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What Does Damaged Hair Look Like?

Sara Perkins

Reviewed by Sara Harcharik Perkins, MD

Written by Sheryl George

Published 04/16/2022

Updated 11/15/2023

We believe crispiness is better reserved for french fries, not hair, but that’s exactly what damaged hair can feel like. And the look? You’ll probably spot broken ends, dullness and frizz. 

In this article, we’ll dive into how to tell if you really have damaged hair, from symptoms to root causes. And most importantly, we’ll uncover the right hair care routine to get damaged hair back to its former glory, stat.

If you’ve been staring at the ends of your hair and thinking “what does dead hair look like?” or “what does heat damaged hair look like?” you’re in the right place.

Frayed and broken hair are some of the major tell-tale signs but if you’ve been confused about what damaged hair looks like, we get it. Sometimes, more minor damage may just look like a lack of shine or dryness, which means you may be less sure that your hair is really giving you an SOS. 

But whether your hair is dull or breaking, here are some signs of hair damage to look out for: 

  • Frizzy hair

  • Hair that tangles easily

  • Split ends high up on hair 

  • Dry hair

  • Hair that breaks off easily

  • Hair that feels brittle and straw-like

Now you know what damaged hair looks like, but you may still be wondering how exactly you fix the damage. We got you. Below, you’ll find info on everything from how to handle your hair to how to handle your stress so your hair can feel like a virgin again (cue Madonna). 

Use a Moisturizing Shampoo and Conditioner 

Damaged hair tends to be as thirsty as an Instagram “model.” You can replenish hydration with moisturizing shampoos and conditioners — look for formulations that contain hydrating ingredients like argan oil, which can be found in this volumizing shampoo and conditioner.  

This is also a great time to have a little self-care moment and add in that weekly hair mask or deep conditioning treatment you’ve been wanting to try. If your hair tangles easily, try a leave-in conditioner before using a wide-toothed comb on strands. 

Love to go with all natural hair? One study demonstrated regular use of coconut oil, which seems to penetrate the hair shaft better than other oils, can help prevent hair breakage.

Also, if your hair has been parched, steer clear of deep cleaning or clarifying shampoos, which can get rid of product buildup but may strip too many oils from your hair. And while we’re also well aware of the no-poo movement, there hasn’t been strong evidence to indicate that washing your hair frequently can lead to damage.   

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Be Extra Gentle

When you’re fresh out of the shower, are you vigorously rubbing your wet hair with a towel? Yeaa, we’re going to need you to take that aggression out in a boxing class — not on your hair strands. Instead, wrap your head in a microfiber towel to minimize friction. 

And while you’re at it, please don’t detangle hair while it's wet. Give your hair a few minutes to dry in your towel wrap and then gently (keyword here is “gently”) rake a wide-toothed comb through strands to detangle. 

If you feel like you’re already dealing with some breakage, learn more tips on how to stop hair breakage.

Dial Down The Heat

Whether you’re blow drying your hair, or styling it with a curling iron or flat iron, it’s time to crank down the temps. Research indicates that high heat can damage the hair shaft, with one study showing that a blow dryer causes more surface damage than natural drying. 

We get that air drying isn’t for everyone. But if you’re a tool time devotee, try using a hair dryer at a distance of approximately six inches away from the hair shaft. Also spritz on a heat protectant prior to drying to help protect strands against scorching heat.

Dialing down the heat also applies to Mr. Sun. Yes, we love a good beach day. But just like UV rays can damage skin, they can also mess with our strands. Evidence shows that protecting the cuticle (the outermost layer of hair) is very important for keeping the hair shaft’s integrity. To protect your hair, spritz on hair care products with UV filters when you're kicking it outside.

Eat the Rainbow

A healthy and balanced diet is key to getting all the nutrients you need for healthy hair. Think of it as the foundation for strong hair. 

A major nutrient for healthy hair is called biotin. Many foods naturally contain biotin, so if you have a balanced diet that includes foods like meat, fish, nuts and seeds, you’re probably covered. If you’re a picky eater and dealing with hair breakage, thinning hair or brittle nails, you may be interested in taking a biotin supplement

Try Hair Growth Treatments

Hair damage can make hair more susceptible to breaking, creating an overall thinner appearance. Various hair loss treatments can help promote new healthier growth. Here’s the breakdown on the different options you could try: 

  • Minoxidil drops: This topical solution contains 2% minoxidil. One of the most studied and effective hair loss treatments, minoxidil is believed to increase the speed at which your hair follicles go into the anagen, or growth, phase of the hair growth cycle. In turn, that promotes faster, more effective hair growth. 

  • Oral minoxidil: This once-a-day pill helps kickstart hair growth by increasing blood flow to your hair follicles. If you’re someone who doesn’t want to change up your hair styling routine, this may be a good option for you. But we have to mention that oral minoxidil is only prescribed off-label for women experiencing hair loss, meaning it’s not FDA-approved.

  • Spironolactone: Studies have shown that this once-daily antiandrogen pill can also be helpful in treating female hair loss and promoting new hair growth. A prescription medication, spironolactone blocks androgen production, which in turn decreases the amount of DHT (the hormone that causes hair follicles to produce thinner, weaker hairs) in your body.  

If you’re feeling like you’re dealing with actual hair loss instead of just some broken strands, read our guide to hair loss in women to learn everything from the root causes to additional treatment options. 

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Now you know more about damage than Danity Kane (helloooo, anthem of 2008). So here’s a quick rundown of what we learned:

  • Signs of damage include obvious broken hairs and split ends, but also more subtle signs like frizz and dull hair.

  • Damage can be caused by various factors, like chemical damage from bleaching, sun damage, heat damage from hot tools and aggressive handling.

  • Use gentle hair care products for women that boost moisture.

  • Try a hair growth treatment like minoxidil or spironolactone to help encourage healthy new hair growth.

All in all, remember there are healthy hair habits and other steps you can take to help restore your strands. If you’d like to get a more specific, healthcare-recommended hair regimen, get a consultation today.

8 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
  2. D'Souza, P., & Rathi, S. K. (2015). Shampoo and Conditioners: What a Dermatologist Should Know? NCBI. Retrieved from
  3. SooLee, W., Lee, Y., Kim, Y., & Hyun, H. (2011). Hair Shaft Damage from Heat and Drying Time of Hair Dryer. NCBI. Retrieved from
  4. 10 Hair-Care Habits That Can Damage Your Hair. American Academy of Dermatology. Retrieved from
  5. Masnec, I. S., Sebetic, K., Cavka, V., Biljan, D., & Krolo, I. (2008). (PDF) UV damage of the Hair. ResearchGate. Retrieved from
  6. Guo, E., Katta, R., (2017, January). Diet and hair loss: effects of nutrient deficiency and supplement use. Dermatology Practical and Conceptual, 7(1): 1-10. Retrieved from
  7. Suchnowanit, Poonkiat, Thammaruchu, Sasima & Leerunyakul, Kanchana. (2019, Aug 9) Minoxidil and its use in hair disorders: a review. NCBI. Retrieved from
  8. Burns Laura J., De Souza, Brianna, Flynn,Elizabeth BS, Hagigeorges, Dina, Senna, Maryanne M. (2020) Spironolactone for treatment of female pattern hair loss. Retrieved from

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.


  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

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