Understanding heat-damaged hair and its irreversible effects

In an effort to comprehend the irreversible nature of heat-damaged hair, it is essential to delve into the intricate realm of hair structure

author_img Team Indulge & IANS Published :  22nd August 2023 01:16 PM   |   Published :   |  22nd August 2023 01:16 PM
Understanding heat-damaged hair and its irreversible effects

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Heat-styled hair may grant a momentary boost in glamour, but beneath the surface, the story takes a darker turn. Can heat-damaged hair be reversed? The resounding answer, according to Jamien Lim, Senior Hair Research Scientist from Dyson, is that heat damage is an irreversible ordeal. Once the delicate protein bonds are broken and the protective hair cuticles are shattered, the inner cortex is exposed to a slew of damaging factors, leaving it feeble and less resilient.

The progression of heat-induced hair damage is insidious. Initial splits manifest at the tips, where the hair is most weathered and fragile. Yet, these breaches in the hair's defence mechanism are not content to stay confined. Gradually, they creep up the hair shaft, splitting multiple times along the way, amplifying the destruction. The hair, now bereft of its once-cherished elasticity, becomes a prime candidate for breakage. Inevitably, weakened strands snap, giving rise to those troublesome flyaways that disrupt even the most meticulously crafted hairstyles.

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In an effort to comprehend the irreversible nature of heat-damaged hair, it is essential to delve into the intricate realm of hair structure. Each hair strand is an assembly of keratin, a protein endowed with a natural curvature referred to as the alpha helix. This configuration, present in both straight and curly hair, is profoundly influenced by heat. The catalyst for irreversible damage is excessive temperatures exceeding 400°F (approximately 204°C), which trigger a transformation in the very structure of the protein bonds.

As temperatures soar, the alpha helix, akin to a delicate sculpture, succumbs to melting. This metamorphosis, once instigated, is indelible, leaving the hair eternally moulded in the shape dictated by the molten keratin bonds. It's important to acknowledge that hair growth beyond the follicle entails dead cells that lack the adaptability to rectify the damage. The realm of repair is thus closed, harbouring the permanence of the inflicted harm.

An imperative question arises: what prompts this traumatic alteration? The chief culprits are the commonly employed styling tools – the hair dryer, flat iron, and curling wand. Set at their highest temperature settings, these instruments unleash a torrent of heat upon the unsuspecting tresses, causing irreversible damage over extended periods. This indiscriminate assault is not discriminatory; it impacts hair of all types, from sleek and straight to tightly coiled.

The indicators of heat-damaged hair, though grievous, serve as beacons guiding those who seek to mitigate or prevent this hair crisis. Eight telltale signs emerge:

  1. Dryness and dullness: The hallmark shine of hair hinges on intact cuticles. When these protective layers are compromised, lustre fades. Hair that emerges from a wash should glisten, but if it appears lacklustre, this is often the harbinger of heat damage. The absence of proper moisture retention further exacerbates dullness, leaving strands brittle and susceptible to fracturing.

  2. Split ends and breakage: Elasticity, a pillar of hair strength, wanes in the face of frequent heat exposure. Consequently, split ends manifest, destabilizing the hair's structural integrity and escalating the risk of breakage. The consistent application of high heat further diminishes elasticity, inviting further damage.

  3. Flyaways: These rebellious wisps signify the aftermath of breakage, representing short strands that have severed near the roots. Controlling flyaways becomes a formidable challenge, capable of undermining even the most polished hairstyles.

  4. Altered texture: The tactile experience reveals transformation. Formerly springy curls may lose their vivacity, while once-smooth straight hair can turn coarse and rough. The sensation might be likened to fraying or singeing at the tips.

  5. Knots and tangles: Hair cuticles, much like shingles, interlock harmoniously. The damage disrupts this harmony, causing these "shingles" to protrude and resulting in knots and tangles that resist combing and brushing, subsequently exacerbating the risk of breakage.

  6. Incorrect Hair Color: The hair's porous nature following damage hampers colour retention. This manifests as excessive dye absorption, rendering the colour darker than intended. Moreover, damaged hair tends to lose colour swiftly during washes due to its heightened porosity.

  7. Hair loss: With 80,000 to 120,000 hairs adorning the average human head, shedding is natural. Yet, weakened strands resulting from heat damage elevate the occurrence of hair loss, presenting a poignant reminder of the damage endured.

  8. Rough or changed texture: When the alpha helix in the hair's keratin is heated above 400°F, it melts and the change is permanent. Hair doesn't have active cells beyond the follicle, making it impossible for cells to repair damage. The damage accumulates over time, making consistent heat styling particularly detrimental.

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While the prospect of repairing damaged hair remains futile, awareness of the signs paves the way for early intervention and the restoration of hair to a healthier state. It's a reminder that in the pursuit of beauty, caution is paramount to ensure the vitality and resilience of our crowning glory.