Not only are women more likely than men to do all sorts of things that damage the hair, from heat-treating it to dying it, to using perms or relaxers, they're also much more likely to wear their hair long. That, in turn, means that the damaged portions of the hair remain on display rather than being cut.
Though all the things we do to our hair have indeed been proven to damage it, it's additionally true that some damage occurs naturally over time as your hair grows, even if you have untreated "virgin hair". Research points to mechanical damage like that caused by brushing, shampooing, and towel drying, but also sun damage, as possible causes. Chemically treated hair is certainly in worse condition, permanently altering its appearance on a microscopic level, but even "all natural hair" doesn't escape damage, then.
Unless you want to keep your hair in mint condition by going for a pixie cut, that leaves you with one question — do regenerative oils and conditioners, like Clairol Metalex for instance, really repair your damaged hair?
Do Hair Repair Products Really Work?
While research actually indicates that frequent shampooing and conditioning can cause damage to the hair, there are also studies that show that already treated (dyed, relaxed, or permed hair) responds better to conditioning than "virgin hair". This is because the hair itself is more porous and absorbs the ingredients better. This doesn't mean that conditioners actually permanently reverse the damage that was done to the hair, but it does mean they can improve the appearance of your hair. That is, most probably, what you are really after in any case. The same holds true for silicone hair products, by the way — they do reduce the appearance of frizz.
What is really interesting is that natural products — coconut oil, which is pretty well known as being great for hair, but also olive or sunflower oil — can be absorbed into the hair before it's actually damaged. This is due to their molecular structure. What this ultimately means is that the hair swells and dries less when exposed to moisture (a process known as hygral fatigue) if you regularly care for your hair with these oils. In addition, using one of these natural oils means that any commercial products you use on your hair penetrate to a lesser extent too. Since they can have ingredients that damage your hair, that is a good thing.
Research further notes that people with African or very curly hair should try to avoid anti-dandruff shampoos to reduce hair damage, and that using oils while combing is especially important for those who want to preserve the quality of their hair.
What's The Verdict, Then?
It seems like you have two options, broadly speaking — you can either commit to natural hair care, which may involve natural oils but eschews things like blow-drying, using a flattening iron, dying, relaxing, or decide to do all the heat-treating and chemical treating you want. In the former case, you accept your hair for what it is and treat it with as much care as possible. In the latter case, you accept that doing what it takes to get your hair the way you want it will involve extra damage. You then try to reduce that damage by treating it with products that do not undo the damage but make it look like they do. Do these products work? Yes, in the sense that they make your hair look healthier.
A golden middle road might be to regularly use natural oils on your hair before subjecting it to treatments. You might minimize the damage this way, while still being able to experiment with your appearance.
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