afrolicious

In my short time as a blog­ger in the nat­ur­al hair com­mu­ni­ty, I’ve come to real­ize that there is one word that incites an unpar­al­leled fear and uni­ver­sal pan­ic in nat­u­ral­is­tas across the board: break­age. The dread­ed (acci­den­tal) snap, the tiny wisps of hair on the sink, or the awful real­iza­tion that more of the longer hairs that you thought were shed are actu­al­ly bro­ken is enough to have you re-exam­ine every hair deci­sion you’ve made in life.

I’m exag­ger­at­ing a lit­tle, but break­age is a scary and frus­trat­ing thing. It has the poten­tial to bring your nat­ur­al hair growth and length reten­tion jour­ney to a grind­ing halt. But before we get into exact­ly how much break­age is con­sid­ered “nor­mal” in the aver­age head of nat­ur­al hair, let’s cov­er a few bases:

What is break­age? How is it dif­fer­ent from shed­ding?

Sim­ply put, break­age is any hair that comes from your head that does not have a whitish bulb on the end. That whitish bulb is your visu­al cue that the hair came direct­ly from the root, and nowhere else. If there is no bulb, there is no shed­ding, peri­od. A com­mon mis­un­der­stand­ing is that longer hair is auto­mat­i­cal­ly shed hair where­as short­er wisps of hair are break­age. Break­age nor shed­ding knows no length. If you can’t see the bulb, feel for it on the end of the hair strand. If you can’t feel a slight bump, then it’s break­age.

Why do I have break­age?

Shed­ding is a nor­mal part of the hair growth life cycle, where­as break­age is not. Break­age is caused by us and the things we do to our hair. One of my favorite quotes about nat­ur­al hair break­age comes from Jc of The Nat­ur­al Haven, “A very com­mon ques­tion is ‘why does my hair break’. My very sci­en­tif­ic answer is.….because you broke it.” Break­age is typ­i­cal­ly caused by a num­ber of things — how we han­dle our hair (comb­ing, brush­ing), to abus­ing the cuti­cle lay­er (too much stretch­ing or heat), chem­i­cal process­es (hair dye), envi­ron­men­tal fac­tors, and dry­ness. Our high­ly tex­tured nat­ur­al hair is struc­tural­ly weak­er than straight hair, which means our hair is more inclined toward break­age with less force. This also means that we must be much more del­i­cate with our tress­es.

So, how much break­age is nor­mal?

Now we get to the good stuff. In all hon­esty, there is no sol­id sci­en­tif­ic fig­ure for how many pieces of break­age hair are con­sid­ered nor­mal. Trust me, I looked. In fact, the imme­di­ate answer that most sources dis­close is that no amount of break­age is con­sid­ered nor­mal. How­ev­er, many of those same sources also share that the expec­ta­tion of zero break­age is unre­al­is­tic. No mat­ter how care­ful and gen­tle you are with your hair, a few wisps of hair or an acci­den­tal snap are bound to hap­pen. The main objec­tive (haha) of your nat­ur­al hair reg­i­men should always be to min­i­mize and pre­vent as much break­age as pos­si­ble, while not beat­ing your­self up if you lose a few wisps on wash day. Pro­fes­sion­al styl­ist and healthy hair advo­cate Lawrence Ray Park­er shared, “If you lose a few strands here or there, it’s not a big deal. But hair that is con­sis­tent­ly break­ing in large quan­ti­ties is a prob­lem.” From per­son­al expe­ri­ence, see­ing 3–6 pieces of break­age hair on wash day is what I con­sid­er nor­mal. Some of you may staunch­ly dis­agree, but I have found that to be com­plete­ly with­in my reg­u­lar range of hair loss that does not too adverse­ly impact my length reten­tion efforts. I’m sure I could get down to zero break­age if I real­ly want­ed to (by incor­po­rat­ing more pro­tec­tive styling), but I have zero inter­est in sur­ren­der­ing my wash and go’s. In this arti­cle geared specif­i­cal­ly toward 4b and 4c nat­ur­al hair, Jc of The Nat­ur­al Haven shares that 10 or less lit­tle wisps of hair on wash day or dur­ing detan­gling is no cause for con­cern.

Note: this is not my break­age.

Some nat­u­ral­is­tas stand firm on the fact that no break­age what­so­ev­er is accept­able, and if you’re one of them and it works for you, won­der­ful! You’re the real MVP. This arti­cle is real­ly for the ladies who while detan­gling, see a few bro­ken hairs and won­der if it’s worth the pan­ic. You are not alone, I am here with you. Don’t pan­ic, a lit­tle break­age is okay. But if the amount of break­age you see starts to increase regularly…then you might want to take a few steps back.

What You Can Do

Accord­ing to the Jour­nal of Inves­tiga­tive Der­ma­tol­ogy (2007), Black women in par­tic­u­lar are at risk for hair break­age due to var­i­ous prac­tices that weak­en the hair shaft, and the dry nature of the hair (our sebum has more dif­fi­cul­ty trav­el­ing down the shaft than straight hair). In address­ing break­age, “the comb­ing and brush­ing habits, wash­ing fre­quen­cy, dry­ing process used, hair care prod­ucts used and how they are applied, and any chem­i­cal process­es per­formed on the hair must be researched…at least 6 months before the first observed hair break­age.” Again, if you are expe­ri­enc­ing minor break­age, like see­ing a few hairs on the sink after not detan­gling for two weeks, this does not nec­es­sar­i­ly apply. How­ev­er, if you are expe­ri­enc­ing severe hair trau­ma with what appears to be sig­nif­i­cant  break­age every sin­gle time you touch your hair, then it’s time to take a look 6 or so months back. Did you change some­thing sig­nif­i­cant­ly in your reg­i­men? Per­haps you used to be a devout deep con­di­tion­er, and start­ed cut­ting cor­ners to save time. Or maybe you’re rip­ping combs through your hair instead of tak­ing the time to fin­ger detan­gle or work in small­er sec­tions. Did you recent­ly col­or your hair? How’s your mois­ture-pro­tein bal­ance look­ing? How do you lay­er prod­ucts in your hair? All of those are impor­tant fac­tors to take into con­sid­er­a­tion when exam­in­ing the source of break­age. Of them all, Lawrence Ray Park­er finds that the most com­mon cul­prit is dehy­drat­ed hair. “When you’re not mois­tur­iz­ing your hair enough, or deep con­di­tion­ing reg­u­lar­ly, that’s when it hap­pens the most. Dry hair is much more prone to break­age.”

So what’s a nat­ur­al to do? Here are some tips and sug­ges­tions:

1. Prop­er Hair Han­dling Tech­niques

If you sus­pect your break­age may be mechan­i­cal in nature (i.e. you’re han­dling it rough or detan­gling it the wrong way), then you’ve got the eas­i­est fix. Switch­ing from combs to patient­ly fin­ger detan­gling in small­er sec­tions can help you sig­nif­i­cant­ly min­i­mize break­age. Also, be sure to exam­ine your detan­gling method alto­geth­er. Hair is weak­est when wet, but also more elas­tic and eas­i­er to detan­gle. Dry hair has greater ten­sile strength, but also can be more dif­fi­cult to detan­gle. Dry, wet, or some­where in the mid­dle? It all depends on what works best for your hair. Try dif­fer­ent meth­ods and com­bi­na­tions until you find your groove.

2. Fix­ing Dehy­drat­ed Hair

If your hair seems brit­tle, and you don’t have a major med­ical con­di­tion or com­pli­ca­tion, nor have you had any chem­i­cal ser­vices (col­or), your hair is like­ly beg­ging for mois­ture. Find­ing a good deep con­di­tion­er that is water-based, and con­tains lots of but­ters and oils to mois­tur­ize and soft­en the hair is key. Prod­ucts like TGIN Triple Mois­ture Replen­ish­ing Con­di­tion­er, Gio­van­ni Nutrafix, and Shea Moisture’s Super­fruit Com­plex 10-in-1 Hair Masque are per­fect for this. Mois­tur­iz­ing deep con­di­tion­ers will help to great­ly improve the elas­tic­i­ty of the hair, less­en­ing the like­li­hood of break­age.

3. Hair with Cuti­cle Dam­age, Pro­tein Loss, or Col­or

Hair that feels rough, is high­ly porous, and break­ing is often asso­ci­at­ed with a pro­tein imbal­ance or cuti­cle dam­age. This dam­age can be cumu­la­tive due to cer­tain hair­care prac­tices (like fre­quent blow dry­er use or stretch­ing), or from a dye job. This calls for a mois­ture-pro­tein bal­ance, and rely­ing heav­i­ly on deep con­di­tion­ers that infuse hydra­tion and strength­en­ing while help­ing to keep cuti­cles closed and flat. Some of my per­son­al picks include ApHogee’s Ker­atin 2 Minute Recon­struc­tor (it worked mir­a­cles after I got my hair dyed in October), ApHogee Curlif­ic Tex­ture Treat­ment (review), Eva NYC Ther­a­py Ses­sion Hair Mask (review), Shea Mois­ture Jamaican Black Cas­tor Oil Treat­ment Masque (review), and of course, a good ol’ fash­ioned apple cider vine­gar rinse.

One Last Note…

Although I do believe a good deep con­di­tion­ing reg­i­men can solve a mul­ti­tude of hair prob­lems, there are a few oth­er pro­vi­sions to take into con­sid­er­a­tion when rem­e­dy­ing break­age. If you find that your break­age is pri­mar­i­ly on the ends of your hair, keep­ing them sealed with heav­ier oils like Jamaican Black Cas­tor Oil can help keep them from snap­ping so eas­i­ly. To help ease mid-shaft breaks, in addi­tion to the sug­ges­tions above, try incor­po­rat­ing leave-in sprays that con­tain pro­teins to help keep hair strong in-between wash days. I like to keep ApHogee Ker­atin and Green Tea Restruc­tur­iz­er Spray, Infu­sium 23 Repair and Renew Pro-Vit­a­min Leave-In (review), and LRC Shake & Go (review) handy for that pur­pose. If you’re tran­si­tion­ing and expe­ri­enc­ing break­age, you must be extra care­ful with the line of demar­ca­tion. Click here to learn more about pre­vent­ing break­age in tran­si­tion­ing hair.

So ladies, how much break­age do you con­sid­er nor­mal? What are some of your tips and tricks for min­i­miz­ing break­age?

Christina Patrice

Born, raised, and liv­ing in Los Ange­les, Christi­na is BGLH’s res­i­dent tran­si­tion­ing expert and prod­uct junkie. In addi­tion to lov­ing all things hair, she is a fit­ness novice and advo­cate of wear­ing san­dals year-round. For more infor­ma­tion on tran­si­tion­ing, nat­ur­al hair, and her own hair jour­ney, vis­it maneobjective.com. Or, if you like pic­tures fol­low Christi­na on Insta­gram @maneobjective.

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20 Comments on "How Much Natural Hair Breakage is Normal?"

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CozyVon

I think there’s too much pres­sure to avoid break­age. I do every­thing pos­si­ble to keep my 4c hair healthy–no heat, low manip­u­la­tion, fin­ger detan­gling, LOC method, night silks, you name it. Yet I still see mad bro­ken lit­tle hairs in the sink, lol.
My ends are still thick & healthy (pret­ty much con­sis­tent from the roots to ends) & I do see length reten­tion, so I guess that’s a good sign I’m doing things right, lol. Over­all, I’m try­ing not to stress myself…maintaining good habits are all I can do!

Classy Kassie

10 strands?!?!? My nin­ja try 20–30 shed hairs every­time I wash ! But this is after wear­ing a pro­tec­tive style, then wear­ing it out and not wash­ing for a week. This arti­cle sets us up for unnat­ur­al expec­ta­tions. 2–3 hair strands break­ing????? when I wear my hair straight at least 15 shed hairs come out a day and 15 bro­ken stands a day. I came here to this arti­cle because Im con­cerned about the lat­ter. I only straight­en my hair once a month and no heat styling in between yet I fear 15 bro­ken strands are lit­tle bit much

Jasmine

I’m a 3C nat­ur­al and do EVERYTHING pos­si­ble to take good care of my hair. No chem­i­cals, organ­ic sham­poos, pro­tec­tive styling- you name it. But I recent­ly dis­cov­ered the entire crown sec­tion of hair is about 5 inch­es long where­as the rest of my hair is armpit length. It lit­er­al­ly looks like I’ve got a crow on my head like that Indi­an in Lone Ranger! I have NO clue what I could have done to cause this and it’s got me so depressed.

catherine

I’m going through the same thing right now. I’m 5 yrs, In my nat­ur­al stage. I had been wear­ing a twist out pro­tec­tive style. But about 3 wks ago the crown of head , I was like wait a minute, It was a lot short­er than my waist length hair. To me it’ s just hair a lit­tle set back. I just cut it all down close to that short length. And start over. I just got to get my break­ing under of con­trol and not use that twist out as my proac­tive style any­more.

catherine

I know what you mean.

Crissy B
Ive found that pre poo­ing with a cheap con­di­tion­er like V05 mois­ture or mex­i­can humec­tants (no need to use the expen­sive con­di­tion­ers for this). I mix the con­di­tion­er, water and a lit­tle oil (your choice) and apply to the hair n sec­tions. Put on a con­di­tion­ing cap or plas­tic cap for about 30 mins or longer. The hair will comb right out. Put n braids and rinse and con­di­tion again for a few min­utes, I like aussie 3 min deep con­di­tion­er for my show­ers …and keep the hair n braids. Mois­tur­ize. And seal. And when dry take the braids down… Read more »
Summer

I’m going to try this!

Essence

10 strands? I didn’t even know it was pos­si­ble to ONLY have 10 strands of break­age. I’m doomed.

kia

I was think­ing about this ear­li­er whilst wash­ing my hair. The only sure fire way to avoid break­age is to not touch your hair. To be real­is­tic, it’s unavoid­able to stop break­age if you’re manip­u­late your hair in any form or fash­ion even if it is a few strands. To me, I’m com­fort­able with a few bro­ken strands of hair. I know what’s nor­mal and what’s not. As soon as my break­age or shed­ding peaks that lev­el, then I’m con­cerned.

Relaxed Thairapy

My hair use to break a lot but with increased pro­tein use, I’ve been able to calm it tremen­dous­ly. I detan­gle in the show­er so it’s hard to gauge what I’m los­ing to break­age but I try to lim­it my out of show­er break­age to no more than 10 strands.

Tanya Danielle Faison
Tanya Danielle Faison

In cos­mo school, we learned that the aver­age per­son loos­es 100 strands a day. If you con­stant­ly have your hair in pro­tec­tive styling, or have min­i­mal fric­tion, you will see a lot more then 10 strands come wash day…and its noth­ing to wor­ry about..its nor­mal.

Fatima

I believe you’re refer­ring to shed­ding. This arti­cle is about break­age.

roopyroof

I tried fin­ger de-tan­gling and not using any combs to style my hair, and I just end­ed up with a tan­gled mess, which led to more break­age. How can i keep my hair detan­ta­n­gled whilst using low manip­u­la­tion tech­niques to main­tain it? It seems impos­si­ble for my hiar :(

clever_moniker
I spritz my hair until fair­ly damp and fin­ger detan­gle in sec­tions with coconut oil. Dur­ing con­di­tion­ing, I fur­ther detan­gle with a very wide tooth comb. That has helped me immense­ly. I was on the verge of not using combs but my kinky hair just need­ed wider teeth. Just comb the ends out first and work up to the roots. After mois­tur­iz­ing and seal­ing hair that’s about 70% dry, I braid or twist my it up and style the stretched hair in updos using bob­by pins through­out the week. I take down my styles mid week to spritz. That process… Read more »
curlgirl

try fin­ger de-tan­gling gen­tly then use a comb..you can also try to keep your hair in a stretched state that helps

Me

if i only had “10 or less lit­tle wisps of hair” break­ing off, i wouldn’t even notice break­age. those are the kin­da “facts” i straight up ignore from so called hair gurus. i’ve seen videos of women doing their wash rou­tines or their styles who show the ball of hair that they lose in the process. even for the women who have real­ly long, near­ly butt length hair, those balls of hair are way more than 10 lit­tle strands of break­age plus shed­ding.

C

My hair breaks much more than this when­ev­er I detangle…I’m very wor­ried

curlgirl

don’t be every­one hair is different…look at the ends of the hair that has come off..if t has a white ball at the end its normal..if not try to be more gen­tle and even incor­po­rate more pro­tein in your reg­i­men.

C

I didn’t know pro­tein helped with break­age. I haven’t been doing any pro­tein treatments…maybe I should start. Thank you!

tasha

I would sug­gest ORS Hair May­on­naise if you haven’t found any­thing yet. :) but be sure not to use them too often because too much pro­tein can break it off more as well

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