“Should your hair be breaking off like that?” my now-husband asked as I brushed my hair. I looked up to see him watching bits of my hair flutter downward in the sun. No, it shouldn’t have been, but it was. It took me five years to completely destroy my hair with chemical dyes, and another seven to rehabilitate the damage and then regrow it after a devastating shed. It was this long, often miserable, journey that spurred me to learn about natural hair care and develop the herbal alchemy you see now at NightBlooming.
Destroyed with Dye
The first time I dyed my hair, it brightened everything to fire-copper and covered the whites I was already getting at 21. I was in love, and hopelessly hooked, but I quickly learned that nothing fades like red dye. By the time my roots needed touching up the length was faded, so I’d pull the dye through the length to refresh the patchy color.
These pictures are within three years of one another. When things started going downhill, they went fast. So when I hear people say “My hair is just fine with chemical dyes!” Mine was, too, until it wasn’t. I still kind of miss the black streaks, though.
Soon enough, the hair I had fallen in love with was no longer the hair attached to my head. After years of aggressive styling and dyeing, my hair broke off, inch by inch, from my hips all the way up to my shoulder blades. I developed a sensitivity to the chemical dyes, and each touch-up left my scalp red, irritated, and peeling. At its worst, my hair was a faded, patchy, straw-like broken mass of split ends, and my scalp was tender and red.
Apologies for the crummy images. These were from back in the days of this thing called ‘film.’
There were two big tasks ahead of me: dealing with the damage and finding a way to get the color and white-coverage that I wanted, naturally. And once I did? I lost a third of my hair in a massive shed and had to grow it out all over again.
Healing the Damage
Distraught and despairing, I looked for a better way. Over the course of this journey I researched an immense amount about the structure of hair, how conventional treatments damage it, and how natural ingredients and unconventional care can offset that damage. I traded salon cuts for microtrimming, began to wear my hair up with sticks and forks, and began to experiment, not only with natural off-the-shelf products, but also with creating my own.
There are a lot of people who, with hair as bad as mine was, would have shaved their heads, or at the very least pixie-cut it and started over. I was determined to keep the hair on my head and grow it out; microtrimming made this possible. Normally, when you go in for a trim you take off an inch or two. But if the hair is damaged enough, as mine way, it’ll split again right away and the ends would get tangly and need another trim in a few weeks. It’s a fast way to lose length. Microtrimming, by contrast, only takes off a tiny bit so when the damaged hair splits again, you make your next trim just above that. My hair grows about half an inch a month, and I was trimming 1/4 inch per month. This meant that, every so slowly, I was both cutting out the damage, and gaining length.
Blending Oils, Salves & Selkie
I started researching and understanding both how conventional hair products worked and what was in them that didn’t need to be, then developed my own better, natural variations. Although I was already selling hair sticks at NightBlooming, I started sharing the products I was using myself. The hair salves came online one at a time, followed by Triple Moon Oil, and much later, Selkie Herbal Detangler.
Rehabilitating Damaged Hair Naturally
What started off as a lengthy post on a long hair forum quickly bloomed into a massive thread, and then an article, and finally an ebook. It sold so well on NightBlooming that a few years later I gave it a massive facelift, added new content and worked with Wise Ink to convert it into multiple ebook formats.
Coloring without Chemicals
Not willing to give up on coloring my hair all together, I discovered henna. Over the next few years I consumed everything I could on the topic, learning how it worked and how to blend it with other herbs to alter the final color. Its strengthening properties held my horribly damaged hair together, but pure henna proved to be far, far too dark. Instead of the copper-orange I wanted, my hair was so burgundy it was nearly purple.
I developed Fire Genasi, a blend of henna, senna, and other herbs, that gave me back my natural ginger color and covered the whites. This was great on the new growth, but the length of my hair was still very, very dark with multiple layers of pure henna. After a bunch more research and testing I lightened my too-dark henna to natural ginger with Sun-In. This was another instance where a single post became an epic thread, and I’ve updated the entire article with more science and new pictures.
The chemical dyes had done way more damage to my scalp than I had previously thought. Over the next few years, between using only natural hair products I developed myself and henna, my hair thickened, strengthened and grew. The difference is very visible in these pictures of two of my buns.
Left to right: Copper chemical dye, the same dye super-saturated into my damaged hair + black streaks, henna over faded chemical dyes, and finally my current color with Fire Genasi.
I was eager to share everything I’d learned about henna and other herbal hair colors, so I wrote a second book: Coloring Hair Naturally with Henna & Other Herbs. I wanted it to be comprehensive, explaining things end-to-end for new herbal hair coloring users. When one review described it as ‘encyclopedic’ in its thoroughness, I knew I’d hit the mark.
Regrowing after a Shed
After years of babying, microtrimming and perfecting my henna blend my hair was exactly as I wanted it to be. And then I lost a third of my hair–a shed brought on because I switched from birth control pills to an IUD. I was devastated. There was nothing to do but grow it all out all over again.
The one thing keeping me from compete despair was that I had already grown out much, much worse. Now, however, my focus shifted to hair growth: understanding what hair needs to grow, what factors can boots its growth, and which ones inhibit it.
Developing New Products
In trying to help my shed I developed Hinoki Hair Growth Oil, Miruvor Long Hair Tea, and doubled the length of Rehabilitating Damaged Hair Naturally, adding tons of content about understanding hair growth, nutrition that builds hair, and growth-stimulating techniques. You can read more about my shed and how I recovered from it in this article.
In time, my thickness returned, slowly moving down the length of my hair. When it reached midback I decided I was going to cut out the thin ends, but preserve as much length as possible.
I cut my own hair this time (normally I ask my husband to do it for me, but this was a semi-impulsive decision and I wanted to take responsibility for it). I started by giving myself a V-Cut using Feye’s Method. Content with that, I then gave myself some side and back layers using the technique in this video.
Where am I now?
It took a few more years, but my hair is fully grown back out. I tend to bounce around between tailbone and fingertip. My natural taper is enough that I can’t go past that without the ends really, really thinning out. Once or twice a year I hand my husband the scissors and he neatens up the back, and once or twice a year I decide my layers need a touch up and I do those myself.
In the end, I had (almost) the hair I wanted for my wedding–just a little darker than perfect. But when I launched The Iyarri Chronicles? I had the hair I always wanted for my author photo (last on the right).
Ask questions for my hair routine post!
What’s my routine now? Well, that’s a topic for another post, but if you have any questions you’d specifically like me to answer, leave them in the comments below!
7 thoughts on “Destroyed & Reborn: Melissa’s Hair History”
How often do you redo your color and when you do , do you only do your roots ?
Oh this is a perfect question for my hair care routine post coming up next! I’ll be sure to answer it there 🙂
Great article, Melissa!
Three questions- feel free to refer me to a book if these are answered there:
1) You mention the damage that dyeing treatments did to your scalp. Was rehabilitating your scalp as simple as discontinuing use of those or did you do anything to specifically treat that area?
2) In additional to dyes, did you do any research on the safety or risks associated with common shampoos, conditioners, pomades, hair gels and powders, or other over-the-counter hair products? How do you wash your own hair, or what is your daily/regular maintenance routine?
3) Could you talk more about your microtrimming technique- did you use any tools/special scissors to help cut accurately or with proper shape, or trimming/hairstyling techniques? How would someone with shorter hair carry that out?
These are all great questions!
1) Thankfully, my scalp healed right up after I discontinued the chemical dyes. I’ve always been fortunate to have a pretty low-maintenance scalp, and it was just the lack of exposure to whatever chemical I was developing a sensitivity to that let it return to normal.
2) I’m not one for SLS, though they are sometimes what’s needed–they can be irritating, especially to people with sensitive scalps, and are very powerful, but if you’re (like I was) using products with heavy, water insoluble silicones, that’s the only way to get them of. What worked for me was just scaling everything back: when I was no longer using heavy silicones, I didn’t need the SLS to remove them, All my products became more gentle: by using Selkie Herbal Detangler, for example, instead of a silicone-based detangler, I could use a mild SLS-free shampoo to wash my hair instead. The only two things I avoid whole-cloth in my products are parabens (preservatives that have raised concerns for their estrogen-mimicking properties and potential links to breast cancer) and anything with “fragrance” as an ingredient. “Fragrance” is considered a way to protect proprietary blends unique to products, but the flip side of this means that there isn’t full disclosure of the ingredients that comprise it. For the how do I wash my hair and what’s my regular maintenance routine, I’ll address that in the next post ^_^
3) For microtrimming I use a pair of ice-tempered shears–they’re actually dog-grooming shears from my friend who abandoned her grooming business before it got started. When I was taking 1/4 inch a month I was using Feye’s Method (linked above) but that can be challenging for people with very short hair. In that case, I’d recommend getting a friend or very trusted stylist who is willing to just dust the ends off.
Melissa, I am so happy to be reading your article this morning. I have followed you and used your beautiful henna mixes for about a year with great results. I was finally reclaiming my chemically damaged hair and gaining length once again when one day I irrationally decided to bleach my hair to remove the henna and you can only imagine the damage I redid to my hair. I am now back to square one but fortunately I was smart enough to realized what I had done and put the breaks on before chemically coloring my hair after the bleach. In the last few months I’ve allowed my natural color to grow and the health is getting better but I am needing help with the length I’ve lost which has really bummed me out. I’d never heard of microtrimming and since the bleaching I have had my hair cut a couple of times to take the damage off. I wish I had tried microtrimming first but lessons learned. Reading your article has really given me hope that someday I’ll be able to have my long hair back and I’m thankful that you’ve created products that can help with the process.
Looking very forward to your hair routine post and I”m most curious about what daily shampoo/conditioner’s that you recommend and personally use.
I’m so sorry to hear about how damaged your hair became after bleaching! It’s good to hear this post gave you hope, and you will 110% get there 🙂 I do talk about Microtrimming more (with some diagrams) in Rehabilitating Damaged Hair Naturally, but the great news is that’s something you can implement from here on out instead of normal trims. https://melissalynnherold.com/rehabilitating-damaged-hair-naturally/
I’ll be sure to address what shampoo and conditioner I use in my upcoming routine post! <3
Maybe I’m lucky to have reacted to my first use of commercial dye! My comment is really for your recent post on lightening hair with Sun-in. I had asked about using it to remove amla.
Since my hair was light brown under the amla, I decided to give it a try. It worked wonderfully to pull back the brown and let my henna shine through. Thanks for the explanation of how the process works.