I need to get something off my chest: For the best part of a year, I have been dealing with what can only be described as a halo of flyaways. My hair is very fine, so I was used to dealing with the odd tuft that had fallen victim to breakage. However, a few months ago, said wispy tufts became thick, blunt stumps. Up until then, my hair had always been surprisingly healthy. I very rarely use heat on it and had never had a major issue with split ends. But alas, it seemed that all too suddenly, hair breakage was out to get me.
And I was far from alone. In fact, it seems as though everyone is struggling with broken baby hairs and weak strands right now. And while I originally put my hair weakness down to lockdown neglect, even after I’d had my much-needed salon appointments, the weak tufts of hair remained. It was actually during my first post-lockdown colour appointment that I became aware of how serious the situation was.
As I watched the stylist glide the brush through my freshly bleached hair during the blow-dry, I couldn’t believe just how many flyaways were blowing free. In a bid to get some answers, I reached out to Dominic Roach, creative director of colour at Butchers. “Weak, breaking hair is an ever-present problem for many heads amongst us, however, with guests now returning to us in the salon after lockdown, the problem does seem to be more prevalent,” he says.
Since then, I have made it my mission to strengthen my strands and get them fighting fit once more. I reached out to just about every great hairstylist I know and squeezed every tip, trick and product recommendation out of them. Now, my hair is in the best condition it has been for nearly two years. Keep scrolling for everything I learned, as well as the 15 products that helped strengthen my hair.
Why Is Hair More Prone to Breakage Right Now?
It’s no coincidence that weak strands and breakage are rife at the moment. In fact, the lockdowns in recent years will have taken a serious toll. “A whole host of issues can cause weak strands,” says Nicola Smart, Consultant Trichologist at the Smart Hair Clinic. “Anything from the tools you use, excessive heat, emotional stress, over-processing and even hair lifecycles can contribute,” she adds.
So why is it that the breakage isn’t stopping after our long-overdue salon treatments? Wanting our pre-lockdown colour back (which likely took years to achieve) in just one session isn’t helping. “The longer hair goes untreated, the more resistant it becomes to colour and heat. Anything longer than an inch of regrowth will need a more potent mix of colour, especially if going lighter. Combine that with existing colour through the ends and potential overlapping of colour, and you’ve got a very valid reason for lockdown breakage,” explains Jack Cunningham-Rose, Redken educator.
What Can You Do to Help Minimise Breakage?
If you're returning to your hair salon for a colour appointment, Roach recommends minimising expectations. “The combination of colour and heat styling can be a shock to the hair system. For many, the past year or so was probably the longest they have been without colour in a long time. I’m seeing many guests returning to the chair with big roots and even bigger expectations, which means putting the hair under pressure when trying to achieve those results in one process,” he warns.
When it comes to everyday help for at-home, there are tonnes of hair strengthening tips that are easily doable. “During summer, protect and cover your hair in sunny environments, especially if it’s coloured. Use silk pillowcases and sleep with hair in a loose braid to minimise friction in longer hair,” says Cunningham-Rose. And for textured hair, these protective hairstyles both look chic and help to protect your lengths.
Hairstylist Mark Hill recommends reassessing your brushing technique. “Don’t be rough and don’t drag tangles through your hair. Doing so damages the outer layer that you want to keep smooth and tight. If you have a knot, gently brush the ends first and gradually work your way up,” he suggests.
What Sorts of Products Should You Use?
Unsurprisingly, the sorts of products we’re using on our hair can make all the difference when it comes to strengthening strands. “Once the hair becomes brittle and the cuticles get damaged, it can’t be fixed,” says Smart. “However, there are things that temporarily strengthen the hair, including products containing protein. This allows an extra layer of protection by binding the cuticle and plugging any gaps to help strengthen. Secondly, you’ve got to infuse the hair with moisture,” she adds.
As for the products themselves, look for deep-conditioning treatments and masks to get as much moisture into lengths as possible. “Using the right products to help keep hair strong is key, with conditioners and treatments being essential. A treatment will penetrate deeper into the hair to help restore lost moisture, repair and strengthen. A conditioner will help smooth and seal the outer layer of the hair to give it ultimate protection,” advises Hill.
Want to know what worked for me? These are the 15 best strengthening hair treatments I swear by.
This super-strengthening masque comes in both a light and rich formula, catering for different hair types. Because my hair is thin and fine, the light option is a winner for me. I use this stuff once a week to really fortify my lengths and the results can't be beaten. My hair looks smooth, shiny and undeniably healthy after just one use. Oh, and the matching shampoo and conditioner are equally as wonderful.
It takes a little while to get used to this stuff, but once you have, it's so worth it.It contains biotin and provitamin B5 to help strengthen and nourish hair, and it does a seriously great job. Just towel dry hair post-wash and apply two to three pumps to lengths and ends. Wait a couple of minutes for it to do its deeply conditioning work and Bob's your uncle. And when it comes to Mark Hill products, keep an eye out for an upcoming Bond Repair launch. I've been trying out the new products for a few weeks and they give some of the high-end strengtheners a run for their money.
I don't usually like applying products to my scalp post-wash because they tend to weigh my roots down and leave things looking greasy. But this stuff is basically traceless and has made a real difference. Just apply a few drops to the scalp, in sections, and massage in. My broken hairs are growing out and my scalp feels a lot healthier.
We all know that Olaplex is the cream of the crop when it comes to strengthening hair treatments and this stuff is no exception. It works to restore broken bonds in the hair to deliver seriously strong, super-silky lengths. My only complaint is that I wish they sold it by the bucket-load.
Another bond repairing treatment (can you spot the theme here?), this stuff is affordable and impressively hardworking. Just spray onto towel-dried hair after you've washed it and it will get to work straight away. Hair is left glossy and healthy-looking and feels notably stronger.
While an oil might not work to physically strengthen the hair, what it does do is deliver intense nourishment and help protect strands against further damage. If you ask me, few oils compare to this stuff. Thicker textures might prefer the original formula, but if you have thin, fine hair like me, this light option is the perfect way to deliver nourishment without weighing anything down.
I'm yet to meet somebody that didn't fall instantly in love with this stuff the first time they tried it. Use it as a post-conditioner treatment, applying it from roots to tips, leave for a couple of minutes and then rinse out. It's an extra step in your routine but believe me when I say it's worth it. It's full of nourishing plant butters as well as a 'bond cure' technology to help restore those pesky broken bonds that result in breakage.
Turns out scalp care is one of the most important aspects of ensuring hair grows strong and healthy. To avoid buildup and in order to keep my scalp balanced and fit to produce strong strands, I use this clarifying exfoliator once a week and it's doing a stand-up job.
I know this isn't technically a treatment, but I think it's important to mention that since I swapped out my usual styler for the GHD Max Styler, I've seen a noticeable improvement in the health of my hair. Designed for those with thick and/or long hair, the plates are much wider, meaning you can get the same results without having to go over the same sections over and over again (causing damage and breakage).
This is the kind of hair product I hate to love. It's one of the most hard-working hair masks I have ever used. Containing a bunch of nourishing extracts as well as a complex to help repair the damage, it leaves strands soft, strong and smelling rich. The reason I hate it? The price. I weep into my purse every time I click “Add to basket.”
I first reviewed this stuff for its wave-holding claims and it really proved itself. Curls that would usually drop out in an hour lasted all day long. The reason it's on this list, however, is thanks to its heat-protectant properties. Before this, I rarely bothered using heat protectant because it was just another product that risked weighing my hair down, but I find myself reaching for this stuff every time I get out my tongs.
Hair breakage starts at the root. If the hair isn't growing strong, you're fighting a losing battle. Every couple of weeks, I massage this oil into my scalp before my shower to help create a healthy growing environment. Not only has it helped my hair grow stronger, but it also makes for the most relaxing hair ritual.
I'm a big fan of Maria Nila haircare, but this stuff comes out on top as a firm favourite. It smells delicious and also contains plant-based proteins to help strengthen strands and deliver super-conditioning nourishment. The best bit is that it also contains a colour guard complex to help keep my bleach looking tip-top.