First of all, what is breakage and how is it different from shedding?
Shedding: shed hair is hair that has reached the end of its growing cycle and naturally falls from the scalp along with its tiny, white “root” attached. This is not the actual hair root that is secured deeply within your scalp, but it is the bulb root or base of the hair strand found on the scalp-originating end. Shed hairs tend to be longer than broken hairs. According to research, the average person sheds 50-100 hairs a day.
Breaking: this is hair that has been forced to break due to mishandling, dryness or chemicals. Broken hairs usually start by splitting which eventually leads to breakage. This is why you are often told to trim your split ends since they will break eventually.
Causes of breakage and the solutions:
There are numerous reasons for breakage, below are the main ones. If the cause is not mechanical or chemical, it may be a health issue. Analyse what you do to your hair regularly to determine which causes may apply.
- Over manipulation: do you constantly put your hair into styles that require lots of manipulation? i.e combing, twisting etc. This can cause breakage because you are constantly handling your hair and putting pressure on the hair strands. The more you let it be, the less the chance of breakage. Opt for protective styles that your hair can hold for 3 to 4 days at a time or simply braid, weave or wig it for a few weeks at a time. Be careful how the braids and weaves are done though because badly done weaves and braids can actually cause breakage too.
- Over use of heat: During my relaxed hair days, I bought a new flat iron and went on a flat ironing spree. I proceeded to see my hair visibly reduce in length over a month long period. Don’t use heat on hair often and when you do, try to use lower temperatures to minimise the damage heat can cause. In addition, try and use heat protectant sprays to offer some protection to your hair.
- Lack of moisture: If your hair is dry, the strands will be brittle and break at the slightest manipulation. Make sure to moisturize your hair regularly. Be mindful of the types of products you are using too, some can cause dryness. Natural non toxic products are better for moisture rentention. For example, I use a shampoo by Earthsapp (available in Spar) that has no sulphates, parabens, bad alcohols and glycols.
- Lack of protein: If your hair lacks protein, it lacks strength and again will break easily. Do regular protein treatments to keep your hair strong. Read more on protein and moisture balance here.
- Using the wrong tools: If you use combs on your hair, they should be wide tooth combs. Smaller combs will get stuck in your hair and cause breakage. Brushes are also no good. Some brushes that are specially made for curly hair work for some e.g. Denman brush. However, everything else won’t do your hair any favors. Use your fingers or wide teeth combs for detangling. Styling can also be done with your fingers depending on how well stretched your hair is.
- Using the wrong detangling method: All combing or detangling should be done from tip down to root. Hair that is beyond 5-6 inches long will have to be done in sections. Due to the density of the curls or kinks of natural hair, you cannot expect to put a comb in at the root and have it come out at the tip without breaking a lot of hair along the way and making you cry out in pain. Be gentle, and go from tip to root. After each section is done, twist it and move to the next. Personally I only need to do this once a week and the rest of the week, my fingers are sufficient. Some naturals only detangle once a month. Figure out what works for you.
- Detangling or styling when hair is very wet or dry: All manipulation should only happen when the hair has some kind of lubricant like oil, hair butter or conditioner on it. I only detangle after applying moisturizer and oil/shea butter. Some choose to do their detangling when the hair has conditioner. In the morning, I only style my hair after it has been generously sprayed. The moisture makes my hair more flexible for styling.
- Dyeing hair then not caring for it: dyed hair needs extra care in comparison to hair that is not. If you are not ready to go the extra mile after dyeing it, don’t do it. I had a lot of breakage after dyeing my hair and it was only after I cut away the dyed ends that I began to retain length again. If you insist on dyeing, try and use natural dyes like henna.
At the end of the day, there always will be some form of breakage but you can minimise it. The best way to stop excessive breakage in it’s tracks is to cut off the breaking ends and start afresh, being careful not to make the same mistakes again. Trim regularly as needed to prevent split ends from becoming damaged and broken and you will see yourself begin to retain length.