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What Does Damaged Hair Look Like?

Kristin Hall

Medically reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP

Written by Our Editorial Team

Last updated 4/16/2022

Has your hair lost its shine? Maybe it appears more straw-like than strand-like, or maybe you’ve started noticing hair breakage in different areas. From a luster-less appearance, split ends, hair breakage or even bald spots, damaged hair can take on a variety of appearances. 

We’re guessing you’ll agree that none of these things are ideal hair appearance characteristics. After all, most of us dream of bouncy, shiny, thick strands rather than any of the things listed above. So, how can you ensure your tresses look more like they belong in a hair commercial? 

First, you need to understand what can cause damaged hair. From there, you can utilize different treatments and habits to keep your locks healthy and thriving. 

What Causes Damaged Hair?

There are a number of paths that can lead to dry, brittle hair. Most commonly, hair care habits that you have can lead to unhealthy strands. This includes things that either take away moisture from your strands or put unnecessary stress on your hair. 

Some of the more common causes of hair damage include

  • Being to vigorous when you shampoo (or when you towel dry hair) 

  • Skipping conditioner

  • Brushing your hair when it’s wet and tugging at tangles (wet hair is fragile) 

  • Using hot tools — like a blow dryer or straightener — on too high a heat or too regularly

  • Hair products with a long-lasting hold

  • Tight hairstyles, weaves or extensions (these put pressure on the scalp and can lead to hair loss

  • Coloring, perming or relaxing your hair — or any other chemical treatments 

Take Your Hair From Damaged to Healthy

Now for some positive information: If your hair is damaged or you’re dealing with brittle hair, you can absolutely turn that ship around and sail right on back to healthy hair.

Some of the ways to do this are through lifestyle tweaks, but there are also products and medications that can revive your strands and give you lustrous, smooth hair.

If you need help figuring out what you should do, it may be worth consulting with a professional. Until then, read up on some treatment options. 

Eat Healthfully

Research shows that a lack of iron and zinc in your diet may have an effect on your hair. In addition to this, if you’re experiencing hair loss, increasing your intake of these vitamins and nutrients may boost hair growth.

If you’d like to get more zinc in your diet, try foods like crab, oysters, pork chops, oatmeal and peas. Want to boost your iron? Consider eating more spinach, poultry, seafood, lentils, white beans and nuts.

Ditch the Cigarettes

There’s really no good reason for you to smoke. It can lead to so many health issues — like cancer and other diseases.

But if you need an extra little nudge to get you to put that pack down, know that it’s also bad for your hair. Researchers have found a connection between smoking and hair loss. 

Cigarette smoke is a pollutant that can cause hair damage. This smoke has even been found to damage the DNA of the hair follicle. Yikes.

Choose Your Shampoo and Conditioner Wisely

How you shampoo matters. Ideally, you want to gently massage the shampoo into your scalp. Then, when you rinse it out, let the water do the work. Don’t rub your strands to get it out. That’ll only make already brittle hair more prone to breakage. And try to let your hair dry naturally when possible.

Oh, and don’t skip the conditioner! The whole point of a conditioner is to replace moisture. They can also increase shine and volume.

There are a variety of conditioners to choose from — from ones intended for daily use, to leave-in conditioner and deep conditioning masks. 

Hers has a shampoo and conditioner, both of which are formulated to hydrate and strengthen hair. 

Interested in a leave-in conditioner? They are meant to be applied to wet hair after a shower to moisturize and detangle hair. 

Another option is a hair mask, which can really turbo-charge hydration. 

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Consider Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Taking omega-3 fatty acids or making sure you have enough of them in your diet can help keep your hair healthy.

A study looked at 120 women over six months and found that omega-3 and omega-6 (both are antioxidants) can improve hair density. Translation: they can help you score thicker hair

There are plenty of foods with omega-3s in them, including:

  • Salmon, mackerel and tuna

  • Chia seeds and walnuts

  • Flaxseed oil

Another option is to take an omega-3 supplement

Try Coconut Oil

Coconut oil has antibacterial and antifungal properties, which can help protect your locks. Plus, coconut oil is packed with fatty acids. As mentioned above, these can encourage hair health. Finally, it penetrates the hair shaft deeply, which can help prevent breakage

Many people use coconut oil as a hair mask. 

While we’re on the topic of oils, argan oil is another good one for your hair. It is also high in fatty acids and it is believed to help treat conditions like dry hair.

Take Biotin

Biotin supplements have become quite popular, and there’s even early research showing it may help with hair health.

That said, much more research needs to be done. It’s also worth noting that you probably get enough biotin in your diet. 

Still want to try a biotin supplement? It can’t hurt! Hers offers biotin gummies.

Embrace Looser Styles

Tight hairstyles like a ponytail or things like extensions and weaves can tug on the scalp and damage the hair shaft.

This type of hair loss is called traction alopecia. Basically, constant pulling can lead to permanent hair follicle damage and, ultimately, hair loss.

If you have extensions or a weave, make sure they don’t feel tight or like they’re pulling on your scalp. As for hairstyles, the looser, the better. 

Protect Against the Sun

The sun can harm your skin, but it can also damage your hair. UV radiation can cause your hair to lose proteins and weaken over time.

To prevent this from happening, wear a hat in the sun. 

Look Into Medication

If hair loss is your issue, try topical minoxidil. It is FDA-approved as a treatment for androgenetic alopecia (genetic hair loss) and is often sold under the brand name Rogaine®. It can be found in a 2% solution or 5% foam

Minoxidil encourages your blood vessels to open so that more nutrients and oxygen can get to your hair. It akso elongates the growth period for your hair, which means more follicles are created to replace the hair you lose.

The acne medicationspironolactone may also help. In some cases, it can slow down hair loss from occurring.

If you’re dealing with hair loss, you’ll want to work with a healthcare professional to determine the cause of your hair loss. From there, they can prescribe the right medication for you. 

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Taking Your Hair From Damaged to Healthy

Dry hair is on nobody’s hair type wishlist. Beyond dryness, damaged hair can look patchy, frizzy, dull or sparse. This type of damage may also give the appearance of thinner hair — the exact opposite of that beautiful luscious hair we all dream of.

Bad habits — like frying your strands with hot tools or not washing properly — can lead to this damage.

Thankfully, there are a number of things you can do to revive your hair strands and get back to healthy hair. Some options include medication, a good diet, and supplements. 

To figure out what your strands need and how to address your hair damage, consider starting by filling out Hers hair care questionnaire

19 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. 10 Hair-Care Habits That Can Damage Your Hair. American Academy of Dermatology. Retrieved from https://www.aad.org/public/everyday-care/hair-scalp-care/hair/habits-that-damage-hair
  2. 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 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5315033/
  3. Zinc. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved from https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Zinc-HealthProfessional/#h3
  4. Iron. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved from https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Iron-Consumer/#h3
  5. Overviews of Diseases/Conditions. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/campaign/tips/diseases/index.html
  6. Trueb, R., (2003). Association between smoking and hair loss: another opportunity for health education against smoking? National Library of Medicine. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12673073/
  7. D’Souza, P., Rathi, S., (2015). Shampoos and Conditioners: What a Dermatologist Should Know? . Indian Journal of Dermatology. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4458934/
  8. Dias, M., (2015). Hair Cosmetics: An Overview. International Journal of Trichology. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4387693/
  9. Le Floc’h, C., Cheniti, A., Connetable, S., (2015). Effect of a nutritional supplement on hair loss in women. J Cosmet Dermatol. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25573272/
  10. Omega-3 Fatty Acids. National Institute of Health. Retrieved from https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Omega3FattyAcids-Consumer/
  11. Widianingrum, D., Noviandi, C., Salasia, S., (2019). Antibacterial and immunomodulator activities of virgin coconut oil (VCO) against Staphylococcus aureus. Heliyon. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6817632/
  12. Ogbolu, D., Oni, A., Daini, O., Oloko, A., (2007). In vitro antimicrobial properties of coconut oil on Candida species in Ibadan, Nigeria. J Med Food. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17651080/
  13. Hanana, M., Mezghenni, H., Ayed, R., et al., (2018). Nutraceutical potentialities of Tunisian Argan oil based on its physicochemical properties and fatty acid content as assessed through Bayesian network analyses. Lipids in Health and Disease. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6003034/
  14. Vilareal, M., Kume, S., Bourhim, T., et al., (2013). Activation of MITF by Argan Oil Leads to the Inhibition of the Tyrosinase and Dopachrome Tautomerase Expressions in B16 Murine Melanoma Cells. Evid Based Complement Altern Med. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3723062/
  15. Ablon, G. (2015). A 3-Month, Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Study Evaluating the Ability of an Extra-Strength Marine Protein Supplement to Promote Hair Growth and Decrease Shedding in Women with Self-Perceived Thinning Hair. Dermatology Research and Practice. Retrieved from https://www.hindawi.com/journals/drp/2015/841570/
  16. Pulickal, J., Kaliyadan, F., Traction Alopecia (2020, August 12). Stat Pearls. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK470434/
  17. Sebetic, K., Masnec, I., Cavka, V, et al., (2008, Oct). UV damage of the hair. Coll Antropoll, 2:163-5. Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/23781276_UV_damage_of_the_Hair
  18. Suchonwanit, P., Thammarucha, S., Leerunyakul, K., (2019). Minoxidil and its use in hair disorders: a review. Drug Design, Development and Theory, 13: 2777-2786. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6691938/#:~:text=Minoxidil%20is%20a%20common%20medication,as%20increasing%20body%20hair%20growth.
  19. Brough, K., Torgerson, R., (2017, March). Hormonal therapy in female pattern hair loss. International Journal of Women’s Dermatology 3(1): 53-57. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5419033/

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.

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