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Types + Causes of Hair Damage

This post is really inspired by the many, many MANY posts I see on a regular basis about protein vs moisture. I want to offer some perspective and some clarity here so that you can best prescribe your client with what they actually need.

Before I get into the nitty gritty of it, lets quickly touch on what the hair is made up of. I have a whole lesson on this in The FUNdamentals, but we'll graze over it.

Hair Composition:

Protein 70-80%

Moisture 10 -15%

Lipids 4-8%

Pigment 1%

Minerals .5%

So, the majority of the hair is made up of proteins. What makes up proteins? Amino Acids.

There are 21 amino acids found in the body, 18 of them are found in the hair with cysteine being the highest. Cysteine contains sulfur and is the part of the di-sulfide bonds. Cysteine is released when disulfide brands are broken.

Knowing that protein is the dominating force in the composition of hair, 9/10 if hair is color treated it will most def need some type of protein treatment.

Moisture gives the hair its elasticity, so adding moisture in your regiment for color treated hair is going to be beneficial.

I want you all to remember that a single hair strand is FIBEROUS...think of rope. The cortical fibers that are right behind the cuticle layers are made up of a matrix of fibers that contain the amino-acid chains (protein), moisture, lipids, pigment and minerals.

The lipid barrier, or 18 MEA is what holds all of this together, and hold the cuticle layers together as well. As we color and bleach hair, this fiber gets degraded, we start destroying that lipid barrier and damage is caused.

It's good to know that products that contain ceramides are great for keeping the hair "together". Think of ceramides as glue that helps the lipid barrier do its job.

Now, I want to share the main types of damage that we deal with behind the chair and how to counteract and help.

1. Damage to the CUTICLE LAYERS.

The cuticle layers are the hairs best defense...think of it like the outer shell that holds together the fiberous matrix of the cortex. Healthy cuticle layers give hair its shine and luster. Cuticles that are intact are smooth and reflective whereas cuticle layers that are damaged or missing will make the hair appear dull. Damaged cuticles will give the hair more porosity and the hair will tangle more easily.

What causes damage to the cuticle layers?

Excessive alkalinity

Styling tools that are too hot

Environmental stress (wind and sun)

How to identify cuticle damage?

Typically hair will be more tangled

Hair will look dull and lack shine

Running your finger down a single strand of hair will be a good indicator. If the hair feels smooth between your fingers, you're likely dealing with a healthy cuticle. If it feels rough and bumpy, there is cuticle damage and/or porosity from curly hair.

How to treat cuticle damage?

Any products with ceramides will help the cuticle layers not be so frayed.


Oils and serums can help make the hair appear healthier.

Do not use highly alkaline products on hair that has damaged cuticles, it will only make it worse.

Opt for semi permanent color

2. Loss of Moisture

Naturally, hair has moisture to it even when it is bone dry. When hair is wet with water, it will make the hair heavier but won't necessarily help with moisture.

What causes lack of moisture?

IF the cuticle layers are not mended and repaired and if excess alkalinity is used on the hair, the hair becomes frayed and the cortical fibers become exposed increasing the loss of moisture to the hair.

How to identify loss of moisture?

The hair will feel dry and rough

The hair will be more limp

Cuticle will feel damaged

The hair will appear like it has fly-aways or static to it.

How to treat loss of moisture?

Use products specifically created to add moisture to the hair

Decrease the frequency of coloring

Deep moisturizing masks can help heal the hair

3. Loss of Protein

Proteins which contain amino acids, lipids, and other elements give the hair shine, strength and structure.

Once cuticle damage and moisture damage stay undressed and not treated, protein loss will occur.

How to identify loss of protein?

Hair feels dry, and looks dull.

Hair feels damaged and has began to lost its structural foundation.

Most hair that has been colored, guaranteed, has lost protein.

Any time you use alkaline products on the hair, the disulfide bonds will break and the developer can corrode the hair both externally (cuticle layers) and internally (cortical fibers)

Treating loss of protein:

Use treatments and products that contain protein.

It is a common myth that too much protein can break the hair. This was true ages ago when companies used animal protein for hair products.

*side note*

protein can come from:

Animals: husks, hooves, fur and any part of the animal that isn't used for consumption and/or clothing.

Vegetables: bark, branches, roots etc...

Hair: self- explanitory

The breakdown of HOW they extract the protein is what's concerning. Sodium hydroxide is used to break down these proteins...imagine how much more sodium hydroxide is needed to break down animal protein vs vegetable vs hair? Back in the days, most manufacturers used animal protein because of how cost effective it was...until they realized it was breaking the hair.

Now, most companies use vegetable based cannot "over proteinize" the hair with vegetable or hair protein, so don't stress.

4. Loss of Elasticity

Losing the elasticity in the hair results from losing so much cuticle, moisture and protein that the hair essentially loses all structure.

How to identify loss of elasticity?

The hair becomes dry, weak and unable to stretch and retract.

This is when we get split ends and breakage.

Hair loses all tenacity and will not stretch and revert.

Treating Loss of elasticity:

Stainless Steel treatment, AKA HAIRCUT.

At this point, there are treatments you could do and products you could use to make the hair more bearable but it's best to cut it off.

Hope this was helpful for you. There are a TON of products out there that focus on just moisture, just protein, or a combination with ceramides. Do your research and find what works for you!

Until next time,

Happy Hair Coloring!


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