Hair damage is more than just split ends. Extremely damaged hair develops cracks in the outside layer (cuticle). Once the cuticle lifts (opens), your hair is at risk for further damage and breakage. It may also look dull or frizzy and be difficult to manage.

So can you really go from dry, brittle hair to smooth, shiny locks? The answer isn’t always cut and dried. For the most part, hair damage is permanent because hair is actually a collection of dead cells, making them beyond repair.

The only real cure is time, a pair of shears, and taking steps to prevent new damage.

But don’t despair, with proper hair care and a few targeted treatments, you can help restore the outer cuticle and begin to improve the look and feel of your hair.

Sometimes it’s all too clear how you ended up with damaged hair. When used improperly, dye, bleach, and styling tools can do a number on your locks.

Keep reading to learn how to prevent further damage and smooth over your symptoms until you’re able to cut the damaged hair. You may need to “double dip” to meet all of your needs.

Whether you went pastel, mermaid, or just tried to cover a few grays, dying your hair at home can have consequences that last longer than the color. Chemical dyes can remove your hair’s natural moisture, quickly making smooth hair coarse to the touch.

Unless your hair was light to begin with, you may also have had to bleach your hair before applying the dye (see “It’s from bleach” below for more on this).

How to limit further damage

Stay on shade. choosing a dye within three shades of your natural color and opting for shades that are darker rather than lighter to limit damage. Unnatural colors are more difficult to maintain and have to be touched up more frequently.

Dye less often. Extending the time between touch-ups can also help reduce damage. If possible, wait — or longer! — between dye jobs.

To make this more feasible:

  • Wash your hair less frequently.
  • Only use shampoos formulated for dyed hair.
  • Rinse shampoo and conditioner with cool water. Hot water can cause the cuticle to open, or lift, allowing the dye to rinse out.

Go to a professional. Salons can be expensive, but coloring is often best left to the professionals. A professional colorist knows how to use the correct products to minimize damage.

Opt for semi- or demi-permanent. Treatments that can change the hair so aggressively that the only fix is to grow it out and start over.

Stick to one service at a time. If you want to chemically relax, straighten, or perm your hair, it’s best to do it at least two weeks before your hair color appointment. This gives your hair time to recover between treatments.

How to ease existing damage

Use olive oil. This common cooking oil is also extremely popular in hair care. to help rehydrate the hair and smooth the cuticle. Olive oil, in particular, is said to help soften the hair and replenish much needed moisture.

It’s also easy to work with and relatively inexpensive. Just be sure to wait a few days post-coloring before you do an olive oil treatment.

Use color-safe shampoo and conditioner. These products are formulated with the proper pH to and allowing the dye to leak out. Your color will last longer, and your hair will look and feel better.

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If you’ve gone from dark to light hair, you probably know all too well the damage that bleach can inflict on your hair.

Bleach is used to remove your natural hair color from each strand. To do this, it makes your hair swell, allowing the bleach to reach the inner part of the strand. Here, it dissolves the melanin that gives your hair pigment.

This process can leave hair dry, . The permanent changes in your hair structure can also .

How to limit further damage

Bleach less frequently… or not at all. There’s no way around it. Bleach always damages your hair to some degree. The less you do it, the better.

Add moisture. Before bleaching, pay extra attention to moisturizing your hair and avoid other damaging activities, like heat styling, for a couple of weeks.

Use sun protection. The sun’s UV rays can harm your hair. Bleached hair is especially .

Try wearing a wide-brimmed hat or hair wrap to protect your hair and scalp. You can also use a UV protection hair spray to protect hair that peeks out.

For , look for products that also have conditioner.

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Be extra careful with chlorine. In addition to turning your locks an unpleasant shade of green, chlorine can strip moisture from your hair and leave it feeling even more brittle and coarse.

To avoid this:

  • Rinse your hair with fresh water before going in the pool. This moisture may help prevent the chlorine from changing the color of your hair and drying out your strands.
  • You should also wash your hair thoroughly as soon as you get out of the pool.
  • Although any hydrating shampoo and conditioner should do, you can also use a specially formulated .

How to ease existing damage

Use almond oil. This sweet-smelling oil can help soften and strengthen your hair. Apply a dime-sized amount to the ends of your hair before drying to rehydrate the strands and decrease frizz.

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Try a rice water rinse. As odd as it seems, that the water you pour down the drain while rinsing rice can actually help your hair. , an ingredient found in rice water, has been shown to penetrate damaged hair and repair hair from the inside out.

Styling with heat can “cook” hair fibers and lead to raised cuticles and porous hair. Using heat too often or at high temperatures can make your hair more prone to damage.

How to limit further damage

Blow dry from a distance. Blow dryers are notorious for causing damage. The good news is that you may not have to give it up entirely. found that holding the blow dryer 15 centimeters (about six inches) away from your hair and moving the blow dryer continuously can help reduce damage.

Use a heat protection product. These products are meant to help protect the hair and prevent split ends.

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Lower the temperature. The hotter the temperature, the more damage you can do. Excessive heat can damage your hair regardless of where it’s coming from. Use the lowest heat setting on any product and limit the time the hot air, iron, or curler touches your hair.

Air dry. Avoid heat altogether and let the air do all the work for you.

To do this, gently wrap your hair in a towel after showering. This well help pull out excess water before you let it hang free to dry. Don’t rub your hair with the towel, as this can cause unnecessary friction and damage your hair.

Heat-free drying may also be a good idea if you plan on styling with a flat iron or a curling iron. using heat tools no more than once a week.

Go natural. Embrace heat-free hair styles like beach waves. or allow your hair’s natural texture and style to take the spotlight.

How to ease existing damage

Use coconut oil. This tropical oil is a beauty bombshell. A key benefit? The oil’s molecules are to penetrate the outer cuticle and hydrate from the inside out.

It can also help replenish the protective oils on the outside of your hair. These oils help .

Look for products that include coconut oil, or apply the warmed oil once a week as a deep hydrating mask.

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Regular haircuts can go a long way toward keeping your hair healthy and well-maintained. Going too long between cuts can lead to dry split ends. And as with the rest of your strand, you can’t put split ends back together.

While the real answer here is getting a haircut to remove the problematic ends, there are a couple of things you can do while you wait for your appointment.

How to limit further damage

Treat your hair well. Follow good hair care practices to prevent damage so your hair looks great when you go longer between cuts.

Remove the damage. Get regular haircuts to remove your dry, damaged ends. Your hairdresser can help you decide how long you should go between cuts.

How to ease existing damage

Use a hair mask or conditioner treatment. Hair masks can’t work miracles, but they can help hide and protect against split ends.

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There may not be an obvious cause for your hair troubles. In that case, go ahead and treat the symptoms. You may need to try a couple of the options below to effectively address what’s going on.

Damaged hair is easily tangled. The raised cuticles create more friction and grab onto other strands more aggressively than sleek, closed cuticles. The lack of moisture on each strand can also add to your knotty situation.

How to limit further damage

Carefully brush and detangle. Start at the ends of the hair and slowly work out the knots as you move up toward your roots. Starting at the top of your head and forcefully tugging the brush through your hair can break the hair and lead to lasting damage as well as unwanted flyaways and frizz.

Only brush dry hair. Unless you have , only brush your hair .

You can use a wide-toothed comb to work conditioner or detangler through your hair, but wait until it’s dry to break out the brush. Wet hair and is more prone to being overstretched, which can cause damage along the entire shaft.

Brush less. It’s counterintuitive, but brushing is when the damage is most likely to occur. Brush your hair before washing it and when absolutely necessary throughout the day. Be gentle when you do brush.

Tie up your hair. Put your hair into a ponytail, braid, or loose bun before doing any activities that frequently tangle your hair. This often includes going for a run or driving with the windows down.

How to ease existing damage

Pay attention to moisture. Hair that’s is often rough, dull, and prone to static electricity and tangles. Properly hydrated hair is less likely to get tangled or knotted. If conditioner alone isn’t enough, consider adding a leave-in conditioner or detangler to your routine.

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Damaged hair often lacks the natural oil and moisture that coats the outside of the cuticle. Without this, hair loses its shine.

How to limit further damage

Wash less. Shampoo is designed to remove the buildup of oils and product on the scalp. As it works its way through your hair, it also strips the oils from your hair. Try washing every other day — or less if you can — to help keep those oils in your hair and .

How to ease existing damage

Use a shampoo and conditioner formulated for dry hair. Shampoos with added moisture and less intense detergents can help prevent too much oil from being stripped and add moisture back. Be careful to only shampoo your scalp.

Use jojoba oil. Jojoba oil can help strengthen and rehydrate the hair. Jojoba is , but you can add some to what you currently own. You can also work a dime-to-quarter-sized amount of pure oil through your ends while your hair is damp.

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Frizzy hair is a sign that your cuticle isn’t lying flat. It can also mean that the .

How to limit further damage

Rinse with cold water. Hot water opens up the outer layer of your hair (cuticle), whereas cold water can help close it. Rinsing with cool or cold water can help protect the inner layer of your hair and hold in hydrating oils.

How to ease existing damage

Use the right product. An overly aggressive shampoo can remove too much of your hair’s natural oils. This can leave you with strands that are difficult to untangle and that frizz when dry. Look for a more moisturizing shampoo and conditioner.

Try an apple cider vinegar (ACV) rinse. The water and products you use can affect your hair’s pH level. If your hair’s pH is too high, it can cause the cuticle to lift and frizz. An ACV rinse can help restore the pH balance in your hair and scalp as well as add back shine.

Use Argan oil. This Moroccan oil is highly moisturizing and rich in vitamins A and E. It may also help prevent breakage if you do need to brush or style your hair right away. Look for products that contain Argan, or work the oil through your ends while your hair is still damp.

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Brittle hair can feel like straw and break off easily. It’s one of the most difficult symptoms to manage, and it frequently occurs in overly processed hair.

How to limit further damage

Eat a balanced diet. A diet loaded with whole foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains has a host of benefits, including healthy hair. Biotin, vitamins A and C, and iron are all important for strong, luscious hair.

Protect from the sun. can make your hair brittle and to breakage. Lighter-colored hair, like blonde and gray, is also to sun damage. Wear a hat or use a UV protection product.

Skip products that boast of a “long-lasting hold.” These products can dry out your hair. Brushing or styling your hair once you’ve applied them can also .

Avoid dying, bleaching, chemical treatments, and heat styling. Give your hair a complete rest until it’s less brittle and holding together better.

How to ease existing damage

Try the soak-and-smear approach. Some experts swear by the .

To do this, shampoo and condition like normal. Blot your hair dry with a towel before adding a leave-in conditioner.

Once you work the leave-in conditioner through, add an oil to lock in the moisture. This helps make your hair easier to work with.

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Unless you have a time machine, you can’t undo hair damage once it’s done. But you can change your habits and give your hair some extra love.

If you aren’t seeing results after a few weeks, schedule an appointment with your doctor or dermatologist. They can assess your symptoms and determine whether an underlying condition may be to blame.

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