What Does Heat Damaged Hair Look Like?

It has been said that a woman's hair is her crowning glory. And we all know how amazing we feel when we're having a great hair day. We walk into a room with a bit more confidence. 

But in order to get that perfect curls or slick straight style, we use styling tools that produce a lot of heat. And this can damage our hair. So what should you do if your crown looks and feels dry and damaged, like a wilting desert plant with thorns?

You're probably wondering what does heat damaged hair look like? But first...

How does heat damage happen?

Let's first discuss what happens when heat damages hair. Heat damage happens when we incorrectly use hair styling tools. This can be a hairdryer, curling iron, hot rollers, basically anything we use on our hair that uses high temperatures for styling purposes.

(Left) The 3 layers of each hair strand

Our hair consists of three layers called the medulla, which is the inner layer, the cortex that surrounds the medulla, and the cuticle, which is the outer layer. The function of the cuticle is to protect your hair.

In his video, Does Heat Damage Your Hair?, TheSalonGuy uses the technical term “frying” when describing heat damage. Frying, or in extreme cases singeing, happens when too much moisture is removed from the cuticle layer of the hair strand.


READ: How To Repair Heat Damaged Hair

Imagine making chips in the oven. If you leave them in too long they become dry and burnt. Same with your hair. If we leave the heat on our hair for too long, without taking the necessary precautions, we fry it. This causes the shine and luster to leave and invite the dry and unmanageable in.

How do you know if your hair is heat damaged?

1. Your ends are split

Look closely at the ends of your hair. If it resembles a little palm tree with the ends standing in all directions, you are suffering from split ends.

You can also do this easy test at home. Take a small section of your hair, wrap it around a pen or your finger. If you see any uneven strands sticking out, it is a sign that you have split ends that could have been caused by heat damage.

2. The shine and radiance is gone

Healthy Hair vs Damaged Hair

One of the most telling signs that your hair is damaged is when you notice that it has lost its shine and radiance. If you look under a microscope, healthy hair has a smooth surface because the cuticles fit together like a perfect puzzle. But damaged hair looks like dried out tree bark and straw. 

This happens when the cuticle or outer layer has been stripped of natural oil and moisture due to incorrect or overuse of heat. As the hair shaft loses moisture, the cuticles shrink and the puzzle pieces won't fit together anymore.

Check Out: Which oils are best used for heat protection?

3. A spongy and matted mess when wet

When your hair becomes matted, even spongy when you wash it, it is due to porosity issues. With healthy hair, the cuticles have the ability to absorb moisture between the finely packed layers because of the capillary action.

If, like me, you have no idea what capillary action means, Wiki describes it as “the ability of a liquid to flow in narrow spaces without the assistance of, or even in opposition to, external forces like gravity”. This same action allows that beautiful bouquet of flowers to slurp up water and stay perky and fresh.

READ: Do heat protectants work?

So imagine damaged hair for a second. The cuticles are broken and not closely “packed” together which means the water cannot remain in the hair shaft and you end up with rigid, un-malleable hair.

4. You notice more breakage

Normal, healthy, undamaged hair should be able to stretch 50% it's normal length when wet and 20% when its dry before it breaks. A simple way to test this is to take one hair and stretch it. See how far it will go before it breaks.

You may also notice that you have to clean your hairbrush more often and that the hair from the hairbrush is not full length. If you notice short pieces of hair in the brush or in the bath, your hair's elasticity might be compromised.

RELATED: Best Curling Iron For Damaged Hair

5. Your hair color fades rapidly

If you dye your hair and notice that the color is not lasting as well as it used to, it might be a sign that your hair is damaged. Even though dyeing your hair can hurt it, by using the correct products you should minimize the damage and keep your color for longer. Dyed hair should be treated with the utmost care, especially when using heat because any chemical treatment weakens hair.

6. It's overly porous

When talking about hair's porosity there are basically three states that your hair can be in. Normal hair has some porosity, which means that it can easily absorb some moisture and it can retain that moisture. When hair has no porosity, the cuticles are compact and the hair can not absorb any additional moisture and it retains whatever moisture it has.

Porous hair is very absorbent of moisture, but it also loses moisture very easily. The cuticles on the hair shaft are loosely packed and open. In this state, your hair feels dry to the touch and can break or get damaged further if left untreated.

Check Out: How To Use A Heat Protectant Spray On Hair

7. It tangles easily

tangled dry hair

If you notice that your hair tangles more easily and there are more knots to untie than usual, it may be a sign that your hair has been damaged by an overload of heat.

The reason why your hair tangles easily are because the cuticles are more open and they get caught to one another like velcro. Healthy hair is smooth and slides past each other preventing the entanglement.

8. Your hair falls out

If your hair is falling out at a more rapid rate than the normal 50 to 100 hairs we lose per day, it may be a sign that your hair has been damaged by heat. There might be other circumstances contributing to the hair fall but it's best to look at all the reasons in order to choose the correct way to fix it.

READ: Make Your Own Heat Protectant at Home


So in conclusion, if you realize that you have damaged your hair with heat, my heart goes out to you. We have all done it at some time, so don't feel alone. And there are always ways to fix it. Maybe this is a sign that you need to go to a salon to get pampered because you and your hair is worth it. As always, before you use any hairstyling tool, make sure to use a heat protectant before curling or straightening hair.

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Image Credits: Deposit Photos

Last Updated: October 30, 2019

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