5 Ways to Save Fried, Over-Processed Hair

If your locks are chemically colored, they could also be a little bit fried. Here, stylists and derms weigh in on how to treat over-processed hair.

Emilia Clarke smiling over her shoulder with her hair in a formal up-do

Have you noticed breakage (those short, annoying pieces of hair throughout your head), a lack of shine, and a dry — maybe even (gasp) crunchy — feeling to your hair? Hate to break it to you, but you could be in over-processed hair denial. But you're not alone: Stylists see it all the time, especially in chemically treated blondes, says Brenna Clauson, a stylist and colorist at Mint Salon Block in Maine.

"Any processing or manipulation of the hair shaft repeatedly — blow-drying, heat styling, chemical relaxers, bleaching — can lead to hair shaft damage," explains Shani Francis, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist at the California Skin Institute. "When this damage occurs as a result of treatments, hair is said to be 'over-processed,'" she adds.

Think of treating the hair like lifting the shingles off a roof: "If too frequent or too aggressive, it's obvious how the dying process can be traumatic to hair shaft fibers," says Dr. Francis. But don't give up hope on rescuing your strands. Since these are hair experts, they have the best tips for how to treat over-processed hair.

First thing's first: If you're concerned about existing (or future) damage, have an up-front conversation with your stylist and ask that they only lighten your hair as much as absolutely necessary to achieve the look you're after. Then, get to work at home, because here's the thing: Your hair is an investment. And if you spend time (and well-earned dollars!) coloring it, the same should be true about caring for it — you know, just like you recover as hard as you work out.

Here, how to treat over-processed hair (and prevent it in the first place), according to derms and colorists.

Choose the right shampoo and conditioner.

If you're blonde, the shampoo you use is important if you want to be sure you maintain the color you leave the salon with throughout the months to come. "Cool blondes should try and use an anti-yellowing, toning shampoo such as a purple shampoo once or twice a week," says Clauson. "The purple shampoo helps balance any unwanted brassy color that could be caused by the type of water you have, sun, chlorine, or the ocean," she explains. And always use a sulfate-free shampoo to preserve color as long as possible, advises Clauson.

Products to try:

Give hair a protein boost.

With damage, you'll also want to focus on adding in both protein and moisture (look for ingredients such as kaolin clay and shea butter) back to the hair, says Dana Hodges, an NYC-based stylist and national trainer for Eufora. "Protein will help to rebuild bonds and keep hair from breaking, while moisture will replenish the hair and keep it from feeling and looking overly dry," she explains.

Luckily, products on the market today can work wonders at repairing damaged hair fibers. "I have watched hair transform from looking like cotton to looking (and feeling) shiny and healthy again," says Krista Depeyrot, a master colorist and co-owner of Salon Bisoux in Alexandria, Virginia.

Products to try:

Cool it with the heat and bleaching.

Never leave the house without your hair blown out or styled with your curling iron? Hate to break it to you, but those habits are making matters worse. Heat tools and blow-drying exacerbate that over-processed look, says Depeyrot.

If your hair is fried, cut back to styling with heat once a week, suggests Dr. Francis. And always use a heat protectant — which acts as a barrier against damage — on your hair before blow-drying. Ingredients such as aloe vera and sunflower seed extract can help prevent damage and moisturize, notes Hodges.

When it comes to bleaching, think about only doing it seasonally (aka four times a year, max), says Dr. Francis. After all, the more you mess with the hair cuticles, the more damage you'll see. Plus, a really good stylist can work with you coming less frequently, as long as you're keeping regular dates: "Hair color experts have techniques to camouflage intermittently," says Dr. Francis.

Product to try:

  • Kérastase Ciment Thermique (Buy It, $42, sephora.com): This treatment protects hair from heat for those days when you are blow-drying while also helping to rebuild the hair thanks to pro-keratin. It's also light enough not to leave hair feeling too heavy or greasy.

Keep up with your haircuts.

"Damage from split ends can travel up the hair shaft like opening a zipper, increasing the amount and length of hair that requires cutting," says Dr. Francis. How often you'll need a cut will vary depending on hair type, length, and how much damage is done, but most stylists suggest every six weeks or so.

Invest in masks and oils.

Extra damage = a need for extra hydration. Pick a day you know you will have 20 or more spare minutes around shower time to leave in a hair mask, suggests Clauson. A hair oil will also help keep frizz at bay while hydrating your ends, even if you don't style your hair, she adds.

Products to try:

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