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How can I stop my hair from breaking?

Alessandra asks…I hope you can help me with a hair dilemma. I am a 44-year old woman with hair that tends to split mid-shaft, about 1 or more inch from the ends. I don’t color my hair, which is baby-fine but abundant, and I don’t style it with hot tools, except for blow drying only the the roots and sometimes the top layer with a soft brush and a blow dryer set on medium heat.

The Beauty Brains respond:

In her original email, Alessandra asked several specific questions which I’ve attempted to answer below.

Q: I started wondering if it’s possible that my hair stiffens up with topical protein and becomes glass-like and brittle.

A: No, proteins should not have that kind of effect on your hair. However, if you’re using heavy styling products you may be over stressing your hair if they are hard to wash off.

Q: I also find that dimethicone and other silicones ruin my hair. Is this possible? However, I’m not sure not sure if I should not use them at all or only in small amounts. It’s hard, because they are in almost every hair product.

A: This is surprising since silicones tend to me among the most effective conditioning agents. I can’t think of any reason they should “ruin” your hair unless you’re using so much of them that you have to scrub your hair to remove them.

Q: Is it possible that my hair is so fine and delicate that washing every other day with regular shampoo (diluted) strips it too much? Even if I apply moisturizing treatment, I am not sure if I can replaced what’s been stripped out.

A: Daily washing doesn’t seem to be a likely cause of the problem to me. I doubt that “stripping” is the problem but it could be all the mechanical abrasion that occurs everytime you wash and dry your hair. It may be worth ruling out this factor by reducing the frequency of shampooing.

Q: What do you think of washing once a week with a more delicate low-foaming shampoo (I checked ingredients and it seems to me that Aveeno Baby Shampoo and Sebamed Baby are gentler… and they foam much less), and for the other two weekly washes (needed for my greasy roots) trying “co-washing” with a no-silicone conditioner such as suave naturals or trader joe’s?

A: Using a mild baby shampoo certainly won’t HURT your hair any more than a regular shampoo but I’m not very optimistic that it will help much either. That’s because even with baby shampoo you still have wet your hair (which weakens it), then you “scrub” it and THEN you have to dry it. This washing process can cause a lot of cumulative damage.

Q: Can root volumizers or/and dry shampoos damage hair because of their alcohol or protein content? what about using corn starch instead of dry shampoo?

A: Using a dry shampoo is an excellent way to reduce damage caused by the washing and drying process. The alcohol used in aerosol products evaporates very quickly and is not likely to cause any harm. Protein won’t help much but neither will it hurt. (Root volumizers are styling products which may be problematic if they are difficult to remove.)

There is one other approach that you should consider trying: deep conditioning with coconut oil. As our long time readers already know, coconut oil is one of the few materials that has been proven to penetrate into the cortex of hair where it has a water proofing effect which strengthens hair from within. I don’t know for a fact that this oil treatment will counteract your breakage but it’s certainly an inexpensive suggestion to try.

Do you have any suggestions for Alessandra? Leave a comment if you can help her out. 

{ 12 comments… add one }

  • Klee January 17, 2014, 7:41 am

    Yes! Coconut oil! I listened to the Brains on this about 2 years ago and it works great. Deep conditioning the ends, at least 2 hours before shampooing (or the night before, if possible), then using a drop on the ends as a daily leave-in conditioner (just a drop, though-a little goes a long way). If you can take pre-natal vitamins, those will help your hair as well.

  • Miranda Guy January 17, 2014, 8:33 am

    In my experience, a lot of people actually do find that putting too much protein on their hair makes it hard and brittle. Stop applying the protein and see if that causes any changes. I would say to use a gentle, no-sulfates shampoo twice or three times a week, and a very moisturizing conditioner. Massage the scalp and gently work fingers through hair to shampoo. Do the same for conditioning, and also consider one of those big plastic shower combs to distribute the conditioner well. When drying, squeeze the hair from root to tip, never scrub or wring with the towel. Also I don’t think you mentioned how you style it. Hot tools and hair dryers contribute to breakage and so does wearing a clip, elastic band, etc in the same place day in and day out. There may also be nutritional or medical factors to consider. Make sure you have your annual physical and mention to the doctor that you think your hair is too brittle and is there anything that needs to be checked.

    • Randy Schueller January 17, 2014, 11:31 am

      I’m curious that so many people keep mentioning that “too much protein” causes their hair to be hard and brittle. Can anyone point me to a specific product they have used which has caused this problem? I’d like to understand what’s going on here.

      • Abigail.B September 22, 2014, 3:07 pm

        Randy….
        my sister told me she had this experience with the popular “Mane n Tail” shampoo & conditioner. She bought it under the impression from friends who use it (in addition to hundreds of reviews online, many including ‘before and after’ photos) that the protein in it would help her hair grow longer and stronger. She said that at first it did seem to ‘strengthen’ it but over time her hair felt simultaneously ‘dry’ as well as ‘gritty’ (she described it as the feeling of product build up, yet she rarely uses any additional products aside from shampoo and conditioner that would’ve cause it). She did claim her hair grew somewhat faster… although she didn’t exactly measure it, ‘eyeballed’ it more or less, so I am skeptical. Nonetheless, she didn’t repurchase the products due to the ‘brittle’ and ‘drying’ texture it caused.
        I’ve always wondered myself regarding the benefits of applying ‘protein’ to hair externally, if there are any. Would be interested to hear your take!

  • Eileen January 17, 2014, 10:51 am

    Because the hair is breaking mid-shaft, it’s possible that there is a “mechanical” reason. In addition to the overzealous shampooing technique which Randy mentioned, all kinds of styling tools and accessories can cause breakage. Hot tools are not the only ones that can damage the hair. So can Velcro rollers with stiff bristles, various clips, clamps, and barrettes (both decorative and utilitarian) with sharp edges, brushes with jagged bristles, etc. Alessandra only mentions the heat styling tools she uses, but if she uses anything else to style or adorn her hair, she might want to take a look at it as well.

    • Ale August 19, 2014, 8:58 am

      Yes, I had this problem when I used the Redken CAT and kerastase Vitaciment lines. I do not use hot tools

  • cheryl January 17, 2014, 11:56 pm

    I use coconut oil on claifiyed hair as an overnight treatment. I just use a olastic cap. Rinse and apply a conditioner. This is a weekly treatment that has helped the strength and ends of my hair. I also reduce clamps and clips and letting my ends fly around.

  • Sarah F. January 18, 2014, 1:16 pm

    I’m having good luck with Bumble invisible oil. It does contain a silicone conditioner, though, but it works very well for me in preventing breakage (which I was having a problem with). I also have fine hair, and I do need to cleanse well daily or I would get build-up from this product.

  • Sarah F. January 18, 2014, 1:17 pm

    Als0, you might try a different blow dryer (especially a ceramic one that heats more evenly than the coil type). I find that my Solano dryer stresses my hair so much less than the drugstore dryers I used to use.

  • Judith January 18, 2014, 10:21 pm

    Going to try the coconut oil. Is straight coconut oil best or in a product?

    Can’t the industry come up with a product that really reduces breakage? Like Alessandra I have lots of fine hair. I have a halo of different length hair that appears with the slightest breeze or static. I wash my hair twice a week and let it air dry, do not style it, and since it suits my face to have it back, mostly have my hair (shoulder length) loosely tied up with stretchy cloth covered thingy’s. Yet I have this fuzz of shorter hair.

    • Randy Schueller January 19, 2014, 7:43 am

      Most of the “coconut oil” products that I’ve seen have a small amount of coconut oil and a lot of silicone. Not that silicones are bad but they won’t penetrate like coconut oil will. So, use the straight stuff if you’re trying to reduce breakage.

  • lindygirl1960 January 19, 2014, 6:51 pm

    In addition to all the suggestions already listed I would add try sleeping on a silk or satin pillowcase. It helps with frizzies and helps stop breakage.

    The coconut oil I use works really well. Here is a link for reference – http://www.drugstore.com/natures-way-efagold-coconut-oil-pure-extra-virgin/qxp166555?catid=183316

    I have been using it for several years now.

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