Taking good care of your hair can not only keep it looking healthy and shiny, it can also help prevent it thinning, breaking, and even falling out.
It's part of the normal hair growth cycle to shed between 50 and 100 hairs a day. But, when hair becomes dry, thin, brittle and out of condition, this rate can rapidly increase.
Spotting the signs of unhealthy hair
Signs that your hair is damaged and undernourished are easy to recognise. Look out for:
- Extreme breakage and shedding – it can be a sign of unhealthy hair when you see large amounts fall out when you comb, brush or style
- Split ends – wrap a small section of hair around your finger. Any small, uneven strands that stick out are split ends. This is a classic sign of damaged hair
- Dullness – if your hair has lost its bounce and is looking lacklustre, it's possible that product build-up is dulling your natural shine
- Colour overload – if you frequently dye or highlight your hair, the chemicals used can weaken the hair, leaving it damaged and prone to breakage
What causes unhealthy hair?
A number of factors can all have an adverse effect on your hair. These include:
An unhealthy diet
Healthy hair depends on a healthy diet full of important nutrients. Your hair cells, like the cells throughout your body, need a balance of proteins, complex carbohydrates, iron, vitamins and minerals to function at their best.
Make sure you're eating the right foods to maintain healthy hair. This includes:
- Zinc – from meat, dairy foods, shellfish, eggs and cereals
- Biotin – from eggs, nuts, sweet potatoes and liver
- Selenium – from Brazil nuts, fish, eggs and soy products
- Forget to drink plenty of water. Your scalp, just like your skin, can become dehydrated. Drinking six to eight glasses of water a day is a good aim for most people
- Expect instant results – it can take three months for your current diet to reflect in the condition of your hair
When your hormone levels change or become imbalanced it can affect your hair, making it brittle and more prone to damage. In some cases, it can even cause hair loss. Hormonal causes of hair problems can include:
- Starting or stopping taking the contraceptive pill
- Thyroid complaints
- Polycystic ovary syndrome
If you suspect the changes to your hair are due to hormonal problems, you should discuss it with your doctor. They may test your hormone levels and can offer advice on the best course of action for you.
Stress can affect the growth patterns of the hair follicles on your scalp and lead to hair loss. The good news is that this sudden hair loss should only be short-term and can be completely reversible.
If stress is affecting your everyday life or if your hair loss is causing you distress, seek help from your Doctor.
Lack of sleep
Depriving your body of adequate rest – its time for repair and regeneration – can have an effect on your hair.
Alterations in sleeping patterns have been shown to affect the body’s immune function, hormone secretion as well as physical and mental stamina. The hair is very sensitive to these changes within the body.
Aim to establish a regular bedtime routine. Winding down and preparing for rest will help get your body into good sleeping habits.
Strong sun, extreme cold, central heating and exposure to chemicals (such as the chlorine in swimming pools) can all damage hair follicles, leaving them dehydrated, brittle and weak. Try to protect your hair with an enriching conditioner and avoid chemical exposure as much as possible.
Daily heat styling
Heat from dryers, straighteners and tongs can strip hair of valuable moisture, causing the follicles to become dry, rigid and brittle. When the hair flexes, the pressure causes the follicles to crack and the hair to break.
Allow yourself blow-dry free days where the hair is left to dry naturally. And when using heated appliances, apply a protective spray or leave-in conditioner.
How to care for your hair
Limit hair washing
Washing your hair every day, especially if it's coloured or bleached, can strip away the natural oils and proteins. Aim for no more than three times a week if possible.
Brushing is good for hair because it stimulates the scalp, removes any loose scales of skin and increases blood flow to the hair's roots. For shiny, healthy and tangle-free hair, brush your hair twice a day, first thing in the morning and last thing at night. Use a brush with natural bristles and rounded ends.
Protect and condition
Protective products can shield against damage caused by UV rays from the sun and from the heat generated by straighteners, curling tongs and hair dryers. When blow drying, avoiding holding the dryer too close to the hair can prevent split ends and breakage.
Keep your scalp healthy too
A huge amount of tension can be stored in the scalp. A regular scalp massage will help release tension. It will also allow follicles to stay open and promote healthy hair growth.
Regularly exfoliating the scalp can help remove a build-up of dead skin, excess oils, and product residue.
If you've any concerns about your hair, speak to your doctor or pharmacist for advice