There Are 4 Types of Hair Damage—Here’s How to Treat Each of Them

From thinning to frizz to discoloration, hair damage can look like a lot of things.

When even the smallest things like the sun can cause breakage, hair damage happens to the best of us. And although hair damage tends to be lumped together into one category, pinpointing the exact cause of your hair damage is important to treat—and prevent—it from happening. We spoke to expert hairstylists to help you diagnose the hair damage you might be facing, along with preventative advice to best protect your tresses moving forward.


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Chemical Damage

One of the most common types of hair damage is chemical damage, which occurs when hair is exposed to harsh chemicals like bleach, relaxers, and dyes. 

“Chemically damaged hair will be brittle and snap off easily,” says celebrity hairstylist Bernardo Vasconcelos. “For example, when bleaching hair, the chemicals open the hair shaft, break down the original pigment and deposit the new color. The process leaves the hair weak and chemicals strip the hair of its natural oils leading it prone to breakage.”

To prevent chemical damage, it’s essential to use products that are gentle on the hair and scalp. According to Vasconcelos, restoring moisture is key—he recommends using a hair mask like Living Proof Intense Moisture Mask, which replenishes healthy hair’s natural protective layer and reduces up to 70% breakage after one use. Hairstylist Brendnetta Ashley also advises strengthening hair with bond builders prior to doing a chemical service.

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Heat Damage

Heat damage occurs when hair is exposed to high temperatures. This includes using hot styling tools like flat irons, curling irons, and blow dryers. According to Vasconcelos, exposing the hair to high heat will damage the hair’s cuticle and change the shape of the hair’s keratin strands, which will cause hair to lose its elasticity (read: frizz). 

One of the easiest ways to protect against heat damage is by reducing the heat on your styling tools. Ashley also emphasizes the importance of using a heat protectant which will create a barrier between the thermal tool and the hair while retaining moisture. Spray into the hair prior to styling,” she says. “It will protect your hair from the heat, control frizz, and add shine.”

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Sun Damage

The sun’s UV rays don’t just harm skin—it can also damage the hair cuticle, causing it to become dry and brittle over time. This damage can be exacerbated if you spend a lot of time in the sun without a hat or hair protection. Sun damaged hair often results in discoloration (due to oxidation), dry ends, and overall thinning.

According to Vasconcelos, this type of hair damage is most difficult to treat, so it’s important to focus on preventative treatments. “Focus on preventing split ends and breakage to occur. I recommend using a treatment with UV protection to protect your hair from the sun’s harmful rays, such as Living Proof Restore Repair Leave-in.

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Mechanical Damage

Mechanical damage happens when hair is handled roughly and improperly, including aggressive detangling, excessive brushing, and tension from braids, weaves, and tight ponytails. This type of damage is most commonly seen through mid-shaft splits and excessive breakage.

The solution to this is pretty straightforward—it’s best to avoid hairstyles that are too tight and pull at the hair, as well as brushing hair gently (never when wet!). If your hair gets tangled easily, find a detangling method that results in the least amount of mechanical damage, such as a detangling cream or oil concoction that adds extra slip.

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