By Joe Park­er of Cush Cos­met­ics

Hair break­age is the ulti­mate, fright­en­ing result that occurs because of hair dam­age.  And, it appears that every prover­bial road of bro­ken hair strands leads to only one word-stress.  As you can see below, you have six stres­sors that you should avoid as much as pos­si­ble to pre­vent dam­aged hair and ulti­mate­ly hair break­age.

The Root Cause Analysis for Hair Breakage

Here’s how I, the sci­en­tist, think about hair break­age.  Hair break­age is the defect.  The root cause of the defect (hair break­age) is dam­aged hair.  Hair becomes dam­aged because of exces­sive stress on the hair sys­tem.  There are six types of stres­sors (also called fail­ure modes) that lead to hair dam­age:

  • Mechan­i­cal Stress
  • Ther­mal Stress
  • Chem­i­cal Stress
  • UV Stress
  • Hydral Stress
  • Envi­ron­men­tal Stress

For­tu­nate­ly, hair break­age can be mea­sured because it is some­thing that you can read­i­ly see. How­ev­er, on the oth­er hand, hair dam­age might be a lit­tle more dif­fi­cult to dis­cern because you sim­ply might not know the def­i­n­i­tion.   So what is hair dam­age exact­ly?

The Definition of Acutely Damaged Hair

Your hair is dam­aged when it is miss­ing cuti­cles, has cracked cuti­cles, has a mis­align­ment of cuti­cles, or has raised cuti­cles.  Again, in order to avoid dam­age to the hair, and ulti­mate­ly, hair break­age, you must pre­vent the dam­age from occur­ring.  Remem­ber the old say­ing, “An ounce of pre­ven­tion is worth a pound of cure?“ Well it applies to hair as well and the only way to pre­vent hair dam­age is avoid or min­i­mize stress to the hair sys­tem.

Again, stress is the dri­ver for hair dam­age. The most preva­lent types of stres­sors in the nat­ur­al hair care com­mu­ni­ty are mechan­i­cal, ther­mal and chem­i­cal stress. When hair is dam­aged, look for the fol­low­ing signs and behav­ior:

  • Increased poros­i­ty and hair dry­ness
  • Increased split ends
  • Increased brit­tle­ness due to decreased elasticity/suppleness

Let’s delve a lit­tle fur­ther into the three types of stress for nat­ur­al hair care styling: mechan­i­cal, ther­mal, and chem­i­cal stress.

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30 Comments on "6 Hair Stressors that Lead to Breakage"

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Pamela Nicole
Hel­lo all I am grate­ful for this write up on break­age. My hair has been grow­ing beau­ti­ful­ly and then like a month ago I start­ed notic­ing all this crazy break­age in my sen­si­tive area “my crown” area. but after read­ing this I think it might have some­thing to do with the fact that I have high poros­i­ty hair and prob­a­bly from the years of the perms and heat. I try to com­bat the prob­lem with pro­tein and oils, but was won­der­ing is there any oth­er solu­tion that I can try. Will def­i­nite­ly try to use the cor­rect prod­ucts any help… Read more »

This woman should get paid every time this pic­ture is used! LOL she would be crazy paid by now!!! I don’t know her name- I just call her Michael Knight’s mod­el (from Project Run­way)


Hi! Thanks for this arti­cle.

Oth­er than pH strip testers, is there any oth­er way to know the pH lev­el in a prod­uct? By instance, the ingre­di­ents? What are the spe­cif­ic ingre­di­ents that can deter­mine whether the sham­poos, con­di­tion­ers or any oth­er is more acid than alka­line or vice ver­sa?



@ Lau­rie
In some cas­es you can see the pH from the ingre­di­ents. For exam­ple, if it said saponi­fied oils then it is a castile soap. The pH is 8–9. For oth­er sur­fac­tant sys­tems, it’s more dif­fi­cult. For­mu­la­tors know because we read the MSDS of the raw mate­ri­als. I talked about Decyl Glu­co­side being very basic. I think Cog­nis was the man­u­fac­tur­er that I saw had a high pH. Look for an acid to reduce the pH. Cit­ric Acid is com­mon but Phos­phor­ic acid is also used.


For­got one point. Castile soap is not nec­es­sary a bad thing if your hair is low poros­i­ty. If it is high poros­i­ty then you might want to use a sham­poo with a more gentle/neutral sham­poo. I like to stay with­in a pH of 6.5 to 5.5 but depend­ing our your hair 4.5 can be a good thing for high­ly porous hair.


Thank you so much for this video. I have my first ship­ping order coin­mg up and I’m ner­vous about it. Plus, I still need to fig­ure out ship­ping prices. I was won­der­ing what ship­ping method you use for across coun­try ship­ping. Would you use ground or expe­dit­ed? Also on Uline the 14x14x10 box has two options, the reg­u­lar and then one that is 275lbs dou­ble walled. Which one do you use? Thank so much for your help!

Ms. A.

I have a ques­tion. No mat­ter what sham­poo or con­di­tion­er I use, I have been notic­ing that my ends are split­ting, bub­bling (where the hair isnt split­ting from the end but in dif­fer­ent sec­tions), and noth­ing is work­ing on that. I have tried dif­fer­ent sham­poos, get my ends trimmed, mois­tur­ize, deep con­di­tions– the works, but noth­ing seems to work. I have stress around plan­ning a wed­ding and my job, but I keep my hair in pro­tec­tive styles ALL the time. Please help because I cant seem to stop the break­age!!!!


Try detan­gling before wash­ing and wash­ing in sections(twisted, braid­ed, etc). Try seam­less combs. Try fin­ger-comb­ing. Try only focus­ing sham­poo on your scalp. 

P.S. Ends are always gonna split–all you can do is try to min­i­mize he dam­age.

@ Ms. A The most like­ly cause of the bub­ble hair is either exces­sive heat or in some rare cas­es col­or treat­ments. Are you blow dry­ing or flat iron­ing??? If so, go with med to low heat on the set­tings. On the split ends, it is most like­ly styling. I know your doing pro­tec­tive styling but remem­ber to be gen­tle with twist­ing and pulling. That all adds up to ten­sile stress.  My advise is to use recon­struc­tors on some fre­quen­cy. It will tem­porar­i­ly repair dam­aged hair. Once the dam­age is done, there is noth­ing to my knowl­edge that will fix it.… Read more »
Ms. A
Thanks for the reply Joe and Anon! I detan­gle in sec­tions, and wash my hair in twists after­wards so that it would­nt get tan­gled again. I havent tried seam­less combs or just putting sham­poo on my scalp, so I can try those things and see what works. I haven’t been blow dry­ing, and I get my hair flat ironed VERY RARELY, so that’s why it is con­fus­ing. I will def­i­nite­ly take your advice and use recon­struc­tors more fre­quent­ly. Hope it helps, I am tired of cut­ting my hair to get rid of these ends and sin­gle strand knots :-{! lol. Thanks… Read more »

I too was look­ing for the sec­tion on hydral dam­age. Joe, can you post in com­ments?

I an overnight con­di­tion­ing once a week and refresh hair with water spritz about twice a week and was won­der­ing if that may be too much? 

Is hydral dam­age caused by fre­quen­cy of water use, amount of water use, dura­tion of water use or all cas­es? And if all is there one that has proven to be more prob­lem­at­ic than anoth­er?

@ J Thanks for the com­ments! On the ques­tion of over con­di­tion­ing and spritz­ing, let your hair guide you. I look at poros­i­ty and envi­ro­men­tal con­di­tions. If you have high poros­i­ty hair and are from Chi Town and it’s dead of win­ter, you can use whole lot of condish­ing and mois­tur­iz­ing :-) If your hair is limp, mushy and lacks struc­ture and elas­tic­i­ty, you might be over condish­ing. I real­ly doubt this because you don’t see this often.  @ Hydral Stress/Fatigue Here’s how I think about Hydral Stress. It’s very sim­i­lar to mechanical/tensile stress only the dri­ver is not styling habits… Read more »
Thank you Joe! Your thor­ough answer is REALLY help­ful :) I JUST start­ed using coconut oil and can feel how it real­ly seeps in- good to know that it helps with grad­ual absorp­tion too. It is also nice to know that hydral fatigue is tem­po­rary if it does occur. No my hair is not mushy. I actu­al­ly feel like it is strong and firm but very mois­tur­ized as of late which I am main­tain­ing with these week­ly treat­ments- I just start­ed to wor­ry because hydral fatigue is some­thing I often hear about but there is nev­er much detail to help… Read more »

Thank you for the arti­cle. Every­one seems to be over-ana­lyz­ing every­thing. I think it is a well-writ­ten arti­cle with good, eas­i­ly under­stood points. Basi­cal­ly, I feel the main point is to be very gen­tle with your hair, min­i­mal heat styling, min­i­mal chem­i­cals and read and inves­ti­gate the ingre­di­ents you are using. Maybe I’m just not hyper­sen­si­tive about my hair. Any­way, that’s what I got from the arti­cle.


Amen to that:))


Thanks Eri­ka!


But water has a pH of 7, so can’t that too open your cuti­cles? :S


@ xx

No at pH of 7, water will not open or con­tract cuti­cles. The only oth­er thing going on with hair is that hydro­gen bond­ing is break­ing. This is why your hair will extend when wet. This is also why we get shrink­age. The hydro­gen bond break­age is reversible. When water evap­o­rates, the hydro­gen bonds form and we get shrink­age.

Christina Patrice

Why does it seem counter-intu­itive to us an acidic (pH < 7) sham­poo? My assump­tion that a more basic (alka­li) sham­poo would be less harm­ful. Which brings me to my next point… if I’m sup­posed to use acidic sham­poo, and my hair cuti­cle will begin to open with a sham­poo that has a pH of 6.9 or greater… wouldn’t that mean that plain ol’ tap (shower/sink) water would cause the very same dam­age, con­sid­er­ing water hov­ers around a pH of 7? Or is that null and void because it is con­sid­ered neu­tral?


@ Behold A Lady

Thanks you the com­ment.

Remem­ber that under basic con­di­tions, your hair cuti­cles open up. Under acidic con­di­tions the hair cuti­cles con­tract. Under neu­tral con­di­tions, pH 7 the cuti­cle is not affect­ed. The ques­tion is what is the orig­i­nal con­di­tion of the hair. If your hair is dry, dam­aged, eas­i­ly tan­gled and high­ly porous then you want to go acidic with the sham­poo.

If your is low poros­i­ty, then you can afford to be slight­ly basic. Castile soap is a good occa­sion­al sham­poo for sister’s with low poros­i­ty hair.


Moral of the sto­ry is every time you touch your hair, you can poten­tial­ly cause dam­age to it! That’s all folks! LOL!


@ Rou

I see you have jokes :-)

No, I am not say­ing that you can’t touch your hair. The oth­er part of this article(not post­ed here) is that you whether you are nat­ur­al, relaxed, col­or­ing, flat iron­ing, braid­ing, tow­el dry­ing or brush­ing. Please con­sid­er using a recon­struc­tor as a pre­ven­ta­tive mea­sure to pre­vent­ing dry­ness and break­age on some fre­quen­cy. Not say­ing over do it with pro­tein. Just add a pro­tein treat­ment on some fre­quen­cy.




Well stres­sors are envi­ron­men­tal and mechan­i­cal. I am des­per­ate­ly try­ing to reduce the detan­gling time and tan­gles, also using rubber/elastic bands and detan­gling when soak­ing wet and very dry (wet stretch­es out my fine and thin strands till they snap and dry­ness caus­es break­age and knot­ting).

Is it me are we miss­ing the break­down of:
UV Stress
Hydral Stress
Envi­ron­men­tal Stress

I know what they are but I fig­ure if they were break­ing it down the first three might as well break down them all or they spread­ing this dis­cus­sion into two arti­cles?


@ hyspin

I inten­tion­al­ly left out enviro,hydral and UV. I want­ed to focus on the Mechan­i­cal (Ten­sile), Chem­i­cal and Ther­mal because these are the stes­sors that are most like­ly to con­tri­bu­tion to break­age as a result of styling.


U you said that “the nat­ur­al hair care regime requires you wash your hair more fre­quent­ly” that is not true. This is a very false state­ment. Not every­one has the same regime so it varies. Who is giv­ing his false facts and why are they bring let on this web­site as a true state­ment. I’d like to start see­ing some sources on these post. This authors believes that they can speak for every­one

@ Vic­to­ria Thanks for the com­ments. I def­i­nite­ly did not mean to offend or over gen­er­al­ize. On the sub­ject of sham­poo fre­quen­cy, my com­ments were meant to con­vey the fol­low­ing: women with nat­ur­al hair have the option and free­dom to wash their hair more fre­quent­ly than women with relaxed hair. Depend­ing on the prod­uct used, hair tex­ture, poros­i­ty, and den­si­ty, one might need to sham­poo more fre­quent­ly. On the sub­ject of pH of the sham­poo. I was com­ment­ing on the basic nature of Decyl Glucoside(DG). It is a typ­i­cal sur­fac­tant in Non SLS sham­poos. Google the MSDS for the DG.… Read more »

If the decyl glu­co­side is basic, usu­al­ly the sham­poo for­mu­la­tion will have oth­er ingre­di­ents that bring the ph lev­el down and bal­ance it out.


@ Raven
Good point. I com­plete­ly agree.

I most cas­es you do add cit­ric acid to bal­ance things out. But, I have seen prod­ucts that have not done that or over done it with the acid. Thx


I have a ques­tion. I do not have type 4 hair. I real­ly do not know how to describe my tex­ture but I have been using Earth Mama Angel Baby Sham­poo. I just looked it up and it has a high ph around 9. My hair tests as low poros­i­ty. You said that sham­poos witha high ph are not safe but then you do real­ize that a lot of reg­u­lar sham­poos are either full of build up ingre­di­ents or they strip nat­ur­al oils. So what do you rec­om­mend some­one use? Exam­ples?