Natural Hair Breakage – How To Retain Your Length

May 2, 2020

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Ever look into the sink after combing your hair? 

Ain’t natural hair breakage a b*tch?

For some naturals, you may be met with a million little coily pieces looking back at you, like mini casualties of the detangling war. 

Nothing hurts more to a natural than seeing those small pieces of hair. It means that your ends, which are the oldest parts of your hair, are breaking at various points of your hair shaft.

But it represents an even larger problem: that you’re not retaining length.

This is the primary reason why natural hair doesn’t seem to grow, especially in coilier textures.

Ready to find out how to stop your natural hair from breaking! Let’s dive in! 

What is Natural Hair Breakage?

Let’s be clear: natural hair breakage is no friend to us naturals, periodt.

Breakage is common for straight hair, curly hair, and coily hair alike, but it’s accelerated in natural hair. 

Why? This is because our hair coils at many different spaces in the hair shaft. Every one of these inflection points represents a point of weakness in our hair. Our hair is susceptible to break at every one of these curl points!

Therefore, the coilier the hair = the more inflection points = increased likelihood of breakage. In other words: natural hair breakage is most common with increasing hair type; Type 4 has the highest susceptibility to experience natural hair breakage.

This means that, yes your hair is growing, but you’re natural hair is breaking at the same rate. If you’ve experienced stagnation in your natural hair growth, this may be why!

Fortunately for us, natural hair breakage is a common problem within the natural hair community, and with common problems, there are common solutions.

Here’s how you can fix your natural hair breakage to achieve long natural hair!

Water, Water, Water!

Fundamentally sis, if you’re experiencing natural hair breakage, it means that your hair is dry.

The simple answer = WATER!

Natural hair loves water. Water is the universal hydrator, and at the molecular level, it’s one of the only molecules that can actually penetrate into our strands to provide hydration from the inside out.

If it isn’t already, make sure that your natural hair routine is centred around water and hydration. Here’s some ways to do this:

♥ Use water-based products, especially your leave-in conditioner

♥ In the shower, let the water run down your hair prior to shampooing, for at least five minutes

♥ After your applying your deep conditioner (and before putting your plastic cap on), spritz some water onto your curls (the greenhouse effect doesn’t work if your hair is dry!)

♥ Make sure your hair is damp prior to detangling (and use a product with a lot of slip too!)

Avoid Drying Ingredients

Some of the most drying ingredients to natural hair can be found in natural hair products. From a brand perspective, these ingredients are inexpensive and provide immediate relief to natural hair, but can have dramatic effects long-term.

As a general rule of thumb, avoid drying alcohols in products like denatured alcohol, isopropyl alcohol, and mineral oil/petroleum.

Stick with more natural ingredients that are plant-based, like jojoba oil, aloe vera, shea butters, among others.

Use The Right Products For Your Hair Type and Porosity

All natural hair products are not made equally. Despite what brands claim, some natural hair products work better for some naturals, and are not meant for others. Knowing your natural hair type and porosity is the most important thing you can do to choose the right products for you.

Hair Type

Hair type is one of the easiest ways to characterize your hair. Type 2 naturals have looser curls, Type 4 naturals have coily hair, and Type 3 is in between.

As a general rule of thumb, Type 4 naturals should be using thicker oils and butters to lock in moisture, factoring in your porosity (more below). After applying your water-based leave in conditioner, a thicker cream or butter should be applied immediately after.

Type 2 naturals shouldn’t use heavier products, or else product buildup will occur (which will further accelerate breakage).

More importantly, though, the most important trait to know about your natural hair is:

Hair Porosity

Natural hair porosity is the single most important trait to know about your natural hair.

Natural Hair Porosity

Natural hair porosity is the ability of your hair to absorb water and/products. 

Low porosity natural hair has a low absorption rate, because the cuticles are stubbornly closed. It is difficult for this hair porosity to absorb moisture.

High porosity natural hair has a high absorption rate, because the cuticles are always open. It is difficult for this hair porosity to retain moisture.

Low porosity natural hair has difficulty absorbing moisture into the strands because the cuticles are stubbornly closed. High porosity natural hair is opposite: the cuticles are always open and thus, water and products evaporate as soon as it is applied.

If you don’t know your porosity, you’re doing yourself a disservice. Make sure to read about your specific porosity before deciding on a product/regimen.

Focus Your Efforts On Your Ends

If your ends are the oldest part of your hair, you need to ensure that your efforts are being channeled at that part of your hair!

When applying your leave-in conditioners, deep conditioners and gels, be sure to apply products specifically at the ends.

Product Build Up

A common reason why naturals experience dryness, and therefore breakage, is because they have too much product buildup on their hair.

As the name suggests, product buildup occurs when the hair has accumulated too much product from previous applications and is desperate need of a deep wash. You know you have product build up when your hair feels greasy, yet dry.

Your wash day routine is critical for adequately removing product buildup. Make sure you follow these tips 6-essential wash day steps to get your moisture levels right!

But there is a fine line between shampooing effectively and over-shampooing. This is especially important for Type 4 naturals. As a general rule of thumb, use a shampoo weekly (biweekly for Type 4 hair) in your wash day routine!

If You Like This Post, You’ll ♥:

The Ultimate Wash Day Routine For Natural Hair

Protein Treatment

Another reason why your hair is breaking is lack in protein.

Your natural hair coils the way it does because of particular protein bonds in your hair. When your moisture-protein ratio is off, and you have too little protein, the result can be gummy, extra soft hair.

Which, after a certain point, leads to breakage.

Our top favourite product for protein is the Aphogee Two Step Protein Treatment or, for a more affordable option, the Palmer’s Protein Pack. Use these products every 3 weeks and follow it up with a deep conditioner to keep the moisture balance intact.

Mechanical Damage

When naturals think damage, it typically refers to heat damage, or damage from relaxers/chemicals when you’re transitioning from natural hair.

But there’s another type of damage that is more widespread in the natural hair community: mechanical damage.

Mechanical damage is damage that occurs when the hair is weathered from physical actions to the hair. The most common? Detangling.

The act of detangling natural hair is a struggle in and of itself, but rushing through the process can further accelerate natural hair breakage, simply because the movement slowly weathers the hair, especially the ends. You can even end up breaking healthy, non-split ends!

Here’s some general rules when it comes to detangling when dealing with natural hair breakage:

♥ Only detangle once a week or biweekly to minimize the amount of breakage you’re experiencing;

♥ Make sure your hair is damp and full of conditioner prior to detangling;

Never detangle on dry hair;

♥ Detangle in small sections, starting from the bottom and working your way up.

Protective Style

The easiest (and most time effective) way to mitigate natural hair breakage is by simply putting your hair away.

Protective styles are the easiest way for naturals to retain length. Many naturals report an increase in length (and therefore less breakage by definition) when they protective style their hair.

Common protective styles include braids, wigs, weaves, and buns.

Remember: if it’s too tight, it’s not a protective style. If you leave it in for more than 6-8 weeks without deep conditioning and re-moisturizing, it’s not a protective style.

Get a Trim!

If all else, there’s nothing wrong with dusting those dry ends, sis! Getting a trim every so often will ensure that the rest of your hair remains safe and split-end free.

The big chop is highly effective, but highly feared, in the natural hair community.

If you’re too afraid to do the big chop, do invisible trims every 4 weeks. An invisible trim is cutting off a very tiny amount off the ends. This is a great way to preserve your length while ensuring those pesky ends stay tamed!

The Bottom Line

There’s nothing more important to naturals than healthy hair. And natural hair breakage is a sign that there’s something in your routine that isn’t aligning.

But the above tips will boost hydration in your hair, promoting a healthy moisture balance. It will also ensure that your protein balance is in order, that you’re using the right products for your hair and porosity, and it will also ensure that your natural hair is well protected.

The Curl Market is a natural hair blog catered to helping black naturals grow their curls into a long, luscious manes.

We use the latest evidence-based scientific research to provide you with the top tips on growing your curls, regardless of hair type.

We also provide lifestyle tips, both self care and mental care, to ensure you are optimizing your body’s natural hair growth cycle – because you can’t grow natural hair if you’re stressed out!

Come as you are.

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Ayana Aden

Ayana is The Curl Market’s brand founder. When she’s not deep in natural hair research or creating content, she’s hanging on the couch with her husband and her cat, reading a book or scrolling through TikTok. Follow her on Instagram at @ayanaaaden

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What's Your Curl Type?

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Learning your curl type is an important step in learning how to take care of your natural hair. It can help you understand what products will work best for you, how often to shampoo, how to style your natural hair, and other key information.

This quiz will give you the lowdown on exactly what your curl type is, so you'll never have to wonder again ♥

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