Growing out one’s hair is a finicky process. Not only do countless external factors affect hair regrowth, both in density and speed, but hair growth also happens in small, imperceptible increments—it takes weeks to see a noticeable change.
To make it even more complicated, hair regrowth and hair damage can look incredibly similar. Both appear as short flyaways, gathering most heavily around the face and nape of the neck.
So, how are you supposed to tell if you’re going backward or forward in your hair regrowth journey? We turned to the experts to find out.
Breakage Vs. New Growth
It might seem impossible to distinguish between breakage and new growth at first. But once you grow familiar with a few specific markers, it will be much easier to tell. You just have to look very, very closely.
1. Pay Attention To The Ends
“You can spot flyaways caused by breakage because the ends will have a kinked, regular appearance,” explains Dr. Enrizza P. Factor, a clinical dermatologist with MyVitiligoTeam.com. Additionally, strands will “vary in length since they’ve been damaged at the ends. When a hair breaks, it leaves behind a coarse edge.”
On the other hand, new growth looks and feels much softer than breakage and has a tapered end. “If you see that you have new wispy hairs along your hairline that are soft and healthy, it’s a clear indicator that your mane is growing,” Factor continues.
2. Look For Scalp Placement
Another visual indicator is how the hairs are physically situated on the scalp. “New growth will be all the same length and all over the head. If the flyaways are in just one section, it’s most likely breakage,” Factor explains.
Ghanima Abdullah, hair expert at TheRightHairstyles.com, adds that new growth is often shorter than breakage and uniform in length. Breakage, however, “is usually in a stress spot—say, where you put your ponytail. Broken hairs will have different lengths.”
3. Assess The Quality Of The Hair Shaft
Breakage and new growth focus on the hair ends, but the entire hair shaft is involved. “With breakage, you’ll often see your hair looking dull and brittle,” says Khamis Maiouf, CEO at Book of Barbering. “If your hair looks frizzy and dry, that’s a sign of breakage.”
“New growth will typically appear darker than the rest of your hair,” Maiouf continues. “If you’re noticing thicker hairs closer to the root of your head, that’s probably new growth.”
Additionally, “breakage tends to have tiny white spots on the ends of each strand,” says Madison Dufour, licensed barber, cosmetologist, and author of The Exquisite Find hair blog.
4. Give It A Tug
Abdullah also recommends a (gentle) pull test to determine the cause of your flyaways. “If you pull about twenty hairs in the area where you notice shorter hairs, it’s likely breakage if five or more of them come out. This means the hair is weak in that area.”
Determining Outside Factors
If the visual tests don’t produce definitive results, Dufour suggests looking at other external factors. “Has the air been particularly dry lately? The drier the air is (and often in the changing seasons), there is more static electricity in the air,” Dufour explains.
“Do you brush your hair while it’s wet? If so, the flyaways are probably breakage. Always comb, never brush wet hair. The hair is fragile and elastic when wet, so brushing stretches and breaks the hair.”
“Have you had any hormonal changes lately?” Dufour continues. She explains that stress, medical procedures, and new medications contribute to breakage. Drastic feminine hormonal changes, like the beginning or end of a pregnancy, breastfeeding, or menopause, can also cause breakage.
So, It’s Breakage—What Now?
If you ran all the tests on your hair and determined you have new growth, congratulations! Keep doing what you’re doing, and enjoy those new tresses. However, if you find that you’re looking at new breakage, here’s what the experts say to do next.
For new growth promotion, Maiouf recommends Keranique. This hair regrowth treatment “is great for nourishing your hair and ensuring the roots have everything they need to grow strong.”
Keranique contains 2% Minoxidil, which absorbs into the scalp and activates your hair follicles. This extends your hair’s natural growth cycle and promotes thicker, fuller locks. Thanks to its new precision sprayer, application is a breeze.
Another powerful regrowth option is the Olaplex Hair Perfector No. 3, recommended by Abdullah. He explains that this product is “good for all hair types. It works from the inside of the hair to rebuild broken bonds. It builds strength and repairs damage that occurs to the inside of the hair shaft.”
The Olaplex Hair Perfector is a fan favorite, boasting over 60,000 five-star reviews from Amazon. Its formula is also vegan and contains no parabens, phthalates, or phosphates.
Abdullah also suggests using extra virgin coconut oil, like this beauty grade version by Coco & Co, as a pre-shampoo treatment. “Leave it in for at least two hours,” he says. “If your hair is damaged, it stops too much water from entering your hair strands and creating hygral fatigue.”
Hygral fatigue is damage to your hair follicles caused by excessive moisture, which causes the hair follicles to swell and unswell. Over time, this stresses the hair and creates frizziness, brittleness, and dullness.
But the benefits of extra virgin coconut oil don’t end there. “It also lessens damage to the hair cuticle, which gets ripped during detangling when the hair is suffering from hygral fatigue.” (Read: this helps protect your hair when you inevitably brush it wet.)
Coco & Co’s extra virgin coconut oil is sourced from young, organic, fair trade coconuts. It uses no heat or chemicals, preserving all the nutrients and fatty acids and making it far purer than the coconut oil you’d find at the grocery store.
Finally, Dufour offers some solutions to breakage sans products. “Drink plenty of water, and exercise regularly. This encourages extra blood flow and circulation that detoxes the body and blood, which helps hair grow and maintain a healthy scalp.”
While these physical changes can help improve overall (and, in turn, scalp) health, you’ll need the right products to do major damage control. Dufour suggests regularly using hair masks, particularly while the seasons are changing and the air is drier.
A little breakage might be a bump in the road of your hair growth journey, but it’s nothing the right products and a few daily tweaks can’t fix.