Here's The Tea On If Highlights Really Damage Your Hair, According To Experts
Don’t freak out just yet.
For years, I swore I'd never color my virgin hair and risk damaging it all, but after one too many scrolls on Pinterest, I booked myself a balayage appointment, and I've had highlights ever since. If you've ever wondered whether highlights really damage your hair, you're not the only one with this concern. To answer questions on all things bleach, I turned to some of the best hairstylists in the business for their professional opinion. If you want the scoop, read on for everything you need to know about getting highlights and preventing as much damage to your hair as possible.
Highlighting your hair is one of the best ways to change up your look without doing a total hair color overhaul. While it does require some amount of bleach to make the lightening process happen, that doesn’t mean you’re signing yourself up for stringy hair and split ends. In speaking with Stephanie Brown, hair colorist at IGK Salon; Cataanda James, celebrity beauty expert; and Giselle Luza, founder of Soho Blondes; I got all the tea on what to expect when you lighten your hair. Read below to discover how much damage to expect when getting highlights, and how to prevent the worst of it.
Will highlights damage your hair?
The short answer is: yes. "Coloring hair will always cause damage; unless it's a gloss. However, the level of damage is determined by the amount of change being done to the hair," Brown tells Elite Daily. "If you’re doing a single process or subtle highlights, the damage will be minimal, and you may not even notice, but if you are going platinum or heavily highlighting your hair, you can feel a lot of damage being done," she says. Lightening your hair involves stripping it of pigment, which also affects the oils and proteins in the strands. While that doesn’t necessarily mean your hair will start snapping off, there will be some changes no matter what you do.
What kind of damage does highlighting cause?
There are a few kinds of damage you can expect from highlights. “When bleaching the hair, short-term damage can be loss of moisture and elasticity in the hair. If your hair is curly, it can alter your curl pattern,” James tells Elite Daily. “Long-term damage progresses depending on how you care for your hair after the highlighting process, sometimes resulting in dry, brittle hair [that’s] prone to breakage. It may weaken over time, resulting in frizzy, dull, lifeless strands. Proper maintenance is key.” If you go to a professional, you can avoid long-term damage more easily. As for that unavoidable, short-term damage, it can be fixed, so don’t freak out just yet.
Are some hair types more likely to get damaged?
There are a few things that can make damage more likely when you highlight your hair. “Hair textures with higher curl patterns are more susceptible to damage when bleached and highlighted because the hair is naturally drier, and over time, it can become more prone to breakage and damage,” James says. Luza also notes that fine-textured hair is more prone to breaking, especially once highlighted. But, it’s not just the texture of your hair that affects the process. “Typically, the more drastic a change, the more potential for damage, and the more ‘natural’ the result, the less chance for damage,” Luza says. But, these hurdles can be avoided if you have a hairstylist that puts your hair’s health at the forefront of your transformation. In fact, if you follow this advice, you may not even notice the damage at all.
How can my stylist help prevent damage from highlights?
The simplest way to prevent damage is to use conditioning products to balance the harsh chemical out. "I like to add in Uberliss into a lot of my formulas when highlighting," says Brown, referring to Uberliss’ Bond Sustainer ($15, Target). "Brands like Uberliss, Olaplex, and Joico all make bond-building treatments that help hair to not get too damaged," she adds, noting that while these brands offer professional-level treatments for stylists, they also make at-home products for clients to use on themselves.
James also advises that it’s not the worst idea to take your color treatment one step at a time. “Slow and easy wins the race to beautiful, non-damaged hair when highlighting,” the hairstylist says. “If starting levels are on the darker spectrum, suggesting more than one session to reach the desired look is always an option and eliminates a vigorous process, which results in more initial damage.”
How can I prevent further damage from highlights at home?
If strands do end up damaged, Brown says it's important to care for them properly to avoid making things worse. "Don’t wash your hair every day, cut down on heat styling, get a silk pillowcase, and buy a microfiber towel," she advises. "They help dry hair faster — and don’t pull hair when it’s wrapped in it," she insists. The Slip Silk Pillowcase ($89, Slip) and AQUIS Rapid Dry Hair Turban ($30, Aquis) are her top recommendations.
Anyone who uses heat on their hair knows it can dry out your locks, which isn’t ideal when you’re dealing with already dried-out, highlighted hair. But, that doesn’t mean you have to give up your styling products. “Use low heat when styling hair. For example, turn the blow dryer from high to medium heat, and be sure your flat iron and curling iron aren’t at max heat,” Luza says. This will help your hair from losing too much moisture.
Just as professional treatments in salons can help strands, using the Olaplex Hair Perfector No. 3 ($28, sephora.com) at home will help hair repair itself even further. Olaplex utilizes a patented bond-building technology that strengthens hair from the inside out. Letting this stuff sink in for about ten minutes before shampooing and conditioning really work wonders in terms of how the hair looks and feels. Luza recommends using the hair mask at night once a week.
My post-shower fave for masking color-induced damage and preventing future hair struggles is the Color Wow Kale-Infused Dream Cocktail ($26, colorwowhair.com), and not just because kale is trendy. This heat-activated formula utilizes sea kale, amino acids, and B vitamins, so hair won't just look better after applying — it'll actually be on the road to recovery. Since blow-drying isn't always the friendliest approach to damaged strands, using a strengthening treatment while you dry makes a would-be bad approach ultimately helpful in healing your breakage.
Unite Hair makes some of my all-time favorite products for color-treated hair, and their Unite Hair RE:UNITE Treatment ($37, Unite Hair) is a product dedicated to repairing damaged hair. In addition to the RE:UNITE shampoo and conditioner, which are also great picks for chemically damaged hair, the treatment mask offers a concentrated formula of protein-based nutrients and antioxidants that helps smooth the hair's cuticle, so it looks shiny and healthy.
Another new-to-me fave is the Philip Kingsley Elasticizer Deep-Conditioning Treatment ($30, Philip Kingsley), a cult favorite that, as the name implies, seeks to restore elasticity to fried, damaged hair. In addition to castor oil, olive oil, and glycerin, the formula contains hydrolyzed elastin, a protein that will help increase hair's elasticity from the inside out and prevent future breakage.
If this is all sounding like too much, you can start your highlighting journey with a balayage treatment instead. “Balayage is less commitment and a low-maintenance option because of the way the highlights are painted on,” James says. “The highlights aren’t focused so much at the roots but applied free-handed in a sweeping motion from just beyond the roots and mid-lengths to ends.” Beyond the perk of not being as harsh on your hair, balayage also won’t leave you with that distinct, grown-out line that traditional highlighting can cause.
How soon is too soon to get highlights again?
If you loved the look of your highlights despite the damage, chances are you'll want to go back again. However, that doesn’t mean you should be rushing back into the arms of your hairstylist at the first sign of roots or fading. "If it’s a highlight to the root, because this is usually a little more maintenance, I would say an appointment every eight to 12 weeks is a good time frame," Brown says. "For an ombré or other grown-out look, three, six, 12 months in between appointments, depending on what looks good."
As for who you go to for said appointments, each hairstylist emphasized how important it is to have an in-depth consultation with your hairstylist, so that you two can be wholly on the same page about your hair health and the highlighted look you want.
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