You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know
I never knew what was causing my long hair damage.
When I had short hair, it was always healthy. I washed my hair daily with 2-in-1, vigorously towel dried, and would blow dry it on high heat (yikes).
When I decided to grow my hair, I kept the same poor habits. It worked for me; why change it? My hair was luscious.
After a year, these habits took a toll. My hair became dry, dull, and lost its luscious shine by the second year of growth.
I realized with short hair, cutting it at the barber every few weeks didn’t allow any time for the damage I was doing to manifest. With long hair, I quickly discovered everything I was doing was wrong.
I didn’t know what to do or where to start. This problem sent me down a rabbit hole of research into the science of hair care.
Here I share what I discovered from this research—including three causes of long hair damage you could be unwittingly subjecting your hair to.
LONG HAIR DAMAGE #1:
Using The Wrong Products For Your Hair Type
Hair type? What the heck is that?
Your hair type is the unique makeup of your hair, including hair texture, density, scalp moisture levels, and curl pattern. Knowing your hair type will help you choose the right products for your hair, achieve the results you’re looking for and avoid long hair damage.
I like to compare it to car shopping. You wouldn’t go into a dealership with a blindfold on and buy the first car you bump into, right? No, you have a type. The aesthetic, price, and function all play a role in your car type. You wouldn’t buy a Honda Civic when you want to go off-roading.
For example, if you struggle with dry scalp, you can shop for gentler shampoos. If you have a greasy scalp, you can shop for stronger clarifying shampoos.
If you don’t know your hair type, you can discover it using my free men’s hair & grooming app, Mannered Manes, where you can take a hair type quiz and see your results immediately. You can also discover the best products for you and see other men who share your hair type.
LONG HAIR DAMAGE #2:
Hard Water Build-Up
What is hard water? The USGS defines it as water with excess dissolved calcium and magnesium.
How do you know if your tap water is hard or soft? Most of the time, you can search online for the hardness of the water in your city.
For example, I live in Austin, TX. The city puts out a water quality report stating that tap water is moderately hard. But how much damage is this doing? A 2016 study examined hair treated with hard water through electron microscopy for 30 days.
The results showed that hard water-treated hair had a dull appearance and decreased thickness compared with the surface of distilled water-treated hair (2).
Furthermore, a 2016 study measured hair treated with hard water against hair treated with deionized water in 76 Pakistani males. The results showed that hard water significantly reduced the tensile strength compared to hair treated with deionized water (3).
So according to this research, not only can hard water reduce your hair’s brightness and shine, but weaken it as well.
What can you do? If you think hard water is causing long hair damage, you can find a filter that attaches to your shower head, removing calcium and magnesium buildup, chlorine, and heavy metals.
I found a hard water filter for about $30 online, and I noticed a difference in the shine of my hair after about a month of using it.
LONG HAIR DAMAGE #3:
Your Shampoo’s pH Level is Too High
Do you remember learning about pH in high school chemistry class? If not, here’s a quick refresher.
pH stands for potential of hydrogen, which measures the concentration of hydrogen ions in a solution. pH is measured on a scale from 0-14, with water being perfectly balanced at 7.
If something is acidic, it has an overabundance of positively charged hydrogen ions, measuring between 0 and 6.9. If something is alkaline, it has an excess of negatively charged hydroxide ions, measuring between 7.1 and 14.
The pH scale measures the acidity or alkalinity of a solution. The more hydrogen ions are present in a solution, the more acidic it becomes; the more hydroxide ions, the more alkaline.
Why does this matter for your hair?
A human hair shaft has a pH level of 3.67, while our scalp has a pH level of 5.5. So it may be acidic on the pH scale relative to water, but the pH level for our hair to have a neutral static charge falls between 3.67 and 5.5. This pH level is known as our hair’s isoelectric point.
Your shampoo should fall in this range to avoid long hair damage. Any products more alkaline than 5.5 could give a negative static charge to your hair, increasing frizzing, tangling, breakage and skin irritation.
The International Journal of Trichology published a study in September 2014 to measure how a shampoo’s pH can affect your hair. The study found that an alkaline pH (relative to your hair) may increase the negative electrical charge of the hair fiber surface and, therefore, increase friction between the fibers (1).
This friction can lead to long hair damage on the cuticle and fiber breakage.
There’s still a debate about what range is ideal for shampoos since brands aren’t required to disclose pH levels on the bottles. Knowing that hair & scalp pH levels fall into a range between 3.67 and 5.5, some scientists argue for a pH level between four and five.
The same study went on to say that only 38% of name-brand shampoos had a pH under five, compared to 75% of salon-quality shampoos. So if you’re buying the big name brands, your shampoo is likely too alkaline (1).
The best way to check the pH of your shampoo is to measure it yourself. You can find pH measuring sticks at your local pool store to test your shampoo quickly.
Long Hair Damage Be Gone
While these are three major causes of long hair damage I discovered in my research, there are many other ways you could be damaging your hair, whether it’s from brushing incorrectly, shampooing too often or using a rubber band for a hair tie (nooo).
You can learn about different types of hair damage in Quick Tips, but as for what we covered here, it doesn’t have to be stressful! While the science behind this damage can be complex, the changes you need to make to solve these issues are simple.
It’s as easy as using a quality, pH balanced shampoo & conditioner, learning and understanding your hair type, and mitigating hard water with a shower filter. It also doesn’t hurt to know the science so you can brag to your fellow longhairs about it.
I’ll see you in my next guest post for The Longhairs. Until then, I’ll see you in the Mannered Manes app. C’YA!
- Gavazzoni Dias MF, de Almeida AM, Cecato PM, Adriano AR, Pichler J. The Shampoo pH can Affect the Hair: Myth or Reality? Int J Trichology. 2014 Jul;6(3):95-9. doi: 10.4103/0974-7753.139078. PMID: 25210332; PMCID: PMC4158629.
- Srinivasan G, Chakravarthy Rangachari S. Scanning electron microscopy of hair treated in hard water. Int J Dermatol. 2016 Jun;55(6):e344-6. doi: 10.1111/ijd.13141. Epub 2015 Dec 29. PMID: 26711619.
- Luqman MW, Ali R, Khan Z, Ramzan MH, Hanan F, Javaid U. Effect of topical application of hard water in weakening of hair in men. J Pak Med Assoc. 2016 Sep;66(9):1132-1136. PMID: 27654734.
Travis is a men’s style & grooming expert with a passion for helping guys look & feel their best. The founder of Mannered Manes, he believes that, like hair growth, life is a journey, and you’re most fulfilled when you’re always growing.
See all Trav White’s guest posts for The Longhairs.
The only app for men's hair products, advice, & grooming tips. Join the journey to hair confidence in the Mannered Manes app.