Brittle Hair: Causes, Treatment, Prevention

Brittle Hair: Causes, Treatment, Prevention


Brittle hair is damaged hair that is weak, dry, dull, or rough-looking. When the hair shaft (the visible part of the hair that sticks out of the skin) becomes damaged, it becomes more fragile and more prone to breakage. To prevent further damage to the hair, it is important to address and treat dry, brittle hair as soon as symptoms occur.

To help strengthen dry, brittle strands and to restore moisture, there are both at-home remedies and professional treatments that can help. With proper care and a bit of patience, it is possible to nurse brittle hair back to health over time.

Common symptoms of brittle hair include dullness, frizziness, roughness, loss of shine, and dryness. If brittle hair is not treated or addressed early enough, it becomes more fragile and can lead to hair thinning or hair that eventually breaks.

In order to effectively treat brittle hair, it is necessary to identify the root cause, which will then determine the best treatment to restore and revive hair health.

Brittle hair is caused by damage to the hair shaft, which can occur because of many external and internal factors. These include environmental exposures (such as pollution, dry air, and humidity), hair coloring, excessive hair washing, and chemical treatments (such as perms and in-salon straightening treatments).

Other causes of brittle, dry hair include nutrient deficiencies, eating disorders (such as anorexia), overuse of harsh soaps or alcohols, medical conditions such as underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism), hormone conditions, and Menkes kinky hair syndrome, a genetic disorder where the body is unable to properly absorb and deliver copper to the body’s organs.

Additionally, research shows that shampoos, hair-straightening products, and hair dyes may change the structure of the hair fiber, remove beneficial fatty acids from the hair, and lead to protein loss.

Although the causes of brittle hair are complex, a medical provider can help you determine the exact cause. There are also a number of treatments and at-home remedies you can try that will help restore hair health and strength.

Brittle hair is weakened, damaged hair that needs some extra TLC. Fortunately, there are a couple methods that can either prevent or recover the damage that causes brittle, weak hair.

Applying a deep conditioner, which is more concentrated than regular conditioner, can help improve dry, brittle hair. Research shows that applying a deep conditioner for 20 to 30 minutes once per week is enough to see benefits. Additionally, in one study, researchers found that regular use of refined coconut oil, which penetrates the hair strand and acts as an occlusive agent to lock in moisture, can help strengthen hair.

Limiting your use of blow-dryers and other heat tools (such as hair straighteners) to once a week or less can help preserve the integrity of your hair. If you need to use heat tools more often, use a lower heat setting. Whenever possible, let hair air-dry.

There are a number of ways to care for dry, brittle hair to maintain hair health, build strength, and prevent further damage that could result in hair thinning and breaking. Try the following methods and tips to help prevent and maintain overall hair health:

  • Master the proper way to shampoo: Gently massage (don’t rub) shampoo into your scalp and rinse, letting the shampoo flow through the length of your hair. Additionally, use a gentle, sulfate-free shampoo to prevent further damage to brittle strands.
  • Don’t brush hair while wet: Brushing hair while wet can cause damage – instead, use a wide-tooth comb. If you have textured hair or hair with tight curls, comb while damp with a wide-tooth comb. If you have straight hair, allow hair to dry a bit before combing it with a wide-tooth comb.
  • Go gentle with weaves and hair extensions: If you wear a weave or have hair extensions, give your hair some breaks in between and wear these at most for 2 or 3 months at a time.
  • Be sun-safe: To protect hair from sun damage, wear a hat while outside or use a leave-in conditioner containing zinc oxide to protect your hair from the harmful effects of UV radiation.
  • Stretch out color and chemical treatments: Try to keep color or chemical treatments to every 8 to 10 weeks. The longer you can stretch appointment times, the better it is for the health of your hair.
  • If necessary, take supplements: A blood test can determine if you are deficient in hair-supportive vitamins such as zinc, iron, or biotin. If you are deficient, your medical provider or dermatologist can recommend which supplements may be beneficial for the health of your hair.

Brittle hair can be treated at home using the right treatments and preventative measures. However, if you aren’t seeing a marked improvement in your hair after several months of gentle treatments or if you are experiencing hair thinning or breakage, then you should schedule an appointment with a board-certified dermatologist. Sometimes, brittle hair may be a sign of an underlying medical condition or may require prescription treatment or an in-office procedure.

At your appointment, your dermatologist may examine your hair under a microscope, take blood tests, or take a small sample of skin from your scalp (a scalp biopsy) to help diagnose the cause of your brittle hair or hair loss.

Brittle hair is dry, weak hair that results from damage to the hair shaft. If brittle hair is not cared for or treated properly, it can become more fragile and eventually lead to thinning and breakage.

Treatments for dry, brittle hair include weekly use of deep conditioners, reducing the use of heat tools, prescription medications, and in-office treatments such as PRP. There are also numerous ways to prevent brittle hair, which include protecting your hair from the sun while outside, being gentle with shampooing and styling, and taking supplements if you are deficient in any nutrients.

If at-home remedies for brittle hair are not effective or you experience hair loss, thinning or breakage, schedule an appointment with a dermatologist for diagnosis and further care. In some cases, brittle hair will require professional treatments, prescription medications, or a combination of both.

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