Ask a Stylist: How Do I Save My Damaged Hair?

You know when you’re sitting in a salon chair thinking up questions for your stylist, but then get completely distracted by an issue US Weekly and miss that glorious window of opportunity? We’ve got your back. This week, our resident stylist is answering a couple of questions that she recently received from readers with tricky hair problems.  

Question: I had a gorgeous baby girl recently and my hair has started falling out like crazy. Not fun! I have a short pixie cut and I last had it highlighted at the end of March. My hair is fine and quite thin and I have no bald patches, but I seem to be shedding all over. What do you recommend? Have you had any clients with this issue? What can I do to keep my hair healthy?

Answer: Fortunately, the shedding is completely normal! I’ve seen it happen with several clients after giving birth to a baby and it always happens in the way you described—not in one spot, but all over. During your pregnancy, your phases of hair growth change completely. Normally, most of your hair is in the growing phases and a small amount of your hair (about 10%) is in a resting phase. During pregnancy, your estrogen levels cause almost all of your hair follicles to stay in the growing phase. That’s why during pregnancy, most women notice their hair looking a bit thicker and shinier. After pregnancy, however, your levels change again and that hair that hadn’t shed the entire pregnancy begins to catch up and shed for anywhere from six months to one year past your baby’s birthday.

I’ve seen this with a lot of clients and for those of us with fine, thin hair, it can be quite scary! But I can assure you that it’s all perfectly normal and you are actually in the best position you could be in, because you already wear a short, textured haircut. You can still highlight your hair in the meantime and do anything you would normally do. If you’d like, you can even add in a strengthening treatment like Kevin Murphy’s Born Again (which you mix with your conditioner and use every time you wash), which uses bamboo and biotin to strengthen and nourish the hair that is still left on your head after the shedding ends.

Question: I’m naturally dark-haired but have been bleaching and highlighting my hair for 10 plus years. I used to have extremely thick hair, but a bad highlighting job from a careless stylist made me lose half of what was on my head, leaving me with thin, damaged hair. I finally found a great stylist who managed to get my hair to a decent state again with low lights and just a base. But after a few months, one job went wrong and my hair broke in the middle. I left it completely alone while providing treatment for six months. I went back and got my hair highlighted and the base color retouched and it went really well and I was very happy. My hair was growing back and feeling stronger.

So I went to the owner of the salon (instead of my usual hair stylist since she was away) to get the same treatment again and it completely broke, damaged, and dried out my hair. My long hair is now cut off at the ends and feels like straw.  It’s not healthy at all, and I keep wondering how much hair can I possibly lose? I’m wondering if you have any advice on what I should do, and if my hair will ever be able to grow strong again?

Answer: Based on your experiences, my best guess on why this is happening (and happening so inconsistently), is that any time you re-touch blonde highlights, you have to be very, very careful about overlapping bleach on top of previously-bleached strands. Typically, you have to use a higher developer of bleach to lift the darker roots than you would to lift the blonde on the ends (if you would like them any lighter).

Most of the time when I do highlights on someone, we lift the blonde to where we want it and then every time we re-touch, I’ll lift the roots to match and not put any bleach whatsoever on the ends because they don’t need to be lighter, and further bleach will damage the hair (or cause the hair to just break off).

Usually, I just need to tone with a demi-permanent gloss at the shampoo bowl to keep the brassiness out. But it’s just a general rule of thumb that you don’t overlap bleach unless you do it very carefully and only if you need to. Oftentimes when I do overlap, I’ll use a very low-volume developer and let it process slowly over time, and I’ll usually mix in a conditioning oil to keep the hair moisturized while it’s processing. It’s that big of a deal to be careful when you’re overlapping. Otherwise, you will end up with breakage or extreme damage.

I would assume this is what happened when you had your hair done before. It sounds like your current stylist had come up with a good system and had learned how to handle your fine hair with the bleach, but when the owner went to work with it, she had no idea what was on your hair already and had to guess. Her guess obviously wasn’t correct because now, your poor hair is broken again!

My best advice would be to take the guessing out of the game. Moving forward, schedule a consultation with your hairdresser once she’s back from vacation and ask to speak about your hair. Tell her what you’ve learned about overlapping and share your experience with the owner. Let her know you really want to understand what she’s used on your hair to make sure this doesn’t happen again.

Even just opening up the conversation will lead to a lot more transparency. I would tell her that you’d like to continue going to her, but with the understanding that you must know your color formula (the one that was working) so that if she ever is on vacation again, or if you end up moving, you can tell another stylist about that little color formula you’re using. I happily give all of my clients their color formulas if they need them and I usually make a few calls to help them find a great hairdresser wherever they are going if they’d like me to.

I would also suggest letting her do a strengthening treatment on you and I would recommend taking one home to use about once a week for the next six months until your hair is in great condition again.

Another tip might be to think about transitioning into balayage highlights because they are much softer on the hair and they can incorporate your natural color in a way that’s not harsh and obvious. Good luck with your locks, my dear!

Got a burning hair question? If you’d like to submit a query to appear on Ask a Stylist, email [email protected]. Questions may be edited for clarity.

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