When there's nothing to be done to revive dead ends or brittle strands, a chop is often the only fix.

By Elizabeth Swanson
January 09, 2020

Dye, heat tools, diet, stress, and the environment are all factors that play a role in the health of our hair. When your strands become damaged and unhealthy, there are a few quick fixes that can help, like deep conditioning treatments and hair trims—but the long-term solution is one you'll have to be patient for. "The hair we see is a dead fiber, and once damaged, can be temporarily improved with conditioners, bonders, and oils," says Michelle Blaisure, trichologist at Bosley Professional Strength. "But for it to be permanently fixed, new hair has to grow in and replace the damaged hair."

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One way to tell if your hair has sustained this level of damage? "Take a strand of your hair when wet and stretch it," she says. "If it does not return to its original length, it can indicate damage, as the hair has lost its elasticity." It's never too late, though, to change up your routine and forge new healthy hair habits that promote strong, healthy hair growth. But first, you'll need to know how to identify when you've reached the point of no return. Here, Blaisure shares a variety of additional ways to know if your hair is damaged—and when it's time to call your salon.

Related: Your Low-Maintenance Guide to Gorgeous Hair

Your hair feels rough and is hard to comb through.

When your hair is healthy, cuticles rest flat against the hair shaft, Blaisure says. When it's damaged, the cuticle is raised, giving it a rough appearance. "This could indicate damage from heat tools, chemicals, or even hard brushing of the hair," she says. To protect your hair from further distress, Blaisure recommends using heat protective products, like Oribe Royal Blowout Heat Styling Spray ($69, shop.nordstrom.com) and combing hair starting at the ends and working your way up so that it doesn't tangle and break.

The ends of your hair look frayed.

Split ends are a sign that your hair has been weakened from chemicals and exposure to heat, wind, and sun, Blaisure adds. Trimming is the best way to keep ends from fraying and causing further damage. (Check in with your hairstylist every six to eight weeks even for a light "dusting.")

You're seeing lots of short hairs in your brush or on the floor.

"This indicates hair breakage," she says. "Brittle hair can be caused by high heat, chemicals, sun exposure, aging, and can also indicate a health change such as an under-active thyroid," she says. It might also be a sign that your diet is less than optimal for hair health. Use a good hair strengthening or bonding conditioner, like Redken Extreme Conditioner ($20, ulta.com) and use lower heat when styling hair. If you think it may be hormone related, see your doctor, and make sure your diet is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, protein, and fresh fruits and vegetables. To jumpstart thicker growth, you can also try the Bosley Professional Strength BosRevive Kit ($41.95, ulta.com), which promotes healthy hair growth from the root.

Your color fades just days after it's done.

When hair color washes out quickly, explains Blaisure, it's often an indication that your hair cuticles are damaged and cannot retain the dye. To remedy this, make sure that you're only applying color to regrowth, she says, instead of depositing color over your entire hair every time.

Your hair just looks dull and frizzy.

"As the hair shaft gets damaged, the cuticle is raised and hair absorbs light so it looks dull, rather than having a light-reflective, smooth and shiny surface," Blaisure says. Use a deep conditioner to smooth and protect hair, and oils to add shine. Try Briogeo Don't Despair, Repair Deep Conditioning Mask ($36, sephora.com) or Olaplex No 7 Bonding Oil ($28, sephora.com). Sometimes, though, dullness is merely a cause of product build-up, Blaisure notes. For this, you can refresh hair with an exfoliating treatment every so often, like Christophe Robin Cleansing Purifying Scrub ($53, shop.nordstrom.com).

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