Why is my girlfriend's hair breaking so easily?
December 16, 2007 11:48 PM   Subscribe

My girlfriend's hair comes out, too much! Every day she loses a small handful of it, and it won't grow past her shoulders very far. It's been this way for several years. What could be the cause of this?

Since shortly after I met her 2 years ago, my girlfriend seems to drop off too much hair. When she showers, there is a noticeable gob of it after every one. When she straightens and combs it, she leaves another small gob, probably 30-50 strands of variable lengths. Throughout her scalp, short (3-6 inch) hairs stick out, leaving an odd look.

While her hair really doesn't look bad to me, it's clear to both of us that something is not right with it. We are both concerned. Her hair seems brittle and easy to break, and it is particularly wirey (sp). My best guess is that her hair has somehow become very fragile and is breaking off with normal care. Is there a likely explanation for why this is happening? Regardless, is there a way to minimize the breakage and strengthen her hair?

Hair care details: She's currently using not one, but three types of Garnier Fructis shampoo. She uses all three each time she washes her hair. She's using some Fructis conditioner along with that. She also straightens it daily (her hair is naturally very curly) with a high-quality straightening iron. I believe she uses a standard comb and brush as well.

Any help is appreciated, thanks!
posted by Anthony84 to Health & Fitness (26 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I can't see any reason why she should be washing her hair three times! Curly hair is fragile hair. If I had her hair, I would be washing it once ever OTHER day until it got better. She might try some treatments designed to put moisture back into her hair as she is stripped most of it out. If I were her, I would cut it off really short and start anew with a gentle haircare regime that involved far less shampoo and straightening.
posted by Foam Pants at 11:55 PM on December 16, 2007 [1 favorite]

1- She shouldn't be using 3 shampoos each time she washes. She shouldn't even be washing it every day and using 1 shampoo a day. It's stripping her hair of all of its natural protective oils. If she quits this cold turkey she will notice a surge in oil production but it will die off rapidly as long as she keeps it up.

2- Straightening hair every day with an iron is incredibly damaging. Optimally she wouldn't do this every day, and would use a silicone based cream or serum to protect the hair.

Boitin and vitamins can help, as well as a good diet, but she's really abusing her hair right now and those things can only do so much.
posted by hindmost at 11:56 PM on December 16, 2007 [1 favorite]

Also, Curly Girl is a great book for curly haired girls about the difference in hair care needs. One of the key tenets is that curly hair does best when it's rarely shampooed and the more you mess with it, the worse it looks and the more maintenance you need to do for it. A lot of my curly haired friends have claimed success with her methods.
posted by hindmost at 12:01 AM on December 17, 2007

I lose an extraordinary amount of hair every time I brush it or take a shower. I worry that I'm losing it at a faster rate than it's growing in, but I've been worrying for years now, to no ill effect. So that might just be a genetic thing. Similarly, my hair won't grow more than a couple of inches past my collarbones, no matter how hard I try. It isn't because my hair is breaking off, either — my hair is very healthy, so I think it just falls out when it reaches a certain length, and that length does not happen to be as long as I'd wish. I have lots of the little short hairs all over too, which I guess must just be the new hairs growing in to replace all the old ones that are jumping ship just as fast as they can.

Previous commenters are right that the three shampoos and daily ironing are extremely damaging, and those should be cut way down. But it's quite possible that even if she washed her hair every other day and never so much as looked at a straight iron again, the other problems might never go away.
posted by adiabat at 12:08 AM on December 17, 2007

Hair loss is normal as women get older. I don't think the amount of her hair loss is abnormal but her straightening her hair with even the best straightening iron isn't a good thing, especially everyday. I would suggest that she stops buying more shampoo than she needs and invest in good products for her curly hair to keep the curls from frizzing up. There are inexpensive products that'll keep her hair bouncy and silky(not straight) without looking like a poodle. If her hair is dry, use shampoo once during a shower, and wash every other day, and use conditioner only on the ends, and not scalp. In addition, get a hair mask for her to leave it in for 5-10min once a week to get her hair back. In the end, however, she's going to have to get it trimmed to get rid of the damaged ends that's breaking off.

If she's black, mixed or have similar texture to African American, then she needs to stop putting heat on her hair right away, and invest in good shampoo and good conditioner geared towards dry curly hair. But never on the scalp.

I would also recommend getting a hair polisher/anti-frizz product that has cyclomethicone, dimethicone in it. You can get a decent size bottle 4-8oz for less than 10bucks at your local beauty supplies store. This will last you a year, btw, if not more. I've had mine for about a year and I still have 1/3 left.

Good luck and have her get a trim and grow it cause there's so much you can do to repair it.
posted by icollectpurses at 12:29 AM on December 17, 2007

I know that starting about in my 30's I lost a ton of hair every day. I thought for sure I was going bald! The same thing with my best friend. Also, I have a hypothyroid which is a contributing factor. Perhaps she may want to get her thyroid level checked.
posted by cleo at 1:22 AM on December 17, 2007 [1 favorite]

I hate to ask this, but does she eat?

Insufficient nutrition is a great way to have brittle hair that comes out in clumps.
posted by InnocentBystander at 1:42 AM on December 17, 2007

It's because she's washing her hair three times. I have the same hair, very curly and very fine.

When I was a child, I washed my hair twice in a row with an oil stripping shampoo one time and my hair was so fragile I thought it might tear out of my head.

It took until adulthood to realize washing it everyday made it frizzy. I ONLY wash my hair with shampoo every few days. PLEASE tell her to lay off the shampoo.
posted by fan_of_all_things_small at 2:03 AM on December 17, 2007

While the 3 shampoos per day aren't doing her any favours, I'm guessing the hairloss/brittleness started prior to the 3 shampoos per day and is the reason shes using 3 shampoos.
She needs to see a Doctor, there can be many causes of brittle hair and hair loss. Poor nutrition will probably be the first suggestion but her doctor can run a very simple blood test to find out.
posted by missmagenta at 2:31 AM on December 17, 2007

Everyone else is dead on, stop washing and straightening so damn much.

One thing that can help her not straighten is to braid her hair (gently/loosely) overnight. When she unbraids it in the morning it'll be gentle waves with no major tangles and should look acceptable without straightening.

The rest of the time, if she feels like she HAS to straighten, she should make sure she's using a ceramic flat iron, and be willing to shell out for the good heat protectant, something specifically designed for flat ironing. Additionally, one pass only. I know, there's a place where it didn't get rid of all of the frizz right in the middle. One pass only. Really.

One additional kind of nuclear option is a mayonnaise mask every two weeks or so. Yes, OK, it smells vile. But the smell comes out, and man... soft hair... Anyway, she should get her hair good and wet, and put in as much mayo as she needs to make her hair feel goopy and disgusting (easy on the roots, heavy on the ends). Wrap in a towel and do something else for 15-30 minutes. Wash out (this is the only time she can use shampoo on her ends and shampoo two days in a row if it feels super oily the next day). But anyway, that may be too much for her, since she apparently hates even a slightly oily feeling in her hair (it took me a long time to get used to the idea that oil in hair = soft, normal feeling hair like everyone else has).
posted by anaelith at 4:34 AM on December 17, 2007

First, one can use three shampoos without washing ones hair three times simply by mixing them. I don't know if your girlfriend is actually washing three times or just using three shampoos, but people seem to be assuming the former, which may not necessarily be the case. Washing every other day is more than enough for most people, over-washing makes your scalp over-produce oil, so it's actually counter-productive. If her hair is brittle, the issue is most likely over-washing and over-drying it with the iron. She needs to stop washing so much, only use the iron once in a while, and be sure to use a heat-protecting product when she does use it.

Second, hair has a life cycle, and her hair's life cycle is clearly such that it sheds before it grows past a certain point (which is not uncommon at all, not everyone can grow their hair long).

It is normal to lose around 100 hairs per day, this is more noticeable with longer hair than very short hair. If she isn't noticing actual thinning of the hair on her head, the hair loss likely isn't a problem.
posted by biscotti at 4:45 AM on December 17, 2007

I second the thyroid mention. I have a thyroid condition and one of the symptoms was my hair falling out. She can get her levels checked with a simple blood test.
posted by 45moore45 at 4:59 AM on December 17, 2007

Her anagen phase has for some reason become shorter, which may be for various reasons. Along with the above suggestions can I add a) some people get this type of thinning if they stop or reduce their consumption of eggs and b) she may have a type of PCOS or hormonal problem. Oh, and Fructis is the most evil shampoo on earth, please ask her to use something else!
posted by gatchaman at 5:40 AM on December 17, 2007

Several friends of mine have had very good experiences with Japanese hair straightening (aka the Yuko technique or Japanese restructuring or thermal reconditioning). It lasts for ages (at least a year), is a lot less stressful on your hair than daily straightening, and works on most types of hair - the two most avid proponents amongst my friends are Maori and English/Jamaican, respectively, but I don't know how it'd go on fully afro hair. I wouldn't recommend any major styling until your girlfriend's hair has recovered, though, it sounds as though it has been through some trauma and needs some TLC for a little while first.

Echoing the others - the hair loss itself isn't necessarily alarming (I pull out and sweep up great gobs daily myself, but second seeking medical advice if there are any other indicators of a problem) but the brittleness and fragility is. Stop washing and straightening so much (really, washing once per week is enough unless you dig ditches or work in a sewage plant or something similarly dirty), and I'd go to the salon for a series of conditioning treatments and ask a professional for advice about restoring the hair. I use a hot oil conditioning treatment, similar to the mayo above, every three weeks or so which I would also recommend - gently warm up some olive oil, comb through your hair (avoiding the scalp), wrap your hair in glad wrap and leave for an hour or so before washing out. You might need to wash again if still a bit greasy.
posted by goo at 5:52 AM on December 17, 2007

1. Shampoo less. Once every other day is what works for my friends with curly hair, her hair may be different.

2. Use good shampoo. There is a difference between cheap (Garnier) and good (say, TIGI CatWalk Curls Rock) hair care products. One of my friends just made the switch and it's OBVIOUS that she's using better hair care products.

3. Curly hair needs moisture not weight, generally speaking.

4. People with curly hair will lose a lot of it in the shower because their hair does not slip out the way it will with people who have straight hair. The water washes out the strands that would normally fall out for her straight-haired friends.
posted by Medieval Maven at 6:02 AM on December 17, 2007

This has already been said, but I think this bears repeating:

-She MUST stop straightening her hair! Post haste!

-She MUST stop shampooing! I have very curly hair (albeit thick), and I shampoo only once a week (although I should stop doing it altogether).

Here are the steps she should take in/after the shower:
1. Get hair wet
2. Condition the crap out of it (no shampoo!!!)
3. Rinse, but not completely!
4. Air dry, or use a diffuser if in a hurry. NEVER STRAIGHTEN, for crying out loud!!!
5. Put in a little bit of heavy duty leave-in conditioner as a styling aid, scrunch up the curls.

-As a bonus, she should cover her hair in olive or jojoba oil before getting in the shower. It works wonders.

Curly hair is beautiful. I don't see any reason why she should straighten it every day, especially since it's most likely the reason why her hair is so brittle.

If she must shampoo, make her buy some Devacurl.
posted by timory at 6:44 AM on December 17, 2007

I'll bet your girlfriend has really dark hair, which makes the strands really obvious when they fall out. I have similar hair and leave hair everywhere.

I agree with what other people have said. She needs to go to a salon and get a high quality, moisturizing shampoo and conditioner. Cut back on actually using shampoo to maybe 2x a week. When she uses the shampoo, just use a bit and concentrate it on the scalp, letting the lather clean the rest of the hair. Use a wide tooth comb in the shower and comb the conditioner through her hair. I use a Paul Mitchell's smoothing serum to control the hairs that stand up around my scalp.

A multi-vitamin and drinking more water might help too.
posted by pluckysparrow at 6:51 AM on December 17, 2007

I used to do the exact same thing, and I remember how crispy, frizzy and breakable my hair was then. Like everybody else said, she should go to washing every other day--daily shampooing is too much for curly hair--and consider a different method of straightening, at least for a while.

She can straighten her hair safely without heat by letting it dry overnight in curlers, if she likes. Blowdrying your hair in curlers is also friendlier to it than using a straightening iron. There are a myriad of products made to moisturize hair, and this would be a great time for her to use one. There are also products that will help protect and strengthen her hair. Infusium 23 makes a leave-in conditioning spray that protects against breakage that I strongly recommend.

Don't let her go nuts using multiple kinds of the same products though, like the three kinds of shampoo deal. If she does that with protective products or things like hairspray, she's going to get a nasty "product" buildup that will, again, affect the way her hair behaves.

Something else she could do is shell out the cash for a consultation at a nice salon. If she goes to a branded salon, they'll line her up with a whole array of their own expensive branded products (which may or may not be okay with you guys). But you guys live in a big enough town I'm sure you could find another nice place if you decided to.

She might also want to read this book. My mom has it, and I'm glad I spent the time reading it. It's full of reviews of hair care products, describes the purposes of all the chemicals they put in them, and even goes into hair anatomy and which products are desirable depending on your hair type. So it really breaks down which products are worth your money and which ones aren't (IIRC, Fructis and expensive branded salon products are not).
posted by zebra3 at 7:05 AM on December 17, 2007

please don't listen to the people who are saying that she should shampoo every other day. although it's better than what she's doing now, it's still way way way too often. once a week is the maximum.

in my earlier post, i forgot to add: she should stop brushing. comb through it when its wet, but that's it. brushing breaks hair.
posted by timory at 7:21 AM on December 17, 2007

Before I read your whole post, my first thought was that your g/f either has a thyroid condition or an iron deficiency -- but then I read that she straightens her hair with irons EVERY DAY, which means there's no need to look for a medical cause. Although people are correct in saying that the daily triple shampoos aren't doing her hair any good, the main thing here is the straightening. She must throw away the irons! She might think it's worth the time/money to get her hair blown out professionally once a week, and not wash it herself at all...if it gets dirty a couple of days before her next appointment, some dry shampoo and/or a ponytail can work wonders! If she did that for a few months, her hair would dramatically improve; it's obviously not falling out, but breaking off a couple of inches from the scalp. A way to check: a hair that falls out at the root has a little white bulb on the end, whereas strands that have just snapped off obviously don't.
posted by Gamel at 8:05 AM on December 17, 2007

I had the same thing happen last year. I was losing so much hair, I was starting to panic about having some horrible medical condition or going bald, but no matter how much hair I lost (and I lost a lot in every shower and every time I brushed my hair), I still had hair months after it started. What I finally did was put down my irons and blowdryer and I didn't wash my hair at all for over a week (yeah, it was a little icky). Then I got a good shampoo and conditioner and only washed my hair every few days instead of every day and still no hot implements. I stopped losing so much hair, and up until the holiday season started again this year, and I have been torturing my hair in updos and such, I hadn't found much of my hair in the shower or the brush. Right now though, there's tons of it breaking off and/or falling out ... because I am abusing it again.

Before thinking the worst, put down the hot tools and take a break from so much washing. Hair, especially of the fine and curly variety can be VERY fragile. It sounds to me like she's just been beating the life out of it with the iron every day and too much washing.
posted by Orb at 8:41 AM on December 17, 2007

Response by poster: Everyone has been great in answering this question. Thanks!

I will add a few more comments also, I left out some information. She doesn't shampoo 3 times daily, it's only once every week or two, so she's got the timing down okay. I think she does shampoo 3 times when she does though. It's probably because she has flaky scalp, but even so, no amount of shampoo seems to help that.

She does straighten every day, but she doesn't go over every inch of hair every time, just the parts that need straightening. It only takes her a couple of minutes to touch up the parts that have gone crazy. She only straightens every inch after she has washed it.

She's also of latin descent, so she does have dark, curly, frizzy hair.

I think if I bring up some of these suggestions to her, she will be able to improve her hair quite a bit. I think the problem is, as you all said, that she is doing a lot of things which dry out her hair and therefore weaken it.

Again, thanks for all the great responses! :)
posted by Anthony84 at 9:16 AM on December 17, 2007

I'm guessing she wants the nice-smelling shampoos if she's springing for Fructis, but the ones with zinc pyrithione really do work on flaky scalps. If she hates the smell or something, she could always use a nice-smelling conditioner afterwards.
posted by zebra3 at 10:19 AM on December 17, 2007

I'm guessing she wants the nice-smelling shampoos if she's springing for Fructis. . .

Generally speaking, good shampoo should not stink OR smell (good or otherwise) once you've washed it out.

My husband has curly hair and flaky scalp, and he uses head and shoulders dry scalp formula, and that is enough to fix it for him. He does not think it has much of a smell at all. Given that there may be from others' POV a medical issue, this may not help, but there you are. The biggest thing here is to be gentle on her hair, regardless of WHY it's breaking, and straightening it is NOT gentle. Moisturize, moisturize, moisturize. See a good hairstylist. Good luck.
posted by Medieval Maven at 6:43 PM on December 17, 2007

Mmm IF it's just a hair thing - Give ALL the fructis to a womens shelter. They'll appreciate it and it's doing you no favors...
Joico K-PAC (treatment) kept hair on my head all through my platinum blonde 'home-fries' years so I would totally recommend that marvellous stuff. (I've since tried the shampoo & conditioner, strengthening tonic, curl revitalizer and the styling creme elixir. I want to marry them all!!)

But whatever you go with get it from a SALON. Supermarket brands just cannot keep pace with hell snappage. Salon stuff is just so much better quality. 300ml s&c lasts me just shy of a year. Mid-length washing every two or three days. (That has just never gotten old - nearly a freakin' year!)

For your scalp mix equal parts olive oil and white vinegar (apple cider vinegar is even better - but as apples repulse me... ick) Shake the shit out of it and massage it through dry hair. If it starts to separate shake it again. Wrap it in a towel (Not plastic! The oil heats up too much and runs ICK ) if you feel the need - otherwise just pop it up. The longer (hours) the better the results. You'll smell like a salad :) It resets your scalps ph. I do this from time to time. You just wash it out like normal when you're done.

Oh and a drenching or a wash in rainwater does pretty amazing things too!! If you've never tried it - it is not to be missed!!

Well... to be honest I think dryers are the devil and straighteners are great! The way you emphasized how quick and breif she was it's kind of confirmed my suspicion. If I'm stating the obvious in the following - sorry.

-Only ever straighten completely dry hair! And use some sort of heat protectant!

-Layer by layer in sections running down the length SLOWLY!! This is hard, I know. You're conditioned to think it's bad so you try to zip through. That IS really bad. Do it right and you get instant SuperSilk. Too quick and it's straight but.. frazzled. They say count to five but depending on length and iron temp? Mine just has on/off but if I wait a little it gets hotter and then works much better. Hot!=SuperSilk

*Tip - at the end of each layer hit it with the cold setting on your dryer. Stops you getting hot but also 'sets' your hair straight. I stand under the air con when I'm done and let it all get icey cold. This makes a massive difference again.

I weighed it up and I've noticed in the last cm (but for the most part mm) is where I see any damage but compared to the fact that SuperSilk does NOT snarl into a rats nest. HARDLY requires brushing when I do (which is about once a day??) All of THAT is HELL on your hair. I had no idea! My hairdresser was like wow... Your hair is *happy?..something?? whatever he said? * and long!! We didn't want to talk about what that meant I'd been missing out on... I could have hair to my butt by now Doh!

-Oh and I only do it after I wash it - which is every two or three days. And I use Revitafoam too - that stuff is totally neat! Works well under a heat protectant too btw.

So yeah - that's what I have learned mostly the hard way - all wrapped up in an essay(!) for you :) Try it? Disregard it? Meh, it just seriously works for me :)
posted by mu~ha~ha~ha~har at 10:45 PM on December 17, 2007

please don't listen to the people who are saying that she should shampoo every other day. although it's better than what she's doing now, it's still way way way too often. once a week is the maximum.

This is incorrect, it depends greatly on the the thickness of your hair. My hair is very curly, but also very thin. If I waited a week before washing I'd be a greaseball.

Every 3 days for me. As long as it's not every day I think she should be good.
posted by fan_of_all_things_small at 5:20 AM on December 20, 2007

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