Brittle Hair: What It Is and How To Get Rid of It for Good

Brittle Hair: What It Is and How To Get Rid of It for Good

In a perfect world, we’d all have naturally voluminous hair that does exactly what we want it to all the time. Long layers that defy humidity all summer long? You got it. Chic curls that resist frizz and bounce like an Olympic gymnast? No problem.

In reality, the vast majority of us ladies would look like Keith Richards circa 1999 without the aid of some styling products, heat tools. and maybe some hair dye. These gifts from the hair gods make controlling unruly hair significantly easier, but they do so at a cost. Brittle hair.

What Is Brittle Hair?

Brittle hair is dry, damaged hair. Often, it appears frizzy or dull and is prone to breakage. While brittle hair is typically caused by external factors, it’s important to note that some men and women are more naturally predisposed to fragile hair than others.

What Causes Brittle Hair?

Hair becomes brittle when its cuticle opens. The hair’s cuticle is the outermost layer of the hair shaft. It protects the inner workings, which include the innermost core, called the medulla, and a middle layer called the cortex.

The cuticle is the protective, shielding sheath to your hair shaft. It should be smooth in appearance from root to tip, and it should even reflect light.

Once your hair develops chinks in this armor layer, it’s that much easier for further damage to occur. There are a variety of ways to crack open your cuticles. Here four of the most common:

Skipping Haircuts

Regular haircuts aren’t just good for your overall look; they also keep your strands healthy. Skip an appointment at the salon, and you’re opening yourself up to split ends and the need for brittle hair treatments.

At-Home Hair Dye

Dye jobs, especially those performed at home, can wreak havoc on your hair. The chemicals involved strip your hair’s moisture and cause gaps in your cuticles. In turn, those gaps gobble up subsequent dye and other foreign substances, exacerbating the damage done.


Whether you’re channeling your inner Marilyn Monroe or simply need to bleach your dark hair before going significantly lighter, you’re opening your hair up — literally — to considerable and lasting damage.

Bleach zaps the color from your hair by causing individual strands to expand, thus allowing the bleach to permeate the innermost part of each strand, where it breaks down the melanin that provides your hair’s natural hue. This process can render your hair brittle, breakable, and porous. Because it literally goes deeper than other dyes, bleach can also slash your hair's elasticity.

Heat Tools

Using your flat iron or other heat-based styling tool is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it’s the source of your style. On the other hand, it, too, makes your hair more porous and opens your cuticles with every use. 

How Can You Tell If Your Hair Is Brittle?

Brittle hair varies in appearance from person to person, but it generally has one or more of the following characteristics.

It’s Dull

Your hair’s cuticles are covered in a glistening sheath of natural oil. When you damage your “do” you strip that moisture off. The result is dry, dull hair that’s devoid of shine.

It’s Frizzy

Frizzy hair is often damaged hair. In most cases, it means that your cuticles are open. Because of this, it may also mean that your hair’s innermost fibers are under attack.

It Breaks Off

Subject your hair to stress too frequently, and you may cause it to break off. We’re not talking about extra hairs in your brush, either; you could have entire bundles of hair that break off mid-strand. That’s key: mid-strand breaks are atypical unless you’ve got some hair health concerns going on.

How Can You Fix Brittle Hair?

The good news about brittle, broken hair is that it’s often reversible. The bad news is that it typically takes a while to undo the damage.

If you’ve endured breakage or see dull, frizzy strands when you look in the mirror, here are six steps you can take to make your hair healthier and stronger:

Protect Your Hair From the Sun

At risk of putting a damper on your next beach day, the sun’s potent UV rays can really parch your hair. To prevent the amplification of existing damage, wear a hat or apply a sun-protection spray before spending prolonged periods of time in the sun.

Be Smart at the Pool

Chlorine and copper not only can turn your hair an unsavory shade of green but can also leave your hair brittle and coarse. If you’re a regular at the pool, rinse your hair with clean water before taking a dip. This adds moisture and can minimize the green hair situation. After swimming, wash your hair immediately, ideally with a shampoo and conditioner designed specifically for swimmers.

Dye Smarter

First, leave dye jobs to the pros. Trained colorists know what products to use as well as how to keep damage to a minimum.

Second, get your hair dyed less frequently. Make that color last by washing your locks fewer times per week with a color-safe shampoo that’s formulated to stop your strands from opening and letting the dye out. Choose a color-safe conditioner as well, and rinse with the coldest water you can stand. Hot water makes your cuticles open.

If you must dye your hair at home, choose semi-permanent shades. These are typically less harsh on hair strands than permanent color.

No matter who colors your hair, try to stay within three shades of your natural color. The more you deviate, the more involved, intense, and potentially damaging the coloring process will be.

Oil Up

There are a variety of oil that can provide outstanding moisture for thirsty locks. Olive oil, for example, has been used to treat dried-out hair for centuries. Start with a tablespoon or two, and use it like you would any other hair masque.

Argan, almond, coconut and jojoba oils are four top-notch thirst quenchers. Like olive oil, each has the power to rehydrate and strengthen stressed-out hair.

If you’re not down to slather your head with something from the pantry, look for products that include these substances. At a minimum, avoid products that impart shine or volume by using harsh or toxic ingredients.

Talk to a Doctor

At Shapiro MD, our clinicians combine trusted science and decades of clinical experience to create personalized hair treatment plans for each of our patients. Whether you’re positive that a bad dye job is to blame for your brittle hair, you suspect genetics may be to blame, or you have no idea why your hair is dry, damaged or thinning, we can help turn things around.

Eat Well

Healthy hair requires plenty of nutrients. For strong, shiny strands, your diet should include plenty of fruits, veggies and whole grains containing:

  • Vitamin C
  • Vitamin A
  • Iron
  • Biotin
  • Omega-3 fatty acids
  • Zinc

When you’re deficient in any of these, you’re opening yourself up to weakened, brittle hair that’s prone to shedding.

Turn Down the Heat

Many heat styling tools have variable heat settings. Resist the urge to crank those amps up to 11 (so to speak), and use a lower heat setting to curl or straighten your hair.

Let your hair air dry when you can, too. When you can’t, turn down the temperature and the power on your blow dryer. Unless you have extremely thick and dense hair, there’s no reason for you ever to blast your hair with the highest heat at the highest speed.

Don’t settle for damaged or thinning hair. Put decades of experience to work for you with your own hair loss treatment plan from Shapiro MD. Click here to take our free quiz and get started today.


Back to blog

Leave a comment