As the old adage goes “A girl can never be to skinny.” (or have too many shoes, for that matter). But chances are, you’d never want the word “thin” to be associated with your hair. Yet, many of our stealth hair-cidal habits are causing our locks to become prematurely thin and lacklustre on a daily basis. From our breakfast routines to our ponytails, study up on these top 6 surprising saboteurs that’s causing our tress distress on the inside and out. For all you know, beauti-“full” hair might just be a few simple lifestyle tweaks away.
#1 NUTRITIONAL IMBALANCES
While you might feel refreshed and featherlight with a week-long juice cleanse, crash dieting means serious bad news for your hair.
“We are conditioned to only think about our hair externally, but it’s basically a highly sensitive barometer of our overall health. Changes in our hair are frequently one of the first visible signs when there’s something amiss internally, since our crowning glory is considered a ‘non-essential’ accessory by our bodies and follicles are fast-growing,” explains Dr Chua Han Boon, Medical Consultant from The SW1 Clinic. “Cutting calories and nutrients forces the body to shunt its limited resources towards vital functions, like helping your heart and brain work, rather than supporting the sprouting of full, lush locks.”
Save Your Strands: Hair is primarily made of protein – it’s the one thing that can make, or break your hair if you’re not getting enough. Insufficient iron stores is one of the most common under-recognised causes of dry, brittle or thinner hair. This often due to the monthly menstrual loss that’s not fully replenished as many health conscious ladies tend to slash iron-rich red meats in their diet. “Such mild and otherwise relatively asymptomatic iron deficiency might only be picked up on blood tests,” says Dr Chua.
Eat a balanced diet where 25-30 percent of your calories come from lean proteins such as fish, skinless chicken, skinny pork, eggs, as well as soy, lentils and beans for vegans. Most of these are also packed with biotin and B vitamins to promote shinier, stronger strands.
Besides lean beef and liver, other iron-rich foods you should stock include dark leafy greens, broccoli, fortified cereals and starchy beans – preferably, along with fruits and veggies for a vitamin C boost to maximise iron absorption. Women need 18 mg of iron a day, 8 mg after menopause. You can also find various preparations of specialised oral supplements to give stressed out hair and nails a nutrition boost. Key ingredients typically include biotin, silica, B vitamins, zinc and L-cysteine, in addition to iron.
#2 SCALP DENIAL
Sure, we’ve all dealt with an itchy scalp or dandruff before. But hey, since our hair still looks fine, we definitely don’t have time to fix it. Wrong!
“Oily, itchy scalp and dandruff affect most of us at least occasionally in our tropical weather. But seeing homeless follicles float towards the shower drain makes some quit washing their hair. That’s a mistake, especially if you’re prone to dandruff. Our resident skin fungus tend to take the opportunity to overgrow in excess sebum, causing scalp micro-inflammation and hence, itchiness and flaky dandruff – otherwise known as seborrheic dermatitis. Scratching-induced cuticle damage then leads to increased breakage, further adding to pre-existing age, illness or stress related hair loss. In worse cases of seborrheic dermatitis, the scalp inflammation itself can cause temporary shedding until the skin condition improves.”
Save Your Strands: You wouldn’t ignore a flaky, itchy face for more than 1 week, right? Time to spread that same love to your scalp.
First up, basic hygiene. Shampoo daily or every other day if you have oily scalp, use hairstyling products, or are prone to dandruff. Even if you try not to scratch or perhaps that itsy bit of micro-inflammation doesn’t lead to hair fall directly, all that grease clogging up your follicles ain’t going to be conducive to produce a robust crop. And don’t worry – normal washing of your locks makes little difference in the amount of hair you lose. “If you avoid washing your hair for a few days, you’ll naturally see more hair in the shower when you finally do reach for the shampoo. Because mature strands destined for renewal take a dive for the drain all at once, instead of falling out in smaller divided batches. You’re shedding the same whether you wash daily or weekly.”
There are plenty of anti-dandruff shampoos around to choose from as well. Studies have found anti-dandruff shampoos containing 1% ketoconazole, 1% zinc pyrithione (ZPT) or 1% piroctone olamine helpful in reducing shedding and promoting a healthier mop (as evidenced by thicker strands and more follicles in the active growth phase), on top of curbing sebum overproduction, and clearing the pruritus and flakes.
#3 STYLE VICTIM
Ponytails. School-girl innocent and totally harmless, right? Well, wrong again. You may be familiar with the soreness that goes hand in hand with a day spent in a celebrity-inspired tight pony, braid, dreadlocks or hair extensions – a sign of excessive tension on the hair follicles (typically around the temples). “All that harsh constantly tugging at your roots will not only increase breakage, it can actually mortally injure your follicles, creating scars that can destroy them permanently (a.k.a traction alopecia) if not kept in check.” Ouch!
Save Your Strands: Loosen up! Try wearing your hair down whenever possible, especially while sleeping. Rolling around on a pillow can create even more friction which translates to frizz and breakage. When you do tie or bun up those locks, keep it sensually soft and fashionably relaxed – if you feel it pulling on your scalp, that’s way too tight. If you feel your crowning glory is already thinning, try a professional hair biostimulation program such as Keramax, which consists of 12 sessions of Revitascalp and Revage 670, a painless hair laser which stimulates sturdier hair growth.
#4 HEAT & CHEMICAL HAIRICIDE
Herein lies the hair conundrum: The same devices and chemicals that tame and beautify hair temporarily tend to make it more damaged and uncooperative.
“Simply put, scorching heat from flat irons and blowdryer literally cooks the proteins that make up your hair’s protective cuticle. And once that cuticle shield is damaged, the moisture balance of the hair fibre is disrupted – cue a frizzy fro and undue loss of natural volume due to breakage. Similarly, deep chemical treatments like dyeing, perming or straightening rudely strip away the strand-defending cuticle to create dull, fried, brittle locks that scream for more treatments, setting you up for the hairy vicious cycle many are all too familiar with.”
If you’re not ready to give up those final styling moments, at least reduce the daily damage by turning the temperature down on your styling tools to the coolest possible setting. Keep your dryer 6 inches away and in constant motion, so you don’t focus the heat on one area. Prepping your strands beforehand with heat protectant product to help lock in some of the lustre-giving aqua, and using a ventilated brush which prevents hair from resting against a scalding surface are good strand-saving habits to cultivate too. As a general rule, ceramic is better when it comes to curling or flat irons, as it conducts heat more evenly (i.e. no hot spots) and allows your locks to glide past them more smoothly.
Short of no longer dyeing your hair (which is perfect on the long term for locks, but can be painful on our looks in the interim), increase the length of time between colourings and chemical processes as much as possible. Ask for a root touch-ups instead of colouring the entire length of hair when you see the “Pudding” rearing is not so pretty head. And go for semi-permanent dyes and try not to deviate more than 2 shades from your natural hair colour. Using gentle shampoos and reparative hair care products for colour-treated or chemical-processed tresses between treatments will improve the manageability of your hair and therefore, reduce the tendency to bring forward another round of hair-mutilating chemical works.
#5 SOAKING UP THE SUN (DAMAGE)
While majority of us (we hope) attempt to save our faces from the ageing sun, chances are your crowning glory is still unprotected from UV rays. Prolonged exposure to sun will eat away the strength and elasticity of your hair by weakening the cuticle barrier, resulting in split ends, faded colour, frizz and fragile strands…yes, you guessed it! – that’ll break and worsen hair thinning.
Save Your Strands: Wear a hat on your summer holiday, or whenever possible if you reside in a tropical climate, to keep the harmful rays out of your hair, scalp and face (preferably one with built-in UV protection). For the portions you can’t tuck underneath the hat or if you’re just worried about hat hair, try using a leave-in conditioner or a styling aid with built-in sun protection such as Kerastase Soleil Micro-Voile Protecteur or Kerastase Age Premium Laque Substantive hairspray. P.S.: If you’re using a UV protectant (or in fact, any styling products) in your hair, don’t forget to use a clarifying shampoo once a week to prevent build-up of residues that can weigh down and dull strands.