More and more women are choosing to ditch the hair dye and rock their natural grays. While this can definitely be a wonderful thing, one downfall is that gray hair is more susceptible to heat damage. But why is this?
Gray hair has less melanin. This not only gives hair its color but also helps protect hair from the elements and external aggressors such as heat styling. As we age, the oil glands on our scalp produce less oil, which means hair becomes drier. Gray hair is thinner, drier, and more brittle, making it more susceptible to heat damage.
Why Does Hair Go Gray?
Your hair follicles contain pigment cells that create melanin. Melanin is a chemical that gives your hair its color.
As we age, these pigment cells start to die, meaning that new strands of hair contain less melanin, and grow increasingly lighter, gray, silver, and eventually white.
Once a hair follicle stops producing melanin, it won’t grow colored strands again.
Why Is Gray Hair More Susceptible To Heat Damage?
Less melanin not only results in hair turning gray or white, but it also means that hair loses its elastic properties and the cuticle of the hair becomes thinner.
The cuticle is a protective layer that protects hair from water, UV rays, and heat styling. As the cuticle thins, so does your hair’s resilience to outside aggressors.
The oil glands on our scalp produce less oil as we age, so hair will also feel drier.
Heat styling can be damaging for any hair type, but especially so for gray hair, as it is weaker, drier, and more brittle than hair with more melanin in it.
What Does Heat Damaged Gray Hair Look Like?
The signs of heat damage on gray hair are:
- Hair turns a yellowish or greenish hue
- Frizz, resulting from loss of moisture
- Higher porosity
- Hair is weakened and breaks more easily
- Split ends
- Hair tangles and knots easily
Is Heat Damage Permanent?
Unfortunately, heat damage is permanent and has to grow out.
In the meantime, you can improve the appearance of heat-damaged hair by using rich moisturizing masks and protein treatments.
If your hair is discolored, this can sometimes be the result of burnt-on product or mineral build-up.
If your gray hair has developed a greenish hue, this may be due to a build-up of calcium from your tap water. You should be able to remove this by using a shampoo that’s specifically designed for hard water.
A yellowish tint may be a sign of burnt hair or of a product build-up that has burnt onto the hair.
If it is due to product build-up, a detoxing shampoo or vinegar rinse may help you to remove this.
If this doesn’t work, it’s likely that the yellowish hue is a sign of heat damage. Unfortunately, this is common with silver hair and you’ll have to wait for it to grow out.
In the meantime, using a purple shampoo or temporary toner can neutralize the yellow tones. You can even cover the yellow sections with a semi-permanent dye such as Manic Panic if you feel more adventurous.
How To Protect Gray Hair From Heat Damage
Use Heat Protectants
A good heat protectant is essential if you’re planning to use hot tools on your gray hair.
Heat protectants come in many different formulas including sprays, serums, lotions, and creams.
If you have fine hair, using a spray will prevent your hair from being weighed down. Thicker, coarser hair types may be better suited to a lotion or cream, but sprays will still work well.
Check the label before you buy. Good quality heat protectants will contain:
- Humectants (like propylene glycol) to lock in moisture
- Amino acids (like keratin or collagen), these work to restore and support hair’s protein
- Natural oils and extracts
It’s best to avoid heat protectants with sulfates and alcohol in, as these will further dry out gray hair, causing frizz.
Some heat protectants also have silicone in them. These are highly effective at protecting the hair from heat, but they can also build up over time. Those with finer hair types may find silicone weighs their hair down.
It’s a good idea to use a clarifying shampoo once a week if you use a silicone-based heat protectant.
This way you can benefit from silicone’s excellent heat protectant and conditioning properties without worrying about silicone buildup weighing your hair down.
Always remember, however, that no heat protectant can protect your hair 100%. It’s still advisable to use the lowest possible heat setting to get your desired look.
Use Good Quality Hot Tools
If you’re going to use hot tools on your hair, it’s important to use good quality ones, especially so for gray hair, which is drier and more brittle.
Use flat irons made from high-quality materials like titanium, ceramic, and tourmaline.
They provide even heat distribution and emit negative ions which are great for calming frizz and promoting shine – just what you need for gray hair.
Generally speaking, ceramic irons are suitable for fine to normal hair whereas titanium is better for coarse and thick hair, due to its ability to reach higher temperatures.
Take Breaks From Heat Styling
Giving your hair a break from heat styling remains one of the best ways to reduce heat damage to your gray hair.
You can air-dry your hair or dry your hair using the cool setting of your blow dryer.
When air-drying the hair, use a microfiber towel to absorb excess water first before you let your hair air dry.
Microfiber towels are highly absorbent and help prevent frizz.
Avoid rubbing the hair vigorously with a towel as this can increase frizz and the risk of breakage.
Never air dry sopping wet hair, as the hair is stretched out and can lead to breakage. This is especially the case if your hair is heavier and thicker.
Get Regular Trims
Getting regular trims can help keep your gray hair looking and feeling healthy, and get rid of any damaged sections and split ends.
How often you should get a trim depends on the condition of your hair, but as a general guide, a trim every 6-8 weeks will help keep it looking its best.
Use A Lower Heat Setting
Whatever heat tool you use, you should use the lowest heat setting possible to achieve your style. Look for good quality heat tools that have a wide range of temperature settings.
When using flat irons, make as few passes over the hair as possible to achieve your look. Don’t let the tool remain in one place on the hair for more than a few seconds.
When blow-drying your hair, hold the dryer 6 inches or more away and keep it moving over the hair.
A Korean study has found that following this method when blow-drying the hair reduces the risk of heat damage.
Because gray hair tends to be drier, it’s important to use a good conditioner every time you wash your hair. A leave-in conditioner may also be beneficial, especially for those with thicker, coarser, or coily hair.
A deep moisturizing treatment once a week will help keep your gray hair looking its best. And if you want to boost your hair’s shine, a shine-boosting spray will give your hair a smooth, glossy finish.
Use Sun Protectant
Gray hair is more susceptible to sun damage. This is because melanin helps to protect hair against UV rays. Since gray hair is lacking in melanin, UV light melts the cortex of the hair, leaving it more brittle and damaged. It can also turn gray hair into a yellowish hue.
You can protect your gray hair from the sun by covering it with a hat or using a sun protectant.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
Gray hair is more fragile and finer because the cuticle is thinner. The cuticle provides a protective layer against water, UV rays, chemicals, and heat styling. So gray hair will naturally be drier and more fragile. This is why it’s important to take special care when styling and using hot tools on your gray hair.
Certain nutrient deficiencies and health conditions can cause premature gray hairs. However, if the cause is simply due to genetics or aging, there is, unfortunately, no way you can restore your natural hair color, other than dyeing it.
Typically, Caucasian people start going gray around their mid-30s, Asian people around their late 30s, and African-Americans around their mid-40s. Half of all people will have a notable amount of gray hair by the time they turn 50.
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