Between regular root maintenance, straightening habit and blow dry bar addiction, we're all guilty of being less than kind to our hair, which can leave it looking less than healthy at best, straw-like and fragile at worst.
Whether your hair is in need of emergency measures or just a little pre-emptive TLC, we've identified the main culprits of hair damage and scouted out solutions that will suit every budget. Your future Rapunzel lengths will thank you.
How does hair get damaged?
Excessive heat styling, repeated bleaching, chemical treatments like perms and environmental factors like cold weather and harsh winds can all have a damaging impact on your hair follicles, leading to split ends, breakage and dryness. Spending too much time in the sun combined with the drying effect chlorine in swimming pools (which strips the hair of its natural sebum) is also a sure-fire route to sad, straw-like lengths, which explains why your hair tends to need extra TLC after a summer holiday.
There are plenty of other risk factors to be wary of too, ranging from over-brushing wet hair to scraping your mane back into a high ponytail on the regular. Take this as a public safety announcement: narrow hair elastics are not your friend…
How can bleaching and highlighting damage your hair?
As Christel Lundqvist, founder of STIL salon in Notting Hill, tell us, 'Bleaching can be harsh on the hair if the hair is over processed when applied or if you have it done too often. It can remove the hair’s natural protein – known as keratin - and make the scalp more prone to sensitivity.'
Here's a very brief science lesson. When bleaching agent hydrogen peroxide is applied, your hair starts to swell, raising the outer cuticle to allow the chemicals to penetrate. This makes your hair more porous, so although it will absorb water quickly, it will lose it just as speedily – like a platinum-hued sponge, if you will. This can leave your hair feeling brittle and dry, and the more you dye it, the more porous it will become over time.
If your natural colour is a dark brunette shade, the process is most damaging, as the bleach is more concentrated, and needs to be left on for longer.
How do you repair damaged hair after bleaching?
However straw-like your bleached mane may look and feel, there is hope. Christel reassures us that, yes, in most cases, you will be able to repair the damage. 'There are so many amazing treatments now that contain keratin, which work to repair the hair, along with moisture treatments to inject much needed condition back into the hair. It might not be a quick fix but you will definitely see results after a period of time.'
Go cold turkey on your heat tools to prevent further breakage, and invest in a big old pot of coconut oil, which can be used as an overnight hair treatment. While (spoiler alert) it can’t exactly glue your split ends back together, it will provide your lengths with a much needed moisture hit. We like Vita Coco, £9.99 for 500ml.
You should also invest in a nourishing hair like Kérastase’s Nutritive Masquintense, £30.70, which only needs to be left for ten minutes to work its magic, and a daily-use product like Aveda’s Damage Remedy Daily Hair Repair, £23.50, to prevent further breakage and leave hair feeling instantly softer.
How can you go blonde without damaging your hair?
'If bleach is used in a correct way by your colourist, it doesn't have to be damaging,' Christel notes. 'There are many different ways of ghoing blonder that can have less impact on your hair's condition. You can opt for colour sevices such as balayage, baby lights or contouring, which are more gentle on the hair as you are not necessarily colouring the whole head.'
Free-painting techniques like balayage don't use foils, so are less damaging to the hair follicles, requiring fewer salon trips for root maintenance, too.
How does using straighteners and curling tongs damage your hair?
Anyone who has heard the tell-tale sizzle of hair hitting a ceramic plate won’t be surprised to learn that no, styling with tools that can reach up to 200 degrees isn’t exactly doing your follicles any favours.
After a certain temperature is reached, the keratin proteins in your hair will start to denature, causing strands to break down. Straightening also strips hair of its natural moisture, causing it to lose its elasticity, which in turn makes breakage and split ends more likely.
How can you repair damage from heat styling?
'Hair naturally repairs itself after a period, so doing less to it gives it time to recover,' says Christel. Avoid the temptation to over-wash. Choose a sulfate-free shampoo and conditioner, which won't strip the hair of its remaining natural moisture, and follow up with a heavy duty moisturising mask.
'Heat damaged hair often needs moisture and protein, so intensive hair masks and at-hone treatments are great to use,' suggests Christel. We love Hair Repair, £23, by cult Scandi brand Sachajuan, which turns straw-like hair into spun gold, Rumpelstiltskin-style. Another old favourite is Philip Kingsley's Elasticizer treatment, £30, which can be left on overnight and was favoured by Audrey Hepburn.
It's also worth booking in with your hairdresser for a trim. Fear not - we aren't suggesting that you'll have to forgo your lengths for a pixie cut, but getting rid of a couple of inches from the ends will help encourage healthy growth and will nix some of your split ends.
In this case, prevention is almost certainly better than cure. Invest in a quality brand name when you're buying heat tools (ghd is still the gold standard), always use a thermal protector spray or cream before styling and never, ever use straighteners or curling tongs on damp hair. Consider yourself duly warned... And if you're ever debating doing a Bridget Jones and ironing your hair with an actual iron, don't. Just don't.
Can a salon treatment help repair damaged hair?
If DIY damage control just isn't cutting it, it could be worth making a salon appointment for a deep conditioning treatment. Kérastase's Fusio Dose treatment is unique in that it can be customised to target a handful of haircare concerns, from colour damage to dullness, leaving hair looking and feeling healthier.
If your bleach habit can't be kicked, ask your hairdresser to use Olaplex when you next visit for a colour treatment. The formula, which can be mixed in with your usual dye, helps knit hair proteins back together, undoing damage and keeping hair soft and shiny.
Another option for coloured hair in need of a moisture hit is STIL's Hydrating Colour Boost, from £35, a two-part treatment. First, the base treatment strengthens the hair with an injection of keratin and moisture, before a semi permanent colour pigment is added to enhance the existing colour, with added coconut oil for softness and shine.
Shop our edit of the best products for heat and colour damaged hair in the gallery below