Turn Down That Iron: 10 signs that your hair is damaged by using too much heat

Turn Down That Iron!

10 signs that your hair is damaged by using too much heat.

Arguably the hottest topic (pardon the pun) throughout the hair care world in the past few years has been heat protection. Irons and blow dryers can produce many short-term hair benefits. Freshly heated hair feels soft and smooth; possesses a high level of shine; frizz is minimized and the newly styled hair moves in an attractive, flowing motion. Only later, when these benefits wear off, do the cumulative effects of this rather harsh process materialize—as the hair can become rough, fragile and unruly.

For many, the benefits overwhel­mingly outweigh the negatives.  Direct heat is an essential hair styling tool that many people use daily for styling their hair. Curling, straightening, drying, and dyeing all involve some type of heating. We often don’t realize that by trying to maintain and style our hair we are causing more damage.

Often, the heat we use regularly is our hair’s worst enemy. The damage it causes after just one use can take months to repair. The more heat you use to style your locks, the more damage accumulated.  It’s a vicious cycle.

Symptoms of Hair Damage

Here are 10 obvious and not-so-obvious symptoms that your hair has been damaged by the heat you use.

1. Excessive Hair Shedding

It’s important to remember that hair shedding is a natural process. An average person loses about 50 – 100 hairs per day. However, if you feel as if you are shedding more than usual, you might be suffering from heat-induced hair problems.

The easiest way to check if you are shedding more hair than before is to look at the hairs left in the drain after taking a shower. The clump of hair shouldn’t be more than an inch in diameter.

2. Split Ends

Everyone gets split ends. It’s a natural process of hair growth. On average, your hair will start to split 6-8 weeks after you get it cut.  The splits should only be noticeable on the last inch of your hair.  If your ends split sooner than 6 weeks, never go away completely after your cut, or if you notice splits appearing higher up on the hair shaft, you may have heat damage.

3. No More Curls

If you have curly hair and use heat on a regular basis, you can face an unfortunate reverse effect. The curls become lazy and might disappear altogether. However, this is not the, “grass is always greener” scenario you may have dreamed of as a kid. You can be left with dull, lifeless semi-straight pieces of hair that will no longer hold a curl.

4. Porous Hair

Porosity refers to how well your hair can absorb and hold moisture. It is affected by the flexible outer hair layer called the cuticle, which determines how easily moisture and oils pass in and out of your hair.  When the hair is overly porous, it doesn’t easily absorb the products and color we use.  This causes the color to fade faster, requiring more frequently touch-ups, and makes the hair appear dry, brittle and damaged.

5. No Shine or Luster

Heat is the natural enemy of shine. That’s because high temperatures damage the natural lipids (fancy word for oils) that help keep hair flexible and shiny

Think about just how much heat many of us expose our hair to regularly. Blow dryers, flat irons, and even hot oil treatments are just a few ways we keep the heat on. These things work well for maintaining and styling hair, but they aren’t so great for keeping it healthy and shiny.  You don’t have to stop using blow dryers and irons completely, but it’s smart to cut back for a while to give your hair time to heal. Air-drying takes longer, though it’s completely safe and the longer your hair is wet the more the hair shafts can absorb moisture and reach the cortex of your strands allowing your hair’s natural luster and shine to come through.

6. Feeling of Dryness

The feeling of dryness is one of the most obvious symptoms of heat damaged hair. Besides looking dry and dull, the hair feels dry. No matter how many conditioners and leave-in products you use to give the hair some moisture, it stays dry. Thermally damaged hair does not fully regain the moisture that it loses during heat styling.  It also does not retain moisture well because of the changes in protein structure and loss of lipids.  What that means is that hair ends up feeling drier/coarser over time.  The most damaged areas can even feel like straw over time.

7. No More Elasticity

Healthy hair is elastic. Hair’s elasticity is the measure of how much it will stretch.  Hair with proper elasticity is strong with a healthy cortex, allowing it to stretch without breaking and easily spring back to its original shape. Healthy hair, when wet, will stretch up to 50% of its original length and return to its normal shape without breaking, while dry hair will only stretch about 20%. Excessive heat can cause your hair to lose elasticity. By using irons and dryers that are too hot, you are forcing your hair cuticle to swell and remain open, which allows moisture, nutrients and even your color to flow out of your hair strand.  These elements are essential to healthy hair elasticity.  If you try pulling on one hair strand and it breaks immediately, it suffers from poor elasticity.

8. Too Tangled

If you are having trouble keeping your hair neat even though you are brushing it on a regular basis, it can be the sign of overheating. Healthy and elastic hair doesn’t get tangled up without a reason (like strong wind or restless sleep). If knots and tangles are regularly giving you trouble, your hair may be damaged.

9. Hard to Manage

If the 5 minutes you used to spend on styling your hair in the morning are turning into a tedious half an hour, your locks are most likely damaged by the heat you use regularly. Damaged hair is hard to style. It takes longer to dry, and can quickly become frizzy and messy even after styling is completed. If you are ending up wearing a ponytail just because holding the hair in place is impossible, consider new styling methods that don’t include heat to give your hair the break it needs to restore moisture, shine and manageability.

10. The Wrong Hair Color

Color change in the hair can be a sign of heat damage in two ways.  First, hair that is damaged and porous can absorb too much color too quickly, like a dry sponge. If your hair color begins appearing darker over time and your stylist hasn’t changed your color formula, your hair could be heat damaged. Secondly, hair that is freshly colored is also vulnerable to excessive heat. It can take up to 2 weeks after a color service for your hair cuticle to close completely. During this time, if you are using tools that are too hot you are forcing your cuticle to swell and remain open.  You can notice your hair become lighter almost instantly.

What can be done?

These heat damaged hair symptoms come one by one or all at once. If you realize that you have head-damaged locks, stop using all your heat producing styling tools, use a hair mask or treatment regularly to help restore your hair’s moisture balance and start looking for no-heat styling alternatives.

The most effective way to combat heat damage is to turn down those irons and dryers.  Most people turn their flat irons and blow dryers up to the highest temperature, thinking the higher the heat, the better it works. Today’s irons and tools can reach more than 450 degrees Fahrenheit. Considering that water boils at 212-degrees, you definitely don’t need to be using tools set more than double the boiling point of water. We recommend keeping the temperature set below 300-degrees. If you have coarse, curly or unruly hair then you might need a little more heat but avoid going over 330-degrees. The most important step is to ALWAYS use a heat-protector whenever styling with heat.  This acts as a barrier between your hair and the direct heat source and can significantly improve the overall health of your hair.

Another method to combat heat damage is to try and keep the water you bath with at a lower temperature. Hotter water temperatures cause the hair to swell and loose moisture and color.   Try finishing with a cool water rinse.  This can bring down the swelling and keep the moisture in.  If your hair is already highly porous, you might want to remain on the cooler end of the thermometer while showering.  The water doesn’t have to be cold, but avoid hot.

We hope these signs and symptoms make it easier to diagnose what’s causing your hair problems.  Most of the time, it is possible to avoid using heat for styling so be sure to check back next week for some simple tips and ideas for heat-free styling.

Written by: Emily Hart