What Is Brittle Hair?

When your hair doesn't have enough moisture to maintain its natural shine, it can cause brittle hair that is dry with a lot of split ends.

Excessive hair washing, styling products, and blow-drying are common reasons for brittle hair. Hormonal imbalances, environmental factors, and nutrition can also play a role.

This article explains the symptoms, causes, and treatment of brittle hair.

A dark haired person holding a hair brush with hair on it; they are looking at the brush with concern that their long hair is breaking or falling out.

Hazal Ak / Getty Images

Symptoms of Brittle Hair

If your hair is brittle, you may notice that it has the following characteristics:

  • Dry
  • Frizzy
  • Dull
  • Split ends

Brittle hair is usually easy to identify. You may notice that your hair seems "lifeless" or lacks shine, is prone to breaking (split ends), and can be difficult to style.

Causes of Brittle Hair

Many things can lead to brittle hair, including how you wash and style your hair and whether you use chemicals on it. Common causes of brittle hair include:

  • Harsh shampoos
  • Chemicals (e.g., relaxers, hair color, or bleach)
  • Washing hair too often
  • Excessive exposure to heat (e.g., blow drying, curling irons, or straightening irons)
  • Exposure to dry air (e.g., in cold months or air-conditioned homes and offices)
  • Malnutrition or an eating disorder (e.g., anorexia nervosa)
  • Hormonal imbalances (e.g., thyroid disease)
  • Hairstyles that pull tightly on the hair (e.g., braids, ponytails, cornrows, or weaves)
  • Genetic conditions (e.g., Menkes Disease/kinky hair syndrome when the body doesn't properly absorb copper)

How to Treat Brittle Hair

If you have damaged, brittle hair, there are some steps you can take to improve your hair's moisture and shine, including:

  • Washing your hair less frequently
  • Concentrating shampoo on the scalp, not the entire length of the hair
  • Conditioning after every wash
  • Concentrating conditioner from mid-strand to end
  • Choosing a shampoo and conditioner for your hair type (for example, chemically treated hair)
  • Wearing a swim cap to protect hair from chlorine

Talk to your healthcare provider if you've tried at-home treatments and are still experiencing brittle hair. They can identify if nutritional deficiencies or hormonal imbalances are contributing to your dry hair and help you address these underlying conditions.

Tips for Black Hair

Black hair is more prone to damage and dryness. The following steps may help retain your hair's moisture:

  • Use a hot oil treatment twice a month.
  • Get relaxers done professionally and limit them to every two months for new growth.
  • Use a ceramic comb or iron to straighten hair at the lowest temperature.
  • Straighten hair no more than once a week and use a heat protectant before styling.
  • Make sure braids, weaves, or cornrows are not too tight.

When to See a Healthcare Provider

Brittle hair usually isn't a medical concern but it can sometimes be a sign of deficiencies or hormonal imbalances. If you still have brittle hair after adjusting your hair care routine, talk to your healthcare provider. They can do blood tests to determine if an underlying medical condition, like hormonal imbalances or malnutrition, is causing or contributing to your brittle hair.

Summary

Brittle hair lacks moisture, resulting in dullness, dryness, and frizziness. Over-styling, washing, chemicals, and heat products often contribute to brittle hair. Sometimes, hormonal imbalances or malnutrition can cause it.

You can improve your hair's moisture content by limiting hair-washing, conditioning every time you wash, and limiting how much you expose your hair to high-heat products. If simple measures don't help, your provider may want a blood test to check your thyroid function, hormones, and vitamin levels.

A Word From Verywell

Brittle hair can be frustrating. If your hair no longer has the bounce and shine it once did, you can often repair brittle hair with the right products and by treating your hair a little kinder. A hairstylist can be a useful resource for restoring your hair's health, but check in with your provider if your brittle hair does not improve.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What causes brittle hair?

    Many things can cause brittle hair, including washing too often, chemical treatments like hair dye or relaxers, and using high-heat products. In addition, malnutrition and hormonal imbalances can also lead to dry, brittle hair.

  • Can aging cause brittle hair?

    Yes, aging can lead to drier, coarser hair. As you approach menopause, hormonal fluctuations can cause your hair to become thinner and more prone to breakage, which can lead to more frizz and split ends.

  • How can I get rid of brittle hair?

    The best way to treat brittle hair is to treat it gently. Washing less frequently, using conditioner every time you wash, limiting exposure to chemicals and heat products, and using hair products made for your hair type can all help improve the moisture content of your hair.

3 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. National Library of Medicine, MedlinePlus. Dry Hair.

  2. American Academy of Dermatology Association. Tips for Healthy Hair.

  3. American Academy of Dermatology Association. Black Hair: Tips for Everyday Care.

By Kathi Valeii
As a freelance writer, Kathi has experience writing both reported features and essays for national publications on the topics of healthcare, advocacy, and education. The bulk of her work centers on parenting, education, health, and social justice.