What is damaged hair?

Learn what professionals and product descriptions mean when they describe damaged hair, and find the best routine for you using the most adapted haircare products available.

Hair 101: dry or damaged?

A common mistake made when it comes to hair concerns is confusing dry and damaged hair, which should actually be treated differently.

First you need to understand about the structure of the hair itself. At the heart of the fibre is the hair's cortex, which contains the hair colour (melanin). This core is protected by overlapping scales called cuticles which, on normal healthy hair, lie flat against one-another to strengthen the hair and give it a uniform, shiny appearance. When these cuticles are damaged or weakened, the core is exposed and vulnerable to snapping. When hair snaps off or breaks into split ends, the hair looks frizzy and dull.

They may have similar symptoms (dullness, frizz, coarse texture) but dry and damaged hair are not the same. Dry hair is due to a lack (or the removal of) natural oils that act as lubricants all along the hair fibre. Too much, and the hair looks oily, but too little and the hair dries out. A professional hair stylist will be able to diagnose your hair's condition in more detail, but in general, damaged hair breaks easily when pulled and has visible split ends (due to fragile bonds), while dry hair is often accompanied by white flakes of skin and a coarse, rough texture.

How can hair become damaged?

Hair can become damaged for multiple reasons. Everyday environmental phenomena are a common cause: the wind can tangle hair around itself and cause the cuticles to scrape off; the sun's UV rays can burn the fibre; heated tools can weaken the bonds that make up the structure of the hair; pollution can build up on the fibre and cause it to snap; and over-colouring (or incorrect colouring) can leave the cuticles permanently open.

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Different levels of damaged hair

Level 1: With this level of damage, hair scales/cuticles are jagged, with some of them lifted or broken; but the hair's internal cortex is not yet fully exposed. The hair is slightly dry with less shine, duller colour and thinner ends.

Level 2: hair damage sees cuticle abrasion, which means that the external layer is scraped off and the internal cortex could be unprotected and vulnerable to damage in some areas of the hair fibre. At this hair damage level the number of cuticle layers decreases, with a large number of scales jagged and lifted and possibly an exposed cortex. Hair will have a rough texture, with a dull appearance, an uneven colour balance and the development of split ends.

Level 3: This is the highest level of hair damage. The cuticle is very damaged, with parts of it withered away completely. The cortex is exposed and can be weakened. At this level the hair's surface texture is very coarse and deconstructed with no shine, faded colour and split ends.

How to prevent damaged hair

If you colour your hair (or are going to), damage protection starts in-salon. Ask your L'Oréal Professionnel stylist about how to prevent damage during the colour process.

The next step is to use the right haircare routine for damaged hair. The Absolut Repair Molecular Range, formulated with amino acids and Peptides bonder, was created to repair damaged hair on a molecular level.

For hair that has already been damaged, or showing signs of fragility or thin ends, Pro Longer has been formulated with amino acids, which are proteins that can help protect the hair from future damage. The weekly Pro Longer hair treatment can help provide strength and durable thickness to ends.

Of course, when it comes to styling, don't forget how heated styling tools can seriously damage the quality of the hair fibre. A heat protectant spray will give extra support against damage, but it is still recommended to reduce the use of heated styling tools (flat iron, curling iron etc.) as much as possible. There are ways to style hair without them!

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