Real Simple July 25, 2023

Real Simple


Here’s Why Your Hair Feels Like Straw—and Some Ways to Treat It


Common culprits and ways to treat straw hair that’s already damaged.

In its healthiest state, hair feels soft and smooth to the touch and has a sort of shiny, bouncy brilliance. The cuticle is sealed, frizz is at a minimum, and it reflects light versus absorbing it. When hair looks and feels like straw—rough, dull, and prone to breakage—it’s a sign that your strands are damaged and in need of some immediate TLC. 

“Hair can become damaged from environmental factors, usage of incorrect products, chlorine and salt, and over-usage of hot tools,” notes Valery Joseph, a master hairstylist in New York and Miami. “It is very important to address these issues immediately to avoid further damage to the hair cuticle.”

Keep reading to learn some of the primary causes of straw hair (that way you can better avoid them) and how to treat straw hair so it’s restored back to its shiny, healthy luster. 

7 Reasons Why Your Hair Feels Like Straw

Hair that feels like straw is almost always severely damaged. As mentioned, this is likely due to environmental factors, overprocessing, and daily habits that take a toll on your strands over time. Here are some of the most common culprits: 

  • Chemical Processing: Whether you’re simply covering grays, highlighting your strands, bleaching all-over, or perming your hair, chemicals break down the hair bond. “Adding chemicals to the hair overtime can affect the strands' ability to retain moisture, which in turn leads to dry and coarse hair,” notes Bianca Hillier, hair stylist and ambassador for Olaplex. 
  • Lack of Moisture: Hair requires moisture in order to look and feel shiny. If you forgo the conditioner, it can make hair feel rough and straw-like. 
  • Heat Styling: Regularly using hot tools can gradually cause hair to lose moisture and elasticity resulting in straw-like hair. 
  • Bad Products: In addition to heat styling, using subpar hair care products can damage the cuticle. “Avoid any products containing sulfates and styling products that have alcohol in them—like gels—as they tend to make hair drier,” notes Raven Hurtado, a Chicago-based stylist at Maxine Salon.
  • Chlorine & Salt: Hanging out at the beach or pool is all fun and games until you’re dealing with damaged strands. Hillier says, “Minerals are absorbed in the hair through time and can make the hair feel and appear more fragile.” 
  • Sunshine: In the same way UV rays can damage your skin, they can also do a number on your strands. Use products with UV protection, stick to the shade, and try to avoid sunshine during peak hours of the day. 
  • Unkept: Hair requires ongoing maintenance in order to look its best. Shampoo and condition at least a couple times a week, use a deep conditioner weekly, use moisturizing, nourishing styling products, and make sure you’re getting routine trims at the salon.

How to Treat Straw Hair 

Knowing what causes straw hair can help you avoid rough, dull strands. If you’re already dealing with a case of straw hair and are seeking a way to restore some brilliance, follow these expert tips. 

1. Lay Low on Processing & Styling 

Often, the biggest contributor to straw hair is chemical processing and heat styling. Now’s the time to step away from the bleach, highlights, and hair dye. It’s also a good time to press pause on hot tools and lean into the world of heat-free styling. If you must heat style, try to air dry 25% to 75% of the way and then go in with your blow dryer. Also, make sure to use a heat protectant beforehand and turn the heat setting down, advises Hurtado. 

2. Use a Leave-In Hair Bonding Treatment 

Hillier recommends incorporating a bonding, leave-in treatment once or twice a week depending on the condition of your hair. Her favorite is Olaplex No. 0 Intensive Bond Building Hair Treatment ($30, Sephora) which deeply repairs and strengthens strands. 

Another great option, recommended by Hurtado, is IGK Antisocial Overnight Bond Building Dry Hair Mask ($34, Ulta). “This unique leave-in dry treatment softens hair without needing to wash or restyle. The most amazing thing about it is that you can spray it all over after a blow out and it won’t ruin your style.” 

3. Switch to High Quality Products for Damaged Strands 

Some people can get away with using any old shampoo, but if you’re trying to fix straw hair then it’s time to make a switch. Opt for a salon-quality shampoo and conditioner intended for damaged hair. Alternatively, find a hair care system for your specific hair type, such as dyed, bleached, blonde, or curly. 

4. Slather on a Deep Conditioner 

“You should be using a nourishing hair mask once a week if your hair is feeling straw-like due to lack of moisture,” Hurtado says. He recommends Briogeo’s Don’t Despair, Repair Deep Conditioning Hair Mask ($39, Sephora). “It helps repair damage and split ends while providing protein and moisture to strengthen hair.”

5. Wash Sparingly 

Hillier says to cut back on how frequently you wash your hair since this strips your strands of natural moisture. “If you find your hair feels straw-like, reduce the number of times you wash your hair each week by one or two,” she advises. “Unless you have very fine hair, most people can wash their hair one to two times per week and it will still look and feel clean and fresh.” After a few weeks of not over washing, you should start to feel your hair come back to life. 

6. See Your Stylist

If you struggle with straw hair on a regular basis or are dealing with a serious case of damage, reach out to your stylist. “When your hair has breakage or to the degree where it becomes matted and tangled, you should always seek a professional for advice,” Valery says. “A stylist can guide you on the proper steps to correct, whether it is with a keratin treatment that provides a protective coating and seals the hair or with in-salon treatments using steam to penetrate deep into your hair cuticle.”