Most of us are quick to acknowledge the need to protect our skin from the rigors of summer heat and sun. But come Labor Day a quick glance in the mirror frequently lets us know what we forgot to protect -- our hair.
Indeed, a season of exposure to sun, salt water, and chlorine chemical residues -- not to mention a few extra chemical "sun" streaks for style -- can come together to wreak havoc on our tresses. By the end of the summer, experts say hair can become so dehydrated it looks and feels nearly fried.
"From a technical standpoint, there's a protective coating on hair called the hydrolipidic film; if you have dry hair, that film is broken down somewhat anyway, when you color it, it breaks down a little more -- but when you add sun, salt water, and chlorine, you can destroy the film altogether," says Melissa Baker, national training advisor for Rene Furterer hair care products in Paris.
The end result, says Baker, is that moisture located deep in the core of the hair shaft evaporates -- and in what seems like one "poof" your "pouf" can be gone.
"Hair looks, feels, acts, and actually is, crying out for moisture," says Baker.
That means hair not only has a dry look and feel, but can also be frizzy, unmanageable, have problems holding a curl or style, and even take longer to dry. In its worst form damage causes the ends of the hair to split, and breakage can begin.
"When hair dehydrates it becomes brittle and when it becomes brittle you get the broken split ends that go up the hair shaft and cause fuzziness and frizziness and sometimes breakage; it's a cumulative process," says celebrity hair care expert Peter Lamas.
Like skin, hair is comprised of proteins that need moisture to function. But, unlike skin which has its own supply of moisture from within, hair, says Lamas, is dead, so once the moisture is gone -- it's gone.
Problems are further complicated if we lighten or streak our hair. That's because our natural supply of oil resides in the pigment. Remove the color, says Lamas, and you strip out the oils.
"This leaves the hair wide open to the environment -- so not only are you pulling out the oils, which dries the hair, but you are also making it more vulnerable to the elements, which can cause even more dryness and eventually damage," Lamas tells WebMD.
Undoing the Damage
While damaging hair can come easy, repair can be frustratingly hard. Experts say that's because many of us turn to styling aids -- such as mousses and gels -- to force our damaged tresses to do what we want. And that can be a big mistake.
"If you are having problems with your hair -- it's frizzy or won't hold a curl or style -- it's natural to reach for more styling aids. But when hair is damaged, these products can make it look and feel worse," says stylist Juan Juan of J Beverly Hills Salon, and developer of J Beverly Hills hair products.