Realising you’ve gone too far with chemicals or heat and have damaged your hair can be extremely disheartening and frustrating.
But it doesn’t have to be permanent.
With the right products, choices, diet, and styling decisions, you can revitalise your hair in just a matter of months.
Below is our comprehensive guide to repairing damaged hair, and it’s a big one!
The best part? Most of these tips are completely free.
So if you’re currently wishing your hair was a little healthier, or just a little less damaged, grab a coffee or tea and read on.
How Does Damaged Hair Happen?
Hair is a very fragile substance, and constant changes to hair trends pushing us to regular use of harsh chemical dyes, relaxants, or hot tools can end up literally sizzling our strands.
But damaged hair can also result from day-to-day routines that we may not even realise are weakening our hair.
When our hair is damaged, it can feel dry, dull, rough, brittle, knotty, and highly sensitised. And while there are many products marketed as being able to fix broken hair, many people don’t realise that some of those products can actually end up causing even more damage.
When I was a hairdresser, I saw so many clients who would come to me with severely damaged hair, asking for me to help get their hair back into great condition.
It was something I really loved helping people with – even though it would begin with an honest explanation that it was going to take time, patience, and good quality hair products, along with a commitment to some changes to their haircare routine.
This is because unfortunately, when a hair has broken completely – there is no miracle solution that can fix the bonds to the hair.
Investing in high-quality products, and backing off any heat and chemicals being applied to the hair while the hair is repairing its bonds, is critical.
Common Misconceptions About Repairing Damaged Hair
The first thing I would ask my client is what they have been using on their hair at home – and the answer was often a product that was high in protein.
Consumers have been taught that products containing high amounts of protein will be a miracle fix to broken or damaged hair, and yes, in the right amounts, protein can be extremely useful in strengthening hair.
What many people don’t know is that for protein to work properly and not damage the hair further, it needs to be balanced out with hydrating and moisturising ingredients as well.
How Protein Can Help – And Hurt – Damaged Hair
Most people know that hair is made up of building blocks of protein.
So it makes sense that to repair damaged hair, we look for products containing protein to help rebuild the damaged areas of the hair.
But when we add too much protein to the hair, it can build up in the cuticle and actually make the hair feel very brittle – and even cause additional breakage.
Quite often, the best solution when hair has been severely damaged and is breaking off, is to remove the damaged areas by having a good haircut. Then, we want to focus on ways to strengthen the hair to avoid it again in the future.
Identifying Types of Hair Damage
There are many ways your hair can end up becoming damaged, and by getting a better understanding of them, we can learn ways to avoid it:
Chemically Damaged Hair
Chemical damage can be a result of over colouring, or treating your hair too frequently with chemical straightening or perming solutions.
When it comes to damage from colouring, the biggest culprit has to be bleach. When used in the right ways, bleach can give beautiful, healthy-looking results in the hair.
The issue is when the formula is mixed with a very high-level peroxide, left on the hair for too long, or overlapped onto previously lightened hair.
The most fragile areas of the hair are the front hairline and nape of the neck, where the hair is naturally the finest.
Unfortunately, the front hairline is usually the area where most clients wish to see the most results when they're getting their hair lightened – because that’s where it will have the most impact, and so it's also the area that can become the most damaged.
Another problem can be that if someone has very long hair, who also wishes to be blonde, decides to heat-style their hair frequently.
Keeping hair very long without getting regular haircuts and also hoping to maintain your light colour whilst heat styling can be a recipe for disaster.
This is how it was explained to me:
If you think about how many years your hair took to grow to its current length, you can work out how many times it has been washed/dried/styled and coloured quite easily.
Hair grows about half a centimetre a month – so hair that is considered “long” might be around 30cm long:
30cm would take 60 months, or 5 years to grow.
If the average person washes and dries their hair 2-3 times per week, a colours their hair every 2 months – that hair is getting a lot of very regular and intense chemical and heat damage on it.
And that’s without factoring in any accidental mishaps like overlapping colour or having your heat tools turned up too high!
So, it's no wonder long hair often feels dry and damaged!
Most of us will use heat styling tools on our hair at some point or another.
Although it is fine to do so every now and again, it’s good to keep in mind that most heated tools are set to temperatures of 200(plus!) degrees Celsius.
That would be similar to touching a hot plate repeatedly at that temperature with your fingertips – ouch!
Even with the use of heat-protectant products, our hair is still affected by the intense temperatures.
Much like a repeated sunburn, our hair can quickly become very sensitised from ongoing high heat exposure, and will show signs of damage in the form of breakage, and brittleness of the follicles.
The problem is that once the hair begins to feel rough and dull in the early stages of damage from styling tools, the hair will need more heat and reapplication of the tool to get a desirable result, which ends up having a really negative consequence over the long term.
Sun Damaged Hair
Although not as intense as repeated heated tool use, sun exposure in extreme weather can cause damage to our hair.
Much like we can experience sunburn on our face, hands or arms while driving, our hair can also become damaged from the sun in the summer.
You might notice colour fading in the early instances of UV damage, but in the same instances that we would apply sunscreen to our skin on hot days, we should apply extra nourishing products to our hair to avoid it drying out from the sun.
Pollution Damaged Hair
Pollution, poor water quality and temperature changes are all things that affected my hair terribly when I moved to Los Angeles.
In Australia, we’re very fortunate to have clean water so readily available to us when we wash our hair. When I got to LA, I noticed a huge change in my hair very quickly.
The combination of a dry desert climate, pollution in the air and very highly treated water really made my hair suffer.
The consistent dry heat and smog in the air would dry out my hair and make it very porous, which wasn’t helped by the fact that I’d lightened my hair before I moved there. So when I would wash my hair, it would soak up all of the chemicals in the water like a sponge.
My hair (and all of the other Aussie expats over there) really learned to appreciate how lucky we were back home.
It’s good to keep in mind that if you're living in an old building, the water pipes may have copper residue leaking into the water system, and can also have a drying and damaging effect on your hair.
A shower head water filter was a great solution for while I was living in LA, because it can remove the chemicals from the water, and even infuse vitamins back into the water too.
It really made a huge difference not only to my hair and scalp, but my skin as well.
Swimming in a chlorinated pool can also wreak havoc on the hair. The hair absorbs the chlorine and can leave particles of chlorine in the hair which is extremely difficult to remove.
The hair will feel dry, knotty, and have a distinct green reflection that also affects any chemical treatments that you might have afterwards.
When I was a hairdresser I would always recommend that if my clients wanted to have a swim in the pool, to wet their hair with water from the shower before getting their hair wet in the pool.
I'd usually explain it using the sponge analogy:
If the hair is dry when you jump in the pool, it's going to soak up more of the chlorinated water, but if it is saturated with clean water first, (like a wet sponge) it can’t soak up anything else and will be less affected by the chlorine.
How Our Lifestyle Can Damage Hair
There are many lifestyle choices that can cause unnecessary damage to the hair.
Tight ponytails that are repeatedly tied in the same location can cause strain on the hair, weakening the strands and can eventually cause the hair to break.
I always recommend using good quality, fabric-covered hair bands and moving the location of the ponytail, to make sure the hair stays strong and healthy.
Hair extensions that have been applied poorly or left in too long, can cause a lot of strain and stress on the hair. The weight of a poorly applied hair extension weft or strand can put a lot of weight on your hair, which can result in stagnant growth, and eventually even hair loss or breakage.
Brushes and Combs
Poor-quality hair brushes and combs can pull and snag the hair if they are putting too much tension on the hair.
I recommend using a wide-tooth comb like the one I designed especially for Robe - it’s a great tool to use because the teeth are generously spaced to help detangle gently without causing any tension on the hair, and is perfect for use on wet or dry hair.
Rough handling when the hair is wet can stretch and snap the hair very easily.
When our hair is wet, the bonds of the hair are much softer and more delicate, so if we’re careless with brushing, styling or tying it up while it's wet, it can very easily cause snapping and breakage.
The Process of Healing Damaged Hair
If you’ve realised your hair is damaged, these are the tips I would recommend:
Get a Trim
If the hair is breaking, I would book in for a haircut to remove the broken areas to stop the breakage of the split end travelling further up the hair shaft.
Stop Using Certain Ingredients
Additionally, invest in good quality hair products that don’t contain any of the following:
- Sodium Laurel Sulphates
These ingredients can cause irritation and further damage to the hair and scalp.
Switch to a hydrating and reparative shampoo and conditioner that has both protein and moisturising ingredients included in the formula, and a leave-in treatment or mask to use regularly.
Give Your Hair A Break From Colour
I also recommend delaying any colour appointments for a few months, or until the hair has recovered and grown out enough to reduce the risk of overlapping colour and causing any further chemical damage while the hair is weakened.
There are many changes to your hair routine that can be made to help protect your hair from damage.
In summer, letting your hair air dry naturally, or choosing styles that don’t require heat will help your hair to stay healthier in the long term by avoiding unnecessary heat damage.
When you go to the hairdresser, ask your colourist for ways you can colour your hair without using bleach, and for techniques that will help to allow your hair to grow out seamlessly in order to maximise the longevity of the results.
Things like a root shadow or root stretch will mean you can stretch out your colour appointments and lessen the frequency and intensity of chemical damage to the hair.
Using a leave-in treatment in summer that protects the hair from temperature changes and sun damage can help the hair to retain its moisture and protect against the absorption of pollution damage.
And if you’re going swimming, saturating the hair with clean, fresh water will significantly reduce the amount of chlorine and salt that the hair can absorb and help it to stay soft and strong.
How Robe's Products Aid in Repairing Damaged Hair
When I was developing Robe, I knew from my experience as a hairdresser that the products had to be high-performing, and multi-purposed and all of them had to provide genuine long-term benefit to the hair.
The hair care industry is already such a saturated market when it comes to products that give cosmetically beautiful results – so there was no need to create any more products that would only offer something superficial to the user.
For this reason, they all contain active ingredients that work to repair and maintain optimal overall hair health.
They needed to be suitable for everyday use, but individually offer benefits that would match the performance of a specialised, reparative hair treatment.
With that in mind, I created products that repair and nourish all hair types and textures that offer truly transformative in both short and long term:
The Youthful Range for Damaged Hair
The Youthful range contains sea moss, which is a natural deep conditioner that hydrates and nourishes dry hair, combined with Folic acid and chinese scullcap which both help to improve overall scalp and hair health, and boost new healthy, strong hair growth.
Repair Damaged Hair with The Leave-In Treatment
The Leave-In Treatment contains hydrolysed silk protein, keratin amino acids and glycerin, which is the perfect combination of protein and moisture to help hydrate and strengthen damaged hair.
Cleansing Damaged Hair with Clean & Finish
The Clean + Finish is a non-lathering cleansing treatment that cleans the hair and scalp while nourishing and strengthening the hair.
The formula is designed to enable optimal air-drying conditions, which means the hair can be left to dry naturally without the need to use heated tools. It contains macadamia seed oil which hydrates and softens the hair, and rice starch and wheat proteins which strengthen and repair the hair.
The combination of those ingredients is the perfect balance for supple and stronger hair.
Lastly, The Tonic
The Tonic is a great addition to the Robe in-shower and leave-in treatment products, because of its ability to regrow strong, healthy hair.
All of the products in the Robe range are carefully formulated to avoid the use of harmful ingredients such as SLS, parabens or silicones that can cause damage to the hair.
In place of sodium lauryl sulphate (SLS), the Robe shampoos contain a natural lathering agent that is derived from coconuts, which cleans the hair effectively but gently; without the use of harmful chemicals.
Expert Tips for Maintaining Healthy Hair
Work With Your Stylist First
Keeping the ends of your hair sealed and healthy is such an important factor to keep hair healthy and avoids any split ends or breakage from spreading up the hair shaft.
When I was hairdressing I would offer my clients a complimentary smaller haircut that involved sealing the ends of the hair in between a larger haircut appointment. This ensured my clients' hair was always fresh even if they didn’t want a full haircut at the time of their hair colour appointment.
I’d also always take a tactical approach to hair colouring, because there are so many ways to maximise the effectiveness of minimal colour, which then helps prevent over-colouring the hair and unnecessary chemical damage.
Another beneficial hair colouring tip is to keep the colouring of the hair in line with the seasons, (ie a darker blonde in winter, and a brighter blonde in summer) so that for at least a few months of the year your hair is getting a break from the drying and weakening effects of bleach.
Nutrition to Prevent Damaged Hair:
Importance of a balanced diet rich in vitamins and minerals for hair health. Eating a healthy diet with healthy fats and protein will definitely ensure the new hair growth you have is the best quality possible.
When we eat well for optimal hair health, we can ensure that any previous damage grows out as quickly as possible.
Proper Styling Techniques for Healthy Hair
Check The Temperature on your Hair Styling Tools
Sometimes heat styling our hair is unavoidable.
I recommend using heat tools that have an adjustable temperature gauge, and working with hair that is not overdried before using curling irons or straighteners. A good way to work out whether the temperature is too high is to watch for indentation marks – if you notice them when you place the tool on the hair, you should turn it down to a lower temperature that will be gentler and less damaging on the hair.
Use A Heat Protectant
Using a heat protectant and a leave-in treatment like the Robe Leave-In Treatment will also help maintain the moisture in the hair and reduce the harsh effects of heated tools.
There are also so many heatless styles being shared on social media that are easy and effective ways to wear your hair without using heat at all.
Dry Your Hair Naturally
Whenever possible, leaving your hair to dry naturally with a leave-in treatment applied after washing is the very best way to keep your hair at its healthiest.
The Robe Clean + Finish is the only product of its kind on the market that is designed to keep hair healthy by eliminating the need for heat styling at all!
You should also consider trying styles that use treatments as the primary styling product.
I regularly use the Robe Leave-In treatment to slick down my hair to create a ‘wet look’ style that not only looks styled, but doubles as an effective, nourishing wearable hair treatment!
Some Final Thoughts on Damaged Hair
There are so many ways our hair can become damaged:
Whether it’s the products, services, or tools we use (both in the salon or at home), the best way to prevent and repair this damage is by using really good quality products that offer legitimate hair health benefits.
The goal is to help protect against damaged hair occuring, or repair it in its early stages to help prevent it from worsening.
Being aware of the ways you handle your hair and making simple changes to how you care for it, will all help to maintain the long-term health and strength of your hair.
If you’re currently struggling with dry, damaged hair, remember: it’s only temporary.
With the right products, choices, diet, and styling decisions, you can revitalise your hair in just a matter of months.
And if you’ve recently recovered from a damaged hair episode, I’d love to hear from you. Reach out at @robehaircare.