All hair withers over time but curly. coily and kinky hair are more prone to wearing and tearing. If preventative measures are not made, the hair eventually breaks off.
What is breakage?
Breakage is when parts of the hair shaft break off. This mainly occurs on the ends of the hair but in severe cases, it could break in the middle of the hair shaft. The diagram above shows the stages in which the hair may go through before it breaks off.
How does it occur?
The above images are close-ups of my hair strand and as you can see, there is a single-strand knot (SSK) on the end of the hair shaft. Single strand knots are the number one culprits to breakage because they create a weak point in the hair. If they are not cut out, they will lead to split ends and breakage.
Single-strand knots can be caused when a shed hair gets trapped on a healthy hair strand. With curly/afro hair, this happens a lot because shed hair does not fall out easily like straight hair. I sometimes notice them when detangling but I have managed to minimise them over the years. However, it should be noted that they are inevitable on curly hair in general because the hair tends to curl in on itself.
When I leave my hair weeks on end without washing and detangling, that is when I notice the most single-strand knots. Occasionally, there are even multiple knots on one strand. Also, over-manipulation can cause unnecessary single-strand knots, so try not to constantly touch your hair.
The second cause of breakage is splitting. There used to be a big misconception that afro hair does not split, but this is clearly false. The above diagram displays various types of splits but the most common ones I tend to get are ‘thickening’, the normal ‘split’, ‘baby’, ‘right angle’, ‘knot’ and ‘taper’. When I used to blow-dry and straighten my hair without heat protection back in 2011 and 2012, I would get deep, long splits and even mid-shaft splitting. Nonetheless, the easiest option to get rid of them is cutting them off. Frequent trimming has truly helped me – I trim my hair anywhere between 2 and 4 months whereby I cut off about 1/4 of an inch.
Curly hair splits when it is constantly brushing against harsh fabrics like cotton and wool. Also, frequent combing can wear and tear the hair which eventually leads to breakage. Dryness on the ends can also cause splitting over time.
Whilst shedding is to do with the scalp, breakage is to do with the ends of the hair. For this reason, it is crucial that you ‘baby’ your ends, otherwise, the hair can break even higher up on the shaft. As I have very fine strands, my hair cannot take constant manipulation and anything that will weigh it down. I found that even applying things like Castor Oil and Shea Butter to the ends of my hair every week was breaking it. It was not the oil itself that was the problem (because everyone knows Castor oil is amazing), but it was the fact that the oil is too thick for my hair texture. Today, I mix it with other oils to achieve a lighter-weight concoction. I ‘baby’ my ends by having them constantly lubricated with conditioners and oils so that even if I am wearing a wool jumper, my hair does not get caught in the fabric. My hair can glide through the fibres and not break.
Ways to prevent/eradicate breakage:
- Ideally, one should wrap their hair with a silk/satin scarf or bonnet at night. If not, a silk pillowcase should be used. Cotton fabrics dry out curly hair but silk retains our natural oils so you will wake up with moisturised hair. The strands are able to glide easily without frizzing, tangling, splitting or breaking.
- Deep conditioning– hair that is dry will split and break off, therefore, I like to incorporate and alternative between moisture rich and protein rich deep conditioners. Shea Moisture Haircare products are my fave! Hair that is well moisturised and strengthened with proteins will have a solid cuticle and is less likely to wither. Click here to see the products I like to use.
- Improving Elasticity– focus on the overall moisture-protein balance of your hair (it may not be 50-50 or equal- for example, the perfect balance for me is more protein than moisture). If hair is moisturised (not feeling limp and ‘mushy’) then it will have good elasticity. It will not need to frizz up in search for moisture in the air. We want to eliminate frizz because it is associated with dryness which is the prodigy of breakage. If your hair has enough protein (not feeling brittle or looking dull) then it will be able to withstand certain manipulation. Overall, it will be strong and will also have good elasticity so if you pull it taut, it will be able to bounce back without breaking off.
- Co-wash if shampoo dries your hair out – sulphates, in general, are drying to the hair but if you have already switched up to ‘non-sulphate’ or ‘sulphate-free’ shampoos and they are still not working for you, try co-washes. As I Am Coconut Cowash is very moisturising to the hair and cleans it without stripping curly hair of its natural oils (sebum). You can co-wash with regular conditioners also; I tend to find that Tresemme conditioners leave my hair moisturised and my ends well detangled. I get less split ends now that I have incorporated co-washing.
- Protein-based styling products – as I have explained in my previous post, look for products that contain proteins to strengthen the hair. If you have breakage in your hairline or anywhere else, ‘Jamaican Black Castor Oil Strengthen, Grow and Restore Edge Treatment gel’ is superb. I have never suffered from breaking/thinning edges but having used this for several months now, I have noticed that my hair has thickened around my hairline. Otherwise, you can simply purchase actual Castor oil and massage it into your ends and scalp.
- Oil rinses and Hot oil treatments– in the beginning of my hair journey, I did these a lot and it improved the state of my hair drastically. I would apply an oil mix to my hair, put on a plastic bag and leave it in for 20 to 30 minutes. When I rinsed it out, my single strand knots would basically be gone. It was like magic!
- Trimming frequently– ultimately, cutting the damage off is the best remedy for split ends and SSKs. If you create a practical regimen for trimming and stick to it, you will see that the overall health of your hair will improve. This is because you are not giving a chance for your hair to continue splitting up the hair shaft. You are cutting it before the damage spreads. I also incorporate the ‘search and destroy’ method which is where I actually look for the odd split or knot and cut it right above the damage. This is beneficial for the upkeep of your hair in between your trims. It is advised to trim every 6 to 8 weeks but for us curlies, I would say anywhere between 2 to 4 times a year, depending on the health of your hair.
How do you prevent breakage?
Click here to read about ‘Shedding’