17th February, 202210 min read

How to style your hair to minimise hair loss

Medical reviewer:
Dr Adiele Hoffman
Dr Adiele Hoffman
Dr Ann Nainan
Dr Ann Nainan
Author:
Amelia Glean
Amelia Glean
Last reviewed: 07/02/2022
Medically reviewed

All of Healthily's articles undergo medical safety checks to verify that the information is medically safe. View more details in our safety page, or read our editorial policy.

Styling your hair can be a great way to express yourself and vary your look. But heated tools, chemicals and other products can cause damage to your hair, making it more likely to break or fall out. And even certain hairstyles can lead to hair loss (known as traction alopecia).

Whatever the cause, losing your hair can be upsetting, and affect how you see yourself. But when it comes to hair loss caused by styling, it’s often temporary, and there are also ways to avoid it.

Changing your styling routine can make a big difference, while still allowing you to look and feel your best. So read on to learn about safer styling techniques and the best ways to protect your hair from breakage or loss.

How to wear your hair up and minimise hair loss

If you often or always wear your hair in a style where it’s pulled tightly, it can lead to a type of hair loss called traction alopecia. These sorts of styles constantly tug on your hair, and over time this can eventually cause hairs to break or fall out.

If your hairstyle feels painful, it’s too tight and may be damaging your hair. Hairstyles that pull on your hairline include:

  • tight buns, ponytails or braids
  • locs
  • cornrows
  • hair extensions or weaves

If you wear your hair in these styles for many months or years, the pulling can actually damage your hair follicles, which can lead to permanent hair loss. But traction alopecia can be reversed, especially if you catch it early.

Warning signs that you need to change style to allow your hair to regrow include broken hairs around your forehead, patches of hair thinning or loss where it’s pulled tightly, and a receding hairline. Once you avoid the pulling, your hair should regrow within a few months.

You can avoid traction alopecia or minimise future damage by:

  • changing your hairstyle more often – this should reduce the pull on the same strands of hair and allow it to recover. Choose gentler styles such as relaxed buns or braids or low ponytails, and leave you hair down or natural more often
  • loosening your style – if you still want to wear the same hairstyle, loosen it a little, especially around your hairline
  • changing your accessories – if you do choose to wear your hair up, tie it with loose silk or cotton scrunchies which won’t pull as much as elastic bands

Hair Styles

Weaves and hair extensions

Weaves and extensions can add volume and length to your hair, but they can also pull on it and lead to hair loss. To minimise any damage, try:

  • light weaves or extensions that avoid too much pulling
  • sewn-in weaves rather than those that use bonding glue
  • getting them fitted at professional salons that specialise in them
  • wearing them for shorter periods of time
  • removing them if they cause pain or irritate your scalp

How to minimise hair loss when using styling products

For a healthy head of hair, you need to look after the skin on your head (scalp).

Occasionally, product build-up – usually from thick hair products like tar – can block your hair follicles, which can cause inflammation and a condition called folliculitis. In severe cases, this can lead to hair loss.

Read more about scalp problems that can cause hair loss.

As well as potentially irritating your scalp, many styling products also contain alcohol. Industry experts say this may cause your hair to become drier and more brittle, and lead to hair breakage.

If you’ve got concerns about hair loss or hair thinning, it’s best to avoid using styling products as much as you can. If you do use something like dry shampoo occasionally, try only applying it to the oiliest areas, and avoid spraying the ends of your hair.

As well as potentially irritating your scalp, many styling products also contain alcohol. Industry experts say this may cause your hair to become drier and more brittle, and lead to hair breakage.

If you’ve got concerns about hair loss or hair thinning, it’s best to avoid using styling products as much as you can. If you do use something like dry shampoo occasionally, try only applying it to the oiliest areas, and avoid spraying the ends of your hair.

How heat affects your hair and how to protect it

Frequently using heated tools such as rollers, curling tongs, dryers or straighteners can also damage your hair, which can lead to hair breakage and loss.

One study found that repeated blow-drying causes the hair’s outer layer (cuticle) to crack, especially at high temperatures. Another found that regularly using a curling iron caused similar cracking of the hair fibres, while curling hair when wet led to even more damage.

It’s not all bad news though. If styling your hair with heat is non-negotiable for you, there are ways to protect it. These include:

  • using heated tools only when your hair’s dry
  • using a low or medium heat setting – and holding dryers at least 15cm from your hair
  • holding straighteners or curling tongs in place for a few seconds only
  • letting your hair dry naturally as much as possible – and going as long as you can between blow dries or heated tool use
  • using a protective spray on your hair before exposing it to heat

Woman drying her hair

How chemicals affect your hair and how to protect it

Chemicals that are used to dye, perm or relax your hair can also lead to hair loss or hair thinning in the following ways.

Hair dyes

Hair dyes often contain ammonia, lead acetates and other chemicals that are known to cause allergies (allergens). For some people, this can irritate the scalp and cause redness, itching, scaling, blisters and flaking, all of which may affect hair growth.

Hair dyes that bleach or lighten hair can also cause damage by stripping away the protective coating of your hair fibres, leaving hair drier, thinner and weaker and potentially leading to breakage or loss.

But if dyeing your hair is a must, here are 6 ways to minimise the damage:

  1. Do a test patch on a small area of your skin first, and don’t use it if you have any kind of reaction.
  2. Choose a colour that’s close to your natural shade – lightening your hair by more than 3 shades means the dye will need more peroxide, which can cause more damage.
  3. Don’t leave the dye on your hair any longer than the instructions tell you to.
  4. Rinse your scalp well with water when you’re finished.
  5. Avoid mixing different hair colour formulations together.
  6. Try a plant-based henna dye or other hair colour products that avoid harsh chemicals.

Hair relaxers

Hair relaxers are used to permanently straighten naturally curly and afro-textured hair. But while this may be convenient if you want straight hair, the chemicals used in relaxers permanently change the bond of your hair strands, which can lead to brittle, weaker hair that’s more likely to break.

Chemicals to watch out for include sodium hydroxide, or ‘lye’, and guanidine carbonate. But many common ingredients can damage your hair and your scalp.

If you still choose to get your hair relaxed, you can reduce the risk of damage by:

  • getting it done professionally – a qualified stylist can choose the right product for your hair and scalp, and apply the treatment carefully to protect, rather than irritate
  • reading the instructions carefully – if you choose to relax your hair at home, check the directions and never leave the relaxer on for more than the recommended time. If you feel tingling or burning, rinse it out straight away
  • using a deep conditioner – if used weekly, this can help moisten your hair when it’s become dry
  • limiting heat – avoid styling tools such as straighteners and dryers after getting your hair relaxed, which will help reduce further breakage

Hair perms

Getting a ‘perm’ means getting your hair permanently curled, which can last for about 6 months.

Like hair dye and hair relaxers, the solutions used to perm hair contain various chemicals, including ones that are very alkaline. If used repeatedly, these can lead to scalp irritation, damage to the hair cuticles, and hair breakage or loss.

If you don’t want to stop getting a perm, the following steps can help protect your hair and scalp.

  1. Always follow the instructions and rinse the solution off at the set time.
  2. Wash the solution off straight away if you notice any stinging or burning, and speak to your doctor or a dermatologist.
  3. Avoid perming your hair too often.

How to brush your hair to limit hair loss

When it comes to styling, even how you brush your hair can affect how much you lose every day.

Brushing too often or too hard can cause tension, leading to split ends and hair breakage. So brush or comb gently, enough to style it only.

The next time you brush your hair, try these tips to minimise damage:

  • use a wide-toothed comb that’s more gentle on hair fibres
  • if you have straight hair – brush when it’s dry
  • if you have curly hair – comb when it’s damp
  • comb slowly and gently – avoid tugging the hair

Read more tips for looking after your hair and scalp.

When to see a doctor

Hair loss caused by styling techniques is usually temporary and in most cases it will grow back once your hair has been given a chance to recover.

But if you’ve tried making changes to your routine and you’re still worried about how much hair you’re losing, speak to a doctor.

They can check for other possible causes of hair loss, such as a hormone imbalance or health condition. If necessary, you can also get advice about hair loss treatment.

Try our Smart Symptom Checker to get more information about your health.

Your health questions answered

How many hairs do you lose a day?

Answered by: Healthily’s medical team

“It’s normal to lose between 50 and 100 hairs a day, but this can vary and be affected by the length and thickness of your hair. So if you notice more hair loss than is normal for you, speak to your doctor.”

Why does my hair fall out when I wash it?

Answered by: Healthily’s medical team

“Washing and brushing your hair are the 2 times when you’re most likely to notice hair loss. This is because washing and brushing your hair stimulates your scalp, which causes any hairs that were already close to shedding to fall out sooner. Most of the time, this is just part of your hair’s natural growth and shedding cycle. But if you start to notice big clumps, or you’re worried about how much hair you’re losing, speak to your doctor.”

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