Don’t Say I Didn’t Warn You: The Hair Catastrophe Of 2012 And How To Deal With Serious Damage

Most of the many hairdressers I saw during this year said they had never seen such severe mechanical damage (as opposed to chemical damage, from hair color or chemical straighteners), which obviously made me feel extra special.
Publish date:
February 28, 2013
hair, damaged hair, heat styling, flatirons

Let me begin by saying that my 2012 was nothing short of disastrous on the beauty front. Not too long before what I will forever refer to as “the hair catastrophe of 2012,” I was sitting down with "What Not To Wear"'s original hair guru and NYC salon owner Nick Arrojo at his Canadian product launch, and he was telling me how much he loved my natural curls. I was flattered, of course. My hair was the longest and healthiest it had been since I was, like, 12, and I was committed to letting it grow until it reached my ultimate goal length: cascading mermaid waves that would make wearing a shirt strictly optional. Isn’t that every girl’s goal?

Fast-track to a few months later, after only recently mastering the art of creating loose waves with my flatiron, and I notice a random short chunk of hair at the top of my hairline. It was not unlike this. Not only was this hair short, but the texture was all kinds of terrible. It was squiggly and coarse and refused to curl naturally or straighten properly. I pushed it aside for a few weeks, tucking it away as best I could, and then began to discover that both face-framing sections of of my hair were becoming similarly textured. Not good. And to make matters worse, all the blond parts of my then-ombré hair had turned the most unpleasant shade of brassy. No violet shampoo could right this wrong.

It didn’t take long to conclude that my faulty flatiron was to blame -- one that I purchased at designer-discount shop Winners (Canada’s TJ Max) to replace the trusty salon one that finally bit the dust. That was my first mistake. Most of the many hairdressers I saw during this year said they had never seen such severe mechanical damage (as opposed to chemical damage, from hair color or chemical straighteners), which obviously made me feel extra special. The second error I made was not picking up on the signs of serious damage sooner. It was a classic case of denial. And the hair gods ensured that I paid the ultimate price for my stupidity by forcing me to spend almost a full year following the incident with one-tone hair (a.k.a. my personal hell) chopped to chin-length with blunt bangs. This was followed by monthly micro-trims until, slowly but surely, the rest of those frazzled bits were but a memory.

Finally, my hair is back to its healthy state, curls and all, and after everything I've learned through this painful process, I feel it’s my womanly duty to share my newfound knowledge with you.

To steer clear of such a tragedy -- and yes I realize I’m being melodramatic, it’s just hair; thanks, Mom -- I’d first suggest not buying your styling tools from discount stores. Sure, it’s possible to get lucky with a good one for a great price, but do you really want to risk it? I’d like to point out that three other people I know who bought the same brand of flatiron from the same retailer experienced similar damage but to a slightly lesser degree, probably because their hair is much thicker than mine. So maybe, just maybe, those products ended up at that discount store for a reason. At least if you spend a little more money to buy your hot tools from a reputable salon or beauty supply shop, there’s someone to blame if things take a turn for the worse, which they probably won’t because you listened to my advice. I’d also recommend sticking to the best-known brands as an extra precaution: Chi, ghd, T3, Conair, Rowenta, and Sultra, to name a few.

Another way to protect your precious hair is to ensure you’re using products that will shield it from the heat you’re torturing it with on the daily. I have done this for as long as I can remember, but perhaps I wasn’t as diligent as I could have been, or maybe no product in existence could have saved me from that defective piece of -- ahem, ceramic. Some excellent heat protectors that allowed me to salvage the hair I had left include Schwarzkopf Professional BC Bonacure Oil Miracle, Davines Relaxing Fluid, Joico Daily Care Leave-In Detangler, Kevin.Murphy Young.Again Imortelle Infused Treatment Oil, and L’Oréal Professionnel Absolut Repair Cellular Repairing Cream.

The most effective way to avoid mechanical damage, as I’m sure we’re all aware, is to limit heat styling. Try embracing your natural texture more often and saving your smooth blowouts, flatiron waves or wand curls for special occasions. If you still insist on heat styling more often, just make sure to pay close attention to the condition and texture of your hair. Subtle colour and texture changes will be your first warning signs that something’s up. At the height of my damage, my hair literally smelled like burnt plastic even when freshly washed, which was, as you can imagine, the opposite of cute. That’s when I finally hauled ass to the salon.

If by chance this is sounding all too familiar because you’re living it as you’re reading this, the first order of business is to get to a knowledgeable and trust-worthy hair professional STAT. You’ll need someone who is qualified to assess the damage and do the inevitable -- a major chop. Well, as major as you’re comfortable with, to get rid of as much of the damage as possible. In my case, it took several cuts to realize just how severe the damage was, so what I ended up with -- a blunt bob with short, straight-across bangs -- was not so pretty despite my stylist’s best intentions. “The Karlie” it was not. More like Jim Carrey à la Dumb & Dumber.

If your hair has any bleach in it, you’re likely going to have to go brown for a while, whether you like it or not. Luckily, there are so many nourishing color lines out there that are perfect for times like these. While I am evidently not a fan of solid brown hair on myself, I must say I was very impressed with what the following colors were able to achieve during my hair’s most fragile of states: L’Oréal Professionnel INOA ammonia-free permanent haircolor and DIA ammonia-free demi-permanent haircolor, and Schwarzkopf Professional Essensity permanent color.

So there I was, with my new horrendous brown bob and bangs, having to still do things like, you know, go to work, attend beauty events and maintain at least a shred of a social life. What did I do? Did I hibernate and wallow in the sorrows of my utterly hopeless hair reality? No. (Ok, actually, I may have. A few times.) I sucked it up and made the best of the situation the only way I knew how: with products -- ALL the products. And bobby pins. And a new, much more gentle flatiron (the John Frida by Conair Flat Finish 1 in. Ceramic Flat Iron) with some sort of magical ionic technology that I’m still not really clear on, but did something good I’m sure.

For those of you who are scoffing at the thought of me even considering using another hot tool on my hair after what it had been through, I assure you it was my only choice. The texture of the singed sections was so awful that not only would they not curl naturally, but a brush and blow dryer simply could not smooth them, at least not with my lackluster blow-dry skills. So I pinned my bangs back, twisted them, or braided them each day until they were long and healthy enough to style. I smoothed the frazzled ends and face-framing pieces carefully with my new flatiron, on a much lower heat setting than I’d been accustomed to. You can imagine my elation when my hairdresser assured me a couple months later that whatever I was doing was working. The undamaged pieces were remaining that way. Success!

It took around eight months post-mishap to even consider reverting to the bleach, and boy did I miss it. I started lightening it slowly with a partial head of highlights, adding more a little at a time to make sure my hair could handle it.

Now before I end this, here are just a few more of the many incredible products I happily hoarded during my lengthy regrowth phase and beyond:

L’Oréal Paris Total Repair 5 Multi-Restorative Dry Oil and Arginine Resist X3 Mask with Reinforcing Serum

Pureology Essential Repair Shampoo, Condition, and Masque; Colour Stylist Fortifying Heat Spray and Strengthening Control Zero Dulling Hairspray

L’Oréal Professionnel Mythic Oil and Force Vector Shampoo, Conditioner, and Masque

Davines Melu Shampoo, Conditioner, and Serum

John Frieda Full Repair Style Revival Heat-Activated Styling Spray and Touch-up Flyaway Tamer

Wella Professionals Enrich Moisturizing Shampoo, Conditioner, and Leave In Balm

Rowenta Beauty Double Straight flatiron

Find me on Twitter @LindsayMacAdam.