7 Signs of Damaged Hair

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By Jae Ireland

When your hair is damaged and dry, you’ll find that it is harder to deal with than usual. If you don’t know whether your hair has been damaged by years of coloring, constant heat styling or everyday abuse, you can look for seven clear signs that your hair has been damaged. If you recognize these signs in your hair, it may be time to stop over-processing your hair and begin fostering healthy hair by taking better care of it.

Dull and Lackluster

Hair that is damaged won’t have a supple look. You may find that you have to resort to a silicone spray to enhance your hair’s shine, or that even after deep conditioning your hair still looks dull. This is a sure sign that your hair is damaged and the shafts are no longer smooth.

Brittle Texture

To test whether or not your hair is damaged, hold a section of hair upside down so that your ends are pointing upward. Run your finger over the end to test the texture. Are they soft, or are they hard and brittle? A brittle, dry texture denotes a damaged hair shaft that is not absorbing moisture well.


If your hair was previously easy to style and quick to take care of, and you find that your hair is having a harder time holding a style, is constantly staticky or you have a problem with flyaways, then your hair is probably damaged. Dry hair causes it to break into short pieces that are harder to managed. Damaged hair won’t hold a style as easily as healthy hair will.


Healthy hair is supple and moisturized, so it shouldn’t be hard to comb out after a bath or shower. Damaged hair will clump and stick together, making it hard to get through, even with the aids of leave-in conditioners and styling products. If your hair is constantly tangled in knots and hard to comb out, it could mean that it is damaged.

Split Ends

You can look for split ends by wrapping a section of hair around your finger near the end of the hair and watch for ends that stick up when the rest of the hair is wrapped around. Split ends are a separating of the end, caused by dryness and harsh treatment. There is no way to treat split ends but to cut them off, as the hair becomes so damaged it cannot be fused back together again.

Susceptible to Breakage

If you notice more hairballs in your comb or around your room/bathroom, it could be a sign of damaged hair. Damaged hair that is dry and brittle will snap off more easily. While some hair loss is normal, when you see a large increase of it, you can count on damaged hair as being the culprit.

Color Fade or Hyper-Absorption

Damaged hair is more porous than healthy hair, resulting in problems when you want to color your hair. The dye might absorb too much into the hair, giving you a too-dark result that you didn’t want. You also may find that your hair color fades faster, as the excess porousness of the hair releases too much of the color when you shampoo your hair.

Ladies, how can you tell when your hair is damaged?

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Black Girl With Long Hair

Black Girl With Long Hair

Leila, founding editor of Black Girl with Long Hair (April 2008), social media and black beauty enthusiast. When I'm not here, I'm moderating a Facebook group for black mothers called Black Moms Connect.


38 thoughts on “7 Signs of Damaged Hair

  1. I would like to add that for tangled hair, it depends on your hair texture. Some textures are more tangle prone than others, doesn’t mean they are damaged.

    • I JUST came to the comments section to make a note about this. I completely disagree with the statement that healthy hair can be easily combed – NOT!! My 4c hair requires finger detangling. I remember being very frustrated by this when I first when natural, but once I let go of the concept of “needing” to comb my hair based on my relaxer days and based on how some natural “gurus” styled their hair, my journey became a lot easier and my hair and I reached a truce:)

      No combs = growth for me. I finger detangle and my hair loves it….

      • i’d have to dissagree. I suffered from really bad heat damage for a few years.. My hair was constantly breaking off and my curly hair turned completely straight and thin looking. I had just about all of the symptoms listed in the article. I was told that the only way for my hair to get better was to cut it all off but there was no way I was going to do that. So, last year I went the whole year without pressing or blow drying my hair. My hair is now full and my curls have came back. Not all of them just yet if at all, but with proper care, conditioning, and nutrition for caution my hair had life again. Of course every now and then I’ll cut off some straight ends and trim here and there, but my point is that big chopping isn’t the only solution. Try taking the time to see what you can do to help revive your hair. The damage may not be as bad as it seems. As with my experience, it may take a year plus to get your hair back to the way it was or the way you want it, but it might be worth your time if you rather not cut off your hair.

        • I agree with you 100%. My hair has only been climbing upward. It was suffering severe mechanical breakage due to wet/damp stretching, constant protectivr styling in general, excessive detangling and I also suspect glycerin sensitivity. Since 100% split free hair is probably not attainable for most ppl, I opted to cut off loads and loads of damaged and split hairs individually, and trim my ends gradually, whilst continuing to deep condition, clarify and strengthen my hair. In the mean time, finding a regimen that works for me to have healthy hair, and experimenting on my current hair rather than damaging newer, shorter growth. I did layer a few areas and cut some bangs, but gradual trimming, search and destroy, and deep conditioning with a balance of protein, moisture, and deep cleansing also help. After all, eventually all hair will shed, so if you are taking good care of your hair, you can gradually move to healthier hair. Now if my hair were literally falling off my head that would be different. I have a husband no way am I going bald.

  2. solution?

    probably cut it, the damaged ends…

    and then get on a serious moisture, conditioning regime until problem resolves…

  3. my ends have always been rough feeling. idk if it’s my texture, or if my hair has been damaged since my bc. idk I think I need to feel damaged hair, because I don’t know what to compare it to..

    • My ends were exactly the same. I used to feel quite deflated when I touched then and they felt so rough. Anyhoo I read the 7 ways to effectively seal your ends article, and would you believe it, my ends are smooth as. I BC about 7 months ago, my hair is about 4 inches all around. So Asia maybe read that article found on this blog and see if it helps…good luck!!!

  4. I had damaged hair. i’ve just yesterday and today, for that matter had to take off 2 inches in total. :( the brastrap length goal that had been just about a month away from me? now, try 4 or 5. if i wasn’t ordinarily a scissor happy person anyway then i would be quite depressed about this. but i was getting a lotta breakage, my hair was harder to deal with- split ends just would NOT go away. pretty much all the signs listed here, i’d been in denial about and trying to hold on to length. my ends weren’t see-through, by any means, but they were still a little rough around the edges. so…sigh. but the bright side is that with each trim i should be closer to my goal of totally healthy hair, though my ultimate goal of MBL is now about a year to 2 years away from me. What did it for me was YEARS of both bleaching AND flat ironing. So now my hair has been cut back to somewhere between shoulder and armpit length. i think the longest layer is at my armpits. so it’s not terribly short- i have had much shorter, but it’s still irritating because i’d been trying so hard to baby my hair. but there’s no compensating for past damage dealt. all there is is to snip snip snip until you’re left with virgin hair, which i’ve never looked more favorably upon than now.
    if i didn’t hafta keep my neck tattoo concealed, i would have actually big chopped by now, because i’m definitely comfortable with an afro. and an afro would suit my lifestyle right now tremendously if it meant not worrying every second of every minute about whether or not my hair was breaking on my shirt or the seat of my car!

  5. Signs of damage for me are usually dull, brittle, breaking and hyper-absorptive hair. Styling, tangles and splits not so much. I’ve done damage with silk protein, heat, humectants, poor color upkeep, crap diet and not oiling my scalp before using ayurvedic powders. They’re strengthening, conditioning and moisturizing but acidic and can cause dry scalp forcing it to produce more sebum to compensate for the imbalance.

    My solutions? I killed heat, color and protein, went low humectant, overhauled my diet and nutrient intake and went back to WO (water-only) washing. I do occasional amla-shikakai-hibiscus masks but now oil thoroughly beforehand. Another sign of damage for me is the back of my hair. It’s mainly fine, straight, very smooth and my barometer for trouble. It won’t hesitate to break off at the first sign of trouble.

  6. I know people will shoot this down because they say hair is dead but I deal with chronic constipation (yeah yeah tmi) and I see a BIG difference in my hair when I’m not moving and when I am. When I’m constipated, my hair is EXACTLY what you describe here and it does not matter if i’m using purified water, if i’m deep/protein conditioning 10 times a week, if i’m moisturizing everyday, if i leave it alone, if i’m tender with it, eating right, drinking tons of water. NOTHING helps. My hair is just extremely dry and brittle like hay. Hell, even Qhemet’s products make no difference.

    Almost immediately when I move again, my hair completely changes and feels supple and healthy again. It’s insane. The problem is that since it’s a chronic issue, my growth has been really stagnant because the amount of hair breaking off is equal to and maybe more than what is growing out of my scalp. I can’t cut off the hair because i’ve observed countless times where the same area of dry, brittle hair comes to life depending on my bowel health. I wish I was making this up but I’ve been dealing with this for a year or so and I have the same correlations EVERY time.

    I’m trying to deal with the core issue but I was just wondering if anyone else out there has dealt with something like this.

    • @ lulu
      Conventional and alternative medicine cite correlations between BM and hair loss. Theories range from hair loss as a side effect of toxic build up of waste matter and it being circulated in the blood, to hair loss as a side effect of nutrient and circulatory starvation (lack of fiber, water and exercise), which may have caused the constipation in the first place.

      I suffered hair loss due to a toxic reaction to medication once and consider diet and exercise important to hair health but never thought about including ‘back up’ as a potential hair loss culprit. Your experience sounds like a good article IMO, hope your interventions are going well.

    • All the best and thanks for sharing with us. We’ve learned something new and you never know how you may be helping others.

    • I have heard of dietary fiber playing a role in hair health as well as hair health being linked to digestion. This is interesting because I have severely dry hair that lacks resilience and I also have had constipation a lot. However, mine has gotten better since I started taking magnesium and eating more vegetables, especially fruits. Lack of fiber is not the only cause of constipation though and some ppl cannot handle a lot of fiber. Since the fiber thing is common sense I am sure you know this already. What I would suggest is to suspect magnesium deficiency which is much more common than fiber deficiency. You migh also want to look into the Specific Carbohydrate Diet which is designed for digestive healing. I do a similar diet but for me the real change came with eating vegetables like beets and taking magnesium. Take in more fats as well.

    • Have u been on a high fiber diet? I had issies with contipation and I started using pysllium husk and flax seedsin my diet it works

  7. Cacey is right. The only thing you can do is prevent this from happening, and if it happens, the only thing you can do then is just cut the damaged part off. I am a 4b/4c mostly, and although my hair is prone to tangles, when my hair was damaged it was TOTALLY unmanageable. I know now that my hair is comb-able *somewhat* easily. But when it was damaged I thought it was just my course texture, but I was wrong… it was major damage. I have a video on my youtube about it, and my journey in general. Now I know better. The longer you wait the worse it gets. Now I’m all about prevention. I had to basically BC again and start over. my youtube channel is ashleighekari.

  8. I am an African American private inventor trying to get my hair product out. It’s called the Fusioncomb. Please take a look at the web site and spread the word. May GOD BLESS…
    http://WWW.FUSIONCOMB.COM. The Beta models work well with natural hair. Please take a look.
    You can email from the site too….

  9. Brittle texture is how I know my hair is miserable and damaged. I have eliminated the problem with a good washing routine, only wet detangling, a good moisturising system and very low manipulation styles. I only do styles like tuck and pin or a bun now and my hair feels and looks good. I like to do afro puffs too and just spritz my puff with water and add gel and I’m ready to rock. My hair does get very tangled but the styles I do hide it and mean I don’t have to detangle.
    If I want to wear my hair down and out I will do it the day after washing when I have stretched it with plaits or twists that is the only time I manipulate my hair. Now that my hair is long enough to do simpler styles I’m hoping the length and quality of my hair will improve even more.

  10. Wow. This is nice info. I cut my split ends off even though I’m transitioning.

    Does sealing help? Ever since I’ve been transitioning, I’ve never used heat from a blow dryer or flat/curling iron.

    For detangling, I’m still using my old products from dr. miracle like the leave in, the serum, the hair potion. I do seal with my own olive oil though.

    Detangling hurts like crazy on transitioning hair. I will try to comb it when I’m conditioning my hair though. How can I get more slip for my conditioner?

    • Sealing your ends help. I like sealing with castor oil. Some folks use shea butter and other oils.

      Detangle with conditioner in your hair. Try doing it before shampooing on sectioned (stretched/styled hair or after shampooing on wet hair. Do it carefully, from the ends up (NOT roots down) and stick to what ever method does the least damage.

      For more slip in a conditioner, add oils (olive oil, coconut oil, etc).

        • Finger-detangle and then follow up with a wide-toothed comb. The “ends up” advice is mostly for comb-detangling in order to prevent excessive breakage.

  11. thank you for the info, very helpful, I’m using a great product that is helping me to get healthy hair again, it’s Pro Naturals Moroccan Argan Oil, it helps strengthen the hair, smooths the hair, reduces Frizz and helps prevent further damage, leaves hair healthy, shiny and resilient and provides heat protection. :) I luv it :P

  12. I am 13. Last year I straightened my hair every single day for school and some nights I would blow dry it. Tip: if you haven’t ever used hot tools on your hair, don’t ever! At least not every day. I hate my natural hair. I still straighten a lot because my natural hair is so embarassing to go to school with! But the days I don’t add the straightener to my hair I just wear It in a braid or anything else. But I have like pieces under neath my hair like the bottom and there is like whole strips of hair that are dry and brittle I think? It’s like a strip of hair that’s all frizzy and it feels a little dry. How would I fix strips of hair like that?

  13. I went natural for about two years -I still consider myself natural- before dying my hair blonde about a month ago. It feels so weird. I forgot what it was like to see this much breakage, split ends, tangled hair and damaged/split ends. But one thing that I noticed which I find odd, is that my hair is resisting all moisture, the moisture just sits on the top of my hair and takes much longer to soak in than it did before.

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