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What's Really Causing Your Hair To Break Off?


Apart from the odd proverbial good-luck leg, I prefer my things not broken. Mirrors, Ziploc bags, promises? Useless when broken! Very, very long strands of spaghetti? Literally heresy to take a slanted fork to them. But the worst offense is when I spend months growing my hair, and it has the audacity to give itself a breakage haircut. It’s particularly detrimental to my fall goal of having hair so long it gets cropped out of photos, yet feels frustratingly inevitable. Like, why do I always seem to have a halo of broken hairs resembling a cross between a cowlick and a ficus? To get to the bottom of it, I reached out to master stylist and Spoke and Weal founder Jon Reyman. Turns out there are a lot of ways you might be breaking your hair without even realizing it! “Even if it’s not fine in texture, your hair is a fine fabric,” says Jon. “Handle with care.” Below, he shared the five biggest reasons for broken hair—maybe one of them is your culprit.

Your haircuts aren't frequent enough

OK, starting with the obvious here. “Hair looks best with regular trims or cuts,” says Jon, confirming everything you’ve ever heard from every hairstylist ever. He knows it might not be what you want to hear, but regular trims are the only way to combat split ends—and your habit of picking or peeling them while in a particularly boring meeting (it could’ve been an email!) isn’t helping, either. On the upside: what counts as frequent is kind of up for interpretation. As a rule of thumb, if you can’t remember your last haircut, or if you’re starting to notice visible signs of damage in the form of split ends, little white bulbs, or thinning on your ends, book one. Jon says twice-a-year appointments can be passable, as long as you're honest with yourself about when it needs a trim. But, “even if you are a mermaid,” he says, “please get regular trims.”

You left fidget spinners in 2016

But you’re still fidgeting! With your hair, specifically—twirling it, twisting it, pulling it straight to see how long it really is. Maybe it’s an unconscious action, but it’s time to make like Gwyneth and consciously uncouple from it. Constantly playing with your hair will ultimately weaken it and cause breakage. Jon emphasizes that, “If you are constantly pulling, prodding, rubbing on, or causing friction to your hair, the wear and tear will show.” If you need something else to do with your hands, may I suggest slime (the 2019 answer to fidget spinners), flipping your AirPods case open and closed a bunch of times in a row, or some variation of this?

You’ve ponied up when you should’ve ponied down

At least when you sleep! A tight ponytail is already stress enough on your hair—you know the way high-waisted jeans cut right into your softest fat roll and kind of hurt? Just me? Anyway, it’s like that. The rubber band cuts into hairs, putting pressure on the ones it touches. When you’re tossing and turning on that pressure, the extra friction is enough to cause those hairs to snap. So, Jon advises, “Skip the ponytail in bed.” He also suggests using a ponytail holding mechanism that’s smooth (less friction) and metal-free (fewer tangles) when you do wear one. ITG still loves a silk scrunchie, but these invisibobbles get the job done, too, and might be less conspicuous.

You’ve fried, or at least lightly crisped, it

The hottest haircut amongst girls ages 13 to 16? Singed, accidental side bangs (or back bangs, or top bangs) courtesy of daily flat iron use. What is it about being 14 that triggers an oh-so-powerful desire to cook one’s hair into submission? While you may have figured out how not to burn off your hair by now, that doesn’t mean you’ve escaped the damage altogether. Hot tool technology has come a long way—if you still own the hot tools you had since before learning how to use a tampon (guilty), now’s the time to chuck ‘em. “Invest in tools with technology to help prevent heat damage,” says Jon, who recommends Dyson Supersonic hair dryers and ceramic irons. “In this class you get what you pay for. A good iron will cost you well over $100; an excellent hair dryer much more.” The warranties and quality, he notes, are enough to justify the purchase. “They’ll last years and keep your hair looking great,” plus you’ll spend less money trying to reverse the damage with hair masks and shine serums.

Your clothes don’t have pockets

It’s a well-documented injustice among women who wear clothes. And if you’re not putting things in your pockets, you’re putting them in a bag. I didn’t come here to be the bearer of bag news, but get this—it’s possible that said bag is causing your hair to fall off. It happens when strands of hair get caught under the shoulder strap of a purse, or in the chain. The friction can be enough to snap strands instantly, leaving you with mysterious short patches. Jon stresses that if you are a person who carries a bag, make sure the strap is “clear from your hair.” Some other things to watch out for include “pens, earrings, hats, hair-ties, and necklaces”—all things he’s seen as culprits for tangled and broken strands. And, if you have curly hair, he mentions to be extra careful about earbuds, too. Who knew your morning commute was such an obstacle course of hair health? Now you do.

—Ali Oshinsky

Photo via ITG