair.

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Treatments for Treat Dry, Brittle Hair

Treatment for dry brittle hair might depend largely on the cause. But many of the tips below on how to fix dry brittle hair are good for just about anyone looking to improve their hair health.

The first step in restoring your hair’s healthy texture and shine is to make healthy changes to your diet.

A healthy diet for hair includes plenty of lean protein, as well as fresh fruits and vegetables to provide antioxidants and hair-supporting nutrients like biotin, vitamin E, vitamin C and iron. You can also try using supplements, like biotin gummies, to increase your nutrient levels.

In addition to making healthy changes to your diet, there are certain things you can do to start improving the condition of your dry, brittle hair.

  • Switch to a shampoo and conditioner designed for damage control. Certain hair care products for women are made with ingredients like antioxidants, protein and moisturizing oils to help restore your hair’s healthy condition and strength. There are even products designed specifically for scalp care, to promote healthy hair growth.

  • Don’t skip conditioner. After shampooing, use a conditioner to restore shine, volume, hydration and more to hair. Check out some of the best conditioners for dry hair or use this volumizing shampoo and conditioner duo to get more volume and shine.

  • Choose hair styling products made with hydrating ingredients. Look for moisturizers like shea butter, argan oil and coconut oil, while avoiding harsh and drying ingredients like alcohol and sulfates. 

  • Try washing your hair every other day. Washing your hair every day can strip away the natural oils that keep your hair hydrated and conditioned. Try washing your hair every other day instead, using a dry shampoo if needed on the days between. 

  • Be more mindful of how you wash your hair. When shampooing your hair, concentrate the lather at the roots and leave the ends alone. With conditioner, concentrate your attention on the dry, split ends and avoid the scalp area. 

  • Be smart when using heat tools. Always make sure your hair is completely dry before using heat tools and avoid lingering in one section for too long. Heat tools should also be used every other day at most, on a low or medium setting. And don’t forget to spritz on a heat protectant spray before using a blow dryer or iron to protect your hair and reduce frizz and hair breakage.

  • Handle wet hair as little as possible. Wet hair breaks more easily when it’s combed or brushed so try to avoid brushing hair right out of the shower. The exception is if you have tightly curled or textured hair — for these hair textures, brushing your hair when wet actually decreases the chances of hair breakage.

  • Don’t continuously wear tight hairstyles or extensions. Styles like tight ponytails, cornrows or braids pull on the hair and can cause tension that leads to breakage — and even permanent hair loss.

Is Brittle Hair a Sign of Thinning Hair?

Could dry brittle hair lead to thinning hair or future hair loss?

It’s completely normal to lose anywhere from 50 to 100 strands of hair daily. This may seem like a lot, but is merely a drop in the bucket when you realize people have an average of 100,000 hairs growing on their head.

While dry hair does break more easily, finding more hairs in your brush than usual or seeing hairs sprinkled on your pillow when you wake up may be the result of thinning hair rather than hair breakage.

If you notice your scalp looks wider or your ponytail feels thinner, these could be signs of female hair loss. Also known as female pattern baldness, hair loss in women occurs when new hair grows finer and thinner than the original hair, resulting in lower hair volume and, eventually, halted growth. 

Some of the things that cause your hair to become brittle — like stress and styling damage — can also contribute to thinning hair, but most cases of hair loss are related to genetics.

There are also solutions for thinning hair, from medication to topical solutions. Some of the best female hair loss treatments include:

  • Topical minoxidil. This medication is available as a foam or minoxidil drops, both of which are applied directly to hair. Minoxidil is thought to stimulate hair growth by encouraging hairs to enter into the growth stage of the hair growth cycle.

  • Oral minoxidil. This once-a-day pill might be prescribed off-label to those who prefer pills to topicals or for people who didn’t get results from topical minoxidil. Minoxidil requires the presence of an enzyme called follicular sulfotransferase, but not everyone has high enough levels of this enzyme in their hair follicles. For these people, an oral form may be more helpful.

  • Topical finasteride and minoxidil spray. This topical treatment combines 6% minoxidil and 0.3% finasteride in a prescription-strength spray. It’s currently only FDA-approved for men, but has demonstrated considerable results for women as a hair loss treatment.

  • Spironolactone. Female pattern hair loss is sometimes treated with medications called anti-androgens. These medications, such as spironolactone, lower your levels of male sex hormones like testosterone and dihydrotestosterone (DHT), which can cause hair loss.

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Preventing Dry and Brittle Hair

Why is my hair so dry and brittle? This is a question that thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of women have asked while desperately trying to find a solution to quench their dry locks.

  • The exact symptoms of dry brittle hair can vary depending on your hair type (straight, wavy, curly or kinky) but some tell-tale signs include frizzy hair, split ends, hair that feels like straw or dry to the touch, frequent hair breakage and tangles.

  • Brittle hair is most often a result of your daily hair care routine. Shampooing all of your hair, skipping conditioner, brushing wet hair, using hot tools or styling products daily and frequent coloring can all lead to dry hair that breaks easily.

  • Fortunately, using the right hair products, handling wet hair gently and reducing heat and chemical exposure can save your hair health and give you hydrated, healthy strands.

  • But if you’re noticing more hair falling out or a widening part, you may be experiencing hair loss. Dry brittle hair can lead to hair loss over time, but female pattern baldness is most often caused by genetics and hormones.

If you’re looking to get thicker hair, knowing which products to use is the first step. You’ll also benefit from eating a nutritional diet and taking care of your hair and scalp. Or, if you think you’re dealing with early signs of balding, these female hair loss treatments are a good place to start.

Related Articles

7 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. Gavazzoni Dias M. F. (2015). Hair cosmetics: an overview. International journal of trichology, 7(1), 2–15. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4387693/
  2. How to stop damaging your hair. (n.d.). American Academy of Dermatology. Retrieved from https://www.aad.org/public/diseases/hair-loss/insider/stop-damage
  3. D'Souza, P., & Rathi, S. K. (2015). Shampoo and Conditioners: What a Dermatologist Should Know?. Indian journal of dermatology, 60(3), 248–254. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4458934/
  4. Almohanna, H. M., Ahmed, A. A., Tsatalis, J. P., & Tosti, A. (2019). The Role of Vitamins and Minerals in Hair Loss: A Review. Dermatology and therapy, 9(1), 51–70. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6380979/
  5. Hypothyroidism (Underactive Thyroid) - NIDDK. (n.d.). National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Retrieved from https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/endocrine-diseases/hypothyroidism
  6. Hair styling without damage. (n.d.). American Academy of Dermatology. Retrieved from https://www.aad.org/public/diseases/hair-loss/hair-care/styling
  7. Papa, C.M. (1990). Hair. In: Walker HK, Hall WD, Hurst JW, editors. Clinical Methods: The History, Physical, and Laboratory Examinations. 3rd edition. Boston: Butterworths. Chapter 107. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK210/

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.

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