BIG FAT HAIRY CONFESSION! I shave my hair off once a month. It’s not even 10mm long. So why am I writing about growing healthy hair? Because I did an awful lot of research and reading about helping thin, lifeless hair grow after I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism. Having an under active thyroid can cause your hair to thin, fall out or just be plain old dry, limp and brittle. I had quite a bit of success with the tips I am about to share with you but after the first time I shaved my hair off, I was hooked. Growing healthy hair has very little to do with the latest product on the market or gimmicky supplements. It has everything to do with a healthy body and good habits.
Hair should grow around 1 cm or half an inch every month. It may be a little quicker in the summer. As you get older your hair growth may slow down and you may even lose some volume. Women can lose up to 20% of their hair between 40 and 50. You will also find that your hair and skin become drier as you age.
So, this is part one, the basics. The next post will be full of natural hair care recipes that you can try at home. Food is health and you can use herbs, oils, vegetables and fruit to nourish your skin, hair and body.
What is hair?
As most of you know, hair is basically made out of a protein called Keratin. WebMD describes it quite nicely so I’m going to borrow their basic description. So, you have a hair follicle that anchors the hair into the skin. The hair bulb forms the base of the follicle and that’s where little cells divide and grow the hair. It has a blood supply that provides nutrition and the hormones that affect hair growth.
There are hair growth phases and most people ignore these when they sell you all kinds of snake oil to make your hair grow “faster”.
- The Anagen Phase: Is when your hair is actively growing. Individual hairs spend several years in this phase.
- The Catagen Phase: This is when the hair growth slows and the hair follicle shrinks.
- The Telogen Phase: Growth stops completely and the old hair detaches from the follicle. A new hair starts to grow and pushes the old one out.
Hair that is in bad condition will break and split and never grow past a certain length. If you scalp is clogged with old product and unhealthy, it won’t nourish the hair properly and it won’t grow.
So, how can you keep your hair in great condition and help it to grow?
1. Great Nutrition! What goes into your body, shows on your hair, skin and nails. You need a wide variety of leafy greens as well as colourful fruits and vegetables so that you get loads of B vitamins that helps with growth as well as well as your antioxidants like Beta-carotene, vitamin C and E. You also need some oily fish as well as sea veggies like kelp for iodine and selenium. You also need a good amount of protein from lean meats, legumes or nuts and seeds. If you struggle to get all your nutrients, find a good multivitamin and if it’s specifically for your hair, make sure that you get some biotin in there as well.
Biotin is a B vitamin (B7) that is scientifically proven to help with healthy hair growth. You can get it from Liver, egg yolks, nuts, salmon, dairy or avocado among others. You will see this one in a lot of hair growth tablets.
2. Get off the couch! Go outside and move! Hair needs a good blood supply and loads of nutrients to grow. A sluggish circulatory system isn’t going to make that happen. By getting even mild exercise like going for a walk, you improve circulation, provide the body with fresh oxygen, relieve stress and you get a little extra vitamin D from exposure to sunlight. Vitamin D helps to keep hair follicles active and healthy. So, GO OUTSIDE!
3. Keep your stress levels under control: If you lose your hair due to stress, chances are very good that it will grow back once you manage the stress levels. Hormones like cortisol are released when you are anxious or under stress. Cortisol can interfere with the natural hair growth patterns that can cause hair to fall out. Tension in the neck or scalp can also restrict blood flow and circulation.
4. Sleep, sleep and more sleep! You know those stress hormones we were just discussing? If you don’t get enough sleep, your body releases more of them. During the night, the body repairs and synthesises proteins while you sleep. Keratin (the stuff your hair is made of) is a protein. Lack of sleep will slow cell turnover which will slow down hair growth. A lack of melatonin which is released in preparation for sleep can also cause thinning hair. As an added unfriendly bonus, lack of sleep can cause an enzyme imbalance in the body that causes your scalp to over produce sebum leading to an oily scalp and sometimes dandruff. So just get your sleep there darling.
5. Protect your hair from the sun! Would you sit in the sun without sunscreen? (You’d better not!) You hair needs protection too! Heat, UV, dry air and wind affect your hair in much the same way as it affects your skin. Exposure to too much sun can cause dry, brittle and frizzy hair. It weakens the protein structures in the hair which causes it to break or look dull and lifeless. When you are outside, use a hair serum or spray with UV protection. Remember to apply it a few times during the day especially if you have been swimming. Wrap your hair up or wear a hat for good old manual protection.
6. Take care when you wash your hair: Everybody has different theories about how often you should wash your hair. Some people wash daily, some two or three times a week, some once every couple of weeks. If you use good quality shampoo and conditioner you can get away with washing more often. Just remember that washing too often will strip all the natural oils from your hair and leave it frizzy and weak.
Using very hot water to rinse your hair will strip natural oils and leave your hair looking lifeless or frizzy because the hair “scales” will be lifted. Try using cool water as a final rinse to “seal” the hair shaft.
Oh, and don’t rinse your hair in your bath water by dunking your head. That water is full of soap, bubble bath, bath oil, bath bombs, bath salts and your own “impurities”… Use a shower attachment instead or just wrap your hair up and wash it in the shower after your bath if you have to.
7. Allow your hair to oil itself: The best conditioner for your hair is actually produced by the scalp itself. Sebum naturally nourishes, smooths and moisturises the hair while protecting it from environmental stressors like heat, cold, dry air, UV rays and pollution. It is full of minerals and nutrients that feed your hair.
I know having oily hair is a horror that most of us avoid as far as possible. My hair is short, so I can hide it quite well but if you have long hair you can braid it, pile it in a messy bun or wrap it up if you want to try natural oiling. Remember to brush the oils through your hair or massage your scalp to spread them around. This is not to say that you can go for weeks without washing your hair. Sweat, environmental pollutants and good old dirt and grime can cause irritation on the scalp that will not do your hair growth any favours.
8. Use good quality hair care products: Unfortunately, with hair care and cosmetic products, you get what you pay for. Cheaper products can be full of nasties like detergents (also known as sulphates) to make them foam, preservatives (usually listed as parabens, pthalatates and even formaldehyde or FRP’s) and perfumes. Detergents or foaming agents don’t sound like a problem but along with heavy perfumes, they can strip the moisture from your hair and scalp, damage your hair or cause allergic reactions.
When using your shampoo and conditioner, allow it to work for a few minutes before you rinse it away. Also, make sure that you rinse all products from your hair properly. Leftover product can leave your hair greasy or irritate the scalp.
For leave in conditioners and serums, towel dry your hair until it is mostly dry (unless the product instructions state otherwise) before applying the product, starting at the ends. If you apply them to wet hair you tend to dilute the product too much which means you are probably not going to apply enough to make a real difference.
9. Choose hair products that suit your hair type or condition: There are products that help you boost your curls or smooth out your frizz. Be honest with yourself and don’t just go for the newest, most popular product.
Your hair is more likely to break, frizz or split when you use the incorrect products for your hair type. Good quality products that are specifically formulated for your hair will prevent stripping the hair of it’s moisture or making it flat, limp and greasy.
Using a shampoo or conditioner that is formulated to protect hair colour keeps it looking vibrant for longer and prevents you from having to re-colour too often which can cause damage. The same goes for bleached or lightened hair. There are products that help to keep frizz and brassiness at bay.
10. Buy the best quality tools you can afford: Brushes, combs, straighteners, driers, flat irons. There are heaps of hair tools on the market but not all of them are created equal. With any heat styling tools, make sure that you can regulate the temperature properly and be sure to use a heat defence product before you start styling.
If you spend money on anything, spend it on a good hair brush that suits your hair type and a wide toothed wooden comb. Cheap plastic brushes and combs have sharp edges that snag and break hair as well as scratch the scalp and irritate it. A good wooden paddle brush with natural or rounded bristles won’t rip the hair out of your head and a wide toothed wooden comb will help to spread your natural oils through your hair while de-tangling wet or dry hair. It’s also great for spreading leave in serums and conditioners around.
There you go then, part one of this two part series. Next time, we get into some treatments that you can whip up in your kitchen or buy in the supermarket to slap some shine on that mane of gloriousness on your head. We’ll also get into some hair growth myths and facts.
Loves you loads!