It has to be said that hair has such a huge psychological influence on our emotional wellbeing. A bad hairstyle, let alone to experience hair loss or thinning can make us feel extremely self-conscious, embarrassed and not want to go out the house. In some people it can lead to anxiety, depression and severe detrimental negative thoughts so you can appreciate how important our hair is as one of our main characteristics of our appearance.
You may have heard that hair is a barometer of our health, not only emotionally as explained above but also physically. The hair is the second quickest dividing cell of our body (second to bone marrow) hence being the first to change when factors such as illness, medication and diet change. A trichologist can detect if there is an underlying medical or nutritional deficiency by examining the hair and scalp even before the condition has been presented to the GP and before many other symptoms of some illnesses are present.
Hair is an appendage of the skin, consisting of a fibrous material known as keratin, a protein-derived substance that is actually dead when exposed through the scalp’s surface. An average human scalp consists of approximately up to 200,000 embryological determined hair follicles and it is our genetics that determine how many hairs we have and how long each single strand will grow for.
Every hair on our body has a hair growth cycle; the different areas on our body will grow for different amounts of time. The scalp hair has an average time span of growth for roughly two to seven years, and each hair will grow around 30 times per lifetime. Hair goes through a natural cycle; the actively growing stage (anagen), followed by a short transitional period (catagen), which then leads to the final phase (telogen) which is the stage of the cycle where our hair naturally falls out and can be seen in the shower or on our hairbrushes or combs. It is a normal physiological process for us to naturally lose 60-100 hairs a day via washing and brushing.
When the ratios of the hair cycle above change, more hairs can be shed on a daily basis and lead to a reduction in the hair density. This is often the case when we have medications (particularly hormonal ones), stressful events, illness, pregnancy, surgery and crash diets. We can see if our hair cycle ratios have been disrupted when the regrowth can be visibly seen around the frontal hairline, often known as “baby” or “wispy” hairs by our hairdresser pointing out that it is new hair. These hairs can often be unruly and also stick up on our parting with the need to hair spray or serum them down until they reach to a length that they lay flat!
Regrowth of hair after an illness 4 months later
Trichology is a branch of medicine that deals specifically with the study of the human hair and the scalp. A trichologist is different from a hairdresser as we are trained to recognise all hair and scalp problems, possessing extensive medical and scientific knowledge of the normal functioning of the hair and scalp and the concerns relating to the diseases and disorders it can be affected by. There are many different types of hair problems all needing an accurate diagnosis in order for the correct advice and treatment. Visiting an appropriately qualified registered trichologist or dermatologist is essential or treatment could vary between exacerbating a condition or be the equivalent of consuming a headache tablet for a sore toe!
Patients often visit my trichology clinic as a last resort after visiting their GP with a normal set of blood test results. Trichology is a private self referral based service not currently available on the NHS therefore I ask for my patients to bring a copy of their blood tests along. During a one hour consultation we take a full case history covering many factors before we even examine the hair and scalp and then analyse the hair using microscopy. Blood tests results are investigated as often many prove satisfactory for health but not for optimum hair growth so we would advise accordingly or write back to the GP.
For optimum hair growth you need to pay special attention to your diet as it is this that fuels your body and hair. Not eating enough of one food group or even restrictive diets lacking in calories can be detrimental for hair. The amounts of calories a body needs varies between male and females however approximately 1500 calories a day are needed for the normal growth, repair and functioning of the body alone. Essentially the vital organs primarily receive the nutrients and the hair receives the remainders as the hair is considered a non essential organ by the body. This leaves the hair short of nutrients, therefore compromising the normal growth affecting the quality and the hair growth cycles which in turn can lead to poor growth and density over a period of time.
The body not only requires carbohydrates for energy but we also need them to provide energy to the rest of the food groups we eat to enable its functions in the body. Diets restricting their carb intake will have a detrimental effect on the hair. There are of course better carbs that have slower releasing energy and sugars as opposed to the refined variety like white bread, flour etc, with portion size being important (approximately a quarter of the plate filled for carbs). For a guidance on food groups and portion sizes visit: https://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/Goodfood/Pages/the-eatwell-guide.aspx
Hair is primarily protein so good sources of this in the morning will fuel your body and hair well for the day. Proteins such as cheese, eggs, chicken, pulses and milk can also stabilise sugars making you less likely to snack between meals. The protein responsible for hair and nails is known keratin, derived from different amino acids (protein). Hair also requires regular energy from food sources so skipping meals can have a negative impact on the hair.
Small amounts of “good” fats also required in the body and are utilised for energy. Vitamins such as A, D, E, K are fat soluble therefore require fats from your diet to absorb them to be utilised. Vitamin D primarily from sunlight is synthesised through our skin, metabolised through fats into our bloodstream. This is now the new hot topic referred to as a powerful “hormone” as opposed to vitamin due to its important role for many functions of the body including bone health (reducing the risk of osteoporosis with age) and helping defer or improve symptoms of many auto immune disorders such as psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis, type 1 diabetes and multiple sclerosis. Research is also suggesting its powerful anti cancer properties. A lack of vitamin D can also be detected in hair growth and quite often find patients in my clinic with alopecia areata have a vitamin D deficiency. Alopecia areata is also an auto immune condition where the body believes the hair is a foreign body and tries to remove the invading pathogen by sending in the immune system attacking the follicles. From October to March it is recommended to consume a maintenance level of vitamin D as the earth is at it furthest point away from the sun making the sunlight exposure we receive in these months inadequate.
Other important vitamins are our B and C vits which are required daily as they are water soluble meaning we do not store them in the body. These come in the form of fresh fruit and vegetables and have powerful antioxidant properties, helping counteract the negative factors from our daily lives causing cellular destruction to the body’s cells. Vitamin C also helps the body absorb iron which is a very important mineral for hair growth. A lack of minerals such as iron in the diet can cause a thinning to the hair, seen frequently in females of menstruating age or vegetarian diets. There is of course the need for other micronutrients in smaller quantities such as zinc, copper, iodine and selenium essential for hair growth.
Good hair and scalp health not only starts from within but also what you do externally. It is advisable to keep the amount of heat styled appliances and chemical procedures to a minimum. Water boils at 100c temperature and some hair irons boast heats of up to 200c, so you can appreciate the internal structure of the hair cannot withstand regular repetitive use of heat before the hair loses its strength. Excessive heat removes the water content from hair, causing dehydration and poor porosity as it is the water internally that is responsible for the hairs strength and elasticity. Once the external cuticle layers of the hair have frayed away it exposes the internal area of the hair, therefore causing cortical disruption and breaking either throughout the hairs length or as a split end on the older weathered hair at the distal ends.
Using a good quality separate shampoo and conditioner will cleanse and deposit moisture appropriately without stripping the hair of its natural oils, promote shine and help deposit moisture to the hair to keep it healthy. Shampooing the hair regularly will keep the scalps natural flora healthy (we all have bacterias and yeasts present on our scalp) and will promote good hair growth- you would not grow a flower from bad soil! A good quality shampoo is not always necessarily an expensive one! All comprise different qualities of cleansers, foaming agents, preservatives and of course perfume to cosmetically attract us. Reading a list of ingredients can be time consuming and mind boggling, however you should avoid shampoos containing sodium chloride (salt) if it is present within the first four ingredients of the list as this indicates a high concentration of salt in them. Salt of course has a drying effect so this has the potential to leave your hair very dull and dehydrated like the after effects of swimming in the sea!
Summarising my article expresses the importance to keep heated appliances and chemicals to a minimum and eat a well balanced varied diet covering all food groups, eat regularly and drink plenty of fluids to promote healthy strong hair, optimise growth and promote good conditioned, shiny glossy hair.
For any hair or scalp enquiries I can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org