Genetics are often to blame for hair loss, and rightfully so, at least in many cases. But while genetics are the most common cause of hair loss in both men and women, for some, hair loss can be caused by a variety of other reasons, including -- yourself.
Could something you are doing be behind those extra hairs in the shower drain?
Since August is Hair Loss Awareness Month in the U.S., let's take a look at some of the everyday habits that could be putting your follicles at risk.
- Hot Tools: That super hot blow dryer or that flat iron used over and over again can degrade the proteins that make up your hair and it's protective cuticle. Once the protective cuticle is damaged, moisture balance is disrupted and the hair is more prone to breakage. Turn down the heat or say "no" to the compulsive flat-ironing to protect your hair from thermal damage. Specially formulated heat protectants can, and should be used, to help decrease friction and improve shine, while preventing breakage.
- Wet Combing: Combing your hair while it's wet predisposes you to breakage because this is the time when your hair has the least amount of friction and is most likely to tangle and snap/break. Using a quality conditioner designed to decrease friction during this susceptible time is a good idea and to detangle with your fingers and allow to almost dry before styling.
- High Stress: You've heard it over and over, but studies show that mice under chronic stress have trouble growing hair, and it can actually be reversed with an experimental drug called Astressin-B. While we can't eliminate stress from our hectic lives, we can all learn how to manage it better.
- Oral Contraceptives: Certain types of birth control pills affect women differently. If you are sensitive to hair shedding or thinning due to hormone changes, a change in your birth control prescription can weaken your hair. If your prescription contains androgens and you are particularly "androgen sensitive" this might be affecting your hair. An "androgen sensitivity" genetic test (no blood needed, it's a cheek swab) is available from some hair restoration physicians as is advice on what treatments might be right for you.
- Chemical Straightening: The harsh chemicals used to break the molecular bonds in your hair in order to straighten the fibers, followed by the high heat of a flat iron can damage the protective cuticle and cause breakage if over-done.
- Tight Braids: Chronically tight braids often seen in certain ethnic populations put excessive tension on the hair follicles under the skin by pulling on the hair fibers. Over the long-term, this type of hair styling can cause traction alopecia a condition that permanently weakens or destroys hair follicles. Avoid hairstyles, wigs, weaves or hair extensions that pull on the follicles over time or you'll have nothing left to attach the artificial hair to.
- Crash Diets/Poor Nutrition: Scientists agree that your hair follicles work pretty hard making hair. However, deprive the body of nutrition (as in the latest calorie-restrictive diet) you are likely to see some hair fall. Typically, you will see hair thinning and shedding approximately 6-12 weeks after the nutritional deprivation begins. Feed your hair with a well-balanced diet. If you're trying to help your hair look and feel healthier, severe caloric restriction is not the answer.
- Medications: Certain medications like statin drugs, anti-depressants, anti-anxiety agents, anti-hypertensive medications or hormones such as thyroid replacement and many other pharmaceuticals can have hair loss as a side effect. Check with your prescribing physician before changing your dose or discontinuing ANY medication. Visit with your hair restoration physician for an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan regarding any hair thinning.
- Scratching: It is not possible to scratch the scalp without scratching the hair. Conditions that cause itchy scalp (seborrheic dermatitis, for example) may result in hair loss due to scratching-induced hair damage in addition to the harmful hair-impairing inflammation at the scalp. With only 45 minutes of fingernail scratching, you can remove the cuticle layer of the hair. Few people will scratch for 45 minutes in a row, but remember that the damage is cumulative and does not self-repair. Consider for example, five minutes a day for nine days -- once the cuticle is damaged, the hair fiber is prone to breakage and loss. Seek out a trichology-based scientific examination and "scalp makeover" for an itchy scalp if over-the-counter remedies are not working.
- UV: Sunlight can damage hair structure and hair color. Try to minimize excessive sun exposure and utilize a lightweight conditioner that contains a sunscreen.
While avoiding these activities can help reduce your risk of thinning and hair loss, the other piece to the puzzle is to make sure you are being proactive about stimulating healthy hair growth. This means using high-quality nutritionals, physician-prescribed laser therapy devices, pharmaceuticals or other treatments to enhance the hair-fiber production of the hair follicle is critical to preventing much of the environmental damage to the hair. For more advice, seek out a qualified and experienced hair restoration physician who can evaluate, measure and manage any hair loss and thinning, and get you started on a multi-therapy treatment regimen.
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