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I'm Verna,
Your Curly-Haired Friend.

Curly hair is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you're going to get. It could be super-defined one day and a frizzy concoction the next day – and it's never exactly the same from one head to another. Our mission is to equip you with the necessary tools for restoring and maintaining healthy locks and celebrating the hair you were born with! 

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Curl care

I am highly experienced in the beauty industry and specialize in writing for brands and websites that focus on curly hair care. Moreover, I actually have curly hair and have curly-haired children with varying hair textures. I am also surrounded by curly-haired friends, including curly hairstylists and curly-haired family members. You get the point :) I’m well-versed in the language and nuances of curly hair care, styling tips, and product recommendations.

Furthermore, I collaborate with my friend who has a Ph.D. in organic and inorganic chemistry and works as an R&D Chemist to help us navigate through the misinformation around curly hair care. He advises us on Hair Care Science to ensure we are well-informed.

Hi,I'm Verna

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Last Updated on May 8, 2023 by Verna Meachum

Trying to figure out why you have so much hair breakage? Don’t worry, you’re not alone! Hair breakage can be a real buzzkill but we’re here to help!

From heat styling to chemical treatments, there are a number of hair breakage causes that you might not even know you’re guilty of.

In this article, we’ll tackle the root causes (pun intended) of hair breakage, factors that accelerate it, and how to control it.

Hair Breakage Causes: Identifying the Culprits

According to a scientific survey, a large number of consumers that experienced hair breakage described it as a sign of poor hair quality.1

Excessive breakage causes a decrease in hair density and may eventually lead to hair loss.

Hair is a protein fiber having distinct morphological layers. The outermost layer is called cuticles while the inner core is known as the cortex.

Vector illustration of the hair shaft.

Both are made up of sulfur-rich cystine amino acids bonded to form a characteristic keratin structure.

The structure is shaped by various types of chemical bonding and the disulfide chemical bond of cystine (sulfur – sulfur bond) is the key player responsible for the mechanical strength of hair fiber.2

Several factors can damage the morphological build-up of keratin and cause fractures along the hair shaft. Below are some of the main factors that can lead to hair breakage.

Physical Abrasion; Combing & Brushing

Image of a comb with curly hair breakage. Hair Breakage Causes and  Solutions.

When you use a comb or brush on your hair, it puts pressure on the outer layer of each hair strand. If your comb or brush has plastic or wooden teeth, they can pull on the outer layer and loosen or remove some of the loose cuticles.

The amount of force required to comb is measured and used to assess the surface smoothness and mechanical strength of hair fiber.

Using a narrow-tooth comb to excessively brush hair increases friction and requires more force to pass through, which can result in more damage to the hair surface.

Damage on the surface of the hair can cause the cuticle layer to erode, which weakens the hair fibers and can result in breakage. You may notice broken hair fibers on your comb or brush as a visible sign of this damage. 3,4

The force required to comb hair differs according to the condition of the hair fiber. It has been shown through experiments that wet hair requires more force to comb through.

This is because water causes the hair to swell and the outer layer to expand. The open cuticles of wet hair create more friction, making it more susceptible to breakage during combing.

Thus, always be gentle when combing/brushing your wet hair. Also, use a conditioner with slip along with a wide-toothed comb to reduce the amount of force required and to prevent breakage.

Harsh Chemical Treatments

Image of bleached blonde curly hair. Hair Breakage Causes and  Solutions

Hair can undergo chemical treatments to make permanent changes such as altering hair color through oxidation with alkaline hydrogen peroxide.

Hair coloring involves using dye molecules and alkaline hydrogen peroxide to achieve a new color shade.

Similarly, perming and hair straightening are chemical treatments that use alkaline thioglycolic acid, sodium hydroxide, and guanidine hydroxide. These treatments permanently alter the structure of the hair.

Chemical treatments not only cause permanent changes in hair fiber, but they also lead to several undesired chemical changes.

These harsh and aggressive chemical compounds can damage the protein structure of hair fiber, causing significant oxidation of protein residue, and finally causing protein loss.5, 6, 7 

For instance, during the bleaching process, a substance called alkaline hydrogen peroxide is utilized to not only remove melanin grains but also oxidize cystine amino acids and break disulfide chemical bonds. Unfortunately, this weakens the protein structure, and the cuticle layer is exposed and damaged.

Research shows that hair that has been bleached is much weaker than hair that has not been treated with chemicals. Continuing to use bleach or other chemical treatments on hair can steadily damage the protein in the hair, making it more likely to break.

Thermal and Photodamage

Image of curly hair showing photodamaged ends. Hair Breakage Causes and  Solutions.

Thermal styling is a hair styling method that uses heat to temporarily change the hair’s shape. According to scientific studies, blow drying and flat ironing can cause damage to the hair protein.

At high temperatures, the hair proteins undergo chemical denaturing and fiber demonstrates radical and longitudinal cracks.

Similarly, when hair proteins are exposed to UV radiation from the sun, they become oxidized and produce highly reactive free radical species. These radicals can cause further oxidation of proteins, resulting in protein loss.

Both thermal processing and UV exposure damage the hair structure, weaken the fiber and can cause hair breakage. 

Hair Styling Accessories

Image of hair breakage in hair tie. Hair Breakage Causes and  Solutions.

Everyday hair styling methods such as using rubber bands or curling rods can change the structure of hair shafts, resulting in curled knots, tangles, and twists within the strands.

Hair breakage is a common issue caused by broken hair threads often found with styling tools. This can physically damage the hair shaft and make the hair more prone to breakage.

Which Hair Types Are More Susceptible to Breakage?

Hair types vary between different ethnic groups, differing in their curl pattern, curliness, shaft diameter, porosity, and moisture content.

Recent scientific research shows that hair with more and tighter curls along the shaft (with a small curl curvature) is more susceptible to breakage.

The texture of African-American hair is characterized by excessive coiling and kinkiness, which can make it more fragile and prone to breakage when subjected to pressure.

As a result, they tend to experience more hair breakage when applying more force and tension when detangling or styling hair. 9

As a general guideline, hair fibers that have more curl are more prone to breakage when subjected to combing, brushing, or other physical stress.

Signs of Breakage

Image of healthy cuticle to damaged cuticles. Hair Breakage Causes and  Solutions.

Here is a short list of signs that indicate hair breakage:

● Finding broken hair threads in your comb or other styling tools.

Split ends at the tips.

● Random and disorganized curl pattern with the tips of the hair emerging from the curvature, pointing in random directions.

How to Prevent Hair Breakage Before it Happens

Key steps to preventing hair breakage:

● Keep your hair and scalp clean – Healthy scalp is essential for healthy hair. It ensures nutrients and water molecules are available for active and healthy follicles. Wash your hair and keep them clean.

● Keep your hair conditioned – conditioning formulation reduces the fiber-to-fiber friction, lubricates the shaft, and controls the cuticle damage. To keep your hair healthy, it’s important to use a moisturizing conditioner regularly.

● Trim your ends – trimming or having a haircut removes the damaged tips.

● Avoid aggressive chemical treatments or at least limit their usage.

● Style your hair appropriately – avoid using rubber bands, tight curl holders, etc. Instead, use curly-hair-friendly tools and products, such as satin scrunchies or spiral ties (these are my favorites!).

Leave-in conditioner is a must-have product before a thermal treatment or going outdoors to protect the hair shaft against UV radiation.

Key Ingredients to “Repair” Breakage

Hair breakage can be prevented by customizing hair care products such as shampoo, conditioner, or leave-in.

These products use specific ingredients that strengthen or soften hair fibers, improving their surface properties, reducing friction, making them easier to comb, and preventing tangles that cause breakage.

A few are listed here:

Hair Softening Agents

Hair conditioners and treatment products often use cationic surfactants, which are positively charged molecules.

These surfactants bond strongly to the protein residues found in hair fibers through a positive-negative charge interaction.

These are known to enhance the softness and sensorial feel of hair fibers by improving surface smoothness, reducing combing force, and detangling the hair.

A few examples are:

1. Behentrimonium Chloride

2. Behentrimonium Methosulfate

3. Cetrimonium Chloride

4. Stearamidopropyl Dimethylamine


Ceramides are waxy, lipid-based materials that are hydrophobic. They are naturally present in the cellular lipid bilayer of the human body. According to scientific research, they are effective in strengthening hair fiber and preventing hair breakage.


Hydrolyzed proteins, or the amino acid molecules they contain, can bond with the hair shaft and enhance its strength. This results in improved mechanical strength for the hair fiber, as well as a smoother surface and increased shine.

Today, there are different types of protein ingredients available, and their effectiveness is determined by the size of the protein molecules and their molecular weight. You can find them in products such as protein treatments, shampoos, and conditioners.

Protein fractions that are smaller in size are able to penetrate the hair fiber and reach the cortex, where they can strengthen the inner matrix.

A few examples are:

1. Hydrolyzed wheat protein

2. Wheat amino acids

3. Hydrolyzed keratin

4. Hydrolyzed soy protein

Hydrating and Moisturizing

To maintain healthy hair and scalp, the product you use must contain a mix of humectants and moisturizing agents. This will balance the moisture levels and prevent dryness, resulting in hair that looks natural and healthy.

Our top hydrating ingredient suggestions are:

1. Vegetal Glycerin

2. Propanediol

3. Betaine

4. Zinc PCA

Occlusive Lubrication

Lubricating the shaft can help with combing and minimizing curl knots and tangles. This is because it reduces fiber friction and prevents water loss from the shaft.

These ingredients could either be sourced naturally (e.g. natural oils & butter) or petroleum-derived (mineral oil, petrolatum).

Natural oils and butter are preferred due to their origin, sustainability, and multifunctional benefits. Regularly using these oils can minimize hair breakage and make hair glossy, shiny, and healthy.

Solutions to the Breakage Problem

A comprehensive strategy is necessary to address hair breakage. This involves taking some basic steps to improve the quality of the hair shaft.

Some fundamental steps:

● Customized Hair Care Regimen

● Keep them Hydrated and Conditioned

● Oil Therapy

● Minimize the damage


Hair breakage is a common issue that can result in decreased hair quality and density. It occurs primarily because of protein loss caused by various factors.

To prevent hair breakage, it is important to avoid aggressive combing, brushing, and harsh chemical treatments. Maintaining a proper hair styling routine and keeping hair moisturized and well-conditioned can help protect against breakage.


1. Bryant, H.; Porter, C.; Yang, G., Curly hair: measured differences and contributions to breakage. Int. J. Dermatol. 2012, 51, 8-11.

2. Robbins, C. R., Chemical and physical behavior of human hair. 4th ed.; Springer-Verlag: New York, 2002.

3. Robbins, C.; Kamath, Y., Hair breakage during combing. IV. Brushing and combing hair. J. Cosmet. Sci. 2007, 58 (6), 629-636.

4. Kamath, Y. K.; Weigmann, H.-D., Measurement of combing force. J. Soc. Cosmet. Chem 37 (3).

5. Lee, Y.; Kim, Y.-D.; Pi, L.-q.; Lee, S. Y.; Hong, H.; Lee, W.-S., Comparison of hair shaft damage after chemical treatment in Asian, White European, and African hair. Int. J. Dermatol. 2013, n/a-n/a.

6. Imai, T., The influence of hair bleach on the ultrastructure of human hair with special reference to hair damage. Okajimas Folia Anatomica Japonica 2011, 88 (1), 1-9.

7. Robinson, V. N. E., A study of damaged hair. J. Soc. Cosmet. Chem. 1976, 27 (4), 155-&.

8. Vagkidis, N.; Li, L.; Marsh, J.; Chechik, V., Synergy of UV light and heat in peptide degradation. Journal of Photochemistry and Photobiology A: Chemistry 2023, 114627.

9. Camacho‐Bragado, G.; Balooch, G.; Dixon‐Parks, F.; Porter, C.; Bryant, H., Understanding breakage in curly hair. British Journal of Dermatology 2015, 173, 10-16.


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I read books and tried doing things because "that's what I'm supposed to do," but it didn't always work and I didn't understand why. I'm so grateful for Verna and her blog. Her info. actually helped me understand more of the science of why some methods helped and what products or ingredients to use and why. Anyone that compliments my hair and wants to start a curly journey, I tell them to start here. My hair is so much healthier and I'm so happy with it.

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