“Hair is fiber, much like wool,” says Paradi Mirmirani, MD, a staff dermatologist at the Permanente Medical Group in Vallejo, Calif. “It’s bundled together tightly in the middle and protected on the outside by a cuticle.”
Every hair has three layers — the inner fibers make up the medulla; the cortex surrounds the medulla; and the cuticle is the outer layer that protects the inner, more sensitive components from damage, Mirmirani says.
Each hair grows about 1/4 inch every month out of a follicle on your head, and it can keep growing for up to six years. Then as part of the natural cycle of hair, it will fall out and make way for a new hair.
How long your hair is depends on how long your growing cycle lasts. If it’s only two years instead of six, your hair will naturally peak at a shorter length. The same goes for the thickness of your hair: Thick hair grows out of large follicles; smaller, narrower follicles produce thinner hair.
Worse, for men and women alike, a person goes bald if the hair follicles that produce a new hair shrink in size or become inactive.
The circle of life for a hair, however, depends on a lot of things, and styling is one of them: The more you style, the more you change the natural makeup of your hair. And although the amount and intensity of styling a person’s hair can take depends on genetics, the texture of your hair, and its coarseness, less is always more when it comes to hair health.
“If the cuticle of a hair is damaged as a result of overstyling, the inner core is exposed, causing dryness, a lack of luster, and static,” Mirmirani says.
Basically, your quest for beauty backfires.
Causes of Hair Damage
So as we perm and color our way to the hair we want, when we want it, are we actually doing more harm than good to our locks? Here are eight ways our beauty habits cause hair damage:
1. Bleaching — “Bleaching your hair penetrates the cuticle with chemicals and removes your natural pigment,” Mirmirani says. “You are changing the structure of your hair, making it more susceptible to damage.”
Once you bleach, she explains, you’ve altered the strength of your hair, making it weaker. If you add blow drying and styling on top of bleaching, you can really damage your ‘do, causing hair breakage, a dull look, and split ends.
2. Perms — “Perming refers to either a chemical straightening or a chemical curling,” Mirmirani says. “It works by breaking the inner bonds of the hair and re-forming them back together in a different way.”
Like bleaching, it weakens your hair, leaving it dull and damaged over time so that instead of luxurious curly locks or shiny straight tresses, your hair looks brittle and dry.
3. Highlights and coloring — Highlights and semi-permanent dyes aren’t as damaging as bleach, but they aren’t without consequences, Mirmirani says. They can also change the inner structure of the hair, causing a lackluster look and dryness, especially if you frequently color to hide roots or gray hair.