How Much Natural Hair Breakage is Normal?

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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

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 thoughts on “How Much Natural Hair Breakage is Normal?

    • 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.

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

        • 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

  1. 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.

  2. 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 :(

    • 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 has worked well for me.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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 and ur hair will feel so greatly soft. Bc when u put the water in the conditioner, this opens the shaft to let the oil and conditioner in. Just a detanglimg method that works for me amd my daughter. Hope it helps someone here.

  7. 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.

    • 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.

  8. 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

  9. 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!

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