There are a lot of products out there — conditioners, serums, shampoos — that promise to heal and restore dry, damaged hair.
Sadly, there's really no way to heal damaged hair. Think about it this way: hair is not a living tissue with regenerative abilities, so it can't heal. It has no nervous system, blood, or living cells.
You can use oils, conditioners, and hydrolyzed proteins to disguise hair issues temporarily, but that stuff is akin to using makeup to improve the appearance of your skin — eventually they'll wash out and you'll be left with the original problem.
Well-formulated, natural conditioners, oil treatments, and masks can absolutely improve texture and appearance of hair and offset more damage with protective ingredients, but these products that make our hair soft and shiny must continually be reapplied to maintain results.
What's the deal with my "dry" hair?
Contrary to popular belief, there's no such thing as “dry” hair. Before you start yelling, hear me out. When someone says "dry," what they're actually referring to is damaged hair. Your strands aren't thirsty; they're hurt and damaged, and can only be made to appear healthier temporarily.
(That said, dry scalp is a real condition. But remember, the hair and scalp are not the same thing.)
There are many different kinds of hair types or textures like coarse, fine, kinky, curly ... but "dry" hair is not a hair type.
To understand damaged hair, it's important to know how it works. Most hair is made of three layers: the inner fiber called the medulla, the middle layer called the cortex, and an outer layer called the cuticle. When hair appears damaged, the cuticle raises, chips, becomes fragile, easily tangled, and loses moisture, luster, and the shine that's created when the cuticle is flat and smooth.
Why is my hair so damaged?
Hair can dehydrate and quickly become damaged for many reasons. Some common causes are overprocessing and color-treating, which can both cause hair to lose moisture and eventually grow brittle if not conditioned continually to help stall more damage. But ultimately, that initial damage has already happened and it's irreversible.
Damaged hair has less elasticity and is prone to breakage and splitting. Split ends are absolutely not repairable and are very challenging to conceal, especially when there are a lot. Another downside to split ends? If they're not removed, the strand will split even farther, faster and unevenly as the hair grows.
Split ends, in a sense, infect hair. So if it's shiny, healthy hair you're after, the only real solution is to trim it regularly. If you're holding onto your split ends because you don't want to "lose your length," know that by not cutting your hair, you're actually contributing to shorter, less healthy-looking hair.
Lack of nutrients internally can also make hair more susceptible to breakage, so it's important to make sure your diet is full of hair-healthy foods, like these.
Split ends can also be caused by silicone and product buildup, mechanical damage from harsh brushing, overexposure to the sun, and heat styling, so think twice before you whip out that blow dryer.
How do I help my hair get healthy?
Weak, damaged hair can be temporarily strengthened by hydrolyzed protein, which can be found in foods like gelatin, anything high in amino acids, and soy.
For brittle, crunchy hair, adding moisture back to your locks is crucial for temporary healing. When applied topically, plant oils like almond, marula, coconut, hemp, jojoba, tamanu, evening primrose, apricot, and argan will temporarily smooth and seal the cuticle, creating the appearance of healthy hair.
When hairs are split, you can camouflage split ends with shea butter (my favorite!). Butters and oils are excellent at creating an occlusive, “breathable” barrier, temporarily concealing split ends.
In addition to making hair look healthier than it is, these oils can also help prevent accelerated damage for brittle hair.
So while it is unfortunately impossible to "heal" damaged hair, there are ways you can manage and maintain it, and instill the habits, practices and knowledge to keep your hair healthy moving forward.