A few years back, fashion designer Marc Jacobs quipped in a popular women’s magazine that all one needed to look presentable was a luxurious head of hair and great shoes—“it doesn’t matter what you wear in between”. Hair can uplift the mood or depress on a bad hair day. But a bad hair day is still better than no hair at all, which is becoming an increasingly common phenomenon.
Says Ravi Joshi, senior consultant dermatologist, Apollo Indraprastha Hospitals, New Delhi, “Modern lifestyle, stress, pollution and other psychosocial factors are causing hair loss in an increasing number of people.” Adds Sachin Dhawan, director, clinical and aesthetic dermatology, Artemis Health Institute, Gurgaon, “The age at which hair loss happens has now reduced by a couple of decades, down to men in their mid-20s and women in mid-30s.”
In women the loss tends to be reflected in the widening of the parting; in men it’s reflected in the thinning around temples and the crown of the head. Dr Joshi says that losing 50-100 strands of hair daily is normal. But if it looks like it is over the 100 mark for a couple of months, it’s time to bring in the experts.
Let’s understand the internal and external influences that cause the loss.
The inner workings
Stress is mainly responsible for most hair problems today, causing hormonal imbalances that affect the natural hair cycle. It makes hair that is supposed to mature slowly over a few years ripen in a matter of months and it falls off sooner. Because of this reason it’s fairly common to see hair loss after a long and stressful illness such as malaria, typhoid, etc. In fact, even extreme dieting can cause stress-like symptoms.
Says Dr Dhawan, “During a period of extreme dieting, the body perceives sudden weight loss as a shock that’s very similar to a stressful or traumatic incident.” When this happens the body automatically stops non-essential functions like hair growth.”
Hair loss can also be an indication of an internal problem, such as polycystic ovaries in women and excessive testosterone and cortisone in men. For this purpose, a pelvic ultrasound, thyroid function, liver function, male and female hormone levels, haemoglobin, iron and vitamin B12 tests must be conducted to determine the exact medical condition or nutritional deficiency. While experts advise women to start with nutritional supplements for a few months, men don’t have the luxury of time.
“Since men lose hair at a much faster rate, the problem is tackled immediately with medicines and procedures,” says Dr Dhawan. For stress-related hairfall, both Dr Joshi and Dr Dhawan suggest yoga. “Yoga helps relieve tension and also increases blood circulation to the hair follicles that makes them stronger,” says Dr Joshi.
Laurent Visco, chief hairstylist of beauty salon Jacques Dessange, New Delhi, has been in the business for 14 years and believes most hair loss to be genetic. Unfortunately genetic hair loss can only be delayed but, experts agree, not stopped. Therefore if hair loss runs in the family there’s little you can do, other than a transplant, to hold on to your crowning glory.
The external dynamics
Hairfall is also influenced by season. Says Dr Joshi, “There is more dandruff, dryness, scaling and dermatitis in winter; this results in hair loss because the roots don’t get normal aeration and oxygen as they are asphyxiated with dandruff.” If you feel itchy around the scalp or on the face and see scaling and flakiness on the sides of the nose and around the eyebrows, it may be time to consult a dermatologist. People with oily scalps are prone to losing more hair in the summer and monsoon, when the sebaceous activities of the glands increase and excessive oiliness leads to blocked follicles.
“Smoking also has a bad effect on hair growth because it decreases blood circulation,” says Dr Joshi. Reduced circulation means less nourishment to the hair roots, and weak follicles. A study conducted last year by the National University of Taiwan, published in the November 2009 issue of the Archives of Dermatology, found that in cases where 20 or more cigarettes were smoked in a day, there was a greater chance of hair loss.
When it comes to outside influences it’s also important to check the quality of bathing water. Says Dr Dhawan: “Water quality has taken a nosedive. In certain areas where it’s taken out by borewell, the water is hard and laden with deposits.” When this water is used to wash hair the deposits settle into the scalp and block the roots. To solve this problem, Dr Dhawan suggests rinsing your hair with a few mugs of distilled water to remove sediments.
5 HAIR HEROES
Jyothi Prasad, chief dietitian, Manipal Hospital, Bangalore, lists her top five nutrients for great hair health
Proteins are the building blocks of all cells, including hair follicles. Insufficient protein in the diet over a period of time will result in brittle hair and discolouration. Sources of good quality protein are chicken, fish, red meat and eggs. Vegetarians can opt for milk and milk products, legumes, nuts and soya.
Iron deficiency causes anaemia, a decrease in the number of red blood cells in the body that are responsible for oxygen transport. If vital bodily organs and systems are starved of oxygen the body will shut down nonessential functions such as hair growth. Gorge on dark green leafy vegetables such as spinach, ‘methi’ (fenugreek) and amaranth, along with beetroot and red meat.
Zinc is responsible for the cell production required for tissue growth and cellular repair. It is also important to the health of oil glands on the scalp that contribute to healthy hair. Foods rich in zinc include pumpkin seeds, nuts, oats, eggs and milk.
Biotin, also known as B7, is an important vitamin necessary for breaking down protein, fats and carbohydrates. Biotin deficiency may lead to dry skin and in severe cases may cause hair loss. Egg yolk, liver and legumes are all good dietary sources of biotin. However, make sure the egg is cooked since uncooked egg whites have a compound that destroys this vitamin.
Deficiency of Omega 3 fatty acids can lead to dry scalp and hair. Some studies also link Omega 3 deficiency with seborrheic dermatitis (a common dandruff condition) that causes hair loss. Feast on fatty fish such as salmon, flaxseeds and walnuts.
Never wear a cap or helmet over damp hair. Wet hair is at its weakest and can snap or break easily.
MASSAGE YOUR SCALP
Do this for 5 minutes in the morning and evening. Don’t use oil, just rub your fingertips gently all over your scalp to improve circulation.
Shampooing every day strips hair of its natural oils, making it dry and brittle. If you don’t have a dandruff problem, don’t wash your hair more than thrice a week.
CONDITIONER A MUST
The scorching sun can burn your hair in the summer, so use conditioner at least once a week.
Use a wide-toothed wooden comb instead of a plastic one. Plastic has loose electrical impulses that charge the hair, damaging its protective cover.
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