Hair Breakage – whats causing it?

20 Jan

Hair breakage is something I have experienced several times in my life!  There have been times when I have discovered bald patches on my head while combing it.  Sometimes even more than one bald patch.  My hairline is something I am grappling with even now that I have begun this journey in the quest for healthy hair.

To begin with let me just say that all hair breaks!  In the process of washing, combing and styling etc, it is bound to break.  The key is to minimize this breakage.  Breakage, health and growth go hand in hand.  With breakage, the health and growth potential of the hair are greatly reduced.

Hair Shedding Versus Breakage

Example of hair breakage in the nape

Understanding the difference between breakage and shedding is very important.  Shed hair is hair that has reached the end of its growing cycle and naturally falls from the scalp along with its root attached.  The root is a tiny white bulb on the scalp originating end of the hair.  Shed hair tends to be longer in length than broken hairs which are generally short pieces of varying lengths.  Shedding is a natural process.  Changes in diet, hormone imbalances, birth control pills and pregnancy can also affect the rate at which hair is shed.  I also see the white bulbs of shed hair when I have braids done too tightly.  This is because undue stress would have been placed on the hair follicles.

Breakage on the other hand is not natural, and is an indication of an imbalance of important forces within the hair strand. Broken hairs do not fall naturally from the head, but are typically a sign of mishandling or abuse. The proper treatments, will help stop breakage in its tracks.  Hair can be weakened and damaged by anything from rough handing and sun exposure to colouring and relaxers.  Breakage is also more common with a hair’s age; older hairs, usually the hairs nearest the ends, have the greatest tendency to break due to normal wear and tear.  When breakage isn’t a response to physical manipulation and abuse, it is most often triggered by the lack of moisture in the hair strand.  Other types of breakage may be caused by excess use of protein treatments or products with protein.

Hair Growth

I will be the first to confess – my hair is not growing as fast as I would like!  This is a common complaint among African women.  The truth is hair does grow – retaining that growth is the key!  Our hair grows on average about 1.2cm a month.  That gives about 14cm a year!!  This rate is an average across races.  Asian hair grows slightly faster than this average, Caucasian hair grows near the average and African hair tends to grow at or just below this average each month.  Genetics will also influence how close to the average you get each month.  Ultimately, reaching any hair length goal depends on two main factors – your individual hair growth rate and your retention ability.  So Im sure we are all asking ourselves why we didn’t gain even 5cm in hair length last year!  The fact that hair is growing is evident in that ladies with relaxed hair are having a retouch every 6 to 8 weeks because of the growth.  As I sit here I am aiming to retouch at the 12 week mark (around 4 February) and I am already struggling with the growth on my head.  Though our growth rate may be affected by environmental and personal health matters, the fact remains that our hair is always growing.  The issue ladies is hair retention!

Example of hairline breakage. This is very common especially with women who wear weaves and braids often.

Let me take this opportunity to briefly explain terminal length.  Terminal length is the length that your hair would reach if it were never cut, never broke, and was just allowed to grow freely without interruption. Once a hair has completed its total growing period and has reached its terminal length, it will shed naturally and be pushed out by (or eventually be replaced by) a new, growing strand. This process repeats all over your head, day in and day out, for your entire lifetime for each single strand of hair.

So back to retention – what can you and I do in order to hold on to the 1cm of hair that our hair is growing each month.  The answer is – combat breakage!  In order to combat breakage, you have to discover why your hair is breaking.  Breakage can occur for a variety of reasons: not enough moisture, not enough protein, too much moisture, too much protein, over manipulation of hair (heat styling, rough combing), over processing of hair (relaxers, dyes) etc.

Here is a guideline to minimizing hair breakage and promote growth:

  • Avoid hair styling techniques that pull the hair tight. This is usually found with braids and weaves that are done too tightly.  Braids are often so tight that you will find lots of little white bulbs in the hairline where the hair has literally been pulled out of the scalp.  Pictures of Naomi Campbell’s hairline have been doing the rounds on the internet.  It looks like years of wearing weaves have taken their toll on her hairline.  When getting hair braided specifically say to the braider that you do not ant them too tight.  I’m sure most of us have had our hair braided and been unable to sleep for a few nights because the braids had been done so tight.  Some of us survive on painkillers for a day or two after getting braids or a weave done.  Always instruct the braider not to braid your hair too tightly.  It is better that your braids become loose than your hair fall out.

Naomi Campbell

  • Eat a balanced diet and drink plenty of water.  Also get moderate exercise.  We hear this every day.  Sounds easy but it’s a struggle with the busy lives we all lead
  • Minimise heat styling on your hair.  Minimise the use of flat irons and curling irons on your hair.  I distinctly remember getting my hair blow dried in a salon and I could actually smell my hair burning.  Where possible, set your hair with rollers or blow dry it on a cool setting.
  • Deep condition your hair on a regular basis.  I do this twice a week.  Some women prefer once a week and others once a fortnight.  I would say try and deep condition at least once a week.  Whenever you shampoo your hair, use a conditioner.  Remember African hair needs moisture to thrive.
  • Use a moisturiser on your hair daily.  Seem women prefer twice a day.
  • There are some oils that are believed to promote hair growth when sparingly rubbed on the scalp.  I have been experimenting with castor oil which I am adding to my deep conditioners as well as rubbing on my scalp twice a week.  I cannot say yet whether it is doing anything for my hair growth but I do notice that my new growth is definitely softer than it would usually be at about 10 weeks post my last retouch.
  • Use a wide tooth comb for combing your hair.  If your comb has teeth that are too close together, they may be pulling on your tangled ends and causing breakage.
  • If your hair is relaxed and you retouch more than the new growth, overlapping the relaxer onto previously relaxed hair can cause breakage.
  • Hair colour can also cause breakage, if used too often or on top of other chemical processes that leave your hair dry. Hair colours that involve bleaching before depositing new color onto the hair can be especially harsh on hair that’s already relaxed.
  • Protect you hair while you sleep with a satin / silk scarf.  This prevents your hair from snagging on pillowcases.  Cotton pillowcases can also take the moisture out of your hair.

Naomi Campbell


22 Responses to “Hair Breakage – whats causing it?”

  1. Pela 14 February, 2011 at 12:07 pm #

    You have done your research vatete.

  2. Blessing Ziso 15 February, 2011 at 11:01 am #

    How often should i retouch my hair? I last had a retouch in November and plan to have the next one in June. Also because my hair is very kinky, I use Dark and Lovely Super, how good is it for my hair? I have also tried using differnt products to ease the itchiness of my scalp but i don’t know what else to use now.

    • Tendayi 16 February, 2011 at 12:07 pm #

      Hi Blessing!
      Manufacturers of relaxers say we should relax after 6 weeks. Relaxers can thin the hair if done too often. Many women though tend to stretch the time in between their relaxers. The reason most women do this is to minimise chemical exposure and to ensure less overlapping of the relaxer with previously relaxed hair. I am now retouching after 12 weeks.

      It sounds like you retouch every 6 months or so. Many women do this especially if they wear weaves and braids often. What you need to remember though is that the longer you go between relaxers the more care your hair will need otherwise it will break. Stretching relaxers is a matter of preference. The longer you stretch the more attention you need to pay to the hair so it doesnt break. You need to take care of the new growth as well as the relaxed end too.

      With regards to Dark and Lovely super – I have never used a super strength relaxer before. Some women use them with no problems. Other women find them too strong and use regular relaxers and leave them for a bit longer on their hair. For me, even at 12 weeks in between relaxers i still use a regular relaxer and its working out fine.

      Itching – this is a very common problem. Have you tried sulphur 8? The smell is not great but some women say it works for them. Other options are tea tree oil, rosemary oil and peppermint oil. You can add a few drops of these oils to your shampoo or conditioner. They soothe and relieve the scalp. If you are not getting any luck with these products maybe you should see a dermatologist. There are some conditions like eczema and psoriasis that cause an itchy scalp. A dermatologist would be able to diagnose these.

      Hope this helps!

  3. karen banda 15 February, 2011 at 10:29 pm #

    i have started using dr miracles relaxer and hair oils and texture of my hair has improved, even my hair line is now growing back.

    • Tendayi 16 February, 2011 at 12:09 pm #

      Hi Karen
      Thanks for sharing about Dr Miracles. I haven’t yet tried their products but I see them in Clicks and Dischem over here in SA.

  4. Mpho Sinvula 28 January, 2012 at 10:29 am #

    for the longest time, i’ve been feeling like my hair isn’t growing (or is it that it’s not growing at the rate at which i want it to). my hair at the back seems to be shrinking whilst the hair in front hasn’t really grown at all. i’ve contemplated cutting it all off and starting afresh but i’m scared it won’t grow if i do that. do you have any suggestions as to what i can do to achieve even hair growth?

    • Tendayi 28 January, 2012 at 6:21 pm #

      Barring any medical condition your hair should be growing. Its more likely that it is breaking. What you need to do is figure out why the hair is breaking so you an address that. Once that is addressed you will find that your hair will get longer. Are you moisturising your hair enough? Do you use a gentle shampoo?

      As for hair grwoing unevenly it may be that for some reason your hair is breaking more at the back. Remember also that for most of us hair doesnt grow evenly. I have far longer hair in the back than the front. Even if I cut it all the same length the hair at the back grows faster. The hair at the back of my head is also a courser texture.

  5. Tazchabz 15 February, 2012 at 8:04 pm #

    Im currently using the dr miracles strengthenin creme. Im worried cz it has mineral oil, but i wont knw til iv used it for enuf tym for it to work. As for itchy hair im told the castor oil (correct me if im wrong) but it may cause ur scalp to itch at first bt as the toxins leave ur system im told tht itchn goes away. Again i stand corrected, but for me since i started using castor oil my itching has gone away after a period of crazy itchn kikiki.

    • Tendayi 16 February, 2012 at 11:46 am #

      Some women dilute their castor oil with other carrier oils if they get an adverse reaction from using it directly. There are lots of carrier oils to choose from like jojoba, sweet almond olive, grapeseed etc etc. I never got any itching 🙂 I still use it today on my scalp.

  6. luckyluwi 07 November, 2012 at 9:28 am #

    Yes, shedding, breaking all happening to me. Had to cut my hair recently because of shedding

    • Tendayi 07 November, 2012 at 9:51 am #

      Have you figured out you are getting excess breaking and shedding? There is always a reason for it.

      • luckyluwi 07 November, 2012 at 12:30 pm #

        No I havent. well for the breakage it might be cause I’m not giving it as much moisture as it should have. For the shedding, I dont know I stick to the same relaxer which at the moment is Olive Oil, go at least 8 weeks before relaxing. The theory I am working with at the moment is not enough conditioning and allowing my sclap breathing space between braidings.

      • Tendayi 07 November, 2012 at 12:32 pm #

        Yes dry hair can lead to breakage. As for increased shedding, it can be caused by other things as well eg hormonal imbalance or stress. You can also get increased shedding after child birth.

      • luckyluwi 07 November, 2012 at 12:37 pm #

        hmmm maybe it was stress have not given birth yet. Thanks now that I have started from scratch will monitor it better. oh and please do send me some of that TZZZ 😀

      • Tendayi 07 November, 2012 at 12:38 pm #

        Nice try 🙂

      • luckyluwi 07 November, 2012 at 12:42 pm #

        it was worth a try.,.Back to the advice, I was thinking also that maybe the relaxer is a bit too harsh for me and not doing my already damaged hair any good.. Right now I ‘m using the olive oil. would you recommend it?

      • Tendayi 07 November, 2012 at 12:55 pm #

        I use Organic Root Stimulator Olive Oil too and it works for me. What you must remember though is that relaxers are chemicals and they do not make our hair better in any way. They actually work by breaking the protein bonds in our hair thus weakening it. Relaxers can never improve the condition of your hair, just make it worse. Applying relaxer to damaged hair just makes things worse. If your hair is damaged, you would rather hold of on relaxing and focus on treating it to get it healthy again.

  7. Lindiwe 07 December, 2012 at 8:09 am #

    hie dear
    when i was pregnant my hair was long and glorious and healthy but 10 months after giving birth my hair started breaking actually i have a patch in the centre of my head.Im afraid of cutting coz the last time i had short hair was in !998.I really wonder if i should cut or what

    • Tendayi 07 December, 2012 at 11:47 am #

      This sounds like post partum shedding and it happends to many women. It can be quite deressing. I wrote a post on it. Read it here Postpartum hair loss is not permanent and the hair does grow back. You can trim your hair slowly over time. It is less of a change than cutting it all at once.

  8. sibusiso 12 April, 2013 at 9:01 pm #

    Hi, I have natural hair for more than a year now, my hair is soft and manageable,I had braids for 8 weeks and after undoing I recently noticed that my ends have knots and I don’t know why, is it split ends? What do I do?

    Also please advise which leave in conditioners I can us and where I can get them in SA


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