Bad Hair Habits

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We all fidget with our hair—pushing strands out of our face, twirling sections around our fingers, or picking at split ends. Although these—often subconscious—actions are fairly common, some can cause serious damage to your tresses. To find out the biggest mane mistakes, we chatted with Elizabeth Cunnane-Phillips, a trichologist at the Philip Kingsley Trichology Clinic in New York City.

Is twirling your hair bad for it?

“The longer the hair is, the more the habit of fiddling with it seems to prevail. Physical handling of the hair makes it dirtier and oilier, and creates a duller appearance. Not to mention, constantly playing with your strands also creates wear and tear on the hair, causing fragile ends to break. In some cases, this habit can lead to a condition called trichotillomania. This is when twiddling gradually reaches the pulling stage, whereby the hairs are repeatedly pulled out one by one, eventually causing a thin or bald patch that can cover quite a large area.”

What can be done to prevent this?

“I suggest you get something else in your hands. Keeping a worry ball at your desk helps fidgeting hands stay busy.”

Can constantly wearing a ponytail damage the hair?

“Wearing your hair in a tight ponytail can cause traction alopecia, which is physical trauma around the hairline. This is because repeated pulling of the hair follicles creates scaring, and eventually these damaged follicles will stop producing. If your scalp feels sore or if you have a headache, take your hair down immediately. Even with looser styles, be sure to use soft cloth elastics. Metal will always cut into hair and create breakage at the point of contact.”  

What about plucking white hairs or split ends?

“The old wives tale of ‘If you pluck one gray hair, 10 more will grow in its place’ is not true. One time is okay. However, continued plucking of these hairs is very damaging to the follicle area. What you are doing is releasing the hair prematurely by yanking it out, which is harmful to the skin tissue where follicles exist. Although tricky, it is much better to carefully go in and cut out the one strand. This is the same with split ends—ripping at them causes more breakage. The only solution is a trim.”