Nicole Kidman made headlines this week when she said she “tortured” her curls “to death.”
Years of straightening and coloring to achieve a sun-kissed “Aussie beach girl” look basically killed her natural, reddish-blond ringlets for good, the actress said. But is that true?
Certainly, ongoing hair treatments can harm the strands you already have, Dr. Francesca Fusco, a New York City dermatologist with a specialization in hair health, told TODAY Style.
“If a woman is straightening her hair … and bleaching it and blow drying it and flat ironing it, that’s like the royal flush of things that can really damage hair,” said Fusco.
But what about new hair growth? Could years of straightening and styling really change the texture of new hairs as they grow in?
In some very extreme cases, it’s possible, Fusco said. An especially harsh, chemical-based hair treatment that causes inflammation or even “blisters and crusting” on the scalp could potentially damage the hair follicles under the skin.
Since the shape of the hair follicle determines the shape of the strand, that damage could result in a change to texture, she said.
However, even a strong chemical treatment is unlikely to completely strip away someone’s curls. Fusco said that she very rarely sees patients with naturally curly hair start growing straight strands following treatments.
When it comes to Nicole Kidman’s hair, she suspects other factors may be at play.
For one thing, it’s normal for hair texture to change as we age. Shifting hormones can influence hair texture and thickness. (But don't believe the myth that hair goes through seven-year cycles. Hair, she said, has a lifespan of up to seven years, but each strand is at a different part of its cycle at any given time, so individual hairs are constantly replacing themselves.)
Also, gray hairs tend to be a different texture than non-grays, which can be especially noticeable for people with natural spirals.
“As (curly-haired people) get gray, they tell me that their hair texture changes and they’re not as curly as they used to be,” Fusco said. “They’re either straighter or they’re just wavy.”
Dr. Nicole Rogers, a Louisiana-based dermatologist specializing in hair loss, also hesitated to attribute any change in Kidman’s hair texture to past straightening or coloring.
“I’m not saying it’s impossible,” she told TODAY. “But I would be surprised if it’s a result of the chemical treatment.”
She said Kidman’s curls may have naturally loosened somewhat over time — but only subtly. In fact, Rogers thinks there is still hope for Kidman’s natural ringlets.
“I would really be surprised if she completely managed to destroy her curls,” Rogers said. “If she just stopped and did absolutely nothing to her hair, I’m willing to wager that she would probably have more curl than she realizes.”
So, maybe Kidman shouldn't be so hard on herself. And, who knows? Maybe her natural curls will make an encore appearance someday!
In the meantime, Fusco offered some tips for curly-haired ladies who want to revive and protect their natural spirals:
- “The first, most important thing is cutting down on heating tools,” she said. “That’s really adding to a lot of the damage.”
- Use coconut oil to keep curls strong and moisturized. “Coconut oil is fabulous,” she said. “It penetrates very deeply and reduces protein loss in the hair.”
- Be very gentle when brushing. “If you really start pulling (the comb) through...you’re more at risk for breaking,” she said.
- Keep the scalp well hydrated. This will protect the skin and follicles during harsh chemical treatments, she recommended.