Prev Next

Hope for Heat-Damaged Hair

By Amalah

Hi. I’m having a hair crisis. After consulting several friends, one of whom pointed me to your blog, I have determined that somehow I have stressed my thin, typically healthy, but now very dry and broken hair. They all think it is the ceramic flat iron I have been using for the past two years. Before that, my hair was no stranger to the curling iron, so I’m skeptical, but it’s either that or diet, and I don’t know why it would be diet-related.

I do not color or treat in any way. I wash 4x a week and blow-dry and style with a flat iron. I do not always use a thermal protection spray, although I do own one. I do not always condition. I have been using a Biolage shampoo for the past few months.
Attached are several pictures.

One is a picture of my current situation. (Picture in sleeveless crew neck shirt) This is after two, yes TWO hair cuts in one week.

A year ago it was shiny, sleek, silky, and healthy. (Picture in floral top.)

For some reason, over the last few months, it has become dry, broken, thin, and yuck. At the hairdresser’s a week ago, she said, “Has your hair always been this thin?” After her cut, it looked so bad a friend compared me to a cancer patient.

(Picture of me in black v-neck shirt)

I had it cut again by someone else to get my current cut. (Picture of me in black sleeveless crew neck shirt)

When I style it initially it looks okay, but as the day goes on, it gets frizzy, and it is practically see-through it’s so thin.

Any ideas?? Help!!!

Eeek! You KNOW it’s bad when your friends get all brutally honest with you, right?

I’m gonna jump on the bandwagon and blame the flat iron too — our hair ages along with the rest of our bodies, so stuff it used to put up with in the past can still cause it to go all kablooey as we get older. And I am also going to ding you on the “I do not always condition” thing.

Your hair needs a break from the heat-styling. A nice loooong break. Because that’s CLASSIC heat damage there, all thin and frizzy and kind of mangy at the ends.

But! The good news! Your roots! Look how nice and healthy!

So hopefully, armed with a new and improved haircare regimen, we can turn those healthy roots into healthy ends, while (again, hopefully) improving the current ends in the meantime.

And your new and improved hair regimen has three steps. Ta-da!

1) Upgrade your conditioner to a deep conditioner — one especially for dry, brittle, damaged hair. And use it everyday on the bottom half of your hair, leaving it on for a good five minutes at least. Usually I tell people to just condition the very ends, but your “ends” are kind of taking over at this point.

You can stick with the shampooing four times a week, although you might want to try something besides the Biolage. It’s clearly not really doing much for you. (And if I may paraphrase my own Phillip: Biolage is an okay line, good for people making the first leap into salon products, but it’s far from the best stuff out there.)

Lines to consider for both shampoo and conditioner: Bumble & Bumble (I’m thinking , or ), Pureology ReConstruct Repair (I know you don’t color your hair, but the stuff is just so GOOD), Wella, Kiehl’s or Aveda.

Of course, now that I’ve recommended a slew of pricey shampoos and conditioners, let me also suggest a good old VO5 hot oil treatment, or a once-a-week homemade avocado hair mask (mash and mix one avocado, one egg yolk and a 1/2 teaspoon of olive oil; apply to hair for 30 minutes, and then shampoo and condition).

2) Upgrade (or ditch) the flat iron. You mentioned it’s ceramic, but there’s still a big difference between a bottom-of-the-line ceramic iron and a professional quality one. (Check out the Smackdown’s full take on flat-irons here.) Either way, the thermal protection spray is essential, providing you’re using a good one. (That link has a lot more info and recommendations from readers, so I’m not going to repeat the whole thing here.)

Depending on just how curly and frizzy your hair is, I would really encourage you to try and NOT flat iron it as many days as possible. Maybe with the right styling products you can get away with just a really good blow dry? Wear your hair up in a clip on the weekends? If you absolutely must use a flat iron, so be it, just make sure it’s a really good one and you’re using it properly.

3) Get some volumizing products. I use a volumizing shampoo and conditioner, but I think your priority needs to be moisturizing in that department…so it’s up to all your styling/finishing products to add some oomph to the thinness.

Depending on where you end up with the blow-drying/flat-ironing, you have a ton of product options: Pureology Root Lift, Bed Head Small Talk, Bumble & Bumble Thickening Spray, just to name a few. Following the flat iron advice I linked to will probably help the frizz, although I’ve also found that Bed Head Head Rush is a nice finishing spray for fine hair that adds a little thickness without weighing things down.

But I still wouldn’t expect that much from styling products right now — the key is nourishing and replenishing your hair from the inside out, and backing away from the heat styling for awhile. It sounds like two years was your hair’s limit on how much abuse it’ll take. Now we just have to see how long it’ll take to bounce back to its former shiny smoothness.

Published October 14, 2007. Last updated June 1, 2017.
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

icon icon
chat bubble icon


  • robin m

    October 15, 2007 at 12:11 pm

    Is there any verdict on the heat styling protective products like Dove and Thermasilk? I also use a flat iron (although a Chi) and am starting to notice split ends – but my hair is halfway down my back. I am terrified of effing up my hair, but also don’t want it to be curly/wavy/frizzy every day, either.

  • robin m

    October 15, 2007 at 12:14 pm

    /me ducks, I see the Heat Protectant products were covered in the linked page, now. 😉
    I did try the Conair ~$30 flat iron (ceramic) from Walmart, no worky. I’ve also tried the one they sell on HSN with the little nubs in it? Maxiglide? Something like that. Nothing works like the Chi (bought for $90 at Amazon, free shipping).

  • Neena

    October 15, 2007 at 2:01 pm

    I use a flat-iron regularly, and have learned the benefits of deep-conditioning regularly, investing in a good, ceramic flat-iron, and using products that protect my hair. I have a couple suggestions of products that I LOVE and can’t live without:
    Phyto 9 is amazing stuff. You can get it at Sephora and a number of salons carry it.
    Also, Alterna carries a hemp product called Hemp Shine and Texturizing Catalyst that has actually made my hair healthier.
    I recently discovered Bumble and Bumble’s Hair Powder. This stuff is awesome! It prolongs the need to shampoo since it helps with the day 2 and 3 oiliness. It’s a little pricey, but well worth the expense!

  • dcrmom

    October 15, 2007 at 3:10 pm

    Wow! I was so surprised to pop over to your blog and seem my mug plastered right there! Thanks for all this great advice. My flat iron is a CHI, but I have stopped using it. I have also gotten yet another hair cut — short this time! I do have to wash every day b/c it looks stupid after I sleep on it, but I’m not flat ironing at all anymore. I am going to check out all this product advice. THANKS SO MUCH!!

  • BaltimoreGal

    October 15, 2007 at 3:31 pm

    Frederick Fekkai has a new line of products called Coiff:
    They’re made so you can mix & match them and your hair’s won’t be overwhelmed! I have been using the Thermal UV Protectant, Ironless Straightening Balm, and Ultra-Light Finishing Creme combination and it works really well- my hair is straight, not fried from using my hair drier, and not frizzy. The products are NOT cheap- about $25 each- but you don’t need to use much so they’ll last a long time.
    Plus, I think good hair is worth it!

  • Jamie

    October 15, 2007 at 3:45 pm

    Get thee to a dr!
    Thinning, brittle, dry hair is a classic symptom of hypothyroid. There are also several other health related reasons why your hair could be thinning- stress, new medications, etc.
    It’s worth it to rule it out, at least.

  • Giada

    October 15, 2007 at 4:01 pm

    So, I’ve actually had this EXACT same problem. I’ve got thin hair that’s pretty fine (was super fine when I was a kid, but now it’s got a bit of a wave, so it’s less fine) and has always been quite thin. I highlight it, wash it every day, and always blow dry. Additionally, I straight iron the sides and front where the blowdrying isn’t enough to keep it straight all day.
    A couple of years ago, my hair went from soft and fine and healthy to brittle and super dry. It was sad and upsetting and I never felt pretty.
    So here’s what I did, and maybe it’ll work for you.
    1. Amalah’s right on conditioning every day. A lot of people tell women with fine and/or thin hair that conditioning every day will weight it down, and if your hair is oily, it’ll perpetuate that. I tell them they’re wrong. My hair needs conditioner because, since it’s fine, it tangles super easily. Also, oil is caused by glands, and conditioner does not effect the amount of oil the glands produce. So, I condition every day with a light conditioner (I use the light conditioner by AG brands, which I originally purchased in a salon in Boston, but since moving from there, learned it’s a Canadian brand, so I order it online). I also condition once or twice a week with a deep conditioner. I’m currently using Wella, but it’s for color treated hair, so I’m not sure that’s helpful.
    2. Moisturizing shampoo. The good news here is that the best stuff I’ve used is the Dove moisturizing shampoo. I switched to Wella after finding it at Ulta, and I’m going back to Dove as soon as the Wella bottle is done. So yay inexpensive but effective drugstore brand!
    3. After showering, I towel dry gently and then spray in a detangler. I concentrate around the roots since the conditioner in the shower keeps the ends pretty untangly. This helps, I think, avoid breakage when I comb the wet/damp hair. I’ve used Aveda and Pantene detanglers and both seem to work about equally as well, although I’ve always been skeptical about the real quality of Pantene. After spraying on the detangler, I comb through it w/ a wide-tooth comb.
    4. Next, I spray on heat protectant all over. My stylist recommended, and I really like, Tigi S Factor Flat Iron Shine Spray. It feels a bit lighter and because of the spray, it’s easy to distribute it well.
    5. Lastly, I put a little Goldwell Kerasilk Instant Silk Fluid around the ends where my hair gets the dryest.
    6. I blow dry with a 1600 watt Conair, which only takes about 5 minutes because my hair is pretty thin. Then, I use my straight iron.
    Here’s where my advice differs from most peoples. Most people will say invest in a good iron, and a ceramic one. The reason for ceramic is touted is because they get hotter, and if it’s hotter, you’ll only need to run it through your hair once. HOWEVER, if you have thin hair, you don’t need a super-hot iron. Instead, the super hot iron ends up frying your hair. I’ve actually tried the fancy irons and they’re just way, way too much for my hair. I tihnk they’re really made for people that need to straighten thick, curly hair, not for people with wavy hair that use an iron more as a finishing tool.
    I use a Conair I got at CVS for about $20. I love it. It was a comb attachment on it which ensures that my hair is straight before the hot iron part touches it, and means I don’t need to do a lot of do-overs. Also, I think the comb makes you more likely to keep the iron moving through your hair (like brushing your hair), rather than clamping down inch by inch through a lock of hair (which my stylist told me is how most people use a flat iron, and why irons end up damaging hair so often).
    So that’s my advice — plenty of moisturizing products, a cheaper flat iron that doesn’t get so hot, and avoiding holding the iron in one spot.
    My hair, by the way, looks great now. Just the other day my colorist told me that my hair was so healthy and great to work with, and was shocked when I told her I used a straightening iron almost daily. And, for the first time since I was a kid, it’s actually pretty enough to wear past my shoulders!

  • Kourtney_R

    October 15, 2007 at 6:38 pm

    My laws, yes, you need a nice winter jacket. I actually spent quite a bit on a nice wool maternity winter coat (I’m in Calgary, & we get COLD). It didn’t matter how whale-like I felt while getting dressed, when I put my jacket on to leave the house I felt together & chic. (As compared to wearing my husband’s winter parka, where I felt all Shamu & awful.)
    I also bought a pair of knee-high boots (flat, lace-up with a side zip, sorta boxer style) that I wore with leggings & a denim skirt & a twin set continually for the last three months. The biggest thing is to try wear what you usually wear. And look through regular clothing in different sizes – I thinkI only owned three maternity tops – everything else was “regular”, just larger sized.

  • Emma B

    October 15, 2007 at 8:58 pm

    I actually clicked through just to talk about the thyroid thing, but Jamie said it for me first.
    Seriously, this is how I got diagnosed with a whacko thyroid in the first place — my hairdresser saw how it was falling out, and told me to go straight to the doctor to get it tested. If she hadn’t said it, I know it would have taken me a lot longer to figure out what was wrong.
    If the styling tips don’t help, and you keep noticing loss from the roots, definitely take it up with your doctor at your next appointment.

  • ksd77

    October 16, 2007 at 12:27 am

    One thing that has helped keep my hair healthier is washing it less. I know you only wash it 4 times a week right now, but if you can go a day longer here or there it can really help. I only shampoo 2 – 3 times a week (and do a hot oil treatment once a week) and my hair is super healthy despite regular heat styling and highlighting.

  • MrsHaley

    October 16, 2007 at 11:39 am

    Jo-Lynne — No advice, just a big thumbs-up … you are very pretty, despite hair woes. 🙂

  • dcrmom

    October 18, 2007 at 3:17 pm

    Wow, great advice. I actually do have a slightly hypoactive thyroid which is under control with a low dose of Synthroid. I’m definitely investing in a deep conditioner right away.

  • Rose666

    March 17, 2009 at 3:58 pm

    I am getting a bit worried with the condition of my hair, I was it ever second day but use GHDs after drying my hair, however, my hair has got to a stage that it has got so thin and damaged i want to just hide away. My hair is shoulder length and when i am straightening it i have a problem with one particular area and now its a mess. I have been advised to have me hair cut shorter and maybe this my help with my hair being so thin and maybe by giving my hair a break from excessive heat my it will get stronger though time
    What do you recommend?

  • carme

    January 19, 2015 at 1:27 pm

    Here’s two things that work for me – when I overly heat styled my hair. #1 is the hommade approach where you can use a teaspoon of olive oil and two teaspoons of mayonnaise – apply to your hair and then cover it with a plastic cap and leave it on for thirty minutes. That is the cheapest way. If you are a super busy mom like me and work also, you can use the heat leave-in protector from the Shielo brand BEFORE doing any heat styling. The Shielo protector will stop the heat from damaging your hair, and it just makes it super shiny and soft again.

  • tracy

    March 6, 2015 at 2:14 pm

    I suggest NOT using any flat irons at all. They ARE all bad.