It can be long and wavy, short and straight, frizzy and unmanageable, or smooth and shiny. Hair comes in many different lengths, styles, colours and textures. Yet just about everyone – no matter what kind of hair they have – falls prey to at least one hair problem at some point in their life.
This article covers some of the most common hair dilemmas, from hair loss to greasy hair.
For some people, grey hair is a distinguishing characteristic; for others it is a reminder that they are getting older. However you feel about it, grey (or white) hair is pretty much inevitable with age (if you are fortunate enough to still have hair in your later years).
Scientists have put a lot of effort into investigating the cause of grey hair, and they believe they have got to the root of the problem. Hair gets its colour from a pigment called melanin, which is produced by melanocyte cells in the hair follicles. Researchers have discovered that melanocytes endure cumulative damage over the years, which eventually leaves them unable to produce melanin. Studies have cited DNA damage, and a build-up of hydrogen peroxide in the follicles, as possible causes of this disruption in melanin production. Without melanin, the new hair that grows in has no pigment, which makes it appear grey, white or silver.
Some people start to go grey young – as early as their teens. When greying begins is usually determined by genes, so if your mother or father became grey early, you may too. Smoking and certain vitamin deficiencies (particularly vitamin B12) can also turn hair grey prematurely. If you are one of those people who do not find grey hair distinguished, you can easily cover your grey with one of the many different hair dyes available.
Normally, hair goes through a regular growth cycle. During the anagen phase, which lasts three to four years, the hair grows. During the telogen phase, which lasts about three months, the hair rests. At the end of the telogen phase, the hair falls out and is replaced by new hair. The average person loses about 100 hairs each day. Losing excess hair can be a normal part of growing older, but it also can have other causes, including drugs or disease.As they age, many men lose the hair on top of their head, which eventually leaves a horseshoe-shaped ring of hair around the sides. This type of hair loss is called male-pattern baldness. It is caused by genes (from both parents) and it is fuelled by the male hormone, testosterone. In female-pattern baldness, the hair loss is different – it thins throughout the top of the scalp, leaving the hair in front intact.
A number of disorders can cause the hair to fall out. People who have an autoimmune condition called alopecia areata lose hair on their scalp, as well as on other parts of their body. Other health conditions that can cause excess hair loss include:
· Medications such as antidepressants, retinoids, NSAIDs, blood thinners, birth control pills and other hormonal treatments, high blood pressure medication, chemotherapy and radiotherapy
· Severe infections
· Major surgery
· Overactive or underactive thyroid
· Hormonal imbalance
· Severe stress
· Autoimmune diseases, such as lupus
· Fungal infections of the scalp
· Iron deficiency anaemia
· Pregnancy and childbirthCertain hair care practices, such as wearing tight ponytails or weaves, or regularly bleaching or perming the hair can also lead to hair loss. Some people compulsively pull out their hair. This psychological disorder is called trichotillomania.
When hair loss is due to taking medication, stopping the drug usually prevents further hair loss, and the hair will eventually grow back. Hair also tends to grow back after most illnesses, radiotherapy or chemotherapy. Wearing a wig or hat can cover the hair loss until the hair returns. Hair transplants are a more permanent hair-replacement solution.
Hair lost to male-pattern and female-pattern baldness will not grow back on its own, but there are medications that can in some cases help stop hair loss and even encourage hair to re-grow. Minoxidil is a treatment that is available over-the-counter to treat men and women. Finasteride is a pill that is available to men only by prescription. Topical or injected cortisone may also help re-grow hair lost to certain conditions.
Blow drying, straightening, highlighting and perming regularly can wreak havoc on hair, leaving it brittle, broken and unmanageable. Split ends and dry hair are just two of the possible outcomes of over-styling.
Excessive styling and heat can cause split ends, which occur when the protective outermost layer of hair layer (the cuticle) is damaged and peels back. Some cures for split ends include:
· Brushing gently with a soft, flexible hairbrush, and not over-brushing.
· Avoiding towel drying. If you do dry your hair with a towel, rub it gently.
· Using a conditioner, and leaving on a deep conditioner about once a week.
· Applying a heat-protective serum or spray before you dry or style your hair.
Hair needs moisture and a certain amount of oil to keep it looking healthy. A number of things can dry out hair, including:
· washing it too often
· using a harsh shampoo
· excessive blow drying or use of a curling or straightening iron
· exposure to sun, wind and dry air
· perms and dyes
· chlorine in swimming pools
· poor nutrition
· certain medications
To keep the moisture in your hair, try these tips:
· Don’t wash your hair every day. When you do wash your hair, use a gentle shampoo that is designed to infuse moisture into dry hair. Also use a conditioner daily.
· Limit blow-drying and the use of hot irons, hot rollers and curling irons.
· Increase the time between hair treatments such as dyes and perms.
· Wear a hat on cold, windy days and put on a swimming hat when swimming in a chlorinated pool.
· Greasy hair
· The scalp contains a natural oil called sebum, which helps keep the skin lubricated. Sebum is produced by the sebaceous glands. Sometimes these glands work overtime and produce too much oil, leading to a condition called seborrhoea, or greasy scalp. Greasy hair can look dull, limp and lifeless, and it may be more difficult to manage. To treat greasy hair, try washing with a gentle shampoo that is specially formulated to control sebum.
· Dandruff basically occurs when the scalp sheds skin cells faster than normal — the fungus Pityrosporum ovale often accelerates this process. The fungus is present on nearly everyone’s scalp, but it can irritate some people’s skin, causing dandruff [source: WebMD].
· The most common cause of dandruff is simple dry skin, especially during cold, dry winter months. When your dandruff is associated with dry skin, the flakes are usually small and less oily than those caused by other conditions [source: Mayo Clinic].· Skin conditions, such as seborrheic dermatitis, psoriasis, eczema and contact dermatitis, can also result in flaking of the scalp’s skin. People with seborrheic dermatitis have red, greasy skin covered in flaky scales, and this condition can affect other parts of the body that are rich in oil glands [source: MedlinePlus]. Psoriasis can also affect more than just the scalp — it can occur on the knees, elbows and trunk of the body, and it presents itself when dead skin cells form thick, silvery scales. Having eczema — red, itchy patches of skin — on your scalp can lead to dandruff, but it doesn’t always. Sensitivity to hair care products, or contact dermatitis, can also lead to irritation and a flaky scalp [source: Mayo Clinic].