15 Reasons Your Hair Looks Totally Fried — & How To Fix It

You could be sabotaging your strands without even knowing it.

by Miki Hayes
Originally Published: 
Here are reasons why your hair is dry, brittle, or feels like straw.
Mix and Match Studio / 500px/500Px Plus/Getty Images

If you’ve started to notice your hair texture has changed and wondered, why is my hair so dry and brittle or why is my hair so dry, chances are your tresses didn’t just become like that overnight. There could actually be a number of reasons why your hair looks fried, and it may be a result of things that you didn't even realize you do. Even though hair seems pretty fragile, it's not always just one thing done one time that causes dryness, breakage, and other damage. Usually, it's a habit or combination of common haircare mistakes that lead to your tresses looking and feeling like straw.

But there’s hope: It’s possible to get your hair back to the way it was. All it takes is a little patience. Just like your hair probably didn't get so fried overnight, it also won't likely become totally healthy overnight either. But that doesn't mean that a little effort and time can't heal your damaged strands. After switching out some of your unhealthy hair care habits, you may even be surprised just how shiny and strong your strands can truly be. In order to keep your hair healthy and hydrated, here are 15 reasons your hair feels straw-like and brittle, and what you can do to repair the damage — and prevent future mishaps.

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1. You Heat Style Too Frequently

The heat from using blow dryers, flat irons, and curling irons can really do a number on your strands. “Styling with tools that are too hot, too often will definitely do a number on your hair’s overall health,” says Guy Tang, celebrity colorist and founder of #mydentity haircare products. Try to keep track of how often you use hot tools, and air-dry your hair whenever you can.

2. You Use Too Much Heat

Even if you already use hot tools sparingly, the level of heat you set them to when you do could also be drying and damaging your hair. “If you’re using too much heat on your hair, it will cause damage,” says Laura Polko, celebrity stylist and T3 Micro ambassador. Although many tools can reach temperatures as high as 450 degrees, the heat you choose should be determined by your hair type. Those with fine hair should stay below 360 degrees, while medium and coarse hair should stay below 380 degrees and 410 degrees, respectively. Polko also recommends investing in a good hair dryer, like the T3 Cura Dryer. “The dryer has a technology called Digital Ion Air that delivers a precise heat and leaves hair with a very shiny finish. This way, there isn’t an overexposure to heat to the hair, and most times you don’t even need an iron to finish off the look,” she tells Bustle.

3. You Use Too Much Shampoo

Shampooing is a necessity, but if not done properly, it can play a role in how dry and brittle your hair is. “Over-washing can strip away the essential oils that your hair needs to retain moisture and overall shine, which can lead to an overly dry and irritated scalp,” says celebrity hairstylist Annagjid "Kee" Taylor.

Taylor says that when it comes to hair-washing, there are no standard rules that can be applied to everyone. How often you need to wash your hair all depends on your hair texture, natural oil production levels, and level of physical activity. She suggests paying close attention to your locks to figure what wash schedule best fits your unique needs. Other experts tend to discourage daily hair washing.

4. You Skimp On Moisture

Conditioner helps replace moisture that was lost from shampooing. If you don't let your conditioner sit in your hair long enough (or if you don't use the right formula), your hair could be missing out on some much-needed nourishment. “Just like your skin, your hair needs moisture (which can be lost during shampooing too often) so it’s important to find a nourishing conditioner,” says Tang. If you regularly get your hair colored, reach forTang’s #MyConfidant Conditioner, which was specifically made to maintain the health of color-treated hair. Every so often, you should also opt for a deep conditioner. Need some extra love? Try something a little more hydrating. “Do hair masks more regularly,” says Polko.

5. You Color Your Hair Too Often

If you like dabbling in hair dye, you probably already know that it can be pretty damaging. And even though there are recommended amounts of time to wait between touchups and dye jobs to prevent as much of this damage as possible, stretching that time out as much as you can only help. But whether or not you can go a month-and-a-half between visits instead of just one month, thoroughly conditioning your locks before and after a coloring will help prevent your hair from becoming so dry and brittle.

6. You Don't Pay Attention To Purse Straps

You may do it without thinking, but throwing your purse on so the strap sits over your hair, and pulling your hair out from under that strap can cause some breakage. Especially if you do this on a regular basis, and tend to wear your purse exclusively on one side, you may even notice that the hair on one side of your head is thinner than the other. To prevent purse-strap damage, try to make sure your hair is out of the way before hanging your purse from your shoulder. If you happen to drop it on your locks anyway, lift up the strap before pulling your hair out from under it so as to avoid any damage caused by friction.

7. You Aggressively Detangle

Your hair is most fragile and prone to damage when it's wet. So if the first thing you do out of the shower is try to run a brush through your hair or towel-dry it, you're likely causing some breakage. Instead, gently squeeze out excess water, spritz in a detangling spray or leave-in conditioner to help protect your hair, and use a wide-tooth comb to work out any knots. Consider buying a brush that's gentle enough to be used on wet hair, like brushes from Tangle Teezer, Felicia Leatherwood, or a Wet Brush.

8. You Skip Heat Protectants

If you heat style or spend a lot of time in the sun, it's important to take measures to protect your hair from their damaging effects. “Whenever you are heat styling, it’s important to use a heat protectant spray to help keep breakage at bay,” says Tang. And if you foresee being in the sun for a few hours, try a UV-protectant spray or wear a hat to prevent your hair from drying out.

9. You’re Not Getting Regular Trims

If you're trying to grow your hair out, it could be tempting to let it just do its thing while foregoing your usual trips to get it trimmed. But Taylor advises against skipping out on them. “Skipping hair trims can easily result in brittle hair because you're allowing weakened ends to continue growing, which will only result in further damage and even potential hair fallout that can stunt your hair growth altogether,” she says.

She says to trim ends every six to eight weeks to help with growth and keeping your hair healthy. Different hair textures require lengths of time between cuts, but you’ll be able to tell when it’s time for a new cut. She says to look for signs like split ends and knots as indicators to book that hair appointment with your stylist.

10. Your Diet Is Lacking Nutrients

Sometimes, your appearance is a result of what's going on inside your body. So if your hair looks particularly fried but you don't practice any outwardly damaging habits like coloring and heat styling, it could be your diet. “What you put in your body comes out in your hair skin, and nails,” Polko suggests.

Andrea Grange, RD, IdealFit partner dietitian nutritionist, explains that hair is made up of protein that requires good nutrition like the rest of the body. “Protein is very important to healthy hair,” says Grange. When you see hair fall out and thin, it’s a sign you’re not getting an adequate amount of nutrition. To make sure you have the right amount, she says to incorporate the following vitamins and minerals into your diet:

- Zinc: “[Zinc] plays an important role in making the proteins that make up your hair,” she says. “Your body can't make zinc so it's important to get it from your diet.” Foods like spinach, lean red meat, oysters, beans, and nuts are your best bets.

- Vitamin A: “Vitamin A is needed for cell growth, including hair cells,” she says. You can find vitamin A in carrots, sweet potatoes, red bell peppers, and spinach.

- Protein: “Hair follicles are made up of mostly protein so getting adequate protein will provide the nutrients that your body needs to create and grow your hair healthy and strong,” she says. Adequate protein can be obtained via cottage cheese, meat, nuts, beans, tofu, and nut butter.

- Iron: “[Iron] helps blood carry oxygen to your cells to promote proper function, including hair growth,” she says. Opt for iron-rich foods like in lean red meats, spinach, pumpkin seeds, and quinoa.

- Biotin: [Biotin] stimulates keratin production, the protein that forms hair,” she says. Eggs, legumes, mushrooms, liver, nuts, and seeds are good sources.

11. It’s Fall Or Winter

“Fall and winter months can be super hard on hair- especially if you live in cold, dry places. Harsh weather and all that comes with it ( dryness, static, frizz etc.) can leave your hair super dehydrated and more prone to breakage and it can even cause scalp dryness,” says Tang. Polko agrees, telling Bustle, “With the change of weather, there is less moisture in the air. We feel this change of moisture in both our skin and in our hair.”

The answer? Moisturizing your locks. “Just as you switch to a heavier moisturizer when your skin is dry, it’s time to switch to a heavier haircare routine, including hair masks and heavier conditioners that are made to combat dryness,” Polko suggests. Looking for a simple, at-home alternative? Tang suggests reaching for coconut oil.

12. You Don’t Use Satin-Lined Caps

For curly and coily hair, it’s important to protect spirals from fiction. Taylor suggests wearing a silk- or satin-lined cap while you sleep. “Silk and satin-lined caps help protect curls while you sleep because there is less friction against the hair when you sleep on these fabrics,” she says. “Cotton sucks moisture and natural oils from the hair while we sleep, whereas silk does not.”

13. You Left Your Protective Style In For Too Long


As tempting as it is to leave your braids or twists in for long periods of time, it’s important that you keep an eye on the calendar and avoid keeping them in for too long. Hair expert Greg Gilmore says that “protective styles are great as long as they’re not overdone.” The maximum amount of time that you should leave your style in? “Never exceed two months,” Gilmore says.

14. There’s Too Much Buildup On Your Strands

If there’s too much product buildup on hair, moisture isn’t able to make its way into your strands. Sun Bum’s scalp scrub is formulated with apple cider vinegar to help send excess oil, dirt, and product gunk down the drain.

15. You Need A Pre-Shampoo Treatment

Pre-pooing — applying a treatment (usually an oil) to your hair before you shampoo — will help make detangling easier and give your hair the extra moisture it’ll need throughout your wash routine.

Cosmetic Chemist Tonya Lane explains that hair is “lipophilic,” meaning it “prefers oils to the water.” This means that dousing curls or coils in water can be pretty traumatic for your water. “I suggest incorporating pre-pooing with a penetrating oil like coconut oil or babassu oil into your regimen,” Lane says. “This can be applied to dry hair for an hour or 30 minutes prior to shampooing.”

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