Reverse Damaged Hair Today

Shiny, bouncy, healthy hair -- it’s every woman’s best beauty asset. But as much as we treasure our tresses, we put them through a lot of torture. Blow-dryers, flat irons, hair dyeing or bleaching, chemical straightening and tight ponytails can leave our hair dry, fried and unable to hold a style. Hair expert John Gray, author of The World of Hair, explains all this rough handling strips away your mane’s outer protective layer -- the “F” layer -- leading to a degradation of the cortex, the central core of the hair shaft. Ouch!

Dire as that sounds, with just a few tweaks to your hair care routine, your damaged hair will act, look and feel healthy while you prevent future harm. “Hair care technology has come a long way,” says Pantene senior scientist Jeni Thomas. “You can still color your hair, use styling tools or spend time out in the sun and have great hair -- as long as you are taking the right steps to protect it.”

Here’s how to mend your damaged hair from the four main types of assault.

If you dye or lighten your hair, staying within two shades of your natural color will be far less damaging than going from dark brown to blond -- or the other way around. When you touch up your hair at home with permanent or semipermanent color, focus on the roots so you’re not processing your porous ends again.

Be cautious about exposing your color-processed hair to chemical straightening or permanent waves. If you love the results you get with chemical straightening, talk to your stylist about switching to a gentler process that improves the texture of your hair -- leaving it soft, glossy and manageable rather than pin-straight.

Use a shampoo and conditioner formulated for colored hair. Chemical treatments alter the structure of the hair and these products contain ingredients, such as certain polymers, that enhance this new structure.

Heat Damage
The highest setting of your flat iron, curling iron and blow-dryer may actually exceed the boiling point of water. Instead of poaching your tresses, apply a heat-protecting spray and use the lowest setting that will allow you to get the results you want and maintain your healthy hair. Don’t blow-dry your hair when it’s sopping wet; wait until it’s two-thirds dry, or blot with a towel to absorb extra moisture. When you use your flat iron, keep it moving: Try to go through each section of hair only once.

Look for hair care products that contain the words “moisturizing” or “hydrating” on the label; these will provide your thirsty locks with the restorative drink they need.

Rough Handling
Use only a wide-tooth comb to detangle wet hair. Cut down on how frequently and aggressively you brush your hair. Forget the 100 nightly strokes maxim and use the minimum number of brush strokes that are needed to achieve or refresh your style. If you wear a ponytail, be sure to use seamless elastics and take care when you remove them; carelessly ripping out your pony holder can lead to breakage. If you already have signs of breakage, such as flyways around the crown, use a smoothing cream. Rub a dime-size amount between your palms, then lightly apply to your flyaway zones.

Sun Exposure
Just as UV rays damage your skin, they also wreak havoc on your locks, weakening the protein structure that keeps hair strong and healthy. The best way to protect your healthy hair from damage on a sunny day is to wear a hat; choose one with a wide brim and you’ll protect your skin too. If your tresses have already seen more sunny days than you can count, choose a shampoo and conditioner that are designed to strengthen your hair, and pick the formula that’s right for your texture (fine/fragile or medium/thick).