Hair Damage and Ways to Fix It
Our hair is often a compass for our health.
From soft and silky moods to dry and brittle breakage, it feels what we’re feeling. Sometimes literally. We straighten, shampoo, moisturize, spray, cut, and color it to tell the story we want. Some days that’s pin straight, other days it’s French braids.
But even with all our attention, hair texture, volume, and color can change unexpectedly.
Hair is just one of the many mirrors into your health, as it can point to underlying imbalances.Thinning hair:
Noticing more hair than usual in the shower drain? Usually a gradual event, thinning hair is scary and often caused by an internal imbalance.Common reasons for thinning hair:
- Stress. Check how you’ve been feeling lately. “[Stress] creates a huge spike of cortisol, which will throw off other hormones in a woman’s body,” explains Elizabeth Trattner, Doctor of Chinese medicine and AZCIM-certified integrative medical practitioner.
- Poor diet during older age: A study in Menopause Review suggested that during menopause, hormone changes can affect hair loss or thinning. The study suggested those going through this life stage to avoid supplements and pay closer attention to their diet and eat foods rich in L-lysine (which impact iron and zinc absorption), proteins, copper, and selenium.
Meditation or biofeedback. Bringing some “OM” to your nervous system can naturally level off hormones. Try these stress-reduction techniques.
Bone broth. This collagen-rich elixir supports all our cells (yes, even hair growth cells). “It also builds the kidneys, which in Chinese medicine govern the hair on the head,” explains Dr. Trattner.
Iron. Pile on iron-rich foods, such as salmon, peas, spinach, and liver. “I like to recommend a supplement that can be split in half or one that’s around 9 milligrams taken twice a day,” says Dr. Trattner. “By breaking up iron doses, it keeps bowels moving smoother so you’re less likely to be constipated.” Try a low-glycemic diet. This diet focuses on complex carbs and fiber. This includes foods such as onions, berries, pumpkin seeds, cacao, eggs, and more.Dry coarse hair:
Give more love to African-American hair. (African Americans hair has several textures.)
- People of African descent have more fragile hair that reaches a breaking point earlier than other ethnicities. This can be due to stress as well as using products that damage natural hair faster.
- More than 50 percent of African American women in a study reported that they’ve experienced excessive hair loss. It’s important to visit a stylist that understands your concerns and the composition of your hair.
- Use hair products specifically for natural textured or curly hair.
Unlike the silky soft hair in shampoo ads, running fingers through coarse hair feels brittle and often knotty.Common reasons for coarse hair:
- High heat. The hotter your hair dryer, the further you want it from your hair to prevent damage. The best way to dry hair is by wrapping it gently in a towel, helping to retain moisture as it dries. If blow-drying is a must, keep an arm’s length of at least 5 to 10 centimeters. Don’t stay in one spot longer than 30 seconds for normal dryers, 15 seconds if your dryer hits 200°F (93°C).
- Over washing. Shampoo does a great job of removing dirt and product buildup, but also strips hair of sebum— natural oils that create that effortless shine. Try skipping at least one day between washes.
- Bleach. To remove color from your hair, bleach makes each strand swell so it can reach the innermost shaft and remove melanin, a compound that gives your hair its natural pigment. Low-quality products or skipping out on conditioning treatments can leave your hair rough.
- Dye. Turns out, chemical dyes strip hair of natural oils. This changes the texture, leaving it stiff and not-so-effortless.
Oil soak. Add some flow back to your locks by massaging 1 tablespoon of olive oil from root to tip and let soak for 15 minutes. The oleic acid, palmitic acid, and squalene found in this kitchen staple are known emollients and add softness. Almond oil is another great option that can help relax hair.
Wear a hat. If you’re freshly bleached or dyed, do your best to wear a large, brimmed hat in the sun to prevent further damage.
Rinse with rice water. Next time you cook up a batch of rice, keep the water. Crazy as it may sound, research found a compound called inositol in rice that soaks into damaged hair to heal it from the inside out.Tangled hair:
Harder to comb in the morning and knottier than usual? Tangles point to damage to the cuticle of your strands, which raise and grab onto one another creating knots on knots.Common reasons for tangled hair:
- Heat. Flat irons, curlers, wands, and blow-dryers, however taming they may be, cook hair fibers. This leads to raised cuticles and a straw like and tangled texture over time. Experts recommend only using heat tools once a week.
- Too much brushing. Roughly brushing already damaged hair adds fire to the flame. Instead, use a wide-tooth comb, start at the bottom, and work your way up. Limit brushing to before a shower when it’s dry. Wet brushing can stretch and break strands.
Wash less. Shampoo removes oils and product build up from strands. But used too often, it can start digging into natural oils. Try washing every-other day. If you already use conditioner in the shower, consider picking up a natural leave-in conditioner.
Remove heat. Unless you’re hitting up the red carpet this week, give your hair a break and let it air-dry. If you need to straighten or curl, turn down the heat and use a protective product.
Towel dry. When you get out of the shower, gently wrap your locks in a towel to absorb moisture and avoid that wet-dog shake, as it can cause friction and tangles.Prematurely graying hair:
Peppered hair can be endearing or just plain shocking if you’re not expecting it. Whether you chose to embrace or cover up the silver strands, you should understand the cause.Common reasons for gray hair:
- Unbalanced diet. There’s a chance you’re not getting enough of the right nutrients or minerals. One study points to low levels of ferritin, calcium, and vitamin D-3. Another links it to low copper, zinc, and iron intake.
- Genetics. Yep, your family has a lot to do with how many grays you see. Often, a family member will have a similar timeline as yours.
Herbs and supplements. “Ho Shou Wu or Fo Ti has been used in Chinese medicine for thousands of years to improve the energy of liver and kidneys,” says Dr. Trattner. It potentially has revitalizing properties that can bring color back to hair.
Henna. If you’re dead set on covering the gray, consider going with a natural henna dye, which will turn your hair into a rich copper-gold tone.
Coffee dye. You could also try coffee. Just mix 4 tablespoons of ground coffee with 2 cups of conditioner and make two strong cups of coffee. After a regular shampoo, rinse or soak your hair with the cooled coffee, then massage in the conditioner. Leave in for one hour, then voilà! Keep in mind that caffeine is absorbed through your skin. This treatment should be considered an additional consumption of caffeine and anyone on caffeine restriction might want to avoid trying this.
Hair-friendly foods. Walnuts are great sources of copper, which helps add pigment to your locks. Other hair-friendly ingredients include fish, broccoli, seeds, and kale, which all contain lots of omega-3s.Frizzy hair:
Sometimes a scrunchie just can’t tame those “flyaways” that defy gravity.Common reasons for frizzy hair:
- You use the wrong products. The main cause of frizzy hair is a decrease in hair strength over time. Decreased hair strength can be a result of unbalanced nutrition or harsh hair products.
- You need a haircut. Growing out your hair doesn’t mean you should ditch frequent trims. Without freshening up every month or so, split ends will begin to form and cause hair to appear frizzy.
- You experienced trauma. “Frizzy hair is a long-term problem seen about six months after an initial traumatic event, which can be anything from death of a loved one to a virus,” explains Dr. Trattner. According to Chinese medicine, a chi and yin deficiency like stress blocks the vital essence and blood flow from nourishing the hair capillaries and follicles.
Natural remedies for frizzy hair:
Take a cool shower; it opens the cuticles of your hair. To help keep strands protected, take tepid or cool showers.
Use natural shampoo. Chemicals, found in some shampoos strip hair oil and frizz.
When should you see a doctor?
Most of the time, hair health can be fixed from the inside by watching what you eat and how you manage your stress levels. However, there are instances when hair is a symptom of a larger problem.
“It’s important for women to get their hormones and thyroid levels checked as these all can contribute to hair loss,” says Dr. Trattner. Even the slightest imbalance in this delicate dance of male and female hormones can result in thinning.
“If a woman is getting more hair on her face, she should also see her doctor to be checked for polycystic ovary syndrome,” says Dr. Trattner.
Other symptoms to watch for
dry, coarse, or tangled
Fatigue, depression, muscle weakness, extreme weight gain or loss
anemia or thyroid condition
weakness, pale skin, brittle nails, strange food cravings (clay, dirt)
swelling around eyes or legs, nausea, ashy skin, easy bruising
recent accident, stress
excessive hair loss
severe fatigue, unexpected weight loss, rashes, joint pain
But if you have no startling symptoms with less-than-lustrous hair, the good news is, more often than not, your hair will correct course after a few minor lifestyle adjustments. And, who knows, maybe you’ll even see other health improvements along the way.
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Written by Larell Scardelli — Updated on August 22, 2018
Photo Credit: Robin Gislain Gessy