Thursday, March 22, 2012

"Hidden" Sources of Breakage

Breakage, breakage, breakage.  When we experience breakage, our first inclination is to presume dryness, over manipulation, or heat usage as the source.  However, sometimes the actual culprit may run a little deeper.  Here are some "hidden" sources of hair breakage:

1) Overstretching the hair: Do you stretch your hair prior to styling? If so, be sure you are using one of these least harmful methods: twists or loose braids. Banding is another option as well, depending on the tension.  On the other hand, tight banding or tight braiding can overstretch the hair and lead to weakened strands. Also, be sure you are stretching on damp hair instead of wet hair.  Wet hair will be more susceptible to breakage under tension. Lastly, refrain from using rubber bands or any other harmful hair tie (e.g., cotton) during the drying process.

2) Styling on wet or drenched hair: Hair is most fragile when wet or drenched with water.  Styling the hair in this state may lead to mechanical breakage.  Depending on the manipulation required for the desired style, it may be better to wait until the hair is damp or damp-dry.

3) Diet low in protein: Hair largely consists of protein (i.e., keratin) which is built from amino acids extracted from foods we put into our body.  A diet low in protein can translate into weaker, thinner hair strands (and thus breakage) or even hair loss.  Mitigate this issue by incorporating more nuts, chicken, fish, and beans into your diet.

4) Diet low in zinc, iron, and/or Vitamin B-12: A deficiency in any of these nutrients can result in weaker strands (and thus breakage) or even hair loss.  Taking a good multivitamin on a daily basis can ensure that you are receiving a sufficient amount of these nutrients. If you are severely deficient in zinc or iron (e.g., anemia), I highly recommend that you see a doctor.

5) Use of sulfate shampoos: Certain sulfate shampoos (e.g., shampoos containing SLS and ALS) can be harsh on the hair thus weakening the strands. Switching to a more gentle sulfate shampoo or a natural shampoo can mitigate this issue.

6) Overexposure to sun: Hair that was overexposed during the summer months can be showing signs of weakness and breakage in the fall/winter months. Depending on the extent of weakening, mitigation can range from regular deep conditioning the hair with protein to trimming for a fresh start.

7) Use of an improper comb: Thin-tooth combs or combs with seams can tug on the hair and yield mechanical breakage.  Stick to seamless, wide tooth combs.

8) Hair that used to be heat styled: Even if one has not used heat in a while, heat usage from months or even a year prior can be haunting the person now. Mid-shaft splits can be opening and yielding breakage. There is also the issue of split ends widening.  Trims are the best way to mitigate this problem.

9) Sleeping on a cotton pillowcase: Cotton can be both drying and abrasive to the hair.  Sleep on a satin/silk pillowcase or use a satin/silk bonnet to put a stop to this breakage source.

10) Hair that has been colored: Dyeing can weaken the hair shaft by lifting the cuticles. Depending on the extent of weakening, mitigation can range from regular deep conditioning with protein to trimming for a fresh start.

11) Protein-moisture imbalance: Hair can either become brittle or stretchy and thus break due to a protein-moisture imbalance.  Read this post for more information.

As always, please speak with your doctor before adjusting your diet or lifestyle.

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Anonymous said...

I feel like its just me but when using a wide tooth comb mu hair doesn't seem to be fully detangled. I start the detangling process with a wide tooth comb then work my way down to a rat tail. Everyone says this is a no no but I don't understand how one's strands can truly be detangled if all the knots are slipping through the with teeth...

Loo said...

I used to feel the same way but learned that a wide tooth comb is sufficient if the hair is mildly tangled. The challenge is to keep the hair from getting very detangled to the point one would need a thinner tooth comb. Protective styles will generally prevent the hair from getting too tangled. Low manipulation styles can do the same so long as one isn't playing with the hair too much (e.g., fiddling with a twistout).

Additionally, wanting to detangle with a thin tooth comb may be a psychological thing. I just never "felt" like my hair was detangled without one, but the truth of the matter was it "was". Thin tooth combs can give a false sense of added detangling because more shed hair (accompanied by more broken hair) may come out.

I hope this helps! At the end of the day, you know your hair best, and if it's following up with a thin tooth comb, then stick with what works for you. :o)

Noiree said...

Hi there Loo, great article!

I have a lot of trouble finding a comb that is seamless...I'm guessing this is something I need to find online as opposed to in stores...seems like it might be a specialty item to be had. I heard about the use of wooden combs which were seamless, and my Chinese friend bought one for me from China, but I believe it's way too thin to use for detangling, and the wooden prongs are so sharp, I feel like it could cut my hair!
Any suggestions on sites to find good quality seamless combs for a decent price?

Loo said...

Go for bone or resin combs. This site has a decent selection:

I actually use the bone/resin comb pictured here (at the very top):

I hope that helps. :o)

Charlotte said...

I agree. It's psychological. It's also sometimes we just like the feeling. I began to realize I was using this as an excuse to continue brushing my hair when I know that the safest way to detangle is to poke your fingers in, then as they catch tangling hairs, pull the tangles apart sideways. Doing that nice and slowly will help to minimize if not eliminate breakage. When I tried to use a brush ever so gently I kept getting lots of midshaft splits and besides, initially my hair looked nice but it actually ends up more frizzy after hours, and the volume is the same, with or without. I do fear I will get lots of single strand knot's but so far so good, my hair is not particularly prone to those, a little bit is normal.