Dry & Damaged Hair

Scalp Condition Learn about different conditions and how you can help control the symptoms

What Causes Dry, Damaged Hair?

You know when your hair is dry: It looks dull, feels rough and lacks shine. But did you know that certain factors—such as heat, chemicals, and sun exposure—could be causing or contributing to the problem?

To understand dry hair, you need to understand the structure of the hair shaft: Each strand is covered by a protective outer layer of overlapping, shingle–like cells called the cuticle. In a healthy strand, the scales of the cuticle lie flat, protecting the inner layers and helping hair to retain moisture. In addition, a smooth cuticle reflects light—creating a shiny appearance—and feels soft and silky to the touch. When the cuticle becomes damaged, the hair strand becomes more porous, compromising its ability to hold in moisture. As a result, strands look dull and feel rough, and hair is weakened and more prone to breakage and split ends.

There are many factors can damage the hair’s cuticle layer, affect its ability to retain moisture and become dry:

  • Frequent heat styling, such as blow-drying and the use of hot rollers, flat irons and curling irons
  • Chemical processing, such as hair dyes, relaxers and perms
  • Exposure to sun and wind
  • Chemicals in pool water
  • Dry air from indoor heating during cold months
  • Going a long time between trims, since the ends of hair become porous over time
  • Aging (hormonal shifts can contribute to moisture loss)

Defy Dryness

Repairing dry hair requires a two-step plan: cutting back on the external factors that damage the cuticle, plus strengthening hair from the inside out so it can retain the moisture it needs.

Try these tips for replenishing dry hair:

  • When shampooing, use lukewarm water, since hot water may strip hair of natural oils and make it drier. Lather up every other day with a gentle, creamy shampoo.
  • Use a daily conditioner every time you shampoo, and leave a little bit of conditioner in the ends when you rinse. Hair should feel silky—not squeaky—when you’re finished.
  • Once a week, use a deep conditioner. After shampooing, gently squeeze out excess water, apply the deep conditioner, applying mostly on the middle and ends. Wrap your head in a shower cap or plastic wrap; this traps body heat, warming the conditioner and helping it penetrate the hair better. Leave on for up to 30 minutes before rinsing.
  • Detangle wet hair with a wide-tooth comb, and grip sections of hair just above where you insert the comb to reduce tension on the hair shaft as you pull the comb through. This helps prevent breakage.
  • Brush dried hair very gently, using a brush with soft bristles. This helps distribute natural scalp oils from the roots all the way down through the ends, where hair tends to be drier.
  • Limit heat styling. Allow hair to air–dry until only slightly damp before blow-drying. Set the dryer on a low heat setting and be sure to hold it several inches away from your hair. Use a nozzle attachment to direct the airflow in a downward direction, which smoothes out the cuticle and makes hair look shinier.
  • Before swimming in a pool, wet hair with tap water (the water fills in hair’s porosity, making it less likely to absorb the chemicals in pool water). Rinse hair with fresh water as soon as possible after swimming.
  • Get frequent trims, about every six weeks. Snipping off damaged ends prevents splitting and further injury to the cuticle layer.
When the cuticle becomes damaged, the hair strand becomes more porous, compromising its ability to hold in moisture.

Choose shampoos and conditioners that contain ingredients to smooth the cuticle, strengthen strands and add moisture to hair’s inner layers, so hair is healthier from the inside out. A few to look for: Olive extract penetrates the center of the hair strand, meadowfoam extract moisturizes the middle layer, sweet almond extract nourishes the surface, and wheat proteins add strength.