Heat-damaged hair: 10 ways to treat it

You hair can get damaged by heat, but you can always treat it. You need to take nourishing and protective measures to treat heat-damaged hair.

A lot of women like to dry their hair after a bath, using a hair dryer. Some even use heat styling tools before a party to look chic. Relying on heat for hair styling is not a good habit. Excessive heat can cause structural changes in the hair shaft. It can lead to various issues such as dryness, split ends, breakage, and a generally weakened and brittle texture. Once your hair gets damaged by heat, you will have to put in some effort to reverse it. Let us tell you how to treat heat-damaged hair.

What is heat-damaged hair?

Heat-damaged hair refers to hair that has been adversely affected by exposure to high temperature, typically from styling tools such as flat irons, curling irons and hair dryers. Hair is composed of a protein called keratin, and the excessive application of heat can break down the protein bonds that give hair its strength and elasticity. This can result in the loss of moisture from the hair, making it dry and more prone to breakage, explains cosmetologist and skin and hair expert Dr Jatin Mittal. Also, the outer layer of the hair, known as the cuticle, can get damaged, leading to a rough and frizzy appearance.

Woman with hair problems
Excessive heat can damage your hair. Image courtesy: Adobe stock

Here are some signs of heat-damaged hair:

  • Dryness
  • Split ends
  • Brittleness
  • Dullness
  • Fading colour
  • Lack of moisture
  • Snapping sounds when running your fingers through hair

If you notice several of these signs, it is likely that your hair has been damaged by heat, and you may want to take steps to repair and prevent further damage.

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How does heat damage hair?

Heat can lead to damaged hair through several mechanisms, affecting its structure and overall health. Here are some ways in which heat can damage hair:

1. Protein denaturation

Hair is primarily composed of keratin, and excessive heat can cause the protein bonds in keratin to break down or denature. This results in a loss of structural integrity, making the hair more prone to breakage and damage, says the expert.

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2. Moisture loss

Heat can strip the hair of its natural moisture and essential oils. The high temperatures open the cuticle, allowing moisture to escape. This leads to dry and brittle hair, making it more susceptible to breakage.

3. Cuticle damage

The cuticle acts as a protective layer for the hair shaft. Prolonged exposure to high heat can damage the cuticle, causing it to become raised or chipped. A compromised cuticle makes the hair more porous, allowing moisture to enter and exit the hair shaft easily.

4. Formation of free radicals

High temperatures can generate free radicals, which are unstable molecules that can damage the hair’s cellular structure. Free radicals can contribute to oxidative stress, leading to weakened and damaged hair.

5. Colour fading

If hair is dyed or chemically treated, heat can accelerate colour fading. The high temperatures can cause the colour molecules in the hair to break down or leach out, resulting in a loss of vibrancy.

How to treat heat-damaged hair?

Treating heat-damaged hair requires a combination of nourishing and protective measures.

1. Trimming

Schedule regular trims to remove the split ends and prevent further splitting. This helps improve the overall health and appearance of your hair.

2. Deep conditioning

Use a deep conditioning treatment regularly to restore moisture and nourishment to your hair. Look for products with ingredients like keratin, argan oil or shea butter, suggests Dr Mittal.

3. Protein treatments

Protein treatments can help strengthen the hair by replenishing protein lost due to heat damage. Choose a protein-rich treatment and use it as recommended on the product.

4. Avoiding heat styling

Take a break from heat styling tools, and air-dry your hair whenever possible. Also, embrace natural hairstyles to minimise further damage.

5. Heat protectants

Before using heat styling tools, apply a quality heat protectant spray or serum to create a barrier between your hair and the heat. This will help to reduce the impact of high temperature on hair.

6. Cooler styling tools

If you must use heat styling tools, opt for lower temperature settings. High heat is not always necessary, and using lower temperatures can help minimise damage.

7. Gentle detangling

Use a wide-tooth comb or your fingers if your hair gets detangled. Start from the tips and work your way up to avoid causing more breakage.

Woman using heat styling tool
Try to use less heat styling tools. Image courtesy; Shutterstock

8. Moisturising shampoos and conditioners

Choose hydrating and moisturising shampoos and conditioners to help replenish lost moisture. Look for products with ingredients like glycerin, hyaluronic acid, or coconut oil.

9. Protective hairstyles

Wear protective hairstyles that minimise friction and reduce exposure to environmental elements. Styles like braids, buns or protective wraps can help protect your hair from further damage.

10. Healthy diet and hydration

Ensure you are maintaining a well-balanced diet rich in vitamins and minerals, as nutrition plays a crucial role in hair health. Stay hydrated to support overall hair hydration, says the expert.

Consistency is key when treating heat-damaged hair. It may take time to see significant improvement, so be patient and continue with a hair care routine that prioritises moisture, protection, and overall health. If the damage is severe, consulting with a doctor can help.

When to see a doctor regarding heat-damaged hair?

While heat damage to hair is a common concern that can often be addressed through changes in hair care practices and treatments, there are situations where consulting a doctor may be appropriate. Consider seeking professional advice or medical attention for your heat-damaged hair if –

1. Severe damage or breakage

If your hair is severely damaged, breaking excessively, or you notice significant thinning, it’s advisable to consult with a trichologist or dermatologist. They can assess the extent of the damage and provide guidance on potential treatments.

2. Persistent scalp issues

If you experience persistent scalp issues such as itching, redness, or flakiness alongside hair damage, it may indicate an underlying scalp condition that requires professional evaluation and treatment.

3. Sudden hair changes

If you notice sudden and unexplained changes in your hair, such as rapid hair loss or changes in texture, it’s important to consult with a doctor. These changes may be indicative of an underlying health issue.

4. Hair thinning or bald patches

If you notice significant thinning of your hair or the development of bald patches, it’s crucial to seek medical advice. These symptoms may be associated with various conditions, including alopecia, and require professional evaluation.

5. Persistent dryness and brittle hair

If your hair remains excessively dry and brittle despite efforts to address heat damage through home treatments, it may be a sign of an underlying issue that requires professional attention.

6. Scalp infections

If you suspect a scalp infection or notice signs of infection, such as redness, swelling, or pain, consult with a healthcare professional. They can provide appropriate diagnosis and treatment.

7. Allergic reactions

If you experience allergic reactions to hair care products or treatments used to address heat damage, seek medical attention promptly. Allergic reactions may manifest as itching, redness, swelling, or rash.

In general, if you have concerns about the health of your hair or scalp and home treatments are not providing the desired results, go for professional advice.