Since going natural or if you’re newly natural after a lifetime of chemical treatments, you may not know how to tell if your natural hair is damaged.
You tried different styles. You’ve tried different products and techniques. You’ve maybe even done a combination of heat heat styling and air drying. After some time, if you notice your hair is not looking quite right or feeling quite right, there could be some damage ocurring from all the “experimenting.”
Below you’ll discover the tell tale signs of healthy hair and signs of hair damage from using excessive heat chemicals and more. Regardless of your hair type, these signs are universal for damaged hair.
Types of Hair Damage
Before we get into how to tell if your natural hair is damaged, let’s look at the four types of hair damage the can occur.
Once you know what these are, you’ll be able to easily answer, “How do you know if your natural hair is unhealthy?”
The first type of damage that can occur to your hair is damage from using chemicals on it. If you’re natural, that chemical is most likely one that is caused by hair dye. Obviously, you wouldn’t be using a relaxer or other chemical straightener. Then, your hair wouldn’t be natural!
This type of damage occurs with how you handle your hair. Mechanical hair damage can occur in a number of ways:
- teasing your hair (roughing up the cuticle) – This is especially awful for those with fine hair.
- roughly brushing your hair
- pulling your hair in tight hairstyles
- rough detangling
- improper use of styling tools
Another type of damage that can occur to your natural hair is damage from using heat to style your hair.
Even if you use a heat protectant when you straighten, damage can occur to the hair cuticle. Especially, if you have fine hair and put direct contact of heat to the hair shaft.
Now, there are different types of heat and some can be more damaging to natural hair than others. Hot tools that produce heat include hair dryers, handheld blow dryers, hot rollers, flat irons, crimping irons, and other heat styling tools.
Hair dryers that you sit under are the least offensive because the heated air is much further away from your hair. These are typically used for applying heat to hair that’s been treated with a deep conditioner and covered with a plastic cap.
Flat irons, crimping irons and other heat stylers that directly contact and “press” into the hair strand are the most risky to use and can even cause hair breakage after just one use.
Damage from the Sun’s UV Rays
If you spend a lot of time outdoors, your hair can easily get sun damaged. The sun can be quite harsh to your hair, severely drying it out and degrading your hair’s protein levels. The radiation caused by the rays produces free radicals and has a severe impact on keratin in the hair.
The National Library of Medicine has a thorough article on how UV rays can damage hair here.
How Do I Fix My Damaged Natural Hair?
Depending on how badly damaged your hair is, the only recourse may be to cut it. How you handle damaged hair is truly personal. Don’t let another tell you that you must cut all of your hair off. You can choose to do regular trims until you’re rid of all damage.
If your hair is only mildly damaged, you can treat it in a number of ways. Under each sign of damaged natural hair below, there’s a recommendation for how to address it.
What Does Damaged Natural Hair Look Like?
So, with all of the ways damage can occur to your hair, it’s very easy to start wondering, “What’s wrong with my curly hair?”
Not to worry, below you’ll find all of the signs along with some potential “solutions” to help you work toward “recovering” your damaged natural hair.
1. Rough Texture
One of the biggest signs for how to tell if there is damage to your natural hair is how it feels. If you hold a strand of hair between your thumb and pointer finger and run it up and down the hair shaft and the texture feels rough, that’s a sign that there are gaps along the chair shaft where damage has occurred.
Repeat this on several hair strands to determine if this is an isolated hair or multiple. More than likely it’s multiple hairs.
Typically, this is seen in high porosity hair or chemical treated hair.
How to address: Once a hair has been damaged, there isn’t a permanent fix but you can temporarily patch up those damaged areas with protein treatments until the hair has grown in healthily. It’s also very important to stay away from heat styling.
2. Hair Loss is Occurring
If you are losing hair all over your head, that’s a sign of a deeper problem. This could be a hormonal issue, vitamin/mineral deficiencies, medication issue or damage to the hair follicles.
There could be damage to the actual hair down to the root or there could be damage to the hair follicle.
Another newer cause of hair loss is COVID infection and in some cases, the vaccine. I found out about this from my son’s dermatologist. Your doctor can prescribe a medication to help grow the hair back.
My son’s dermatologist prescribed Betamethasone Dipropionate Lotion, USP, 0.05%. He didn’t get COVID but he did take the vaccine and it aligns with when he began getting bald patches in sections.
How to address: Because of the many causes for hair loss, see a dermatologist or internist. A medical professional can rule out internal causes for hair loss.
3. Excessive split ends
While split ends are a natural occurrence due to wear and tear on the hair, getting an extreme number of splits at ends of your hair is a sign that it is badly damaged.
Weakened hair will split easier. However, fine hair also tends to split easier.
How to address: Trim ends to start. Pre-poo hair regularly. Deep condition hair every wash day, adding a nourishing hair oil like Argan oil to your conditioner. When styling, double seal your ends with a heavy butter/oil.
Keeping the ends smooth and reducing contact with clothing will protect it from additional wear and tear. Keeping your hair in a protective style that helps with protecting the ends 90% of the time, will help as well.
4. Overall Excessive Breakage
When hair is breaking all over your head it’s more than likely caused by damaged hair that’s been weakened or the protein/moisture balance is off.
How to address: Use a protein treatment. This will stop breakage in their tracks, if even temporarily. Next, (and very important) is to follow that protein treatment with a deep conditioning treatment sans protein. Both protein and moisture are needed for balance..
5. Hair Breakage in Sections
If you are only experiencing breakage in certain sections of your hair, that could be for a few reasons:
- Traction – pulling the hair too tightly in that section
- Certain medications
How to address: if you pull your hair in tight styles, the only way to prevent further damage is to stop doing so. Keep your hair moisturized daily. An alternative way to do so is to apply a leave-in conditioner to dry hair between washes when refreshing a style.
If you find your hair is easily snagging, that’s due to an unhealthy cuticle layer. When the cuticle is damaged, the layers snag up on each other.
How to address: Protein treatments can help temporarily. A bond builder is another innovative treatment that can go a very long way in improving the health of your hair. Using Henna is another all natural method.
See: Olaplex for Curly Hair (they make an excellent bond builder)
7. Easily formed Knots
Just like with excess tangling, hair that easily knots up on itself is more than likely out of sync because of a poor diet and excessive dryness.
How to address: Deep condition with a hot oil treatment and trim your ends. Ensure you’re consuming an adequate amount of fruits, vegetables and protein.
8. Untamable Frizz
Frizz is a sign of a lack of moisture in the hair or a raised cuticle layer. A raised cuticle layer (high porosity) doesn’t allow the hair to retain moisture. Therefore, it’s easily dried out.
How to address: Avoid over washing your hair and blow drying. Also, increase your time deep conditioning. Perhaps, if you normally deep condition for 30 minutes, increase it to an hour and by all means use a heating cap. After deep conditioning, use a hair oil to seal in moisture and then put your hair away and leave it alone for a while.
9. Extreme Tangling
Very similar to snagging, excess tangles can occur when there is damage to the cuticle.
How to address: Avoid over washing and using chemicals. Employ hot oil treatments, deep conditioning and maybe a trim, if your ends show signs of fraying
10. Dullness and Lack of Luster
A lack of shine which isn’t easily remedied, is a sign of unhealthy hair.
How to address: First, clarify. Then, do a hot oil treatment. A final rinse with a combination of Apple cider vinegar and water will help your cuticle to lay flat. This is one of the best courses of action to restore vitality to otherwise dull hair.
11. Hair Loss
If you are shedding more than the normal 50~ hairs per day, there could be some damage to the hair follicle beneath the scalp. However, sometimes medications, illness or hormonal changes cause hair loss.
How to address: Black tea rinses have been found to be very helpful in reducing shedding. This is due to the tannin that’s in black tea. Yet, further evaluation by a medical practitioner is needed to determine the cause of hair loss.
12. Dull, Inconsistent Color from Root to Tips
If you color your hair, it’s already pone damage. Signs that your hair is damaged from color are split ends and patchy looking color.
How to address: Regardless of if you color or if your natural hair color appears dull due to over use of heat tools or chemicals, the best way to get your hair looking back fabulous is to deep condition regularly.
If you have gray hairs, a blue or purple shampoo will help restore vitality to the color.
Lastly, check out this article by Coloured Hair Care for tips on how to fix patch hair dye: https://www.colouredhaircare.com/what-to-do-if-your-hair-dyed-unevenly/
13. Thin Ends
Weathered ends (aka thin ends) typically happen when your hair has been damaged either mechanically or by heat. When you straighten your hair, the ends look sparse and see through.
How to address: If you wear your hair curly most of the time, you can opt for a slight trim. Just be diligent with your hair treatments to balance protein and moisture. If you wear your hair straight, the only solve for your ends to look full is to cut it. Then, make sure you avoid doing the things that got your ends in bad condition in the first place.
14. Lack of Elasticity
Having good elasticity is when your hair is able to slightly stretch without breaking.
When you style or detangle, your hair should be able to endure mild pressure so that it doesn’t break. If there’s damage to your hair, it will break from the slightest stress. When your moisture levels are off, your hair will lose elasticity. Exposure to damaging UV rays can also affect your hair’s elasticity.
How to address: Use a hair mask made of coconut oil or olive oil. A pre-poo would work well followed by a protein treatment and then deep conditioning after cleansing.This helps to balance moisture and protein within the hair shaft.
Also, use a sunscreen for hair to protect from further damage.
15. Inability to Hold a Style
Another sign of damaged hair (but not always), is your hair’s inability to hold a particular hairstyle. This could be caused by over processing. When your hair is over processed, it becomes hard to hold a style because your hair shaft becomes porous.
How to address: Use a moisturizing hair mask or add honey and oils to your deep conditioner. Also, avoid styling with heat and products that mold hair into place.
16. Change in Hair Porosity
A very big sign your hair is damaged is when the porosity level changes from normal to high. This means the hair’s cuticle layer has been damaged.
How to address: It’s impossible to permanently fix a damaged cuticle layer but you can treat as your hair is growing out so that virgin hairs grow in healthy.
You can do so by washing your hair in warm (not hot water), using protein treatments, sealing with an apple cider vinegar rinse, always using a leave in conditioner and sealing with a heavy butter or oil.
17. Hair Easily Mats
If your hair is easily matting, that’s a sign it’s dehydrated. The cuticle may or may not be damaged but you can treat it with extra care.
How to address: Focus on moisture and hydration. Hydration on wash day via deep conditioning using a heating cap. The, applying a leave in conditioner and an oil to help seal the hair for a bit.
Throughout the week, don’t allow your hair to dry out. Sleep with a silk or satin scarf and pillowcase.
18. Hair Absorbs Too Much Moisture
If you notice your hair absorbing excess water, that’s a sign of structural damage to your hair or moisture overload from a highly porous cuticle. The hair will feel mushy and appear frizzy and limp.
How to address: The first step is to pre-poo with coconut oil. This oil penetrates the hair shaft to protect the protein integrity of the hair. Then, clarify your hair with a sulfate based shampoo.
Finally, do a protein treatment which will balance out all the moisture.
19. Your Normal Hair Care Routine Isn’t Working
Sometimes the things you used to do stop working. Your hair has changed and while there could be other reasons, sometimes that reason is damage.
How to address: First, don’t change everything at once. Single out one routine at a time to see if your hair responds. If your hair improves with a change of hair products and a routine change, then you know the answer.
If there’s still no improvement, you may need to overhaul your entire regimen. Use a hair journal to keep track of any changes you make and how your hair responds.
20. Your Tried and True Hair Products No Longer Work
When you apply your go to products to strands of hair and notice that your hair looks or feels differently, that’s a sign something’s going awry.
If you are experiencing brittle hair or if your porosity levels have gone from medium (normal) or low porosity to high porosity, damage has occurred.
How to address: First thing to do is to clarify your hair, then, do a light protein treatment followed by a moisturizing deep conditioning treatment. Incorporate “healing” essential oils into your deep conditioner. Lastly, a trim may be in order to “reset” your hair.
It’s important to note that while each of these are signs of damaged hair, it’s not always the case. For example, dull hair is also a sign of product build up. That can easily be taken care of by clarifying your hair.
So, how do you know if your curly hair or African hair is healthy or not? There are two things to keep in mind:
- You have to evaluate if your hair has one or more of these signs
- Next, factor in how you’ve actually been caring for your hair and if you’ve exposed it to one of the four types of hair damage mentioned above.
Resources to Grow Longer Hair
Lastly, all hair is DEAD. That’s the reason there’s no pain when you cut it. The good news is hair is actually a fiber that, if well preserved (thanks to your hair routines), can grow to very long lengths. Here are some articles that can help you to grow longer hair if that’s a goal of yours: