9 Ways You're Damaging Your Hair

by Caitlin Morrison

Do you remember 2006? "Promiscuous" was on the radio nonstop, MySpace was still relevant, and How I Met Your Mother was in its very first season. Denim skirts over leggings were downright trendy, and every teenage girl was trying to get those swoopy, side-swept bangs, including me. For a naturally curly girl like me, getting perfect bangs wasn't as simple as getting the right cut, and it often involved damaging my hair in the process.

My morning routine went a little something like this: while allowing the bulk of my hair to air dry, I'd take a blow dryer directly to my bangs, yanking them straight with a round brush. Then, I'd run them through a cheap flatiron, accidentally searing my strands right off on more than one occasion. Blame it on all the pop-punk I was listening to at the time, but I thought I looked great. To this day, I still have a fierce cowlick at the corner of my hairline where hair simply will not grow.

We put our hair through the ringer on a regular basis, with nary a second thought of the consequences. The reason we fuss with our hair so much is to make it look good, when in fact, over time, we're doing the opposite. Some harmful practices may be obvious (like heat styling), while others are actually surprising (like brushing your hair too much).

Here's a look at some of the most commonly committed crimes against tresses.

1. Sun Exposure

Just like with our skin, too much sun exposure can wreak havoc on our hair, leaving it dehydrated. Dehydration leads to major frizz, so if you think your hair is at its frizziest in the summer months solely because of humidity, think again — it’s actually a perfect storm of seasonal elements. Overexposure to the sun also breaks down pigment and causes hair to lose protein. (Hello, breakage.)

Solution: Limit your time in the sun, especially in the middle of the day. Look for a healing serum that offers UV protection to prevent further damage (and minimize the appearance of pre-existing breakage).

L'ANZA Healing Strength Neem Plant Silk Serum, $28, Check it out!

2. Excessive Brushing

The whole 100-brush-strokes-before-bed thing (aka, the Marcia Brady) is actually a big no-no. Friction from over-brushing leads to split ends and breakage, which isn't a good look on anyone.

Solution: Less is more! It’s also important to avoid cheap, plastic-bristle brushes and opt for ones made from nylon.

Spornette Ion Fusion Boar/Nylon Cushion, $23, Check it out!

3. Loving Your Flatiron A Little Too Much

If you’re using a flatiron daily (like me in 2006), you’re making your hair extra susceptible to breakage and fall-out. The direct heat from the iron damages both the inner core and the outer coating of the hair shaft, making it difficult to retain moisture. This leaves hair dry and dull.

Solution: If you must straighten, prep your hair with a quality heat protectant. This is a no-brainer.

Theorie Heat Shield Thermal Spray, $26, Check it out!

4. Going Too Long Between Cuts

It may seem counterintuitive, but when trying to grow luscious, long, Kardashian-esque locks, forgoing cuts completely is the wrong way to do it. Trims are the only way to completely rid yourself of split ends, aside from preventing them in the first place. So while regular haircuts don’t technically make your hair grow faster (as some may claim), less breakage sure makes it seem that way.

Solution: Schedule haircuts quarterly, at least. If you’re trying to grow your hair longer, ask your hairstylist to cut off less than what has previously grown and you’ll be on the right track.

5. Coloring Without Proper Care

It’s probably no big surprise that Instagram-worthy rainbow-colored locks come at a price (and I'm not just talking about the hefty salon bill). Ammonia in hair dye literally lifts up the protective cuticle around the hair shaft and peroxide dries out the hair. That’s why frequently dyed hair can look so brittle, whether it's a "natural" shade or not.

Solution: Color-care shampoo and conditioner will both nourish damaged hair and make the color last longer.

dpHUE Daily Color Care Conditioner, $24, Check it out!

6. Blow Drying On Super-High Heat

Unless your hair is very thick or coarse, blow drying your hair on the highest heat for the entire duration is unnecessary. The highest setting should really only be used in the beginning on really wet hair to remove excess water. Also, that nozzle attachment exists for a reason, so make sure to use it. Without it, the dryer can get too close and straight-up fry your hair.

Solution: Invest in an ionic blow dryer with multiple heat settings and attachments. Ion technology helps break down water, cutting down your dry time.

Hot Tools NexGen Ionic Dryer, $119.99, Check it out!

7. Shampooing Too Often

Washing your hair daily strips it of sebum, a beneficial oil that contains antioxidants. Curly-headed girls (like me) hear this warning often, because our hair is naturally a bit drier. But all hair types could really benefit from less shampoo.

Solution: Use shampoo every other day or every third day. For coarser hair, once a week works. If you so desire, keep your hair looking fresh in between washes with a dry shampoo.

Alterna Caviar Anti-Aging Dry Shampoo, $22, Check it out!

8. Tying Your Hair Up When It's Wet

We all do it: throw on pajamas and put our soaking wet hair up in a topknot right after the shower, then settle into a Netflix coma for the night. It turns out that wet hair is considerably more fragile than dry hair, so twisting and tying it up with an elastic can cause it to break off.

Solution: Wait until hair is dry before putting it up. Air-drying is best, but blow-drying for five minutes will help if you're short on time.

9. Using Products With Harmful Ingredients

A lot of the ingredients used in low-quality products are used as short-term solutions to what ails you — i.e., frizziness — but have lasting negative effects. For example, silicone coats the outer hair shaft for a smooth finish, but it actually prevents real nutrients from soaking in. Alcohol, used in many gels and mousses, also has a very drying effect on hair, while cheap shampoos, loaded with lathering agents, can strip hair of its natural oil.

Solution: Always read the ingredients list before you buy styling products. Also, be sure to switch to a sulfate-free shampoo and conditioner combo.

Mitch Stone Essentials Lustre Shampoo, $18, Check it out!

Mitch Stone Essentials Lustre Conditioner, $18, Check it out!

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Images: arthurhidden/Fotolia; Nebojsa Markovic/Fotolia; Markomarcello/Fotolia