Hair: Damage control

Damaged hair? Here’s what you can do to save your hair from going bad to worse

Woman with amazing black hairIt’s such heartbreak to find your once healthy and shiny shock of hair become brittle, coarse or have split ends. Hair damage doesn’t just hurt the follicle, but also our hearts and our looks. Touching such hair often brings one question to the mind: why did this happen?

We’ll tell you what you can do to undo the damage…

Heat treatments

Styling hair often requires using tools such as hair dryers, hot rollers, curling irons and flat irons. They all involve heating the hair follicle, which results in loss of moisture, making it brittle and rough.

“There are bonds in the hair shaft that get damaged due to excessive heat. The hair roots become weak and break. This thermal damage to the hair shaft may result in severe hair fall and rough hair,” explains trichologist Pankaj Chaturvedi.


Women frequently use flat irons for temporary straightening. After a point, the hair is not able to take any more heat and just burns. Curling and flat irons use high temperatures and therefore should be purchased judiciously and used carefully.

Buy good quality irons even if they are expensive. Substandard goods can permanently damage our hair.

“Ceramic irons are better as they cause lesser damage. Always use heat tamer sprays before any treatment as they minimise damage by acting as a shield,” suggests hair expert Gauri Kapoor. Moreover, very fine hair should not be subject to higher temperatures. Also, it’s best to leave heat treatments to professionals.

Hair dryers

Use the dryer sparingly and on the minimum setting. The best thing to do is to allow the hair to air dry. Kapoor suggests that heat treatment should be alternated with intensive hair care to reverse the damage. “After a heat treatment, pamper your hair with heavy masks, intensive spa treatments and serums. Actually, it is a vicious circle—you straighten your hair quiet frequently. After a while the hair looks awful if not treated, so you go for another procedure. So a gap between heat treatments and nourishment for hair are critical”.

Chemical treatments

Services such as bleaching, hair dyeing, perming, relaxing and straightening use strong chemicals. The chemical treatments lead the hair cuticle to swell up, making it weak and prone to damage. The harsh chemicals leech away the layers of fat and moisture that impart glow to the hair. These chemicals also harm the protein bonds that keep our hair strong and shinning.

Most of the chemicals are available off the shelf and people try them on their own. If not used properly, they may cause much damage.

Relaxers are chemicals used to apply controlled damage to straighten excessively curly hair. There ought to be at least a gap of 8 – 10 weeks between treatments. This gives the hair time to grow about an inch. The relaxers can then be applied to the new growth. If you apply them to already straightened hair, it damages the follicles.

Also, applying hair colour to chemically-straightened hair causes chemical over processing, leading hair to become dry and prone to breakage.

To avoid having frizzy, brittle hair that breaks easily, is rough and has split ends, the best alternative is to shun chemical treatments completely. However, that’s not an option if you are one to experiment with different hair styles and looks. If you must have a chemical hair treatment, take precautions. “Always use branded chemicals. Do not apply it for too long and never for over 30 minutes. Keratin therapy and oral supplements like biotin also help restore damaged hair,” recommends trichologist Pankaj Chaturvedi.

Use mild shampoos and conditioners that suit your hair type to keep your hair healthy. Hair serums also smoothen the cuticle. Opt for products with dimethicone, which make the hair shinier and reduces static.

Bad weather conditions

Sometimes weather and environmental factors too are responsible for hair damage. Continuous exposure to strong UV rays breaks down the principle protection barrier in the hair—protein. This constant onslaught of weather makes hair brittle and causes them to split. Now, if such hair is treated chemically, the damage is two-fold.

Some people have an allergic reaction when exposed to sunlight. They experience itching and irritation in the scalp, which leads to breakage. “The harsh sunlight bleaches the hair and makes them frizzy. Try and keep the hair covered when moving out in intense sunlight for longer periods,” Gauri Kapoor says. This applies to those without allergies as well.

Even the winters are not merciful. The cold winds sap the atmosphere of the moisture leaving behind tangled hair with roughened cuticles. Also due to the cold, the hair is shampooed less frequently giving rise to dandruff.

While regular oiling is good for hair, excessive oiling isn’t. “It has been noticed that excess application of oil increases dandruff,” says Chaturvedi. Dandruff leads to other hair problems as it calls for using treatment products containing chemicals that could rob the moisture, again leading to breakage and brittle hair.

Bad handling

If you aren’t gentle with your hair, there will be essential damage. Rough combing, using too tight fasteners, not protecting the hair while sleeping—all contribute to breakage. The old adage of hundred brush strokes to your hair may actually cause more harm than good if the brush is too rough. Often, after a workout or an outdoor spree the hair gets sweaty. The salt deposit weakens hair.

Also, while swimming, protect the hair with a cap as the chlorinated water is bad for hair. To repair damage, use oils and moisturisers that provide protein to the hair. Extensively impaired hair requires expert treatments. In case of excessively burnt hair, the damage is can be irreversible. You can only wait for new growth to replace the destroyed hair. Your hair may not be restored to its original glory, but some relief can be expected.

Hair repair

Dermatological treatments for damaged hair…

  • Mesotherapy: Mesotherapy involves injecting minerals and vitamins, right into the scalp to promote healthy hair growth. Vitamins A, B, C and E, zinc, copper, calcium, phosphorus or amino acids are injected into the scalp to replace the nutrients lost either due to age or other factors. Amino acids help in restoring damaged hair if your hair is broken, brittle and suffers stalled growth. The medications used in mesotherapy also increase blood circulation to the scalp area and stimulate the hair follicles.
  • Platelet rich plasma [PRP] mesotherapy: This is a unique technique where platelets are separated and concentrated from the patient’s own blood by an intricate method. It is then used on the bald areas on the scalp. PRP is rich in growth factors that transform thin hair into stronger and thicker hair. Platelet-rich plasma has become an increasingly popular clinical tool for several types of baldness that do not respond to standard treatment modalities.
  • Stem cell derived hair rejuvenation: This process involves depositing stem cell derivatives and biochemical ingredients at the base of a hair follicle with the help of micro injection.Dormant hair follicles need to be stimulated with complex biochemical and nutritional agents that give signals to the stem cells to promote growth of healthy hair.

— Geetanjali Shetty, consultant dermatologist and cosmetologist based in Mumbai

This was first published in the May 2012 issue of Complete Wellbeing.

Sia Mitra is a New Delhi-based freelance science writer.


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