Long, healthy hair is gorgeous and often coveted by those who think they can’t grow their own. Barring any serious genetic or nutritional issues, the truth is that you can grow long, flowing tresses that are a joy to style and show off. The catch is that it’s not easy. In fact, growing your hair long and keeping it healthy requires quite a commitment, and it won’t happen quickly. My own hair is almost to my knees now, but that achievement is the result of years of diligently managing damage.
Note that if your hair is already severely damaged, you may save yourself a lot of aggravation by simply cutting it off and starting fresh. Common styling practices are extremely damaging to hair, and you could be fighting a losing battle with irreparable damage. These tips can help you avoid common sources of damage so you don’t just beat up your hair all over again.
Chemicals and heat are death to hair
This one is pretty much a given – heated irons, chemical treatments and dyes are terrible for your hair. Sure, stylists will offer the whole spiel on how one product is better for your hair than another, but bear in mind that a better option only means “less damaging.” Nearly all hair chemicals work through breaking protein bonds. Heated irons and air dryers literally cook your hair – it is, after all, primarily proteins.
Danger in combing and hair accessories
Avoid combing your hair when it’s wet. Always start from the bottom and systematically work upward to avoid breaking hairs by unexpectedly hitting a tangle. Wet hair catches in the comb easier than dry, and can also stretch. The stretching causes stress that will later turn into splits. Also make sure that you have a good comb for your hair type. Many hair accessories have rough edges, metal tags that wear on the hair, or tangle easily and cause damage during removal.
Vigorous hair drying after washing
No, I’m not talking about hair dryers again — I’m talking about your towel. I used to always wrap my hair in a twist of towel on top of my head until most of the water had soaked into the towel, then flip my hair over my head and “scrub” it with the towel to get as much additional water out as possible. It’s a very common method. Not only does this cause breakage and possibly additional tangles, it causes stress all along the hair length and can even irritate your scalp. If you have a LOT of little hairs that are significantly shorter than the rest, it could be due to breakage caused by this kind of stress.
Significant exposure to chlorine
Swimming pools are nasty places for your hair. Do you ever wear a swimming cap? I don’t, and neither does the vast majority of people at the public pool. It’s tough to bring myself to tuck all my hair up into a stupid-looking rubber cap, even if it means keeping my hair healthier. Swimming caps also don’t always do a good job of keeping water out. What to do, then? The easiest solution, if your local pool allows it, is to give your hair a generous coating of conditioner about an hour before you swim. Conditioner helps prevent direct exposure to the pool water, and leaves your hair soft and deep-conditioned when you rinse it out afterward.
Disclaimer: I live in Wyoming. We get to fry eggs on the rocks during the summer, then freeze our nostrils shut with the first breath outside in the winter. It doesn’t get much worse for challenging hair conditions. Hot, dry weather dehydrates your hair. Direct sun exposure will give you those pretty bleached highlights, but only because of UV damage – it’s kind of like a sunburn for your hair. Wet hair that freezes can split the hair as it expands. Keep it dry and covered, and consider adding oil to your hair during extreme weather.
In summary, there are actually tons of things that can damage your hair, these are just five of the most common. Mechanical damage against clothes and furniture is also a common source of damage, though not quite as severe since so many people with long hair wear it up during the day. Be aware of what these factors are doing to your hair, and start reworking your daily regimen to reduce or eliminate them.