Hair Breakage FAQ: Causes and How To Stop It

Medically Reviewed By Cynthia Cobb, DNP, APRN, WHNP-BC, FAANP
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Hair breakage occurs when strands of your hair break, often splitting near the ends. Nearly everyone experiences hair breakage. However, there are ways to decrease your risk of hair breakage. The structure of healthy hair involves an outer cuticle with overlapping scales. When the integrity of these scales falls apart, the hair is unable to retain moisture, and the hair strand can break.

Hair breakage is common, but there are ways to manage and prevent it. This article explains how to identify hair breakage, and the causes, treatment, and prevention.

How can I tell if I have hair breakage?

A person examining the ends of their hair
Simone Wave/Stocksy United

There are a number of signs of hair breakage. However, it is important to remember that some hair loss is normal. In fact, healthy hair will shed during your hair’s natural shedding cycle.

Look for the following signs to distinguish hair breakage from normal hair loss:

  • Breakage along the strand: By examining your hair for multiple strands at the tip, you can determine if the strand is breaking.
  • Small strands: Noticing short, broken-off hairs on the floor or in the sink is a clear sign of breakage. Damaged hair typically breaks, falling off easily.
  • Tangles: Hair with breakage clumps more easily, making it harder to brush.
  • Noticeable dryness: A lack of moisture in your hair is another clear sign of breakage. If after a deep condition, your hair still appears dry, you may be experiencing breakage.
  • Changes in texture: Run your hands through your hair, from the nape of your neck to the ends of your hair. If you feel a difference in hair smoothness, you may be experiencing breakage.

What can cause hair breakage?

Styling, diet, and some health conditions can be causes of hair breakage. In addition, different types of hair are more or less prone to breakage than others. For example, coily or curly hair is generally more prone to breakage.

Possible causes of breakage can include:

Styling and products

Excess heat, such as from curling irons or straighteners, can lead to damage. Heat breaks the cuticles that surround the hair strands, leading to breakage.

The chemicals in both daily products and styling procedures, such as hair relaxers, can also weaken hair. This makes hair more likely to break.

According to a 2014 study, the acidity, or pH, of the products you apply to your hair can impact its strength. These products include shampoo or color. A product with a high pH increases the friction between individual strands. Increased pH and friction can increase breakage.

If you regularly have a weave or extensions, an improper fit can lead to breakage. For example, hair weave or extensions that are fitted too tightly may cause breakage of your natural hair. Your stylist should be educated on the best methods for your hair type.

Tight hairstyles

Frequently tying hair back with elastic bands can cause hair to break. Elastic bands pull on hair from the root, causing the hair to break close to the scalp.

Cornrows, braids, and buns can also cause this type of breakage. This may even lead to traction alopecia, a type of hair loss. Despite being a temporary condition, left unmanaged, it can become permanent.

Click here to learn more about hair loss.

Thyroid disorders

Brittle or dry hair and excessive shedding and thinning can be signs of a thyroid disorder. Also look for these other symptoms of a thyroid disorder:

  • weakened nails
  • itchy skin
  • irregular menstrual cycles
  • slow healing wounds

If you experience any of these symptoms, contact a doctor.

Diet

Hair health relies heavily on diet quality. One of the simplest ways to improve hair health is to improve your nutrition. Without certain nutrients, hair becomes dull and brittle, which can lead to loss and breakage.

Some of the essential minerals and vitamins hair needs include:

Eating disorders

Malnutrition as a result of an eating disorder can cause hair breakage and loss. Malnutrition can even disrupt natural hair cycles and prevent growth. 

Towel drying

Rubbing damp hair with a towel can damage hair, increasing frizz and breakage. Wet hair is more fragile than dry hair.

Instead of rubbing hair dry, try simply wrapping it in a towel. You can also use towels that are designed to minimize hair breakage.

Infrequent cutting

If you do not remove split ends, breakage will continue to move up the hair strand. Regular trims remove broken sections of hair. This prevents more severe breakage and increases hair health long term.

How can I prevent hair breakage?

While most people will experience some degree of hair breakage, try these tips to reduce it:

  • Use conditioner after shampooing, leaving the conditioner on for a few minutes prior to rinsing.
  • Prevent exposure to harsh chemicals such as chlorine.
  • Allow hair to air dry rather than towel drying and using heat.
  • Reduce the use of heat-based tools such as curling irons.
  • Use a hot oil treatment twice per month.
  • Practice caution when using a relaxer. Always visit an experienced stylist who can apply a relaxer safely.
  • Use a ceramic iron to press hair, using the minimum temperature required.
  • Ensure braids or cornrows are not too tight. Pain is normally indicative of damage to hair.
  • Avoid sleeping on wet hair.
  • Reduce use of tight elastics.

How can I treat hair breakage?

Once your hair is broken, it cannot be repaired. However, by addressing the cause, you likely will significantly improve the health of new growth hair. Take the following steps to help keep your hair healthy:

Assess your hair care

Treatments that you are applying to your hair may be damaging. Try switching to a gentle shampoo and conditioner, and allow hair to air dry. Look for products that restore moisture.

If you are not using one already, start using a conditioner. Conditioners help reduce friction after washing. This can significantly help reduce breakage and improve the overall health of your hair.

Change up your diet

Eating food containing hair-healthy nutrients can improve the quality of your hair.

For example, eat a variety of protein-rich food and foods high in zinc, iron, biotin, and omega-3. If you need inspiration, reach for some walnuts, which are rich in protein, zinc, and omega-3.

More frequently asked questions

Here are questions people also ask about hair breakage. Cynthia Cobb, DNP, APRN, has reviewed the answers.

Will my hair grow back?

In the majority of cases, hair breakage is temporary. After your hair has broken off, your hair will grow back. However, once hair is broken, the damage on these strands is not reversible. You cannot “fix” broken hair. You can only remove the broken areas and try to improve the health of the remaining hair and new hair growth.

Should you cut your hair off?

Split ends, multiple ends on a strand of hair, are a sign of irreparable damage. Trimming your hair when you notice split ends prevents the damage from moving upward on the hair strand.

What hair care products are good for breakage?

Look for products that have added moisture and strengthening properties. Products that encourage bond strengthening will help combat and prevent breakage. Additionally, if you are a swimmer, look for products that can help combat the damage from chlorine exposure.

Summary

Most people with hair will experience hair breakage at some point. Removing the broken areas helps protect the remaining hair.

Most cases of hair breakage are temporary, and new hair will continue to grow. Avoiding the causes of breakage and taking care of your hair can help to keep it healthy. Keeping your hair healthy helps prevent more severe symptoms, such as extended hair breakage.

If you experience unusual hair loss or severe hair breakage, contact your healthcare professional. They can ensure that the hair breakage is not a symptom of another condition.

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Medical Reviewer: Cynthia Cobb, DNP, APRN, WHNP-BC, FAANP
Last Review Date: 2022 Sep 16
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
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