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The 15 Most Damaging Hairstyling Mistakes to Avoid

If your hair is breaking off, you might see it everywhere: in your brush, on your pillow, and down the drain. What caused all this? Hair damage causes breakage. It’s good to know how hair damage happens, so you can seek alternatives to keep your hair intact.

Hair damage happens when the protective layer of the hair, the hair cuticle, becomes worn in places and the more delicate hair shaft becomes exposed. When this happens, breakage can occur.

Key Takeaways: Common Hairstyling Mistakes That Damage Hair

  • Using high heat tools (like flat irons, curling irons, and blow dryers) too frequently or at too high a temperature
  • Using harsh chemicals or dyes
  • Over-washing or using products that strip hair of its natural oils
  • Brushing or combing when hair is wet
  • Pulling hair tightly in ponytails, braids, knots etc that cause tension on the hair and scalp
  • Using too much hair product that can weigh down or clog the hair
  • Not protecting hair from the sun and other environmental factors
  • Not trimming or cutting hair regularly, causing split ends and breakage
  • Not using the right brush or comb for your hair type and style
  • Not conditioning hair regularly, causing dryness and breakage
  • Not using heat protectant products before using heat tools
  • Over-styling hair with a lot of products or styling tools
  • Not having a proper hair care routine, not taking care of hair properly
  • Not protecting hair from chlorine and saltwater when swimming

Hairstyling Mistakes

When breakage starts, it means many more hairs are barely hanging on. Unfortunately, many hair styling practices are inherently damaging. Let’s count the ways.

1. Bleaching Hair The Wrong Way.

bleaching can cause hair damage

Anytime you color your hair a lighter color, bleach is used to remove the existing color first. That’s whether you go from dark brown to light brown, or from dark brown to bleach blonde. Bleaching works by breaking down the protein in the hair to remove color.

When that happens, the hair is damaged internally. It also raises the hair cuticles, making hair more porous, which contributes to external damage. The more bleaching happens, the more damage occurs.

A sneaky way bleach damages hair is through highlighting. Normally, to bleach darker hair blond, salons advise several sittings so as not to damage the hair drastically all at once. With highlighting, however, small sections of the hair are thoroughly bleached in one sitting. So many people suffer from breakage and hair damage after adding highlights to their hair.

2. Using Harsh Chemicals

Whether you straighten your hair with chemicals or heat, the hair shaft stretches until just before the breaking point. The protein inside the hair actually becomes elongated, so you can imagine how much stress this puts on the hair.

If the hair is wavy and close to being straight, the hair structure won’t suffer much damage. But the outer hair cuticles will lift because of the heat. This can cause missing parts of the outer shaft of the hair.

3. Hair Straightening Extensively

If the original structure of the hair is very curly, it suffers much more damage than wavy hair because heat significantly alters the curl structure. Because of this, curly hair snaps easier after straightening. If corrosive chemicals like relaxers are used to straighten the hair, they can eat away the outer hair cuticle as well.

4. Using High Heat Hairstyling Tools

heat can damage hair #hairbreakage

High heat temperatures are damaging to all hair types because they cook the hair. This process reduces elasticity, or the ability for the hair to stretch, so it breaks easier. High heat also flattens or otherwise alters the protein inside the hair.

If you apply heat to wet hair, the inside of the hair shaft boils because of the presence of water. This causes bubbles to appear in the hair shaft, which eventually manifests as splitting and breakage.

The most damaging way to heat hair is by directing the heat of a blow dryer close to a wet section of hair while causing tension with a round brush. This causes bubbles in the hair shaft while elongating the proteins with tension.

5. Pulling hair tightly in ponytails or braids, causing tension on the hair and scalp

Tight pulling of the hair can cause serious damage to the hair follicles. When you pull your hair tightly, it causes inflammation in the scalp. This inflammation squeezes the hair follicles and impairs their natural functioning. With inflammation, hair in the area might grow weaker, grow slowly, and eventually not grow at all.

6. Hair Products That Contain Sulfate

Shampoos that contain sulfates like sodium Laureth sulfate and sodium lauryl sulfate aren’t that great for the hair. Most shampoo brands have sulfate-free versions and reserve the sulfates for clarifying shampoos.

This is because sulfates clean extremely well. They have a tendency to strip moisture from the hair and cause buildup.

For those with dry hair, sulfate shampoos can cause breakage. For those with oily hair, sulfates can cause increased oil production because they are drying to the scalp as well.

7. Lightening Hair Too Often or Using Poor Quality Dye

hair damage from dye #hairdamage

Well, let’s just say that most people want their hair lighter to add a rich or pastel color to it. Any time you lighten your hair, you destroy protein bonds. If, however, you’d like a darker color, semi-permanent dyes merely coat the hair.

They don’t cause as much damage, but if your hair is dry, you might have an issue with brittleness as moisture can’t easily reach your hair strands. People with dry hair strands have similar problems with henna.

8. Why Will Straightening Hair Damage a Perm?

Using heat on hair that has already had a chemical process, such as a perm, relaxer, or bleach, will be very damaging. The chemical process already damages the hair by altering and destroying hair protein.

When you apply heat to the chemically treated hair, it can cause a significant amount of breakage. Straightening is harsh on naturally curly hair, but it’s even more damaging for permed curls.

9. What Is Mechanical Hair Damage and How Is It Caused?

mechanical hair damage #hairbreakage

Mechanical damage is any kind of damage caused by tools and accessories that don’t use heat. This could be from combs or brushes, clips, bands, and other accessories. So if you comb your hair roughly or use the wrong type of brush, it can wear away the hair cuticles or stretch the hair too much.

Clips and bands can cause mechanical damage by rubbing against the hair, especially if you use them while sleeping. You can even cause mechanical damage when your hair rubs against the surface of a pillow at night.

10. Using Hair Wigs

Wigs can damage the hair you wear them constantly without washing the hair underneath or without cleansing the wig. If a wig isn’t washed, it can grow a fungus that’s detrimental to the health of the hair and scalp.

If the hair isn’t washed, bacterial and fungal infections can develop and baldness can result. Hair glue damage is also an issue with lace front wigs, as they are typically glued to the hairline in a fashion that makes them look more like real hair and less like a wig.

11. Using Hair Extensions

This is like hair damage that occurs from tight pulling. The added weight of hair extensions can pull the hair follicles in a similar manner as a tight ponytail. Additionally, hair extensions, whatever the type, are added somewhere along the hair shaft. This causes the hair that makes contact with the extension to become weak.

12. Hair Exposed to Chlorine for Longer Time

chlorine hair damage #hairdamage

Chlorine is a corrosive chemical that attaches itself to the hair. If not removed fully after swimming, chlorine eats away at the structure of the hair. It first starts with the hair cuticles. When chlorine remains in the hair, it can corrode the inner shaft of the hair as well.

13. Washing Hair With Hard Water

Hard water deposits stick to the hair and cause buildup. If you’ve ever had sticky hair, it was probably the result of hard water deposits combined with styling products—difficult to remove! You can try a clarifying shampoo, but the best method of treatment for hard water deposits is to use a shower filter to remove them from the water.

Shower filters don’t work 100%, so you can also use an apple cider vinegar rinse weekly to keep deposits from adhering to your hair. Vinegar is much gentler to the hair and scalp than a clarifying shampoo.

14. Keratin Treatment

Keratin hair damage #keratinhairdamage

Keratin treatments use very high heat to get the keratin to bond with the hair. As with other high-heat treatments, they can be damaging to the hair. As the keratin wears off, damage to the hair cuticles becomes apparent. Excessive protein from keratin treatments can also make the hair dry and brittle and cause it to break off.

Keratin treatments also make use of formaldehyde, or formaldehyde-releasing chemicals, to help the keratin bond to the hair. Formaldehyde releasers, like DMDM hydantoin and some polyquaterniums, are also in keratin conditioners and shampoos. But formaldehyde is a scalp irritant that some have claimed caused them to suffer hair loss.

15. Using Hairspray

Regardless of the brand, hairsprays and dry shampoo sprays contain propellants like propane. They also contain denatured alcohol to make them light. These ingredients are very drying and can cause hair damage with regular use.

Hairspray also contains ingredients that hold the hair in place, like plasticizers. Plasticizers are also in gels, edge creams, and curl creams. They hold the hair, but also have a tendency to seep into the hair follicles of the scalp. This can slow down or prevent hair growth.

There are so many things that are damaging to the hair. If you’re struggling to improve your hairstyling practices, it’s okay to start slowly. Making some changes is much better in the long run than making none at all.