How to Repair Damaged Strands Without Chopping Your Hair Off

Nykia Spradley
How to Repair Damaged Strands Without Chopping Your Hair Off
Photo: ImaxTree

Hate to be the bearer of bad beauty news, but strand damage can happen any time of the year. So just when you thought you were in the clear from winter dry-out, it’s time to get a strand strategy in place to protect against sun scorching. The good news is that even if your hair has seen better days, you don’t have to snip it all off to bring back the life.

Celebrity hairstylist Andrew Fitzsimons—the man behind many tresses including the Kardashian-Jenner crew, Shay Mitchell and Joan Smalls—shared a few tips on how to repair damage while maintaining some length.

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Detect the Damage

It should be easy enough to spot hair that isn’t in good shape, but in case you’re unsure, here’s what Fitzsimons says to look out for:

  • Split Ends—One of the most common signs of hair damage is visible split ends. If you’re not sure if you have split ends, wrap a small section of your hair around your finger. If you see small, uneven strands sticking out in a way they shouldn’t, you have split ends.
  • Breakage and Shedding—If you notice a lot of your hair in your shower drain or coming off in your brush, it’s likely that you have damage causing the breakage.
  • Dullness—Shiny hair is healthy hair! If your hair looks dull or lackluster, you may have product buildup or need an infusion of moisture.
  • Brittleness and Dryness—While hair textures and type range, everyone should aim to have their hair be as supple and soft as possible. Lack of moisture causes the hair to become brittle and more prone to breakage.

“It’s very possible that your hair is damaged but isn’t showing obvious signs yet,” says Fitzsimons. He also notes that healthy hair can actually stretch up to 150 percent its normal length without breaking and return to its original state. But if you start to lose elasticity in your strands, which can happen from normal aging, heat damage from irons and blow dryers and the sun, or chemical damage (from dyes, relaxers, perms, bleach, etc.), you could very well be headed to visible damage without knowing it. “Once you reach a certain threshold of elasticity loss, your hair will break,” he adds.

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Switch Up Your Hair Care Seasonally

“There are more ways to damage your hair than most people realize,” says Fitzsimons. He says that while there are the obvious ways to damage hair—aging, aggressive brushing, chemical treatments, damage from heat tools—there are a lot of more subtle ways hair gets damaged.

Just like your skin changes and has different needs from season to season, your hair requires the similar adjustments. “You may prefer a ponytail in the summer to get your hair off your shoulders, but that constant tugging can also be stressful for your strands,” Fitzsimons notes. Overall, summer activities like sun, pools, and salty oceans are all taking a toll on your tresses, and when it’s cooler, you may find yourself in and out of very dry buildings (as a result from heating), which can actually dry out your hair, as well.

Cold weather pulls moisture from your hair, which can leave you with dryness, dull color, frizz, and split ends. So just as you adjust your skin care from season to season, you should be doing the same with your hair products.

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Lay Off the Heat

“There are a couple of ways to repair hair damage without cutting your hair. The most important first step is to try and stop further damage—so identify the source of your damage (i.e., too much sun exposure, overusing heat tools, etc.) and prevent further damage,” says Fitzsimons.

If you can’t avoid heat tools, you should absolutely be using heat protection every time you use heat on your hair (meaning not just after the first styling). “This is one of the most important steps in caring for your hair—my clients rely on me to keep their hair healthy, so I am careful to use heat protection on their hair every time I style them,” Fitzsimons adds. Additionally, you can get a number of hair-repair treatments and products to help repair some damage; look for products that have proteins in the formula, which help fill in the gaps and tears in the hair strands.

Camo Dead Ends

Ultimately, the best thing for damaged hair and split ends is to get that trim. If that’s not possible, you can combat some of the signs of damage with products. “For instance, if your hair is looking dull, consider getting a shine spray to help infuse shine back into the hair (shiny hair = healthy hair). You may also want to pick up an anti-frizz hair oil such as BioSilk Silk Therapy with Coconut Oil Leave-In Treatment ($27) to help with smoothing out any frizz caused by breakage. And, of course, there are always hats,” says Fitzsimons.

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Try a Mane Mender

While you can never truly repair split ends, you can temporarily mend some of the damage with products targeted at repairing split ends such as Living Proof Perfect Hair Day Fresh Cut Split End Mender ($25).

Most split-end products focus on a multitude of damage-related issues: bonding the ends back together (as much as possible) with strengthening ingredients such as keratin; infusing moisture back into the hair; preventing further damage with strengthening ingredients such as protein; and smoothing out the cuticle so the split ends aren’t as obvious.

Consider Keeping It Short

Whether or not your hair is more prone to damage than others totally depends on your specific hair. “Some people are more susceptible to damage than others, while some people can grow Rapunzel hair without even trying,” he jokes. He notes that as a rough rule of thumb, longer hair tends to be more prone to damage, just because it’s had more time to experience damage.

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Get Serious With Your Products

Fitzsimons says that at the very least, you definitely want to incorporate a weekly reparative hair mask into your hair-care routine such as the Nature Lab Tokyo Perfect Repair Treatment Masque ($16), which is a rinse-out product that you leave in damp hair for 5 to 10 minutes after a regular shampoo and conditioner.

And don’t forget, heat protection before any heat styling is a must. “If you really want to tackle your damage, consider adding a repair shampoo/conditioner into your washing routine, as well as some kind of leave-in treatment,” he concludes.