Natural Hair 101: How to Fix Damaged Curls

Natural Hair 101: How to Fix Damaged Curls

Dealing with damage or hair that doesn't quite behave like it used to? Then you've come to the right place. As the Natural Hair 101 series draws to a close, I wanted to provide support for my fellow naturalistas who may be at their wits end with breakage, splits, thinning ends, and straight pieces.

Read on to learn more about how to determine the cause of your damage, and the best course of action for helping your hair get back on track!

Types of Damage
When it comes to hair damage, there are 5 main types (+ one I created). At any point, your hair can suffer from one or a combination of damage types.

Heat Damage
Heat damage (also sometimes referred to as 'heat training') occurs when the hair comes into contact with too-hot styling tools, and is identified by a visible loss in curl definition, ranging from limp/lacking normal elasticity, to virtually straight. Heat damage can happen with just one bad flat iron job, or be the cumulative result of straightening natural hair too frequently. Because heat damage literally melts the cuticle layer, hair will begin to break, thin out, and taper over time.

Fun fact: I lost a LOT of hair to heat damage. Going natural brought me back from the brink. Read more bout my transitioning journey here.

Color Damage
Aka customized damage. Some of your faves may deny it, but we don't dance around the truth on maneobjective.com. Dye changes your hair. PeriodT.  In the process of lifting melanin (what bleaches and ammonia do) from the hair and depositing color, hair cuticles are lifted. This process causes all sorts of issues — from changes in porosity to weakening the structural integrity the hair overall. As a result, curls can go limp, dry out, break, or a combination of all three. Even worse, color treated hair that is improperly cared for will show visible signs of thinning, and a drastic texture difference between un-dyed roots and dyed strands. If you've ever seen someone who's color treated hair is shiny, smooth, and defined while their virgin roots are poofy and frizzy — color damage is the culprit.

Natural Hair 101: How to Fix Damaged Curls

Mechanical Damage
Nightly re-twists. Tight daily top knots. Excessive picking for volume. Improper detangling methods. All of these practices (and many more) contribute to mechanical hair damage over time. Every time we touch our hair, we cause a little bit of protein loss and cuticle damage. Over time, mechanical damage shows itself as those split ends, breaking strands, mid-shaft splits, and overall thinning — even without using heat and staying far away from hair dye.

Relaxer & Chemical Damage
Whether it's no-lye, "gentle", a "keratin treatment", texturizer, or texlax, the damage occurs via the same chemical mechanism — the breaking, swelling, and realignment of bonds within the cortex of the hair. In addition to the myriad of health concerns raised by chemically processing the hair, relaxers and other "treatments" permanently damage the strands, rendering them thinner, straighter, weaker, and incredibly prone to breakage.

Environmental Damage
Environmental damage is by far the most common and unavoidable. Hair exposed to hard water, dry air, UV rays, chlorine, salt water, and air pollution is at risk for environmental damage. I know, I know — that's literally everyone, everywhere. Environmental damage can present itself as dry hair, brittleness, frizz, and rough, dull strands. If the canopy of your hair (aka the top layer that everyone can see) tends to be more disrespectful than the layers underneath it, environmental damage is likely the culprit.

Natural Hair 101: How to Fix Damaged Curls

Influencer & Product Junkie Syndrome
Yep, I made up a whole new category of damage. Thanks to the proliferation of social media, the #sponsored word about new products spreads like wildfire. This leads to two major things — one, influencers pushing a different "hair routine" in every post, and two, product junkies (like me, but I'm in recovery 😂) who run to purchase and try based on the blitz of videos and reviews. As a result of wild pH swings, inconsistent ingredients, and crazy over-manipulation (aka washing and styling the hair way more than normal), strands begin to suffer visibly over time. Increased breakage and split ends, rough-feeling hair, thinning/tapering, stalled growth, and feeling like hair is more 'uncooperative" than normal are all signs of Influencer & PJ Syndrome.

How Do I Know Which Kind I Have?
Across the spectrum, natural hair damage presents itself with similar symptoms — like breakage, texture changes, thinning, and brittleness. How do you know which one is the culprit of your current hair woes? Here's an easy 3-step process:

Step 1: Eliminate the Obvious
Immediately rule out types of damage totally unrelated to the current state of your hair. If you haven't had a relaxer in 5 years, Just for Me isn't to blame. Once you've narrowed the field of causes that couldn't possibly be related, it's time for step 2.

Step 2: Go Back in Time
One of the reasons I love blogging and social media is that I can put my hair on a semi-concrete timeline based on pictures. If you're able, look back at old photos and try to pinpoint approximately when your hair began to change. Once you've locked in on a timetable, it's time for step 3.

Step 3: Assess, Assess, Assess
Now that you know roughly when your damage began to present itself, you can dig a little into the why. Do your best to remember what you were doing with your hair at the time. Flat ironing a lot? Did you get color? Or perhaps you were like me, and a combination of things caused tons of hair drama.

My Damage Over the Years
Girl, I've had it all. Severe heat damage sent me running into a 19-month transition to natural hair. My curls popped for several months following my Deva Cut, but less than a year later, I caved into my desire for colored curls. Bleach + henna + Olaplex wasn't invented yet = color damage. I eventually got the red colored over with black, and started over with another curly cut in 2017. Once my hair had returned to fairly optimal health and shape, my low porosity sections began acting out — super frizzy, resistant to all my favorite gels, and turning my wash and go's to absolute 🗑.

I was desperate for a solution, because my favorite products were no longer cutting it. I started experimenting — clarifying treatments. Heat every once in a while. Castille soap. Baking soda.

Natural Hair 101: How to Fix Damaged Curls
And the award for Most Types of Damage in 6 Years goes to.... me! lol
Like a whole fool,  I added baking soda to everything (without measuring) — co-washes, conditioners and all for months. My once vivacious (and irritating) curls were straight, limp, and still had the nerve to be frizzy. It was most visible in the low porosity sections. Yep, chemical damage. Not to mention LA's notoriously hard water. Catch this fact — in 2017 and 2018 alone, I reviewed, did a compilation with, and tested out 70+ products and collections. And that's a conservative estimate — so let's go'n throw Influencer & PJ Syndrome in the mix, too.

TLDR: From 2012-2019, I've dealt with heat, color, chemical, environmental damage, and Influencer & PJ Syndrome damage. Ya girl has pretty much seen it all.

The Rx for Damage Recovery
It's important to know this hard fact about hair damage: on the whole, it is irreversible. Hair is comprised of dead keratin, and there's no Lazarus treatment for strands that have been fried, dyed, and laid to the side too many times. Don't let this fact discourage you from seeking products to help your hair — because without proper intervention, the prognosis for damaged hair is grim. Here's what products can help, and how they work:

Natural Hair 101: How to Fix Damaged Curls

Heat, Color, Relaxer & Chemical Damage Rx
The first step here is to separate yourself from the flat iron, relaxer box, or dye bottle. These types of damage require regular protein treatments due to the incredibly compromised nature of the damaged strands. Additionally, the line of demarcation between new growth/virgin roots and the damaged mid-shaft/ends is especially vulnerable and prone to breakage. Intense protein treatments like tgin Miracle RepaiRx Curl Protein Reconstructor use biotin and hydrolyzed wheat protein to temporarily patch damaged cuticles, and avocado oil to improve elasticity and reduce breakage.

Use the Miracle RepaiRx Curl Protein Reconstructor weekly per the jar instructions, and follow with a rehydrating deep conditioner like tgin Honey Miracle Hair Mask or Be Kekoa Be Lola. You can try a treatment like Olaplex, but the in-salon and at-home costs add up quickly. Olaplex (1, 2, and 3) work to a degree, but you have to continue purchasing the treatments, or else the results will wash out  within a few weeks (literally). Read more about my Olaplex experience here, and click here to learn more about transitioning your damaged hair.

Mechanical Damage
The tricky thing about mechanical damage is that it generally tends to be styling-based — and there's nothing more crushing than learning that your 'signature style' is causing stress to your strands. Whether it's a nightly re-twist or picking your way to big day 1 hair, finding a workaround for the root cause of mechanical damage is necessary. If your issue is style longevity causing too-frequent wash days, experiment with heavier stylers and lean on updos like a puff or loose bun once your curls have run their course. This will help stretch the number of days between washes, while minimizing mechanical stress. Addicted to the afro pick? Use a lighter styler (like mousse) and use your finger pads to vigorously rub your roots for volume.

Natural Hair 101: How to Fix Damaged Curls

To get your tresses back on course, invest in a good trim, tweak your styling routine, and show your curls a little extra love on wash day. A strengthening, curl-awakening deep conditioner like Soultanicals 'Fro Despair will help your texture bounce back and support weakened strands. Additionally, you can use a thick oil or butter like Be Kekoa's Mana Butter to seal strands and ends to help ward off split ends.

Environmental Damage Rx
Since we all deal with environmental damage to a degree, the best defense is to incorporate counter-measures into your already existing regimen. If you live in an area with hard water, invest in a water filter for your shower (I have this one). Trust me, it make a difference. Also, equip your regimen with a clarifying shampoo like Be Kekoa's Be Clair to gently lift dirt and debris from the hair and scalp. Regularly incorporate antioxidant-rich, free-radical fighting, and moisture restoring deep conditioners like Be Kekoa's Be Lola and Soultanicals 'Fro Despair to help hair bounce back from environmental stress. During the summer especially, make sure your hair is protected with products that contain natural UV protection and antioxidants. Leave-ins like tgin Green Tea Super Moist and Soultanicals Mango Dip Detangling Slip offer not only offer hydration, they aid in the fight against free-radical and UV damage, and can help prevent your hair from soaking up chlorine and salt water. I especially love Be Kekoa Mana Butter for the summer — it contains the prized tamanu oil that has been proven to naturally inhibit up to 85% of oxidative stress caused by UV rays. Learn more about my love for tamanu here, and how it healed my burned skin here.

Natural Hair 101: How to Fix Damaged Curls

Influencer & Product Junkie Syndrome Rx
The best course of action is threefold: cut, clarify, and condense. The road to rehab starts with a solid trim that will rid your ends of some (or all) damage. Next, you'll need to invest in a good clarifying shampoo to remove all manners of dirt, oil, debris, and product build-up. Sometimes, we label our hair as 'uncooperative' when really, it's just dirty. I recommend Be Kekoa Be Clair because it's gentle, yet effective, sulfate-free, and formulated especially for natural and color-treated hair.

Now it's time to condense — and this is truly the hardest part. Some of us (myself included) are accustomed to wearing our massive product stashes like a badge of honor — sharing pictures of stashes so deep, they look like beauty supply store shelves. But the hard truth is that those stashes are counterproductive. They're expensive, wasteful, and do nothing for our hair in the long-run. Honestly, most of the products we acquire in our product junkie-ing will expire before we can put them to good use. And if we do, we're probably manipulating our hair more often than necessary, for the sake of 'using up' products — which leads to mechanical stress and 'uncooperative' hair that lacks a regimen.

Natural Hair 101: How to Fix Damaged Curls
My stash doesn't look like this now!
To effectively condense your stash, I encourage you to do the work of cleaning it up. First, toss expired products. I don't care if the jar is full and you only used it once — if the smell, color, and consistency has changed (or it's molding), toss it. Next, separate the products you have into three categories: absolutely cannot live without, love using but not as often, and just 'nice' or 'okay'. Note: this only works if you're completely honest with yourself. You'll be surprised what products you like, but can live without. Finally, keep the products you can't live without. Then, take a look at the ones you love but use less often, and keep half of those. The other half, plus the ones that are just 'nice' or 'okay' — give them away. To a friend. A family. A shelter. What doesn't work for you may work for someone else!

Now, it's time build your regimen. Click here to go back to that post and get started on your road to recovery!

Dealing with damaged hair can be frustrating and disheartening, especially when you've been vigilant about protecting your hair. Coming from someone who's had nearly every type of damage imaginable, trust me — there's a light at the end of the tunnel. I've grown, transitioned, and cut my hair more times than I care to count. And each time, I've learned something new. The best course to recovery involves assessing what happened, correcting your course, and being patient.

Your new healthy head of hair will thank you.

Want more Natural Hair 101? Click here to check out the series!

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