You Can't Repair Damaged Hair. But Here's What You Can Do
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. Hair is not a living tissue with regenerative abilities, so it can't heal. It has no nervous system, blood, or living cells.
Sure, you can use well-formulated, natural conditioners, oil treatments, and masks to improve texture and 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.
What's the deal with "dry" hair?
Contrary to popular belief, there's no such thing as “dry” hair. When someone says "dry," what they're usually 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 technically not a hair type.
To understand damaged hair, it's important to know how hair works1. 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 becomes 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.
How does hair damage?
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. Some hair type's have a cuticle that's naturally lifts easier, and thus are more prone to damage inherently. These hair types can become damaged from things like physical damage (brushing or styling) or overwashing. Ultimately, once 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 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 thinner, less healthy-looking hair. 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.
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.
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, plaint 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.
You cannot truly mend damaged hair. All you can do is trim it off, or in the meantime, condition it with oils. Now, for how often you trim your hair, read up on mindbodygreen's guide to hair trim schedules.
Josh Rosebrook is the creator and founder of Josh Rosebrook Skin and Hair Care. After formulating effective natural treatments for his personal use, he began sharing his knowledge and insight with friends and clients. He is a well known hair stylist in Los Angeles and began developing pure, organic skin and hair care treatments over 13 years ago. His products, tips and interviews have appeared in Vogue, Vanity Fair, Elle, W, Marie Claire, Glamour, Harper’s Bazaar and on Good Morning America.