Hair fragility

Hair fragility is hair that is dry, brittle, and breaks easily with minimal amount of handling. It can lead to hair loss. Hair care practices and styling techniques can lead to fragile hair. African, African-American, and Afro-Caribbean hair tends to be fragile.

You are at higher risk for fragile hair if:

You are of African descent.

Hair follicles in most people of African descent are shaped like an oval, giving way to many possible breaking points along the hair shaft. This results in hair curling and twisting when coming out of the scalp. 

Your hair is tightly curled.

Sebum, a natural moisturizer produced by oil glands, has a hard time traveling down the hair shaft when tightly curled. Water loss and damage to the hair is a highly likely consequence.

You use chemical relaxers.

Chemical relaxers work by breaking disulfide bonds in the hair to loosen the curl. As a result, hair is weaker because proteins are stripped in the process. 

It is impossible to repair fragile hair as the hair shaft is a non-living tissue. 

Ways to prevent further damage to your hair:

Washing

Sebum is a natural moisturizer that attracts dirt and dust between shampoos. Shampooing your hair removes sebum and buildup from styling products.

How often you should shampoo depends on your hair type, curl pattern, and the condition of your hair. We recommend washing your hair once a week for most people with tightly curled hair. If your hair is very dry, brittle, or damaged, wash your hair with conditioner once a week and shampoo one to two times a month.

Chemicals in shampoos clean hair differently. Shampoos that have a chemical called sodium lauryl/laureth sulfate clean hair well, but can make hair overly dry and more likely to break.

Conditioning

Use rinse-out and/or leave-in conditioners to protect and better manage your hair. Use deep conditioners if you have dry hair for these are thicker and can be left on hair under heat for 10 to 30 minutes.

Moisturizing

  • It is important to retain moisture in your hair.
  • If you have long and/or voluminous hair, part it in sections when applying product. This will ensure that product is spread evenly.
  • If you have fine, straight hair, use a light moisturizer so it does not weigh your hair down.
  • If you have thick, curly, or dense hair, use a thicker moisturizer.

After washing your hair

  • Gently pat hair dry with a soft cotton T-shirt.
  • Apply leave-in conditioner to hair.
  • Apply moisturizing cream and/or oil to hair. Coconut oil has been shown to minimize water and protein loss from damaged hair if used before and/or after washing your hair.
  • Detangle your hair with fingers or a wide-tooth comb.

Hair styling

When styling your hair:

  • Part it and work in sections.
  • Use protective styles, such as braids and twists, to keep your hair lengthened while preventing tangles.
  • Use as little thermal styling as possible. This includes blow dryers and flat irons.

If you use a relaxer:

  • Space the treatment out as much as possible. Every 8 to 12 weeks is ideal.
  • Part your hair and put petroleum jelly on your scalp and hairline before applying the relaxer.
  • Put the relaxer only on unprocessed hair closest to your scalp.
  • Do not leave the relaxer on for longer than instructed.

Hair maintenance

Trim or cut your hair every two to four months. This will reduce the number of split ends and single-strand knots.

Tip: Wrap your hair underneath a satin or silk scarf at night or tie it up in a ponytail at the top of your head. This will help lessen breakage and tangling. A silk pillow case can also be used.

Methods, styles, and products that work for one person’s hair may not work for yours, as everybody has a different hair texture.

Last reviewed: 
January 2020

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