The condition of your hair is often considered a reflection of your overall wellbeing, and is easily affected by poor diet and lifestyle habits. Other factors that can lead to hair damage include underlying health issues and exposure to heat and/or harsh chemicals.
What are the symptoms of damaged hair?
The symptoms of hair damage vary according to their cause, but may include:
- Hair that is brittle and prone to breaking or snapping
- Split ends
- Hair that is dry, dull, frizzy and/or lifeless in texture
- Hair that is prone to premature greying, either in a generalised fashion, or in patches
- Hair that is overly oily and prone to dandruff (discussed in more detail on our dandruff and scalp concerns page)
- Excessive amounts of hair loss (discussed in more detail on our hair loss and baldness and alopecia pages).
What are the causes of damaged hair?
The harsh chemicals that are used to bleach, dye, perm and style the hair often also damage its structure and condition, especially when used repeatedly over time. Some people also experience hair damage after swimming in chlorinated swimming pools or due to other forms of chemical exposure. Similarly, repeated exposure to high temperatures from hair dryers, straightening irons and curling wands can also injure the hair structure, as can the tension created by brushing your hair roughly or wearing your hair in tight hairstyles such as ponytails. Your hair is also sensitive to your nutritional status, and consequently eating a diet with inadequate levels of key nutrients (including B-group vitamins, vitamin C and minerals such as zinc, silica and manganese), may lead to poor hair condition. Health and lifestyle issues that interfere with the absorption or utilisation of those nutrients can also have a detrimental effect on your hair, and may include excessive alcohol consumption, smoking, heavy metal exposure, crash dieting, stress and many illnesses. According to the philosophies of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), hair and scalp health may also be affected by issues affecting the Liver and Kidney organ-meridians, which are considered responsible for nourishing the hair follicles with the Blood and Qi (energy) needed to create thick, shiny, healthy hair.
Natural therapies for damaged hair
Fallopia and other Chinese hair tonic herbs
The Chinese herb Fallopia (Phytofol®) has traditionally been taken as a hair tonic when hair is thinning, in poor condition, or prematurely greying. From the perspective of TCM, Phytofol® strengthens and replenishes Kidney Qi (also known as Jing or Kidney essence) and Liver Qi, and consequently revitalises the scalp and promotes healthy hair follicle function and hair growth. It is believed to work by encouraging hair follicles to move out of the resting phase of the hair cycle in which hair is shed (telogen phase) and re-enter the growth (anagen) phase, and may also help to maintain healthy hair colour by increasing melanin (hair pigment) levels in the hair follicle. Phytofol® is usually taken in combination with other hair tonic herbs and with vitamins and minerals that support the health of the hair, skin and nails.
B-group vitamins provide vital nutrition
Many of the B-complex group of vitamins are required for the health of the hair, as well as that of the skin and nails. For example vitamin B5 is involved in maintaining the colour and shine of the hair, as well as helping to maintain nourishment of hair follicle cells. Other important B-group vitamins for hair health include biotin and vitamins B2 and B6.
Vitamin C for healthy collagen
Vitamin C is essential for the formation, integrity and repair of collagen, the predominant form of connective tissue in and around the hair follicle. In this capacity, it also helps maintain the texture, tone, elasticity and firmness of the skin.
Minerals help maintain hair health
Deficiencies of a wide variety of minerals may impede the growth and appearance of the hair, so it’s important to ensure you’re getting enough zinc, manganese, iodine, silica and copper, which help to maintain the hair’s condition, colour and shine.
Diet and lifestyle recommendations for damaged hair
- Ensure your diet is rich in omega-3 fatty acids by eating regular servings of oily fish, nuts and seeds, and make sure you also include plenty of high quality proteins and fresh fruit and vegetables
- Choose mild, natural shampoos, conditioners and styling products, and avoid bleaching, dyeing or perming your hair
- Avoid exposing your hair to the heat of hair dryers, straighteners, curling irons and rollers, and instead gently dry it with a towel or let it dry naturally
- Don’t tug at your hair or treat it roughly, especially when it’s wet. Instead, take your time to carefully remove knots and tangles using a wide-toothed comb
- Avoid tight hair styles like ponytails, buns and up-do’s, and instead wear your hair in loose, natural styles that don’t put tension on the scalp or hair follicles
- Wear a bathing cap when swimming in chlorinated pools, and a hat when you’re out in the sun
- The ends of your hair are much older than the parts nearer the scalp, and consequently have had greater exposure to the sun, chemicals, hair styling and day-to-day living. Having your hair cut or trimmed regularly will help to keep them in good shape, reducing knots, tangles and split ends
- Be patient! Improving your diet and lifestyle may have significant benefits for your hair, but those changes will only affect new hair growth, which occurs at the rate of just 3 centimetres per month, so it will take time for the damaged hair to be replaced by healthier strands.
When should you see your doctor or health professional about damaged hair?
- Any sudden or unusual hair loss or damage should be investigated by your healthcare professional in order to rule out underlying disease or problems with your prescribed medicines
- Fallopia and the other Chinese herbs mentioned above are suitable for men, women and children, but consult your healthcare professional before use if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding.