Let's get to grips with 3 causes of natural hair breakage that you hadn't thought about. Afro and curly hair types are indeed fragile, but some causes of breakage can be avoided by improving our washing, styling, and maintenance habits.
Hair breakage is when your hair strand is put under tension that it can not withstand and it snaps. This is not to be confused with shedding. The key difference between the two is that shedding is a natural part of the growth cycle of your hair.
Whereas breakage is often caused by external factors. It would be near impossible to avoid breakage entirely – even long-term protective styles such as locs experience some breakage over time. However, we can address some causes of natural hair breakage and reduce their impact.
It is important to bear in mind that while there are a lot of natural hair care products on the market promising to repair breakage, or claiming to mend split ends, this kind of damage to your hair strand is irreparable.
What these reconstructors and reparative treatments can do, however, is temporarily mask the signs of breakage by patching up gaps and weak points on your hair strands but they are not long-term solutions. In order to keep seeing the benefits of these treatments, you will have to keep applying them.
Two signs of breakage you can look out for are:
Split ends – these may not always be a simple split into two pieces. They can also manifest as splits along the length of your strand, as well as feathering and multiple splits towards your ends.
Excessive tangling and knotting – these are likely to be more apparent when your hair is particularly dry and you may find that you have more difficulty finger detangling. Or you may find more small curls of hair breaking off during brushing or combing.
It is important to identify where the damage is taking place and to prevent the causes of natural hair breakage in those areas sooner rather than later. So, if you have been asking yourself:
Read on, and we will cover these three causes of natural hair breakage and what you can do about them:
- Too much protein
- Repeating styling habits
- Prioritising length over health
TOO MUCH PROTEIN
Too much of a good thing can be a bad thing. That’s why finding a balance between protein and moisture in your hair care routine, and more specifically your deep conditioning routine is crucial to ensure that you are not doing more harm than good by using protein in a way that causes natural hair breakage.
Usually, when something breaks, we relate this either to its weakness or to fragility. This is often the case when we think of curly and afro hair types. This is understandable because the cuticles of our hair strands are made up of overlapping layers similar to shingles on a roof, or scales on a fish.
These layers are weakest at the points where our hair twists, turns, and curls. This makes some of the curliest of hair types, the most susceptible to breakage and so it makes sense that time and time again, our solution for this weakness is to try to strengthen our strands with:
- strengthening shampoos
- restorative conditioners
- reparative masks
- reconstructive treatments
- and fortifying natural herbs...
...but too much of a good thing, can actually be a bad thing! Here’s how they can actually be one of the main causes of natural hair breakage that you hadn't thought about:
These kinds of treatments will likely have one key ingredient in common – protein! As much as our hair does need protein to maintain balance in our hair care routine, too much protein can have the exact opposite results to what we want.
Incorporating too much protein, or using strengthing treatments into your natural hair regimen can cause your hair to become too strong, and cause excessive dryness and brittleness, instead of preventing it from snapping. In fact, sometimes what our really hair needs in these situations is moisture to improve its elasticity.
Why is this?
Well, imagine for a second that you were trying to braid three uncooked pieces of spaghetti… (stay with me here!) As soon as you try to move any of the pieces of spaghetti, they would snap, right?
Okay, so do we want to “strengthen” them by:
a) using more spaghetti for each “strand” to reinforce it
b) boiling the spaghetti first and introducing moisture instead?
If you have kept up with the imaginary scenario, hopefully, you will agree that b) was the best solution, and this can loosely be applied to how we think of our hair too.
When our hair is brittle, trying to “strengthen” it isn’t always the answer. We may need to balance our hair that has already had a lot of protein by introducing more moisture with a conditioning treatment or a steam treatment.
Keeping this in mind, is this a cause of natural hair breakage in your routine?
If you are regularly using strengthening shampoos, or reparative treatments maybe it’s time to reach for moisture-rich alternatives such as the Bourn Beautiful Naturals Moisture Silk Shampoo and Coconut Cream Deep Conditioning Mask.
REPEATING THE SAME STYLING HABITS
Variety is the spice of life and of your hair care routine. Parting your hair in the same places, or styling your hair in the same ways can cause breakage due to consistent manipulation in the same areas. The same can also be said if you consistently neglect to protect your hair with a satin bonnet, or if you do but find that it falls off at night.
As much as curly hair routines thrive on our consistency, it is important to switch up how you style and handle your hair every now and then too. As well as addressing anything in your regimen that isn’t really working for you. That way, your hair care habits can evolve and continue to deliver you the best results as time goes on, rather than causing breakage that could easily be avoided.
For example, you could be causing breakage by sectioning your hair in the same 4 quadrants on wash day. Perhaps you like to wear all of your styles with a middle parting too? Or you regularly tie your hair up in a bun? Any combination of these washing and styling habits can cause breakage at your crown, through the middle of your hair, and at your hairline.
The strands in these areas are weakened due to more frequent manipulation, friction, or tension and then they snap as a result. If you have broken hairs around your crown or hairline, it is likely that you have experienced this cause of natural hair breakage. This pattern of stress then repeats again with the next parting on wash day, or the next restless night without a bonnet and then the areas of breakage become more pronounced.
So, can you change the way you manipulate and style your hair to minimise breakage?
Of course, there are other contributing factors to a thinning hairline or wispy hairs at the top of your head but these are among the most common, in addition to being relatively easy to address. Investing in a bonnet with two straps to secure it at night seems like a good place to start.
PRIORITISING LENGTH OVER HEALTH
Healthy hair grows. If you maintain a healthy scalp, a healthy diet, and take good care of your hair strands – provided that you don’t have any underlying health conditions – you will be right on track for healthy hair growth. Then it is just a case of maintaining it. Your hair length can’t come before the health of your hair and so health should take priority.
This doesn’t seem terribly difficult until it comes to making decisions that mean cutting our hair or having to be extra patient with it. It is situations such as these in which the reconstructive treatments we mentioned earlier really do prosper. Many of us would do anything to save our damaged strands, rather than cutting them off. Sometimes this comes at the expense of our healthy hair strands too.
Ultimately, we do need to take care of our hair strands as best we can, applying products to the whole stand and not just the ends. As well as trimming them when it’s time. However, our hair strands are dead. So, once they are damaged beyond temporary repair, there is no coming back and the best thing to do is to cut them off.
By trimming your hair when it’s time, you will find that you experience fewer knots and less tangling. This is good news if the main cause of your natural hair breakage is due to mechanical manipulation such as brushing and combing. You can also look forward to more curl definition and sleeker, shinier results for your hairstyles.
Trimming your hair as and when your need it can be the refresh you need to maintain your hair effectively. You don't need to set a date to do it, but it is worth keeping an eye out for any significant changes in your ends feel, how they respond to deep conditioning and how they respond to your usual sealing methods. If you need to call time and let them go, the rest of your hair will thank you for it.
Are damaged ends the culprit behind what seems like hair that doesn't grow?
So, now we've looked at three causes of natural hair breakage that we might not have given much thought to, let's recap what we can do about it:
1. If protein features heavily in your natural hair routine, this can impact your whole head of hair and can be balanced out by substituting some strengthening treatments with more moisturising deep conditioning treatments.
2. If you frequently section your hair in the same way or wear the same styles, it can affect your hairline and your crown and can be mitigated by switching up the way you part and wear your hair.
3. If you are reluctant to trim your hair, it can have a negative effect on the ends of your hair and can be addressed by knowing when it's time to tidy up your ends and committing to the health of your hair over its length.
Now you are well on your way to preventing unnecessary breakage in your natural hair routine. What changes are you looking forward to making to improve the overall health of your hair? Tell us in the comments.