11 Common Sources of Natural Hair Breakage

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By Chinwe of Hair and Health

Breakage, breakage, breakage.  When we experience breakage, our first inclination is to presume dryness, over manipulation, or heat usage as the source.  However, sometimes the actual culprit may run a little deeper. Here are some “hidden” sources of hair breakage:

1) Overstretching the hair:

Do you stretch your hair prior to styling? If so, be sure you are using one of these least harmful methods: twists or loose braids. Banding is another option as well, depending on the tension.  On the other hand, tight banding or tight braiding can overstretch the hair and lead to weakened strands. Also, be sure you are stretching on damp hair instead of wet hair.  Wet hair will be more susceptible to breakage under tension. Lastly, refrain from using rubber bands or any other harmful hair tie (e.g., cotton) during the drying process.

2) Styling on wet or drenched hair:

Hair is most fragile when wet or drenched with water.  Styling the hair in this state may lead to mechanical breakage.  Depending on the manipulation required for the desired style, it may be better to wait until the hair is damp or damp-dry.

3) Diet low in protein:

Hair largely consists of protein (i.e., keratin) which is built from amino acids extracted from foods we put into our body.  A diet low in protein can translate into weaker, thinner hair strands (and thus breakage) or even hair loss.  Mitigate this issue by incorporating more nuts, chicken, fish, and beans into your diet.

4) Diet low in zinc, iron, and/or Vitamin B-12:

A deficiency in any of these nutrients can result in weaker strands (and thus breakage) or even hair loss.  Taking a good multivitamin on a daily basis can ensure that you are receiving a sufficient amount of these nutrients. If you are severely deficient in zinc or iron (e.g., anemia), I highly recommend that you see a doctor.

5) Use of sulfate shampoos:

Certain sulfate shampoos (e.g., shampoos containing SLS and ALS) can be harsh on the hair thus weakening the strands. Switching to a more gentle sulfate shampoo or a natural shampoo can mitigate this issue.

6) Overexposure to sun:

Hair that was overexposed during the summer months can be showing signs of weakness and breakage in the fall/winter months. Depending on the extent of weakening, mitigation can range from regular deep conditioning the hair with protein to trimming for a fresh start.

7) Use of an improper comb:

Thin-tooth combs or combs with seams can tug on the hair and yield mechanical breakage.  Stick to seamless, wide tooth combs.

8) Hair that used to be heat styled:

Even if one has not used heat in a while, heat usage from months or even a year prior can be haunting the person now. Mid-shaft splits can be opening and yielding breakage. There is also the issue of split ends widening.  Trims are the best way to mitigate this problem.

9) Sleeping on a cotton pillowcase:

Cotton can be both drying and abrasive to the hair.  Sleep on a satin/silk pillowcase or use a satin/silk bonnet to put a stop to this breakage source.

10) Hair that has been colored:

Dyeing can weaken the hair shaft by lifting the cuticles. Depending on the extent of weakening, mitigation can range from regular deep conditioning with protein to trimming for a fresh start.

11) Protein-moisture imbalance:

Hair can either become brittle or stretchy and thus break due to a protein-moisture imbalance.  Read this post for more information. As always, please speak with your doctor before adjusting your diet or lifestyle.

Ladies, have you experienced any of these hidden sources of breakage?

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Hails from a great city in the Midwest and will forever be a Bears fan.


19 thoughts on “11 Common Sources of Natural Hair Breakage

  1. I thought if you keep the hair stretched it will prevent breakage?? I dont use heat like that, I do the african threading method and banding method to stretch my hair because doing my hair while wet or damp my hair shrinks causes tangles and SSK’s causing me to clip them and not retaining length and never really experience breakage, I color my hair never had serious breakage……But seriously anything can break your hair. Me not moisturizing my hair causes breakage.

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  2. I agree about styling on wet hair. You are supposed to comb on wet or damp hair, but styling not so much. I suggest waiting until its just damp and not “wet”. Weird thing is I’ve read about people “wet bunning”, where they bun their hair just after they’ve co-washed. Maybe what they mean is “damp bunning”???

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  3. the only thing i do on this list is use sulfate shampoo (i just washed my hair now haha) and thats because my doctor prescribed it for me because of my scalp problems and eczema in my head. but i still do everything else as well as moisturizing with oil, but will my hair still break?

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    • try olivier for your eczema and tea tree oil…you can’t always trust most doctors when it comes to natural remedies and products…med school doesn’t teach on that and natural companies also don’t lobby and pay them to get customers to use their products

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    • I still shampoo with sulfates. I think its still good, as long as you prepoo so as not to lose too much moisture, or deep condition after the shampooing. I do intend to buy a non-sulfate shampoo soon though, then my sulfate one will be for clarifying once a month. But you should be fine with your sulfate shampoo.

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  4. I just figured out that styling my hair soak and wet is the most probable cause of my breakage. I’m so glad this article emphasized that. Now I know what to do.

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  5. I’ve been trying to strengthen my hair by just “co-washing”…it’s been about 2 weeks and I have noticed less breakage. Has anyone else decided to not shampoo at all and just use conditioner?

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    • I personally would not chance out no shampoo for myself because my hair is low po and gets build up. My scalp and hair love a monthly cleanse with peppermint soap. However, shampooing less is key for me, among many other things. I shampoo once every seven days and use Blensblend or Shea Moisture specifically formulated for dry hair.

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  6. My hair is not nearly as curly as the average African American, my mom is white and her hair is stick straight so my hair is somewhere between hers and my father’s who has the curliest hair known to man, but my hair is not even as curly as a lot if mixed folks. However because my hair is low po and extremely vulnerable to split ends and breakage, despite being very very long and growing really fast, I have had to wade thru pools of advice on how to take care of my hair without damaging it. The thing I have come up with is that while I cannot do wash and go’s on my hair, I cannot do braiding on wet hair either. I really can’t do anything to wet hair except wash and condition. I do a heated dc now every time I wash to avoid wasting time with meaningless conditioning. If I do a heated dc when I wash, after applying leave in and sealing I do not really have to moisturize my hair for a long time, and yet no more split ends….the way I do that is I actually dry my hair up first after rinsing out conditioner. I just use a microfiber towel and patience. Then when my hair is just about dry I apply a very light leave-in and the key word: Glycerin. Grapeseed oil is ok too. Then I wear my hair in a bun with my ends tucked away. If I want to style my hair for a braid out I use dry hair. That way I do not stretch my hair and break it when it’s wet. If I want to refresh my hair from a bun and wear it down or loose, I keep it occasional and just spray in my leave in with water and add a little gel, like Shea Moisture, and then put more glycerin on my ends. The great thing is that now that I am not feeling like I have to moisturize my ends constantly out of anxiety, I do not have to wash so much because my hair is not as greasy, and I get more volume. And, best of all, I get no more split ends. I cannot speak for all but if you have fine, low po hair, please do not braid your hair when it’s wet. I was on the right track to hair health by avoiding wash and go’s but this new regimen I came up with is the real deal. I literally cannot find split ends and it is simply because of two things, glycerin and wearing a bun with the ends tucked in.

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    • You have been the light to my problems. I’m Lo po as well and I’ve been combing, braiding, and etc on wet hair lately. I realize I haven’t been retaining much length even though I don’t use heat and protective style all the time. So for now on wait until hair is mostly dry. Thank you so much.

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  7. I think I have been over-styling when my hair is wet or drenched because recently I have been noticing A LOT more breakage and shedding than usual. Also, for a while I was using a Denman brush and I think that was causing mechanical breakage. Ahh! You think you are doing things right, and then you have to change your method again. Oh well, this post was a good reminder of what I should be doing!

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  8. I have a couple of Carol’s Daughter prtudcos. For the most part they’re okay. They don’t compare to my favorite Kinky Curly and Shea Moisture prtudcos though. I’ve never tried these. I have the milk (which I hate and can’t understand why so many people rant and rave about it) and the black vanilla smoothie, shampoo and conditioner. The last 3 are okay. They smell really good and make my hair feel soft right afterwards, but still don’t provide the desired results I like which is to have more defined curls.

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  9. I have had combination 4a 4b hair all my life the back of my hair has a more loose curl pattern and the front of my hair has a tighter curl pattern kind of like corkscrews but around the summertime last year i began to straighten my hair and i have noticed a little bit of breakage around my edge area and i stopped straightening my hair i began to wear buns ,a wash and go,or i would twist the front for my daily hairstyle and i dont touch my hair alot now but that patch hasn’t grown back and nothing has seemed to work>_< i really would like to have some tips

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