Once upon a time… A girl named Nicole dyed her beautiful long hair purple.
WARNING: This story is not a fairy tale, and it does not have a happy ending.
In her younger (stupider) days, she had been blonde twice and had to go back to dark and cut her hair very short around age 20 because it had gotten so fried from color treatments and constant heat styling…
By 23, she had long forgotten this painful situation, became bored with her natural hair, and decided to go ombré on her ends…
After about a year, she was over it so back to the natural look she went… Then, suddenly in the fall of 2014, after fantasizing about the idea for months, she decided to go for it – PURPLE. She went for it on a whim, not thinking of the risks associated with all the bleach required (which she’d learn would leech the protein out of her hair)… Hair that only a year earlier, had been dyed ombré for OVER a year.
You can literally see my old ombré (read: damage) from how the color varies because of the previous bleach/treatments. Kinda wish I had thought about all that beforehand.
In case you haven’t figured out by now – “she” is me.
So, I dyed my hair purple. I just went for it. Right before Halloween in 2014.
The day I did it, I proudly walked into my parent’s house (knowing full well my dad was going to flip, and having prepared my lines beforehand), to show them my new style… I walked in and was like, “TA DA! Look dad! I dyed my hair your favorite color!”
As you can imagine, my dad didn’t say much of anything for a minute… He just kind of stared at me in shock. I think he said something to the extent of, “oh my god, I hope that’s not permanent.”
THIS WAS MY MOMENT.
“Less permanent than another tattoo!”
I was so proud of myself. I figured out the one thing he hates more than when I dye my hair an unnatural color (which is tattoos), and used it in my defense so that whether he liked it or not he couldn’t say much about it. But no, my dad’s lukewarm reaction is NOT the tragic part of this story – we’re just getting to the good part.
I’m sorry to report that about 10 inches of my once epic-looking long purple mermaid locks broke off/fell out during my second color treatment. Thinking back to the moment when I saw long sections of my hair coming out in clumps as we combed it out still makes me cringe. I had to make the decision on the spot, to cut above where all the breakage was to salvage the most healthy hair I could, and just make a cut out of what I had left.
I didn’t even get upset during the appointment, because I knew there was nothing I could do, but holy shit was it so hard to actually come to terms with the fact I decided to dye my hair purple and the process LITERALLY CAUSED IT ALL TO BREAK OFF/FALL OUT!!!!!?!?!?!?!?!!!!! And, the hair I did have left was dry like straw and completely trashed. To say I was horrified would be such a sick joke of an understatement, you don’t even know.
After that appointment, I decided to not bleach any farther up into my roots to bring the color up as I didn’t want to lose all of my hair… I then had to modify my entire regular routine and product regime to maintain the color AND treat all the damage.
I also had to go out in public with bright purple, very short hair, which made me feel like I was partially naked and awkwardly exposed all of the time – not really the look I first had in mind when envisioning this purple transition.
I don’t have many pictures of myself from the early months of this as you can see in my eyes, I am just PISSED. Every time I looked in the mirror and saw what I had done, anger. Followed by a brief moment of, “well what the fuck, after all it’s just hair, maybe I need to experience life with short hair?” … Followed by, “WHY DID I DO THIS TO MYSELF I HATE LIFE I CAN’T DO ANYTHING BUT PUT MORE ANTI-SNAP IN MY HAIR TO MAKE IT LAY FLAT.”
Oh, yeah – all of the bleaching ALSO caused my naturally wavy/curly hair to just look crimpy, like “I just got electrocuted” crimpy. And my hair was so brittle it just looked frayed. It was fucking terrible. I hated this stage, yet I knew it was a critical opportunity to repair my hair if I ever wanted it to grow again.
FAST FORWARD: Once I got my hair care and repair routine sorted out, it started to feel better after a few months and I could see it growing little by little. It’s been about 2.5 years now, and all of the bleached parts are long gone. I have my natural curls back and my hair feels long and strong. I’m surprised at how quickly it’s seemed to grow this time, probably due to the intensely good care I take of my hair now vs. five years ago.
I’ve compiled all of my best tips for repairing damaged hair, the specific products I added into my hair care routine to fortify my straw-like locks and help boost their strength, and the day-to-day stuff that I use whenever I wash my hair. I’ve only listed what I really loved and/or still use all the time – anything I tried but didn’t like or find effective, is not mentioned.
SCB’s Guide to Damaged Hair Care & Repair
Tips & Tricks
Minimal washing is key. Besides the fact that your hair will soak up any and all excess oil on your head when it’s dry and damaged – washing your hair more than 3x a week is unneccessary, IMO. I have oily hair and still only wash it 2-3x a week. Max 3. I used to wash and blow it out like 5 days a week, but have learned that between letting your hair be for longer between washes, as well as decreasing heat styling, makes a HUGE difference for your hair’s recovery capability.
PS: Do NOT brush wet hair! It will just stretch and snap, especially if it’s trashed. Very sad. Use a wide tooth comb or a Tangle Teezer instead.
Wash hair with cold water. ESPECIALLY if your hair is brightly dyed – cold water is critical. It’s painful, but it really helps prolong the vibrancy and duration of your color. The colder temp means your hair won’t open up as much as hot water, so your color won’t bleed out as quickly.
Deep condition twice a week. YES, twice. Most people can get into doing something once a week, but let me tell you that with deep conditioning, twice is a GAME CHANGER. My stylist was shocked by my hair’s recovery and we determined it had to be that I doubled up on my deep conditioning game. I’ve linked the one I use in the product lists below… PRO TIPS: Sleep with deep conditioner on like a hair mask, or wear it in a top knot during the day – no one will notice, it just looks wet/slicked back.I honestly prefer the day conditioning because then my nice silk pillowcases will stay clean for my face! The conditioner I use is great because there’s no intense scent and it doesn’t get too crunchy or sticky or anything when you wear it during the day.
Minimize heat styling as much as possible. If you must, use proper primers meant for heat, and maximize your time with post-blowout prods to extend the style. I’ve linked what I use below, but one hack I learned when I did have to actually do my hair was to dry my roots, then let my hair air dry to about 75% dry, then I’d blast it and smooth it out. Curl/straighten as needed. Dry shampoo to prolong. It helps to even cut out a bit of blow drying time as you want to limit the stress you’re putting on your hair.
Invest in good dry shampoo. Dry shampoo is how I survived. (But really – isn’t it how we all?) Per what I said above, cutting down on how many times I washed my hair – both to save my color and not wipe out the natural oils that were good for my poor hair – meant I needed to get a solid dry washing routine, pronto. I love the Drybar and Batiste dry shampoos, and if you REALLY want to take it to the next level, also use dry conditioner (see links below). I would usually spray some where I know my hands touch a lot – around my face, and throughout the back of my head, right after I finished styling it to try to keep my roots as fresh as possible for as long as possible.
Get your hair trimmed regularly. If your hair is trashed, stay in front of breakage or risk having to lose more length later! Seeing your frayed ends grow out does not mean your hair is getting longer. Being consistent with my trims every 6-8 weeks during the recovery phase helped my hair grow out in a more uniform/graceful way. Even if I had to have a shorter cut for longer, at least I had real styles rather than a mop of unevenly growing, broken hair.
This is from when I got my hair done for NYE 2014/15, approximately 2 months after the purple debacle. I decided to own the long bob and got a trim every 6 weeks religiously to snip any frayed “length” before breakage could do even more damage.
Eat well. If your hair was as bad as mine, you probably want to drown your sorrows in some fast food, wine, and ice cream, but take a minute to consider what you’re putting into your body when you want spectacular results to show up on the other end. Feeding yourself a good diet and the right nutrients helps to foster an optimal internal environment to grow new strong hair! Green juice, anyone?
Invest in silk pillowcases. The pair I got from Amazon is $25 for 2 and they’re 100% worth it. Silk helps to not catch on skin or fragile hair when you’re sleeping (as cotton or other material fibers would) and really makes a difference. Before I got these, my hair would get all matted after sleeping through the night, and inevitably I’d break more off trying to brush it out. These helped preserve my hair, AND they’re better for your skin as less of your PM skincare products will be absorbed into silk. Here are the mulberry silk pillowcases I got!
Keratin treatments. This was a splurge for me, but so worth it. About 2x a year, I’d get a keratin treatment, which would add some strength, volume, oomph and LIFE to my otherwise sad hair. It also cut down on the blowout time required as my hair is smoother, so there’s less need for heat treatment at home while it lasts. One note is that you should use sulfate-free products if you do keratin treatments. I’ve also heard Olaplex is life changing, but I haven’t tried it myself.
Biotin supports healthy, strong hair and nail growth. I added a Biotin supplement once this happened and still take it daily. I can definitely notice a difference both in the strength of my hair and in my nails – I break them far less often than before, even when they’re longer.
Last but not least… BE PATIENT. I know that sucks to hear, and I was annoyed by the fact I had to be too, but there’s nothing more you can do besides take good care of your hair and yourself and wait for those little locks to grow… You have to get creative with how you treat and style it, how you dress it up and work it because all you can really do, is deal.
Also: if you’re thinking of bleaching the living shit out of your hair to dye it purple or anything crazy like that, plan to do it over MONTHS of treatments, especially if it’s dark. Otherwise, what happened to me will happen to you – THAT I will promise you. I would strongly suggest taking the awkward phase while lightening up to preserve the integrity of your hair rather than rushing into something and getting stuck with a fucked up new haircut you never bargained for… Just trust me on this one.
Hair Recovery & Damage Control
#1: Redken Extreme Anti-Snap Leave-In Treatment: I would put this in my wet hair immediately after showering, and it would DRINK it up. In the early days, sometimes I might do two coats – that’s how dry and dead my hair was. Brushing it was super stressful because it stretched no matter what I used – and it was sooooo thin. I was terrified. This helps to fortify strands, and consistent use is definitely what makes the difference when using it. This paired with the Veggie Miracle twice a week SAVED my hair.
#2: Davines Naturaltech Nourishing Vegetarian Miracle Conditioner: I bought a massive bottle of this because I used it so much – twice a week religiously for months. I was obsessed with reviving my hair so that it would grow out. It’s a lifesaver! I still use this, love it.
#3: Peter Thomas Roth 24K Gold Luxury Age-Defying Hair Mask: You guys know I am in love with most of the PTR skincare line, and they sent me this hair mask thing to try recently. You have to put on this bonnet and attach your hair dryer and let it circulate for a while, which is a serious arm workout and also extremely amazing for your hair. After I finished and blew it back out, I posted a pic on my Instagram and a bunch of people commented how long and good my hair looked! It looked super glossy (aka LONGER) and smooth (I have lots of baby hairs). I noticed the smoothing boost lasted for a few weeks. It’s like a less expensive but still luxe at-home keratin smoothing treatment. I’m into it.
Heat Protection/Style Extension
Living Proof Style Extender Spray: This shit is BANANAS, B-A-N-A-N-A-S. Seriously. I bet Gwen Stefani uses it. As someone who has hair with a curl to it, this has been a godsend when it comes to going to bed with smooth, straight hair and actually waking up with it – this, and the silk pillowcases. If I EVER blow out my hair at home, I have to use this. It makes a massive difference in the longevity of my hairstyles… It prolongs a home blowout from 1 day to 3! Granted, I usually curl, braid, or topknot it by day 3, but still – stretching the washes out really helps to let it rest, heal, repair, and fortify itself. Day 3’s are also when I’ll do the deep condition during the day, to hold my topknot up since my hair is dirty anyway. They also make this in a cream form: Living Proof Style Extender
Bumble and bumble Hairdresser’s Invisible Oil & Invisible Oil Primer: This is a staple in my hair care game. I use two pumps of the oil on my ends and then coat my entire head with the primer (I use the LP spray before both of these if I’m doing my hair at home) and then comb through with my Tangle Teezer. I use the Invisible Oil shampoo and conditioner as well, which feel soooo rich and luxurious, and are also sulfate-free.
Drybar Triple Sec & Detox Dry Shampoo: Triple Sec is my new holy grail. It’s a 3-in-1 volumizer, texturizer, and dry shampoo. I also love their dry shampoo, but to boost up a fresh style to give it a slightly dirty texture, and also protect your hair from any future oil, Triple Sec is EVERYTHING. I also like the Batiste dry shampoos, which are honestly a better value considering how much I use it… I promise I really do wash my hair sometimes though.
Pureology Fresh Approach Dry Conditioner: My girlfriend KJ introduced me to this and I have been addicted ever since. I wish I had known about it when my hair was shorter – it’s like a legitimate dry conditioner. Obviously it’s a spray, but it’s not greasy or sticky at all like some “shine sprays” are. Paired with Triple Sec, you can fake soft and smooth hair, even when it’s still getting there.
I really hope this is helpful for those of you who have been asking about how to treat damaged/bleached and colored hair or repair trashed, short hair so it starts growing out! Hopefully my experiences will prevent you from making the same mistakes.