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Does Heat Styling Damage Hair: Myths and Facts

Last update: Sep 21, 2017 09:11, April Williams

What Happens to the Hair During Heat Styling?

There are about 100,000 hair follicles on the head, and each hair has a complicated structure. Its shaft consists of three layers: inner (medulla), middle (cortex), and outer (cuticle).

Inner or medulla layer contains a special substance — keratin, an essential protein, thanks to which our hair is shiny, elastic, and smooth.

The cortex layer is responsible for the flexibility of the hair; it also contains melanin — the pigment that gives it a certain color.

The cuticle (outer layer) has a protective barrier function. Its condition directly affects the overall health of the hair.

If you look at a strand of hair through a microscope, you will see that the cuticle resembles a roof-like tile. Like the purpose of a roof, the cuticle protects each hair from external influences. The closer the cuticle is adjacent to the hair shaft, the more healthy, elastic, and the less likely to it is to break.

We always try to save time and we are always in a hurry. So, we often make a terrible mistake, drying and styling it right after washing, though it is necessary to wait at least 15-20 minutes. Why?

The cuticle “scales” in wet hair are more opened or raised. Therefore, the heat during drying causes damage and breakage of cuticle fragments. As a result, the hair shaft becomes more thin and fragile due to the cuticle damage and the cortex substance becomes more vulnerable to various chemical and physical factors (like chlorinated water). Gradually, protein keratin, which makes up 85-90% of the total hair weight, thermally degrades.

Unfortunately, we cannot completely abandon drying and styling nowadays. So, here is a simple rule — the less, the better. Try to give your hair a rest from the thermal procedures on the weekend. You may also try to wash it not in the morning before work, but in the evening, to avoid the morning drying.

2 comment(s)

  1. My hair is extremely damaged from years of straightening with flat irons and not caring for my hair at all throughout my early teenage years. My hair feels like my little Sisters Barbie dolls hair or horse hair. I want to repair the damage I have done, I want soft, fresh hair, like what I had before all the heat damage. I can admit, I wasn’t using any heat protection and quite often I didn’t even brush it before clamping my hair together with my flat iron! – Terrible I know; does anyone have any suggestions?

  2. Trina

    Ok, don’t panic; there are some ways to repair and treat your hair. The first thing you can do to make it look better and restore its body is to get a trim; you don’t have to get a super short cut if that’s not for you, you can leave some length and treat the remaining damaged hair. You should follow a care regimen for damaged hair, including the use of a restorative shampoo, conditioner and styling products. Whenever possible let your hair dry naturally, don’t blow dry; if you need to, use the lowest heat setting. For now, you should avoid coloring your hair especially with harsh chemicals like bleach. Treatment masks can also help rescue your hair. Also if you are going to continue styling your hair with heat, opt for a safer option such as a hair straightening brush as they definitely don’t have the capacity to damage hair as flat irons do. If you are bold enough to chop it all off to a short bob or pixie cut then, by all means, do that, it will give you the possibility to start fresh and undo all the damage at once. I wish you the best of luck.

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