We try to stay healthy from head to toe, but we often forget about our hair, which is at the top of our bodies. But there are good reasons to take care of your hair. “Our hair is our crown. It’s one of the first things people see when they meet us,” says Jessica Walker, a hairstylist and founder of J. New Jersey’s Walker Salon Group. “Our hair is a big part of how we feel about ourselves and how confident we are,” she says.
Healthy hair can make you feel better about yourself, and it’s also important for other parts of your health. “Our hair keeps us warm and protects us from the cold,” says Debra Wattenberg, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City. “It also acts as a cushion when we get hurt.” Also, your hair can show what’s going on with your health as a whole. For example, if you lose your hair all of a sudden, it could mean that you’re under too much stress or that you have an autoimmune disease.
Angela Lamb, MD, a board-certified dermatologist and associate professor of dermatology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City, says that your hair can be a sign of how clean you are and can also show vitamin deficiencies or problems going on inside your body. “If your hair and scalp aren’t healthy, it can cause itching, inflammation, and long-term skin problems like eczema, seborrheic dermatitis, and alopecia if they aren’t treated,” says Lamb. Simply put, there are many reasons other than looking good to take care of your hair and keep it healthy.
Find out how to take care of your hair so that it stays as healthy and fresh as ever.
What Does Hair Really Mean?
A major protein in hair is called keratin. Hair is a thin strand, or filament, of proteins. Inside the hair shaft, there are also some fats called lipids. Each hair has a cuticle, which is made up of dead cells that help protect the hair.
Why you should take care of your hair
Your hair does more for your health than just make you feel better about yourself. Your hair helps control your body temperature by keeping you warm when it’s cold and removing sweat when it’s hot. It also gives you a little cushion if you fall, and it might keep the sun off your head.
The scalp is also a very important part of your health. As a reminder, the scalp is made up of soft tissue. It gives hair a place to grow (hello, hair follicles!) and keeps out germs that could cause an infection.
The oil that the scalp makes is called sebum, and it can protect the skin from the sun and kill germs. However, Dr. Wattenberg says that the oils can also cause odour and infection, so it’s important to take care of your hair.
How does hair that is healthy look?
Just like there are many different kinds of hair, there are many different signs that your hair is healthy. “Hair that is healthy doesn’t break or have split ends, and it is growing to its fullest potential for your hair type,” says Lamb. “So, for example, if your hair is curly, it might not be “shiny,” but as long as you don’t lose a lot of hair or break it when you wash it, your hair is healthy,” says Lamb.
According to the experts we talked to, these are some of the most important signs of healthy hair, though they may not apply to all hair types. “We have to be careful not to let cultural norms tell us how healthy our hair is,” says Lamb.
- shows few breaks and little shedding
- When brushed, it doesn’t break.
- Does not contain dandruff
- Light is reflected
- Shines and sparkles
- Contains moisture
Signs That Your Hair Might Not Be Healthy
You can probably tell when your hair is healthy by how it feels, and you can probably also tell when something is wrong with it. You might be shedding more hair than usual, or your hair might feel really dry.
“There are universal signs of healthy hair, but the strength of these things depends on your hair type,” says Luis Pacheco, a celebrity hair colorist and founder of the beauty and lifestyle brand TO112. For example, Pacheco says, “Hair types that are naturally dry, like kinks and curls or completely grey hair, are more likely to be dry. But if it starts to break or feel brittle, you need to figure out what’s going on.”
Here are the signs of damaged hair, which may be different for different hair types:
- The hair is hard and dry.
- When you run a brush or comb through it, a lot of hair comes out.
- Lots of hair falls out in big clumps.
- You have bald spots or your scalp is easy to see.
- The threads break halfway up the shaft.
- The hair doesn’t shine or look good.
- It’s broken at both ends.
- It’s hard to sort out.
- It’s more dry than usual.
What to do and what not to do to take care of your hair
Different types of hair need different ways to care for them, but one thing is always true: it’s important to give your hair some TLC. Find out here what you should and shouldn’t do to keep your hair healthy.
Don’t do too much to your hair
Wattenberg says, “Overprocessing is bad for hair no matter what colour, texture, or genes it has.” To give you some background, overprocessing happens when you bleach your hair or use hair dye or relaxers in the wrong way. Wattenberg says that too much processing causes disulfide bonds to break, which in turn causes hair to break. Chemical bonds called disulfide bonds hold your hair’s proteins together, which gives your hair strength.
One study found that bleaching or dying your hair too much can damage the cuticle layer, weaken the protein, and cause lipid loss. Because of this, most experts say to skip the bleach and wait longer between colour touch-ups (in the winter, they say to wait as long as 8 to 10 weeks).
Do choose shampoo and conditioner that are made for your type of hair.
If you go to the hair care section of your local store, you can probably find something for every type of hair (and every hair issue). It turns out that they’re not just a trick. “These products are quite specialised and can make a world of difference,” says Wattenberg. “Is your head of hair dry or greasy? Does your hair have colour? Do you have dandruff? “Make sure you pick shampoo and conditioner that are made for your hair type,” she says. For example, the American Academy of Dermatology recommends that people with dandruff use a shampoo made especially for dandruff to help treat and control it.
Don’t dry your hair too much.
Another way to do too much work? Using your hair dryer and other hot tools to style your hair too often. Wattenberg says, “Blow dryers, curling irons, and flat irons can burn your hair and scalp and make your hair break and fall out.”
Researchers have looked at what happens when you use a hair dryer at different temperatures and found that as the temperature went up, the surface of the hair got more damaged. The study’s authors say that if you do use a hair dryer, you should use it at the lowest setting and keep it 15 centimetres away to protect your hair as much as possible. Also, keep moving the device instead of leaving it in one place for long periods of time.right up arrow
Don’t let the sun get to your hair and scalp.
Most of us worry about protecting our skin (from our face to our toes) from the sun. But do you ever think about your scalp and hair? You must! Wattenberg says, “The sun can change the colour of hair that has been dyed, and it can also burn the scalp.” Even though hair can block some cancer-causing UV rays, it doesn’t help if you have bald spots or a part in your hair. Wattenberg says, “Wear a hat or use an SPF sunscreen made for the scalp.” Also, keep in mind that the sun can damage your hair, which can cause it to change colour and could also damage the cuticle and strength of the hair fibre.
Don’t forget to use the conditioner
Even if you have a busy schedule and have to rush through your showers, you should always condition your hair after shampooing. That’s because conditioner can make damaged hair look better by giving it shine, making it stronger, and even getting rid of static electricity. So, a little conditioner is worth it for a good hair day. Wattenberg says to make sure you leave the conditioner in your hair long enough to feel its effects. Read the directions on the bottle and do what they say.
Also, use shampoo and conditioner in a way that is right for your hair. “There are many different ways to style hair, depending on the type of hair and the look you want,” says Lamb. “For example, if you have dreadlocks, you can often wash them once a month, condition them often, and cover them at night,” says Lamb. “But if your hair is straighter, this style wouldn’t help it stay healthy.” “But in general, you should wash and condition your hair as often as your style and hair type require. This can be once a day, once a week, or once a month.”
Don’t get water in your hair when you swim.
Swimming is a great way to stay in shape, but spending too much time in the pool isn’t good for your hair. Wattenberg says, “The chemicals in the pool can dry out your hair and make it itchy.”
She says to put conditioner on your hair before jumping in or to wear a cap. It’s also a good idea to wet your hair with fresh water first, before conditioning it, so that your hair absorbs the chlorine-free water instead of the chemical-filled H2O. You might even want to buy shampoo and conditioner made for swimmers, which can help replace some of the moisture that may have been lost.
Don’t brush your hair too hard.
Even though you might want to get out every last knot, brushing your hair too much is bad for it, especially if you use all your strength to get the knots out.
Try as hard as you can to be gentle when you brush to keep hair from breaking. You should use a wide-toothed brush with smooth prongs, but you can also ask your stylist if there’s a special brush that works best for your hair.
If you have long hair, hold the lower part of your hair while you carefully run the brush through the ends. Then move your hand up and continue to brush below your hand.
Before you buy something, do your own research on it.
Most hair care products have a surprising long list of ingredients, and not all of them are healthy, to say the least.
One study found a possible link between breast cancer and the use of over-the-counter hair dyes by individuals. However, more research is needed to find out if hair dye itself raises the risk of breast cancer.
In the study, white women who used permanent hair dye at least once in a 12-month period had a 9 percent higher chance of getting breast cancer than women who didn’t use any. The risk was 45 percent higher for black women who used permanent hair dye once or more in a month than for those who didn’t. 46,709 people took part in the study.
The authors say that the chemicals in hair dye may play a role in the development of breast cancer. Before you buy a hair product, it’s a good idea to do a little research to help keep your hair (and body) healthy. On the other hand, a longer and more extensive study found no link between hair dye and the risk of cancer.
The American Cancer Society says that there are mixed results from research.
Ask your hairdresser what’s in the hair dye they use, and check out sites like the Environmental Working Group, which has a list of hair care products that are better for you because they don’t contain the worst chemicals. Keep in mind, though, that some experts think the Environmental Working Group’s views on some health issues are too extreme.
Don’t let too much time pass between haircuts.
When your hairdresser tells you to come back every few months for a cut, it’s not just to keep you as a regular customer. Pacheco says, “Regular haircuts help prevent damage from the ends up. Split ends work their way up the hair shaft and weaken the hair, making it more likely to lose moisture and get tangled.” Walker says that damage can be stopped by getting a haircut every six to eight weeks.
The same is true for people who want their hair to get longer. “If you want to grow your hair, you might think about skipping a trim,” says Walker. “But reshaping and trimming your hair regularly keeps it looking strong and healthy instead of brittle and thin as it grows.”
Think about getting a silk pillowcase.
Right now, it’s cool to sleep on a silk pillowcase, and for good reason. Pacheco says that people with all types of hair should think about getting a silk pillowcase so that they don’t rough up the cuticle while they sleep. “This is especially good for hair that tends to frizz, is curly, kinky, or is thin,” he says.
Braids, Cornrows, and Weaves shouldn’t be too tight.
If your hair is being pulled tightly and it hurts, it’s probably getting damaged. If your stylist pulls your hair too tight, make sure to tell them and ask them to redo it. Tight braids and cornrows done over and over again can permanently damage the hair follicles, making it possible that the hair won’t grow back.
Relaxers should be done by a pro.
If you decide to use a relaxer, be careful. Going to a professional is a good idea because they can help make sure the product is used in a safe way. Also, don’t hurry the time between touch-ups. You should only go every two to three months, and the relaxer should only be put on new hair, not on hair that has already been relaxed. If you notice that your hair is breaking or falling out after chemical treatments, you may want to stop using chemicals altogether.
What to Eat and Take to Get Healthy Hair
Did you know that the food you eat has a big effect on how healthy your hair is? Wattenberg says that eating well is one of the most important things for healthy hair. If your body isn’t healthy, your hair may be the first thing to tell you that something is wrong. Wattenberg says that on the other hand, crash dieting, yo-yo dieting, anaemia, and hormone imbalances can all affect hair growth, texture, length, and shine.
Even though vitamins, protein, fatty acids, and minerals are all important for healthy hair, you don’t have to take a supplement to get these things. Wattenberg says that if you eat a healthy, well-balanced diet, you can usually get enough of these nutrients from the food you eat.
Wattenberg says that the vitamins and nutrients that are most important for healthy hair are:
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin D
- “Good fats” (like omega-3 fatty acids)
Wattenberg says, “Salmon is one of my favourite foods because it is a great source of protein, omega-3 fats, and vitamin D.” I’m also a big fan of eggs, which are a great way to get protein and biotin. Since protein is a big part of your hair, it’s an important nutrient for hair growth. Healthy fats, on the other hand, keep your hair moist and looking its best.
Other foods that are great for hair? Wattenberg says, “Make sure to eat a lot of citrus fruits, bell peppers, and spinach, which are all high in vitamin C. Vitamin C is important for making collagen, and beef, spinach, lentils, and chickpeas are all high in iron.” It’s important for hair to grow and stay strong.” right up arrow
If you don’t eat a balanced diet or are worried that you aren’t getting enough of these vitamins, you may want to talk to your doctor about whether or not you should take a supplement. Wattenberg says that you can take each supplement on its own, but you can also get a pill with all of these nutrients in it that is made for hair. You may have seen these advertised on Instagram or in a drugstore near you.
Remember that supplements can interact with each other and that the U.S. does not regulate them. Food and Drug Administration, just like regular medications are. Supplements, in particular, don’t have to be approved before they can be marketed and sold. Even though you may have heard otherwise from product marketing, studies aren’t sure if biotin supplements help hair grow. Because of this, it’s important to talk to your doctor before taking supplements.
Possible reasons for hair loss and when to see a doctor
Do you feel like you’re losing a lot of hair lately? Before you freak out, know that it’s normal to lose some hair. Wattenberg says that it’s normal to lose about 100 hairs a day. Still, hair loss happens, and it can be temporary or permanent. Wattenberg says that thyroid disease, autoimmune disease, anaemia, anorexia, vitamin deficiencies, stress, viruses, and even COVID can cause hair loss. A lack of nutrients like vitamins C and D, iron, riboflavin, and biotin may cause hair loss, as can too much vitamin A. “Stress and anxiety are the main causes of hair loss that I see,” says Walker, who has worked in the beauty and wellness industry for about 25 years.
Age can also play a role in hair loss.right up arrow For COVID-19, hair loss can happen after a fever, usually two to three months after the illness. This is why some people who have had COVID-19 have reported hair loss symptoms. Fortunately, this hair loss is usually only temporary, and the hair usually grows back within six to nine months.
Wattenberg adds that hair loss can also be caused by fad diets, losing weight, over-processing your hair, hormonal imbalances, trauma, and even your genes. Wattenberg adds, “Finally, some medications can also cause hair loss, so be sure to talk to your doctor about them.” For example, lithium, beta-blockers, warfarin, heparin, amphetamines, and chemotherapy drugs can all cause hair loss.
Black women should also be aware that they may be more likely to get traction alopecia, a type of hair loss. This condition can be caused by tight hairstyles like braids or cornrows that pull at the roots of the hair, as well as by heat and chemicals. So, when should you make an appointment with a doctor? “You should see a doctor if you notice circular areas of hair loss, pain or itching in the scalp, or a sudden increase in hair in the comb or brush, on the floor, or in the drain,” says Black Lamb. Before you try any kind of treatment, you should also see a doctor. right up arrow
- We love these sites: Healthy Hair
- Favorite places to get important hair information
- Association of Dermatology
On this organization’s website, you can get healthy hair tips from dermatologists. A favourite of ours? How often you wash your hair should depend on how much oil your scalp makes. For example, someone with oilier hair might have to wash it more often than someone with less oily hair.
Americans for Cancer Research
Because skin cancer often starts on the scalp, this site is an important place to go to learn the signs and find out more about sun protection and preventing skin cancer.
Hair Loss’s Favorite Support Group
National Foundation for Alopecia Areata
Here you can learn about alopecia, an autoimmune disease that causes hair loss on the scalp, face, and sometimes other parts of the body. You can also join their support group, and they can send you a packet of information with tips and advice just for people with alopecia.
Favorite Hair and Mental Health Source
Do you ever tell your hairdresser how you feel? Often, they are the first ones to know what’s bothering you (if you have an appointment that day). So, this group teaches barbers and stylists how to give “mental health first aid” to help their clients.
Favorite Place to Find Hair Products That Are Good for Your Hair
Environmental Working Group
Don’t know which beauty products are good for you and which ones aren’t? This database lists the products that the organization thinks are “healthiest” (because they don’t contain chemicals that aren’t known to be safe) and best for the environment. Just know that some experts think the Environmental Working Group’s suggestions go too far, so if you have any worries, talk to your healthcare team.
It’s important to take care of your body by eating healthy, well-balanced meals and working out. It’s also important to take care of your hair. Pacheco says, “Hair goes through a lot during the day, so it’s important to give it a little TLC with gentle and nourishing shampoos to promote a healthy scalp, conditioners to restore elasticity and strength, and protectants to handle everything you throw at your hair in an average day.”
Also, it’s a good idea to pay attention to your hair and “hear” what it has to say. Pacheco says that a person’s hair can show how healthy they are in general. “Unexpected breakage, hair loss, and the feeling that your hair is dry and brittle can be signs of changes in your health that you should look into,” says Pacheco.
So, hair is more than just something on top of your head that you can style. It’s a window into your overall health and needs to be treated with care, just like the rest of your body.