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How Heat can Damage Your Hair

Damaged hair? We've got the culprit. Here's how heat can damage your hair

Learn about the damage heat can do to your hair

Many of us expose our hair to heat several times a day. A hot shower, followed by a hot session with a hair dryer, often followed by heat styling with a hair straightener or curling wand, begins the day for many of us. Nothing styles our hair better than heat. Heat can make curly hair straight and straight hair curly. It can tame out of control locks, and make them look as though we just stepped out of a salon. We know using the best heat protectant products help, but how much heat is too much for our hair? How can we tell if our hair is being damaged by the heat we use to clean, dry, and style it?

How Much Heat is Too Much?

Hair is composed of three layers: the cuticle, the cortex, and the medulla. The outer layer, the cuticle, is made up of cells that resemble scales or shingles. These cells overlap to protect the inner layers of the hair shaft. Some chemical processes applied to hair actually lift the protective scales of the cuticle layer to allow hair-altering chemicals into the cortex layer. Too much chemical processing can weaken the ability of the cuticle layer to protect hair, making it even more susceptible to damage from heat.

It’s important to note that applying heat to hair does not automatically result in damage every time. Hair can actually withstand temperatures up to 450˚F. Experts tell us to always keep our hair heating tools under 400˚, even if we are using the best heat protectant products. Even the strongest, thickest hair will begin to get split ends and other signs of damage at 400˚ and above, and experts tell us that no style requires that amount of heat. In fact, temperatures in our heating appliances work well to dry or style hair at 300˚. If your hair is thin, fine, dry, or already heat damaged, you should stay below the 300˚ mark.

How Can I Tell if My Hair is Heat Damaged?

According to experts, the signs of heat damage are easiest to spot on the ends of our hair. The ends of the hair are the oldest part of the hair shaft, and the most fragile. While severe heat damage will be obvious—dry, brittle, crunchy-feeling hair with split ends and sometimes even a lighter shade than the rest of the hair—you can spot more subtle signs of damage in other ways. One tip for testing hair for heat damage is to grab a lock of hair about three to four inches from the ends and gently shake and wave it up and down. If the hair ends move and bounce, it’s healthy. If it stays stiff and straight, it’s damaged. You can also easily compare the texture and feel of your hair close to the roots, and then the texture of the hair at the ends, and judge the extent of damage by the difference in texture.

How to Protect Hair From Heat Damage

It’s important to use one of the best heat protectant products before styling your hair with any heated hair utensil. Heat protectant sprays physically protect your hair by coating it in a protective barrier made of water-soluble silicone. The best heat protectant products for hair also add beneficial vitamins and fatty acids into your hair and then seal them into the hair shaft, while the heat protectant also seals the heat out.

It’s also critical to start out with hair in the best possible condition before you ever add heat treatments. This means using a moisturizing shampoo and a good hair conditioner to add moisture and protection. It’s also helpful to do a deep moisture treatment on your hair about once per month.

Since hair is composed of protein, ensuring that your diet contains enough protein to keep your hair strong and healthy is crucial. Protein can also be added to hair topically through protein-rich hair products. Protein treatments for hair are recommended as a way to minimize the damage from heating utensils used on hair.

While heat damage can be prevented or minimized through the use of the best heat protectant options for hair, and there are treatments that can improve the appearance of scorched hair, heat-damaged hair is permanently damaged. The only way to truly cure heat-damaged hair is to cut it off and allow it to grow back healthy and strong.

Resources— WellandGood, Elle.com, NaturalHairRules.com