The Differences Between Dry Hair and Damaged Hair (And What To Do About It)

We’ve all been there. It’s the first day of school, the day of your prom, or even the big day you go from learners permit to driver’s license. No matter the occasion, you wake up, check the mirror, and see a big problem: your hair. It’s tangly, it’s frizzy, and it looks just plain weird.

How can you tell if your hair is dry or if it’s damaged?

Luckily for you, we’re about to lay down all the rules, tips, and tricks you need to know when it comes to diagnosing your hair problems and, more importantly, how to fix your hair once and for all.

Read on to learn the difference between dry hair and damaged hair.


Dry Hair

What is Dry Hair

Like with any part of your body, your hair will dry out if you don’t take care of it properly with moisturizer and hydration. Hair needs a specific amount of moisture to give it that soft, shiny look we all know and love. When you dry it out with too much sun exposure, repeated chlorine interaction, and so forth, the outer layer breaks down, which dulls your down and gives it that sad, lifeless look.

Other factors that can dry out your include:

  • smoking
  • washing your hair too often
  • using cheap hair products
  • not drinking enough water
  • salt water (like repeatedly swimming in the ocean)

These factors and more play a significant role in drying out your hair faster. Age also plays a big part. Unsurprisingly, stress plays another prominent role in drying out your hair (is there anything stress can’t do?).

It’s important to note that dry hair is a symptom of damaged hair, although just because your hair is dry does not necessarily mean it’s damaged.


Damaged Hair

damaged hair

Damaged hair happens when your hair’s cuticle and shell break (AKA, the outer part of your hair). This damage can cause your hair to look dry, frizzy, tangled, and brittle, and overall, it weakens the structure of your hair.

How does this happen? The biggest way is through repeated use of harsh chemicals or treatments, like bleaching your hair, dying your hair, or repeatedly using curling irons or flat irons.

Another surprising culprit? Hair ties. Cheap ties will yank on your hair and cuticle, ripping hair and damaging strands. Overwashing and repeated use with chlorine or salt water can also add significant damage to your hair.

So, what is the difference between dry and damaged hair? And how can you tell them apart?


Dry Hair Vs. Damaged Hair: Key Differences

There are many differences between dry hair and damaged hair.

In short, dry hair is hair that lacks hydration. On the other hand, damaged hair has had its outer shell broken, and its building blocks (AKA proteins) have been lost due to high heat or chemical hair treatments.

test for finding out dry or damaged hair

You can tell the differences between the two by doing two simple tests:

  • Strand Test
  • Feel Test

For the strand test, take a piece of hair and gently pull at both ends (make sure not to pull too hard as it will snap). If your hair is healthy, the strand will return to your original hair length. If your hair is dry, it will snap. If your hair is damaged, it will keep stretching.

The second test is the feel test. Take a strand of hair and feel it between your fingers. Is it soft or even a little mushy? If that’s the case, then your hair is damaged. If you feel the strand and it is brittle or stiff, then your hair is dry.

Another big indicator is to think back on your recent activity. Have you been spending a lot of time jumping in the pool or hitting the ocean? Remember that if you expose your hair to chlorine or salt water and don’t properly hydrate your hair afterward with products, then your hair will dry out. If you’ve been doing a lot more hairstyling with flat irons, curling irons, or so forth, then your hair is damaged.


What to Do If Your Hair Is…

So, what do you do about this? If your hair is beyond repair, it might be time to get a haircut and start from scratch. However, if you don’t want to do something as drastic as chopping off all your hair, there are a few solutions.

How to Deal With Dry Hair

dry hair solution

The first step is to avoid products that will further dry out your hair. Avoid products with parabens, silicones, sulfates, and more. Check out the complete list here.

Instead, look for hydrating ingredients like honey, oil, and butter. You also might want to buy additional hydrating products on top of hydrating shampoo, like argan oil.

If you shower every day, now might be a good time to stop and only shower every other day. If you need to shower every day, you can; just make sure not to wash your hair every day.

Another great trick is adding more hydrating elements into your diet, like omega-3s and antioxidants.

Lastly, when you dry your hair, make sure you’re not using a blowdryer. Instead, try wrapping it or letting it air dry to increase moisture and protect it from further damage.


How to Deal With Damaged Hair

eat protein to get rid of hair damage

Primarily, damaged hair has lost essential proteins. A small, unknown secret to improving damaged hair is to add more protein to your diet. You also can look for products that have protein in them (hint, look for words like protein, amino acid, and keratin).

But, the biggest thing you can do for your damaged hair is to stop hurting it with products, bleach, and styling tools. Unfortunately, some hair is so damaged beyond repair that you may just need to close your eyes and whip out those scissors.


If you notice your hair is starting to look a little less shiny, lively, and overall looks sad and dull, chances are your hair is either dry or damaged. Figure out which one your hair is suffering from, and then take those easy steps to make your hair look as good as new.