The Best Shampoos for Breakage


Long hair, don’t care. Big hair, don’t care. Damaged hair, don’t…wait, what? We definitely do care about damaged hair! Hair that is damaged breaks more easily leaving you with frizzy, sad-looking hair. 

The good news is you can probably fix this problem by changing some of your behaviors. That sounds like great news, right? Well, you might not really want to change some of those behaviors. 

Love your flat iron? Put it down. Yep, the blow-dryer too. And that appointment you have scheduled to refresh your highlights next week? Cancel it.

Okay, okay, we’re being a bit dramatic. You might not need to go to such extreme measures to restore your locks to their former Rapunzel-esque glory. Perhaps all you need to do is switch up your shampoo for one that appears on our list of the best shampoos for breakage. More on that later; for now, let’s focus on how you might inadvertently be hurting your hair. 

Break these habits, instead of your hair

In the shower  

Raise your hand if you shampoo your hair; that is, all of your hair. Ah, you too? It turns out some of us have been shampooing our hair incorrectly our whole lives. Shampoo is actually only meant for your scalp and the roots of your hair. When you pile your hair up on top of your head and just kind of rub the shampoo into everything, you put the length of your hair at greater risk of being stripped of moisture and becoming prone to breakage. 

Here’s how to do it correctly: massage the shampoo into your scalp and then, when you rinse it off, simply let it flow through the rest of your hair. Finish your hair-washing ritual with a cool water rinse.  

When you step out of the shower, resist the urge to vigorously rub your hair with a towel. Instead, gently squeeze out the excess water and then wrap your head in a towel. Microfiber towels tend to be the most effective at absorbing excess water. 

In front of the mirror

Before we start trying to persuade you to ditch your beloved styling tools, let’s talk about brushing. A hundred strokes a day? We’ve all heard that one and, honestly, it’s terrible advice. That ritual won’t make your hair shine any more brilliantly, and it may very well make it more prone to breakage. 

Only brush your hair as much as is necessary when styling it. If you have straight hair, avoid brushing it when it is wet, because wet hair is so much more fragile than dry hair. If you have wavy or curly hair, on the other hand, it is actually better to brush it—oh-so-gently—when it is damp. 

Use a wide-toothed comb or a detangling brush and apply a leave-in conditioner or detangler before you begin brushing. Start by carefully removing tangles at the ends of your hair—the knots tend to accumulate in the bottom half—before brushing through the length of your hair from the crown of your head. 

When it comes to styling tools, the more you can avoid heat, the better. That means a hard pass on your blow-dryer (you can use the coolest setting), flat iron and curling wand. Every now and again is okay, but using these tools on a daily basis is going to damage your hair. The American Academy of Dermatology Association recommends keeping heat styling to a maximum of once a week. 

Now, let’s talk about which hairstyles you need to retire. (Hey, no one said this was going to be easy.) Try to avoid anything that pulls tightly on your hair. A slicked-back ponytail or bun once in a while isn’t going to do any damage, but if you wear tight hairstyles regularly, it can lead to breakage and (horrors) even hair loss. 

The same goes for cornrows and braids, which put a lot of strain on the strands of hair and the hair follicles. Rubber bands can easily break your hair, so choose hair accessories that are non-abrasive. Finally, avoid using styling products that promise long-lasting hold, as this will make your hair more prone to breakage when you attempt to style it. 

At the salon 

Products used for coloring, perming or relaxing your hair tend to contain harsh chemicals that damage your hair. The more frequently you use such treatments, the more likely you are to have a problem with breakage. Try to extend the period between treatments to at least eight weeks to give your hair a chance to recover, and opt for one treatment at a time.  

It may seem counterproductive, especially if you are trying to grow out your hair, but scheduling regular appointments for a trim is a good habit to get into. Hair that is cut regularly tends to be healthier than hair that is not. 

Okay, enough of the depressing news; it’s time to reveal our selection of the best shampoos for breakage:

1. Blu Atlas shampoo


Damaged hair on the verge of breaking needs moisture, and this thirst-quenching shampoo from Blu Atlas delivers just that with a potent combination of jojoba oil, aloe vera, and vegan biotin. When it comes to moisturizing your strands, jojoba oil is something of a superstar. Here’s why: this plant-based oil has similar properties to the sebum produced by your sebaceous glands. Sebum, an oily substance that comprises fatty acids, sugars, and waxes, coats, moisturizes and protects your skin and hair. The jojoba oil in this shampoo functions in a similar way. 

Aloe vera, a succulent plant that is often used in cosmetics because of its moisturizing and antioxidant properties, soothes the scalp and, in doing so, creates an environment that is more conducive to healthy hair growth. Finally, vegan biotin fortifies each strand of hair, making breakage less likely. This shampoo uses coconut-derived surfactants to gently rid your hair of dirt and excess oil, and we adore the fact that it is free from sulfates, parabens, phthalates and synthetic fragrances. 

2. Olaplex No. 4 Bond Maintenance Shampoo


Brace yourself; we’re going to hit you with some science. Strands of hair contain something called disulfide bonds, which are largely responsible for giving your hair its structure and strength. When your hair is damaged, these bonds break apart, resulting in single sulfur hydrogen bonds. The chemical reactions that follow can result in the creation of a substance known as cysteric acid, which eats the protein out of your hair. Sounds pretty bad, right? 

This is where Olaplex’s superhero molecule,  Bis-Aminopropyl Diglycol Dimaleate, comes into play. Thanks to patented bond-building technology, the Olaplex molecule pairs with the single sulfur hydrogen bonds to restore integrity and stability to your hair. And, voila, no more protein-devouring cysteric acid.

Too sciency? Here’s what you need to know: Olaplex No. 4 Bond Maintenance Shampoo repairs damaged hair from the inside out. Formulated for daily use, this shampoo can be used on all hair types to repair damage and restore shine and manageability. 

3. Moroccanoil Moisture Repair Shampoo 


Specifically formulated for hair that has been damaged by color treatments, chemical processing or heat styling, Moroccanoil Moisture Repair Shampoo nourishes thirsty strands with argan oil, keratin, and plant extracts. Argan oil, derived from the seeds of Argan trees in Morocco, penetrates the hair, delivering antioxidants and unsaturated fatty acids, and provides a protective seal. 

This shampoo from Moroccanoil is also infused with lavender, rosemary and chamomile extracts—plants that have all been shown to be beneficial for hair and scalp health. Your hair may just forgive you for subjecting it to all those nasty chemicals once it has recovered its natural strength and elasticity, thanks to this gentle yet nourishing shampoo.

4. Redken Extreme Shampoo


Extreme damage requires extreme solutions and that’s what Redken promises to deliver with its Extreme Shampoo. This protein-rich shampoo contains amino acids and arginine to repair damage, and citric acid to condition and smooth your hair. When you use it with the rest of the brand’s Extreme system—the conditioner and anti-snap treatment—the shampoo reduces breakage by 73% and leaves all hair types with a soft, shiny finish. 

5. Amika The Kure Bond Repair Shampoo 


Another shampoo that works by repairing the hydrogen bonds in your hair structure, the kure bond repair shampoo is loaded with omega fatty acids, vitamins, minerals and plant-based vegan proteins that provide similar benefits to keratin without causing buildup or breakage. This shampoo, when used in conjunction with the kure bond repair conditioner, has been clinically proven to make hair twice as strong and 55% less prone to breakage after just one wash. 

Formulated for all hair types in need of a little TLC, this shampoo contains antioxidant-rich sea buckthorn, which is one of the few known plant-based sources of the omega-7 fatty acids usually found in fish oil. This vegan, cruelty-free shampoo contains none of the bad stuff (sulfates, parabens, phthalates, and mineral oil), making it gentle enough for daily use. If you don’t quickly become addicted to the kure’s ability to bring your hair back from the almost-dead, the warm, spicy fragrance with notes of vanilla, sweet clover and fresh citrus will get you hooked. 

6. Oribe Gold Lust Repair & Restore Shampoo


Lusting after more luscious locks? This restorative shampoo from Oribe takes your hair back to the day of your youth. Okay, we concede that might be asking a little too much from a shampoo, but the Gold Lust Repair & Restore Shampoo does rejuvenate hair so that it appears more youthful and healthy. 

The secret to this clock-rewinding magic? Oribe’s proprietary bio-restorative complex that includes plant collagen, caffeine, biotin, and niacinamide to deeply nourish the hair cuticle and invigorate the scalp. In addition to the bio-restorative complex, this rejuvenating cleanser also includes deeply moisturizing mediterranean cyprus extract and argan oil. Rounding off this unique formula is an amino acid complex that has been designed to mimic the proteins in the hair cortex, and Oribe’s signature complex (watermelon, lychee and edelweiss flower) that protects the hair against future damage from environmental stressors. 

7. Kérastase Bain Force Architecte Shampoo


Formulated for weak and damaged hair, this shampoo reconstructs hair architecture using a combination of sap from the resurrection plant, ceramides, and a pro-keratin complex that contains a blend of proteins and amino acids, including serine, arginine and glutamic acid. Hang on, let’s go back a bit. Those amino acids  sound super important, but not nearly as interesting as a resurrection plant

A plant that comes back from the dead. This plant, which grows in the desert, has the incredible ability to shrivel up and play dead when there is no water, then regenerate itself when environmental conditions are more favorable. 

Not only is this great news for adults who have thus far been unable to keep a plant alive, it is also comforting for those with hair nearing the brink. Is revitalization possible? Yes! Thanks to the sap from this miraculous plant, this shampoo from Kérastase helps to smooth and hydrate even the most damaged hair. 

8. Nexxus Keraphix Damage Healing Shampoo


When hair becomes severely damaged, it loses a key amino acid called glutamic acid. The clever folks at Nexxus have created a protein infusion blend that combines black rice—a rich source of glutamic acid—and keratin protein to strengthen and repair hair. 

The brand’s silicone-free Keraphix Damage Healing Shampoo gently cleanses the hair fiber and begins to repair the hair from the very first wash. For optimal results, this shampoo is best used with the rest of the Keraphix system.

9. OGX Anti-breakage + Keratin Oil Shampoo


While there are many great shampoos on the market formulated specifically to repair damaged hair, they tend to be rather expensive. This anti-breakage shampoo from OGX is both effective and affordable. As an added bonus, it doesn’t contain parabens or sulfate-based surfactants. 

As you might have guessed from the name, keratin proteins play a key role in fortifying hair strands and improving elasticity. The formula also includes conditioning argan oil for smoother, shinier locks. The tropical fragrance, with hints of orange and pineapple, will leave you feeling as invigorated as your hair. 

10. Aveda Botanical Repair Strengthening Shampoo


The final product on our list of best shampoos for breakage is formulated almost exclusively with naturally-derived ingredients (94%). This strengthening shampoo from Aveda can be used on all types and textures of hair. It is also safe for use on hair that has been colored or chemically processed. 

Without stripping the hair (no sulfate-based cleansers here), the shampoo removes excess sebum and accumulated dirt or product residue, while simultaneously repairing bonds in the hair structure to fortify the hair. Scented with ylang-ylang, rose, and marjoram, this vegan and cruelty-free shampoo doesn’t contain any silicones, parabens, mineral oil or synthetic fragrances. 

Frequently asked questions

What is the difference between breakage and hair loss? 

There is a difference between shedding hair that has come to the end of its life cycle, and hair that breaks off before it is ready to be shed. Each strand of hair follows a natural cycle that includes a growth phase (anagen), a transition phase (catagen), in which the hair follicle begins to shrink, and a rest phase (telogen), in which the hair strand is shed. 

The anagen phase can last for up to eight years, but the following two phases usually only last a few weeks. At any given time, 90% of your hair is in the anagen phase, which is why you generally have a full head of hair. 

It is completely normal to lose anywhere between 50 and 100 strands of hair a day as part of this natural cycle. When these strands shed, they are usually about the length of the hair on your head, and they have a tiny white bulb at the end. If the hairs you find on the floor after brushing are a lot shorter than the hair on your head and are missing the little white bulb, you are probably dealing with breakage. 

Hair that is damaged, and therefore more likely to break, tends to be drier and frizzier than usual. You may also notice split ends and short “baby hairs” around your hairline. 

Are some hair types more likely to experience breakage?

When it comes to preventing breakage, curly hair needs a little more care. Curly hair tends to dry out more easily because it is more difficult for oil to travel from the scalp down the full length of the hair, due to the coiled nature of the strand. Dry hair is inherently more fragile, making it more prone to breakage. The tighter the curl or the coil, the more likely this is to be a problem. 

Aging hair—we’re looking at you, grays—is structurally more fragile than hair that has not lost its pigmentation. With age, hair loses some of its elasticity and its ability to retain water, making it more susceptible to breakage. 

Can split ends be fixed?

Many shampoos and conditioners claim to repair split ends, but these fixes tend to be temporary. The problem with split ends, aside from being rather unsightly, is that the damage can travel further up the strands. To prevent this, it is better to trim your hair regularly to remove any split ends before they become a more serious problem. 

Can breakage be a sign of a medical problem?

Underlying medical problems tend to be associated more with hair loss than hair breakage; however, certain thyroid conditions can make your hair more prone to breakage, as can scalp fungi and bacterial folliculitis. 

How does nutrition affect your hair?

You’ve probably heard the saying, “you are what you eat.” While somewhat reductive, this concept is not entirely wrong. How healthy your hair is depends as much on what you put into your body as it does on what you put onto your hair. Sudden and dramatic weight loss can result in excessive hair shedding. Malnutrition or nutrient deficiencies can lead to weaker hair that is more easily damaged. In the case of eating disorders such as anorexia or bulimia, malnutrition can lead to dry, dull hair that breaks easily.  

However, even crash diets or generally poor nutrition can result in hair that is prone to breakage. Specifically, hair needs protein, omega-3 fatty acids, zinc, iron, vitamin D and vitamin B, and selenium to flourish. If you follow a vegan diet, you may need to turn to supplementation for those all important B vitamins. Otherwise a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, legumes, and nuts (particularly Brazil nuts) should give you commercial-worthy tresses. The best way to get your fix of vitamin D is to soak up some rays of sunshine, but remember to wear a hat because sun exposure can also damage your hair!

Does swimming regularly make breakage more likely?

Swimming pools tend to be treated with chlorine and other chemicals that are harsh on your hair. Combined with unprotected exposure to UV rays, this can wreak havoc on your hair. For those who swim for exercise, keeping your head above water isn’t really an option, but you can wear a swimming cap. 

Applying some leave-on conditioner to your hair before putting on the swimming cap adds another layer of protection. Once you have finished swimming, immediately rinse your hair and apply conditioner as soon as possible.  

What’s the deal with silk pillowcases?

Changing your pillowcase really can make a difference to your skin and hair. Pillowcases fabricated out of cotton or polyester tend to dry out your hair and cause friction when you move around in your sleep. This friction can lead to breakage. Silk or satin pillowcases, on the other hand, are gentle on your skin and hair. Less frizz, fewer wrinkles—who doesn’t want that?

Should you avoid products that contain sulfates?

Sulfates—specifically sodium laureth sulfate and sodium lauryl sulfate—are very effective cleansing agents. For this reason, they are often included in cosmetics and cleaning products. The problem is that they can be too effective, stripping your hair of moisture and oils along with less desirable dirt and residue. The strong nature of these surfactants also means that they can irritate your scalp and cause skin sensitivity. 

What’s the problem with parabens and phthalates?

You might have noticed that when cosmetics do not contain parabens or phthalates, this information is prominently displayed. There’s a reason for this: these synthetic chemicals are not great for your health. So, why are they included in any cosmetic products? 

Parabens, such as methylparaben and propylparaben, are often used in cosmetics to prevent the growth of bacteria. However, they are easily absorbed through the skin and, in addition to causing skin problems, can disrupt hormone regulation. 

Phthalates, which have lubricating properties, can negatively impact the functioning of your kidneys, liver, thyroid and immune system. All in all, we’d say that the risks these products pose to your health far outweigh their cosmetic benefits. 

Should you pass on silicones too?

Here’s the thing about silicones: they’re not necessarily bad. In shampoos and conditioners, silicones can make damaged hair look sleek and shiny. They do this by coating each strand of hair in a protective sheath. Protective is good, right? Yes, when it comes to harsh chemicals or pollutants it is good to have a barrier that keeps the hair shaft safe. 

The problem is that this barrier also stops nutrients from reaching the hair shaft. In the case of silicones that are not water soluble such as amodimethicone and dimethicone, repeated use of the shampoo or conditioner will result in a buildup that can make hair appear lank or limp. If you’re going to use a shampoo that contains silicones, opt for a water soluble silicone such as cyclomethicone. 

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