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What Causes Hair Damage, and How Can It Be Prevented or Treated?

Answer by:
Louise Chang, MD

Internist, WebMD Medical Expert
Medical Editor, WebMD

Blow-drying, straightening, highlighting, and perming regularly can wreak havoc on hair, leaving it brittle, broken, and unmanageable. Split ends and dry hair are just two casualties of overstyling.

Excessive styling and heat can cause split ends, which occur when the protective outermost layer of hair (the cuticle) is damaged and peels back. Some treatments for split ends include:

  • Brush gently with a soft, flexible hairbrush; don't overbrush.
  • Avoid towel-drying. If you do dry your hair with a towel, rub it gently.
  • Use a conditioner, and leave on a deep conditioner about once a week.
  • Apply a heat-protective serum or spray before you dry or style your hair.

Hair needs moisture and a certain amount of oil to keep it looking healthy. A number of things can dry out hair, including:

  • Washing it too often
  • Using a harsh shampoo
  • Excessive blow-drying or use of a curling iron or straightening iron
  • Exposure to sun, wind, and dry air
  • Perms and dyes
  • Chlorine in swimming pools
  • Poor nutrition
  • Certain medications

To keep the moisture in your hair, try these tips:

  • Don't wash your hair every day. When you do wash your hair, use a gentle shampoo that's designed to infuse moisture into dry hair. Also use a conditioner daily.
  • Limit blow-drying and use of hot irons, hot rollers, or curling irons.
  • Increase the time between hair treatments such as dyes and perms.
  • Wear a hat on cold, windy days and put on a bathing cap when swimming in a chlorinated pool.


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