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Expert Q&A: How to Prevent Hair Damage

Zoe D. Draelos, MD, Explains How Hair Dryers and Chemicals Can Damage Your Hair

Can blow-drying my hair result in damage?

Yes. Water in hair is what makes it flexible. Heating appliances boil the water within the hair shaft, creating escaping steam. Hair bubbles form on the hair shaft, creating a loss of cuticle. Signs of heat damage include hair that smells burned, has frizzy ends, and breaks easily.

How can I dry my hair without damaging it?

Allow it to air dry, when possible. If you have to use a hairdryer, start out on the lowest heat setting first and gradually increase it.

Moisturizing the hair regularly will help the appearance of heat-damaged hair to some degree, but hair damaged by heat cannot be repaired. The affected hair will need to be cut off and allowed to regrow as healthy hair.

Since hair is alive, won't damaged hair just grow back?

One of the most common misconceptions about hair is that it is alive, when in fact hair is nonliving and does not heal itself once it is injured. So once the hair is damaged it cannot heal itself except through new hair growth at the scalp.

How about straightening my hair?

If you're straightening hair with a ceramic iron, put a moist towel in the device to protect the hair from direct heat. 

There's also a procedure called keratin hair straightening that uses gluteraldehyde or formeldahyde in combination with heat to straighten the hair’s natural bonds. After the chemical solution is applied to the hair, a keratin protein conditioner must be put on the hair to make it less brittle. The hair must be kept dry and not bent or manipulated for several days or the bonds will repair and the hair won't be straight.

Once you do shampoo, use a generous amount of conditioner. If you hair becomes frizzy and brittle anyway, stop the procedure and let new hair grow in.

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