Maybe you’ve seen a few more hairs in the shower drain or on your comb than you’re used to, or even a little more of your scalp (eek!). Or perhaps the hair you have just doesn’t look or feel like the hair you want: vibrant, bouncy, shiny.
Thinning, sickly looking hair isn’t all that uncommon but that doesn’t mean you need to simply accept it as inevitable. You can take steps to grow a mane you’ll be proud of.
It’s amazing how thin an individual strand of hair is—it would take up to 20 of them bundled together to create a strand one millimeter thick. What they do have is strength in numbers; a full head of hair contains between 120,000 and 150,000 strands. Each hair grows from its own follicle with its own blood supply and sebaceous gland, which produces an oil that acts as a natural conditioner.
Hair growth occurs in three stages. In the growing (anagen) phase, the strand lengthens by about a centimeter a month. After three or four years, it goes into a transitional, or catagen, phase in which growth slows for several weeks before going into the telogen, or resting phase, for about three months. Hair is mostly made of a tough, flexible protein called keratin, along with small amounts of natural oils and water.
In healthy hair, the scales that make up the outer layer of each shaft, known as the cuticle, are closed and tight, protecting the strand’s inner layers. However, a lack of natural oils can cause a hair’s cuticle to dry out, leaving it dull-looking and rough.
And despite the name, split ends can occur “at any place along the shaft, not just at the ends,” says herbalist and nutritional consultant Brigette Mars, author of Beauty by Nature (Healthy Living). “Chemicals and heat treatments can make hair more prone to breakage.”
Other styling techniques can also be hard on hair. Teasing, for example, damages the cuticles and can lead to breakage, as can pulling the hair into tight braids on a daily basis. So can combing or brushing one’s hair the day after applying sprays or gels, products that can make the strands clump together so tightly that a lot of force is needed to break them up. In addition, “processes such as coloring and perms can dry the hair when used repeatedly,” says Mars.
Normal hair loss averages from 50 to 100 strands a day. This rate can increase in both genders, however, due to a number of factors, such as physical or emotional stress, rapid weight loss, hormonal problems (including a condition known as polycystic ovary syndrome) and overstyling. Deficiencies in nutrients such as protein, iron or vitamin B can lead to hair loss, as can conditions that include lupus and low thyroid function.
In addition, certain medications,most notably chemotherapy but also drugs such as blood thinners, can cause the body to shed more hair than normal.
Aging is the most common reason behind hair loss, especially in men exhibiting the M-shaped hairline that marks male-pattern baldness. But women can also lose hair as they age, often in the form of wider parts or overall thinness.
Fixing thin, damaged hair may require a change in your routine.
For one thing, instead of washing your hair every day, Mars says you should wash it every other day if it’s oily and twice a week if it’s dry. She does recommend daily brushing using a brush “with natural bristles, as it will absorb the hair’s natural oils so they can be better distributed.” Minimize your use of blow dryers and other heated styling implements.
Mars also suggests massaging your scalp “with just three to four drops of rosemary essential oil.” Work in small circles from the hairline to the sides, then over the top and down to the base of the neck.
Just as important as how you care for your hair from the outside is what you feed it from the inside.
Start with the foundation of all natural beauty: Plenty of fresh, clean water. Mars believes in downing a glass first thing in the morning, perhaps with a slice of citrus fruit or cucumber. She also recommends filters for not only your drinking water but also your showerhead; a filter on the main house line is an even better option.
Refine your diet by cutting out refined sugars and carbs, along with alcohol and any foods you may be allergic to (dairy, wheat and corn are among the more common culprits). Mars is a proponent of eating raw foods, saying that even if you just add some more raw produce, nuts and seeds to your diet “you’ll still benefit and beautify.”
Since hair is mostly made of keratin, you might think it would help to consume keratin directly. Unfortunately, under normal circumstances your body cannot absorb this protein.
However, a highly absorbable form of keratin called cynatine may help. In one study, 50 older women with stressed or damaged hair took either cynatine or a placebo for three months; those in the cynatine group showed statistically significant reductions in hair loss along with improvements in hair composition, strength and appearance (The Scientific World Journal 2014).
Cynatine works best when taken with compatible nutrients such as vitamins B3 (niacin), which promotes blood flow to the scalp, and B6 (pyridoxine), which is involved in keratin metabolism; vitamin C, which helps the body utilize the key hair nutrient iron; and silica, which helps to keep hair follicles supplied with necessary minerals. In addition, amla (Phyllanthus emblica, or Indian gooseberry), long used in India’s traditional Ayurvedic medicine as an anti-aging tonic and hair herb, supports scalp health, including dandruff reduction, while strengthening hair growth and thickness.
Some people have found cynatine formulations helpful. “My hair was definitely fuller and thicker than usual,” says Marie Papachatzis, who blogs as I Am The Makeup Junkie and adds, “I lost less than half of what I normally lost when I wash my hair. My hair has not looked this good in ages.”
Dealing with dull, lifeless or thinning hair? Proper styling technique and hair-friendly nutrition can help make a real difference.