Let's preface this by saying that if you've damaged your hair with heat and chemicals, the chances are that you won't actually be able to repair that damage. If the hair feels like straw, if the ends fuzz out in a weird pouffy cloud after drying, if your hair refuses to hold any colour and if the ends feel rubbery when they're wet, the very best thing you can do is cut that damage out. I had great intentions last year of growing my hair long and swishing its voluptuous redness in people's faces, but the damage was so severe I knew it would look awful anyway. I started the long process of gradually cutting it out. With hindsight, it may have been better to go for a pixie crop again and get rid of the lot. I really didn't want to do that, though.
It's actually incredibly easy to damage your hair beyond repair. The last time I took it to breaking point was when I was a peroxide blonde who hit the bleach one too many times. After a balmy beach holiday where I exposed my platinum locks to sun, salt and chlorine, an attempt at toning down the whiteness with a brown box colour turned it grey and rubbery to the point where I had to chop it off and avoid even a brush for several weeks.
This time it was the pursuit of gingery red that killed it. I have very fine hair, which really shouldn't be receiving chemicals too often. I also wash it every day, blowdry most days and do all I can to boost the volume with products and backcombing. The problem with shifting from richer reds to lighter, more orange tones was that washing every day meant that the colour ended up a strange yellowy blonde within 10 days. I'd then top it up with more permanent colour, because there weren't any matching semi-permanents. Every time I did this it made the hair more porous, meaning that each application seemed to hold the colour less than the last. The cycle continued. The final straw was when I attempted using henna. It didn't take on the rich colour I expected, it was more a bizarre bleachy orange tone. To fix this I had to add more chemicals and my hair began waving a white flag.
Other than cutting it all out, there are some things you can do to make the hair look better while you grow it out and protect the new hair as it grows in. Here are some tips I've picked up along the way as I begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
DAMAGED HAIR SOLUTIONS
- Get regular trims - I get mine cut around every six weeks to ensure I'm taking out the worst damage at regular intervals.
- Wash it less often - This just doesn't work for me at the moment as my hair is so fine it looks a mess after one day. If you can get away with leaving more time between shampoos you should definitely take it. My current favourite dry shampoo is mentioned further down.
- Switch to restorative shampoo and conditioner - With fine hair, it killed me ditching my thickening shampoo and conditioner for one that flattened it out with moisture, but using Pantene Pro-V's Repair & Protect range was probably the one change that made a big difference to the texture of my hair and made it presentable.
- Strengthen what you've got - The damaged hair and the new hair growing through will be weak, especially if it's fine. Using a strengthening product to make it more robust will reduce further damage. Kérastase Resistance Reconstructing Milk made a noticeable difference for me.
- Avoid heat - If you can avoid blowdrying, straighteners and curling wands, that'll give the hair a break, even if you only let it run wild one day a week. No blowdrying at all wasn't an option for me though, so I coated the ends and lengths in a moisturising heat protectant. My favourite is Phyto Phytokeratine Repairing Thermal Protectant Spray and I'm still using it on the very ends.
- Pre-shampoo treatments - If you find you need to wash your roots but would prefer to leave the ends, you can coat them in a pre-shampoo treatment that acts as a hydrating barrier to the water and shampoo. This may be better on longer or thicker hair as I found it too rich for mine, but Lee Stafford Arganoil Pre-Shampoo Treatment certainly did its job.
- Ditch the volumisers - Thickening hair products almost always work by roughing up the shaft of the hair. Not using them for several months was a real challenge, but it really improved the look of the damaged hair in particular by allowing it to be smoother.
- Texturisinng Spray is your friend - Dry texturising spray and even some dry shampoos can bulk out your roots without adding to the damage, meaning you don't have to impregnate the actual hair with any chemicals. For a really gritty feel try Charles Worthington Volume & Bounce Texturising Spray. More recently I've been enjoying Umberto Giannini Glam Hair Backcomb in a Bottle and L'Oreal Elvive Extraordinary Clay Dry Shampoo.
- Don't backcomb - I didn't always stick to this rule, but I tried my hardest only to backcomb the newer, stronger roots that could take some roughing up and always gave it a break the next day. I also use a backcombing brush instead of a comb as its gentler on the hair.
- Reduce hair colour - If you can stop colouring your hair entirely, do it, but it's not something I was prepared to do. If you have a semi-permanent colour that you can switch to as opposed to permanent colour, the reduction in peroxide and ammonia will go a huge way to reduce the stress on your hair. That should be easier if you're a blonde and even more so if you're a brunette. For redheads there is significantly less choice. My compromise was to use permanent colour once every four weeks and then a toner every few days once the fade kicked in. Toner is essentially just a paint that you apply on your hair in the shower to keep the colour looking new. Find a good one and they're the best way to get the porous ends looking like they're holding even colour. By far, My favourite after trying several is Smart Beauty Express Colour Toner, but ColourOn also has some great pigment.
- No piling - A hairdresser recently gave me a tip that if you're colouring your hair at home, you shouldn't pile it on top of your head or wrap it in clingfilm to keep it warm. Any additional heat, even just from pressing the hair into your scalp, can cause damage right up to your roots and not just through the hair that's already damaged.
- Give it time - It can take up to a year and maybe longer to grow out damage, so it's a long haul if you don't want to just chop it all out. This isn't a challenge for the impatient, which is probably why I've been driven mildly mad by it.