Hair Loss, Hair Care, and Hair Help
As of right now, I’m a few weeks away from celebrating my 25th birthday. I fully plan on spending the day with my friends and family, eating lots of incredible food, playing games, attending a Renaissance festival, and generally having a riot of a time commemorating my first quarter-century. Apart from all the hullabaloo, I’m also honoring the time I’ve spent here on earth by re-evaluating my health. What habits worked for me at 15 that aren’t working for me at 25? What can I change? What can’t I change? What should my goals be moving forward?
One thing I’ve noticed since graduating high school is that I’ve lost a lot of hair. What used to be a lush mane of glossy, dark tresses has thinned considerably, leaving me with limp locks and small patches of exposed bone-white scalp. This is unusual for the people in my family— even the men in my brood experience only marginal hair loss at the most— and so I’ve made a goal to address and heal the loss, hopefully preventing any more… at least until my next quarter-century rolls around.
After scouring the internet in search of all things hair loss science, I found out a few things that I believe will help me, and in turn, could help you too.
According to this article by The Trichological Society (trichologists are hair scientists), an internationally renowned scientific institution based in the UK, hair growth is influenced by several key factors: “genetics, gender, age, [and] hormones.” That means that the hair patterns of your family members and the hormonal fluctuations associated with your gender and age and fertility all contribute to a healthy head of hair. In addition, studies show that your nutrition also manifests in the hair follicles, for better or worse. Conditions such as “anorexia, anemia, and zinc deficiency” can wreak just as much havoc on hair as “menopause, polycystic ovaries, and thyroid disease.”
What doesn’t impact your hair health, you ask? You might be surprised to learn that the shampoo, conditioner, masks, oils, and creams you use typically have no bearing on the condition of your follicles: “hair products have not been shown to noticeably change the [growth] rate [of hair].”
“The living part of the hair is under the scalp skin where its root is housed within its follicle. It derives nutrients from blood,” and so it’s vital that you become aware of any deficiencies and address them with diet and high-quality supplementation. Hair health starts from the inside out, not the outside in!
On that note, there are quite a few nutrients that follicles thrive on, some you’ve probably never even heard of! They include “beta-carotene, biotin, vitamins B1 (thiamin), B2 (riboflavin), niacin, pantothenic acid (B5), B6, B12, vitamin D, vitamin E, selenium, inositol, folic acid (folate), calcium, zinc, iron, iodine, L-Methionine, L-Cysteine, L-Lysine, L-Taurine,” and more.
Before you go and blow all your money on supplements, a lot (if not all) of these essential vitamins and minerals exist in the things we regularly eat. For example, fish is a hair superfood, providing “omega-3 fatty acids, protein, vitamin B12, and iron” in droves. According to Paige Stables of Good Housekeeping, other great foods for hair are eggs, beans, dark green vegetables, nuts, carrots, low-fat dairy products, poultry, whole grains, sweet potatoes, and oysters.
Generally, I believe it’s best to get all the vitamins we need from the foods we eat rather than taking vitamin supplements. Unfortunately, it’s very easy for manufacturers to skimp on supplement quality while hiking prices, but if you find that you’re missing some of the aforementioned nutrients in your regular diet and struggle with hair woes, it may be worth it to invest in a high-quality vitamin backed by a rigorously vetted brand. Don’t be afraid to look into local vitamin brands too!
When shopping for vitamin supplements specifically for hair health, look for formulas with things like saw palmetto, biotin, and hydrolyzed collagen, and avoid ones with magnesium stearate and titanium dioxide. And, as always, take the vitamins consistently for three months before evaluating the results. Hair grows very quickly— in fact, it’s the fastest-growing “tissue” in the human body— but that doesn’t mean you’ll see improvements after only a week. In fact, anything that promises so quick a turnaround is likely a scam.
More Good Practices
You can’t change your genetics or age, but there are other things you can do besides getting the right nutrients that will supposedly help maintain a full head of hair. One of those things is getting your hormones under control. Dr. Jolene Brighten, author and women’s health expert, recommends several tests for hair loss: a ferritin lab and a thyroid panel (TSH, free T4, free T3, reverse T3). These two hormone tests, administered by a trusted physician, will measure hormone levels, thus providing you with a more concrete direction as to what needs to change in your healthcare regimen to support hormonal equilibrium. With balanced hormones, hair loss should be less of an issue.
Once you’ve figured out what your inners are up to, you can practice with the following outers (lol):
- Protect your scalp from sunburn. Regardless of how thick your hair is, your scalp is very vulnerable to being damaged by the sun. Even though scalp cancer is a rare occurrence, it’s important to keep the skin surrounding follicles healthy, and for that, it needs to be shielded from harmful rays. If you don’t have sunscreen, using a scarf or a hat when spending time outside is a decent temporary alternative.
- Ditch your hair dye. It’s no secret that dyes compromise the health of your hair and scalp, especially when it comes to texture and breakage. I’m a long way from gray hair myself, but I fully intend to keep my virgin locks from touching a dye— salon or boxed— for the rest of my life. I’d prefer thick gray hair over stringy brown any day. If you want to know more about the fascinating science that surrounds graying hair, check out this article.
- Handle wet hair as little as possible. Enthusiastic towel drying, wet brushing, wet combing, wet braiding, and the like can quickly destroy the hair. Water-saturated strands are much more elastic and prone to stretching and snapping when pulled. It’s best to wait for it to dry before going at it with any detangling tools.
- Air dry— don’t blow dry! Hair was not meant to be blasted dry. It’s better to add volumizing products after drying is done than to double down on heat in the effort to achieve the desired do.
- Don’t wash your hair more than once or twice a week. Shampoos are formulated to cut through dirt, grime, oil, and old styling products, but if you wash too often, you can strip your scalp of the oils it needs to properly lubricate hair as it grows and keep your follicles healthy. If you absolutely MUST shampoo your hair more than that, be wary and observant regarding the texture of the skin on your scalp. Coconut oil is apparently a lovely, gentle, all-natural scalp moisturizer if things are getting flaky and itchy. Apply as needed, let sit for at least an hour, and rinse out with clean (preferably cold) water.
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