What is Bubble Hair Damage and How to Avoid It?

Written by Charlene Latreuille

Updated on

This post may contain affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate, we may earn from qualifying purchases.


Bubble hair deformity, or bubble hair damage, is a condition where multiple air-filled spaces (bubbles) develop within the hair shaft.

It’s a type of thermal injury (heat damage) that deforms the hair fibers with bubble-like formations, causing internal cavities.

Bubble hair deformity can cause the hair to become fragile, leading to fraying, breakage, and even patchy hair loss.

What Does Bubble Hair Deformity Look Like?

At a microscopic level, bubble hair deformity can be described as air bubbles inside the hair shaft, creating gaps and spaces that look like internal cavities.

The easiest way to describe it is to imagine the hair shaft as a sponge-like structure with large gaps and holes.

Like this:

bubble hair heat damage illustration
Bubble hair damage explained.

This condition causes the cortex to become thinner while the bubbles of air distort the hair shaft. The distortion can also affect the surrounding cuticle layer, causing hair shaft abnormalities.

Bubble hair can feel rough, bumpy, and uneven when running fingers through the hair. Additionally, individuals with bubble hair deformity may notice excessive fragility, dryness, damaged hairs, split ends, and more shedding than usual when handling their hair.

Though it is a common type of heat damage, it is rarely diagnosed until it develops into more serious conditions like hair loss.

However, if diagnosed early, it can be identified under a microscope, with light microscopy showing the bubbles that have formed along the hair shaft and scanning electron microscopy revealing the cavitations. These visualizations provide insight into the damage that has occurred to the hair and the potential severity of the condition.

To properly diagnose bubble hair damage, it is recommended to consult a dermatologist or a trichologist. They may use a combination of visual inspection and diagnostic tests, such as a hair analysis or scalp biopsy, to determine the damage’s severity and provide treatment recommendations.

Causes of Bubble Hair Damage

hair dryers operating at maximum heat and hair curling tongs operating at high heat can cause bubble heat damage in hair

Bubble hair damage is caused by exposing wet hair to high temperatures (above 125°C) for extended periods of time. The heat and vaporized water cause air bubbles to form inside the hair, creating a distorted hair shaft.

This usually happens when people use heat-styling tools like steaming hair straighteners, blow dryers, flat irons, and hair curling tongs on wet hair.

Another potential cause of bubble hair is chemical processing. Chemical treatments, such as perming, relaxing, or coloring, involve strong chemicals that can break down the hair’s natural structure, leading to weakened and distorted hair shafts. These chemicals can create gaps and spaces within the hair fiber, causing air bubbles to form.

Signs and Symptoms of Bubble Hair

You can tell if you have bubble hair syndrome by the following signs:

  • Excessive fragility of the hair.
  • Dry hair.
  • Damaged hairs.
  • Hair feels rough.
  • Hair looks uneven.
  • Too many split ends.
  • Hair sheds more than usual.
  • Localized alopecia.

Thread your fingers through your hair and have a feel. Does it feel rough and bumpy?

Individuals who experience bubble hair damage may notice clumps of hair falling out, as well as changes to the overall texture of their hair. Some people have reported that their hair changes from being soft and naturally curly to becoming straight and stiff.

According to research published in the International Journal of Trichology, when analyzing the cause of dry and brittle hair in a 22-year-old female, her hair showed multiple air-filled spaces within the shaft. She reportedly used a hot styling tool on wet hair for only twice a month which was enough to cause the condition.

Here’s the case study: Heat styling and bubble hair anomalies.

Is There a Treatment for Bubble Hair Deformity?

Bubble hair deformity damage is permanent. There is no fix or treatment that can reverse it. The only way to get rid of it is to trim the damaged hair and wait for new growth.

How to Prevent Bubble Hair Damage

Prevention is better than cure.

Sounds cliché, but this is the best way to go.

Use Less Heat

Experiment with different ways to style your hair without relying on hair straighteners or blow dryers. For example, instead of curling your hair with a straightener or curling iron, alternate with heatless hair curlers like Spoolies.

If you love to keep your hair straight and formal, invest in a good keratin treatment that keeps your hair sleek, frizz-free, and smooth for at least 3 months.

Know Your Hair’s Heat Tolerance

You wouldn’t press your silk blouse at max. It’s the same with your hair.

Scorching your hair does not get you faster and better results!

If your hair straightener has adjustable settings, great! Use it.

If it doesn’t – Throw it in the bin now.

Use Heat Protection

Clamping a hot iron on your hair without applying a heat protection cream first is like walking into a war zone without protective gear.

Make a habit of applying heat protection before using a flat iron or even a blow dryer. It creates an invisible protective shield around your hair to prevent heat damage.

I know this may tack on some unwanted time to your routine, but in the long term, it’s worth it.

Beat the Bubbles!

Bubble hair deformity happens to more women than you might think, so don’t beat yourself up about it. To avoid it, here’s a summary of my tips:

  • Reduce heat styling.
  • Know the right temperature for your hair.
  • Use heat protectant.

And keep trimming the damaged parts.

About the Author

Charlene LatreuilleCharlene Latreuille

Charlene Latreuille has been blogging for over 10 years and has a background in digital marketing.

Specializing in women's hair health, she blends scientific insight with practical advice, crafting easy-to-follow guides.