Medically reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 5/3/2023
If you have dry hair, chances are that it’s damaged. If you have damaged hair, chances are that it’s dry. Hair damage and dryness aren’t the same thing, but they’re inherently related, and being aware of this relationship can be crucial to keeping your hair healthy and looking its best.
The good news is that preventing dryness, damage and shedding isn’t as difficult as it can seem — in fact, it’s largely about maintaining good hair care habits while avoiding bad ones.
Below, we’ve covered the difference between dry and damaged hair, how your hair can become dry and damaged and several specific hair care habits that can do more harm than good.
We’ve also discussed the steps that you can take to fix dry hair or damaged hair and promote healthy hair growth.
Dry hair and damaged hair aren't the same. Each type of hair damage comes with its own unique obstacles and preferred treatments. Let’s look at them in more detail.
Dry hair can affect your hair’s appearance, texture and feel. It happens when your hair loses its moisture and oil, preventing it from maintaining its normal smoothness and shine.
Your hair naturally protects itself using something referred to as the 18-MEA lipid layer, a thin layer of lipids, or oils.
You can think of this lipid layer as an oil-based shield that protects the hair cuticle — the outermost layer of your hair shaft — from certain forms of harm and allows it to repel water (also known as being hydrophobic)
When this layer is damaged, your hair can become hydrophilic, meaning it more easily absorbs water.
While this may seem like a good thing, it can increase your hair’s risk of becoming damaged. If your hair absorbs a large amount of water, it stretches, potentially causing it to fracture and lose some of its strength.
As such, products that protect your hair from drying out, protect its natural oil or sebum or generally keep its oils in balance are the best protections available against damage.
Damaged hair is hair that has already been broken. While it doesn’t necessarily have to be dry first, dry hair is more vulnerable to friction wear.
It’s easier for ends to split, shafts to crack and hairs to fracture when they’re dry, but hair can also be damaged by heat and chemicals, not to mention anything that pulls or stretches on the follicles like hair ties, clips and particularly tight hats.
In most cases, the damage can’t be undone, but eventually, the damaged hair will fall out and a new, healthy hair will take its place (assuming you haven’t damaged the follicle itself). Until then, you’re stuck with what you’ve got.
All types of hair can potentially be affected by hair damage. Damage can also affect hair of any color, from dark black to light blonde. But some hair types are more susceptible to particular types of damage.
It pays to know which hair type you have if you want to prevent the damage types that you’re more vulnerable to. There are four common hair types:
Check out our guide to how to determine your hair type if you’re not sure where you fit.
As for how each hair type looks when it’s damaged, all hair textures experience breakage, split ends, dull appearance and a lack of volume. After that, however, things can differ from one hair type to another.
Straight hair is most prone to straight-up breakage. This issue can affect all kinds of straight hair, but it’s a particular risk in fine hair, which is usually more fragile.
Perming or using a curling iron can also remove hair oil and cause hair breakage, so be careful how you style.
Oh, and because straight hair tends to be finer, remember to protect it from UV rays and other common causes of everyday damage. And if you have fair skin, make sure a dermatologist checks your scalp from time to time, because people with fair hair also tend to need more skin care.
Fine hair tends to break more easily than coarse hair, since some hair care products can weigh it down. Unfortunately, wavy hair can sometimes be the worst of both worlds — fine but also prone to tangles.
When this hair type gets damaged, it will have split ends and a dull, dry and brittle appearance. Hydrating, deep conditioning and avoiding daily causes of friction damage like ponytails can prevent further damage.
Curly hair that has become damaged will lose shine and volume, and become frizzy. It’s also substantially more susceptible to friction damage, as each textured follicle rubs against its neighbors at odd angles.
Imagine if a tangled headphone cord was brittle, and you’ll get the idea. Detangling with a wide-tooth comb and letting your hair air dry can protect its keratin and oil, both of which can reduce future damage.
Coily hair goes by many names, and you might have accidentally referred to it as curly in the past. But compared with curly hair, coiled hair is typically heavier on the frizz — and heavier, in general.
Coily hair is typically the most coarse and thick hair type. It typically has a medulla layer (a deep, inner layer) in addition to the cuticle (outer layer) and cortex (middle layer) — all of these can be damaged, especially by straightening products and processes, and can cause the hair to break.
Conditioning treatments can help repair hair, as can heat protectant products if you absolutely must use a flat iron for a more tamed hair look.
As we’ve mentioned, hair damage and dryness are not the same thing. And a variety of issues can either cause or contribute to both hair damage or hair dryness, though there is some overlap.
Intrinsic factors such as poor nutrition or an unhealthy lifestyle, and extrinsic factors such as excessive sun exposure or harmful hair products can all mess with your hair and cause both dryness and damage.
While your hair’s texture can tell you a lot about how to style and care for it, you’ll benefit just as much from learning about your hair and scalp issues.
Common intrinsic factors that may damage hair include nutritional deficiencies, certain types of medication and medical conditions, such as hormonal conditions:
Nutritional deficiencies can stop your hair from receiving the vitamins, minerals and other nutrients it needs to grow properly. For example, iron deficiency is linked to a form of hair shedding that can cause your hair to appear thin and patchy.
Medications, such as retinoids, beta-blockers and anticoagulants, can cause your hair to become thinner than normal.
These factors may affect your hair texture, your hair’s protein content and the rate at which your hair grows. In some cases, intrinsic factors that affect your hair health can contribute to dull hair or certain forms of temporary hair loss, such as telogen effluvium.
Many external and extrinsic causes of hair damage and hair dryness might not be a surprise to you, because the same things that can harm your skin can also damage your hair.
Common extrinsic factors that can damage your hair include excessive sun exposure (which is a major source of harmful ultraviolet radiation), smoking cigarettes, blow-drying your hair using a high heat setting, using heat styling devices or applying harmful hair products.
These habits can strip away your hair’s protective lipid layer, causing it to become dry and more prone to damage.
“I tried several different options before but Hims combined approach of all four methods by far created the best results.”
“Hims has been the greatest confidence boost, no more bald jokes! I look and feel so much younger!”
“When I show my barber my progress, he is always in disbelief. I have to recommend Hims to any guy who’s experiencing thinning.”
“Cost effective and affordable. My hair keeps growing thicker, fuller, and at a fast rate.”
“I noticed a huge change in the overall health and fullness of my hairline.”
“Now after 5 months I’m able to style waves first time in 10 years!”
“I decided to jump right in and I'm so glad I did. I definitely feel ten years younger!”
“In just as little over two and half months, I can really see the difference in thickness and in color.”
“4-months strong and my confidence boosted back up to 100% using Hims, future me really does thank me.”
“I’m a 34-year-old father of two and have been using Hims for over a year now. My hair is back to what it was in my mid-twenties.”
If you’re worried about damaged hair and want to take action to improve your hair health, we’ve got good and bad news.
The bad news is that damage to your hair follicles caused by excessively tight hairstyles, extreme heat or chemical treatments can be difficult to fix — even irreversible. Once a hair follicle has been harmed, the damage is often done.
The good news is that most forms of temporary hair damage are fixable with some changes to your habits.
According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), the most effective ways to promote hair growth and prevent damage are as follows:
Use the right shampoo
Stop over-washing your hair
Don’t skip the conditioner
Get regular trims
Try a hair mask
Quit rubbing so hard with a towel
Skip extreme styles
Hair vitamins and supplements
Let’s look at how you’ll employ each one of these in more detail.
Use the Right Shampoo
Your choice of shampoo doesn’t just affect the way your hair smells and feels — it also has a big impact on your hair’s texture, thickness and ability to properly deal with damage and moisture. This has to do with something called sebum.
Sebum is a type of natural oil that’s secreted by your sebaceous glands. When sebum builds up on your scalp, it can cause your skin to become too oily and give your hair a heavy feeling, but you need some of it to protect your hair.
Many shampoos contain harsh ingredients that can dry out your hair and scalp, increasing your risk of developing damaged hair.
Try to choose a shampoo that’s formulated for your hair type, particularly if you have bleached or artificially colored hair. If possible, look for a shampoo that also contains ingredients that are used to stimulate growth and promote extra thickness — our Volumizing Shampoo and Dandruff Detox Pyrithione Zinc Shampoo are worth checking out.
If most over-the-counter shampoos seem to upset your scalp and hair, consider switching to a sulfate-free shampoo. This type of shampoo may be less likely to cause irritation or negatively affect your hair’s ability to stay soft and smooth.
Our Hair Thickening Shampoo uses saw palmetto to clean your scalp and hair while controlling the buildup of dihydrotestosterone (DHT), a hormone that can cause male pattern hair loss.
Stop Over-Washing Your Hair
While washing your hair is good in moderation, washing with shampoo too frequently can strip away excess oil and expose your hair cortex, cuticle and other hair layers to damage.
When you wash, take care not to overdo it by applying too much shampoo. Instead, squeeze a small amount of shampoo into your hand, then gently massage it into your scalp and hair roots before rinsing it out from your hair.
In general, it’s best to wash your hair whenever it starts to feel oily or dirty. Depending on your lifestyle, this could mean washing every day, every other day or on a significantly less frequent basis.
If your hair is really dry and brittle, you may even benefit from shampooing once a week to give it time to gradually recover.
Make sure to focus on shampooing your scalp, not the tips of your hair, as this is where sebum is most likely to build up over time.
Don’t Skip the Conditioner
In addition to washing your hair, it’s important to apply conditioner after you shampoo. Conditioner coats your strands of hair, providing extra protection and stopping your hair from feeling overly dry or prone to breakage.
To get the best results from conditioner, apply it to wet hair after you’ve thoroughly washed out your shampoo. You can also use a leave-in conditioner to keep your hair feeling extra soft and smooth after your shower.
If you have thin hair and find that conditioner weighs it down too much, make sure to apply the conditioner to the tips of your damp hair, not to your scalp.
If applying conditioner is too time-consuming for you, try applying a two-in-one shampoo, which can clean and condition your hair at the same time.
Like with shampoo, it can take a little bit of time to find the optimal conditioner for your hair and scalp. Our Thick Fix Conditioner is formulated specifically to protect your hair while creating an environment that’s ideal for hair growth. And if you’re having issues with dry or damaged hair, try our Max Volume Conditioner.
Get Regular Hair Trims
In addition to caring for your hair with a high-quality shampoo and healthy habits, a great way to prevent your hair from becoming dry and damaged is to trim it often so that split ends and other signs of damage don’t have time to stick around.
Choose a local hair stylist that understands the type of look you want and try to get a trim every few weeks.
Try a Hair Mask
While there’s no evidence that using a hair mask can stimulate hair growth or prevent thinning, applying a mask to your hair every now and then may help support a healthy scalp and keep your hair from becoming overly dry.
Hair masks are essentially regular conditioners on steroids — supportive, nourishing masks that provide your hair with extra moisture.
Masks can be used on every type of hair, from straight hair that’s easy to care for to frizzy, fluffy or curly hair that often needs a little extra care and attention.
Our guide to hair masks goes into more detail about how hair masks work, as well as how your hair may benefit from this type of treatment every now and then.
Quit Rubbing Your Hair Too Hard with a Towel
It might look good in the movies, but drying your hair with an aggressive rub-down can damage your hair via friction. This may also lead you wonder if headphones hair loss is possible.
In fact, putting any form of pressure on your hair follicles can potentially cause damage, as it’s an easy way to tug on the follicles and affect your hair’s ability to grow.
Whenever possible, try to let your hair dry naturally rather than using a towel. If you have short hair, this is generally easy to do by simply letting it sit once you’re out of the shower. If your hair is on the longer side, try to wrap it in a towel instead of aggressively rubbing it dry.
Skip Extreme Styling
Any time you're damaging your hair for the sake of style, you're... damaging your hair for the sake of style.
Over the long term, this damage may result in your hair being overly dry, brittle and weak.
Some styling habits, such as pulling your hair back tightly, can even cause forms of hair loss like traction alopecia.
To maintain healthier hair, avoid any styling techniques that involve the constant use of harsh styling products. It’s also important to avoid brushing your hair too aggressively, especially when it’s still wet (for example, after showering).
While it’s okay to style your hair in moderation, give it plenty of time to relax and rest. If you use gel, wax or other styling products, make sure to wash them out at the end of the day and give your hair plenty of days off in which it can recover.
Beat the Heat
Anything that heats up your hair, be it a blow dryer or heat styling tool for either straightening or curling, has the potential to cause heat damage that can affect your hair’s strength and texture.
These tools can damage your hair’s internal structure. This could leave you with a brittle head of hair that’s prone to fuzz and lots of unwanted flyaway hair strands.
To keep your hair healthy, avoid excessive levels of heat exposure. If you use a blow dryer or a hot tool for styling, only ever use it at the lowest temperature setting. It also helps to hold your blow dryer as far as you can from your hair and scalp when you’re drying your hair.
Take Hair Vitamins and Supplements
One of the most effective ways to supply your hair with the nutrients it needs for growth is to eat a balanced diet that’s full of hair-friendly foods. Our guide to the best foods for hair growth shares several ingredients that you can add to your diet for healthier, stronger hair.
You can also use supplements to improve your hair growth. Although these shouldn’t be viewed as a replacement for a healthy diet, they may have a positive impact on your hair’s health and fit easily into your hair care routine.
Our Biotin Gummy Vitamins, for example, contain several vital nutrients to promote healthy skin, hair and nails.
Hair loss is a common concern for many men, and for good reason. Approximately 50 percent of all men develop male pattern baldness, or androgenetic alopecia, at some point in life, with diffuse thinning and a receding hairline as common symptoms.
Dry or damaged hair can be a cause for concern, but it’s usually manageable with the right hair care products and healthy habits. Generally speaking, everyone should follow this advice:
Dry hair and damaged hair aren’t the same thing, nor are they mutually exclusive.
Dry hair is more prone to damage, and damaged hair is more likely to become dry.
If you have bleached hair, dyed hair or hair that’s naturally prone to dryness, use the techniques above to restore its shine and moisture.
If you’re worried that your dry or damaged hair could be a sign of a medical issue, it’s best to talk to a healthcare provider.
The same goes for overly brittle hair, as you could be experiencing a nutritional deficiency that’s affecting your hair health.
If you’re starting to develop a receding hairline or notice hair thinning, you may want to consult a healthcare professional to determine what’s going on.
If you’re starting to lose hair, you can take action by using our range of hair loss treatments for men, including evidence-based hair loss medications such as finasteride and minoxidil.
You can also access a variety of hair growth products in our Hair Power Pack, which combines FDA-approved medication with hair care products, hair health supplements and more.