If you’ve experienced thinning, shedding, damaged, or dull hair, you’re not alone. More than half of women experience hair loss at some stage of their lives. By age 50, about 50% of women and 85% of men report that they have started losing their hair. Interestingly (and maybe not surprisingly), women’s hair loss statistics show that 29% of women with hair loss reported two key symptoms of depression, and 74% of women say that hair challenges make them feel less confident. The average person has 100,000 – 150,000 strands of hair, and, on average, sheds a minuscule 0.03% to 0.15% of those hairs daily (50-100 hairs). On an even brighter note again, hair is the second fastest growing tissue in the body after bone marrow. Based on these facts, we can see the huge potential we have to positively influence any insecurities we may have regarding our hair.
Why do we have thin, damaged hair?
Why do we experience these hair challenges in the first place? Although our understanding of human hair regulation and growth is incomplete, we do know that genetics play a large role in the growth, thickness, loss, colour and overall health of our hair. Diet, stress, hormonal changes, illness (for example, 22% of women reported experiencing hair loss after COVID), medication side effects, topical applications (heat and chemicals), weather, pollution, and more are all critical, and highly controllable, factors that can help maintain our luscious locks to the best of our abilities.
How does our hair actually grow? The 4 key Phases of Hair Growth:
Our hair processes through 4 key stages within a complete cycle, which sees our hair grow, shed, and then re-grow again!
- Anagen: Growing phase
The first and longest stage of hair growth, lasting about 3 to 5 years for the hairs on your head (interestingly, a single hair can continue growing in this anagen phase for 7+ years)! During the anagen phase, hair follicles work to push out hairs that will continue to grow until they’re cut or until they reach the end of their lifespan and fall out. At any time, up to 90% of the hairs on your head are in the anagen phase.
- Catagen: Transition phase
Lasting about 10 days, the catagen phase is the period of time where hair follicles shrink and partially separate from the hair, causing hair growth to slow. Only about 5% of the hairs on your head are in the catagen phase at any given time.
- Telogen: Resting phase
The telogen phase typically lasts around 3 months, and is a period of time where the hair neither falls out nor grows- it remains ‘resting’. An estimated 10 to 15% of your scalp hairs are in this phase.
- Exogen: Shedding phase
During the exogen phase, hair is shed from the scalp, often helped along by washing and brushing. The exogen phase typically lasts 2-5 months and involves the loss of 50-100 hairs per day. Now that we know a bit more about the phases that play out during hair loss and growth, we can better understand which phase we want our hair to spend more time in so that it can become longer and thicker! Let’s learn some tangible ways to help support longer, shinier, healthier hair!
10 Tips to strengthen your hair:
To achieve long healthy hair, we must focus on two equally important goals: stimulating growth, and keeping the hair you do have healthy. The latter involves many of your standard hair care lessons, but the former takes a bit more work- you often have to work from the inside rather than the outside!
1. Strengthen hair from the inside: Diet and supplements:
What we put inside our bodies highly influences the hair that grows outside our bodies- it is quite literally a case of ‘feeding’ our hair from the inside out. There are a range of macro and micronutrients that have been shown to play integral roles in the health and growth of our hair, including (but not limited to): -Protein: Our hair is literally made of protein, and it is well documented that low protein intake is associated with brittle, breaking, damaged and shedding hair. Ensure you consume adequate levels of protein from high-quality sources, including organic grass-finished meat, sustainable seafood, and vegetarian sources such as tofu, beans, rice, nuts, seeds, and more. For a convenient, nourishing and delicious protein source, why not try our new PlantWell Protein! -Iron: Iron deficiency (ID) is the most common nutrient deficiency worldwide and is a well-known cause of hair loss due to its essential role in regulating hair follicle genes and hair DNA synthesis (Iron is a cofactor for ribonucleotide reductase, the rate-limiting enzyme for DNA synthesis) -Zinc: Zinc is required by hundreds of enzymes and multiple transcription factors that regulate gene expression. Zinc deficiency is linked to hair loss via a similar mechanism as iron, and is also linked to hair damage and breakage. -Selenium: Selenium is an essential trace element and antioxidant that helps protect against damaging oxidate stress. Selenium also supports the process of hair follicle morphogenesis. -Vitamin D: Vitamin D has been shown to play a role in healthy hair follicle cycling- In vitro studies have shown an increase in vitamin D receptor expression during the growing phases of the hair cycle (in the outer root sheath keratinocytes). -Vitamin A: Research shows that dietary vitamin A intake may help activate hair follicle stem cells, which leads to hair growth. Remember, it is important to get your levels of vitamins and minerals tested before taking supplementation, as excess intake may lead to other symptoms and health challenges.
2. Stimulate hair from the outside:
There are more reasons to love a scalp massage besides the wonderful stress-relieving benefits! Research shows that regular scalp massages can boost the health of your hair. A scalp massage likely enhances hair health by enhancing blood flow and vasodilation of blood vessels to the scalp. This, in turn, may lead to thicker, stronger hair that’s less likely to break off or become damaged. In some clinical records and self-reported cases, individuals who gave themselves daily scalp massages observed enhanced hair growth and a decrease in hair loss, and a 2016 study examined revelated that participants who did a daily 4-minute scalp-massage had thicker hair by the end of the study.
3. Use Topical natural products:
A range of natural ingredients have been shown to enhance the health and growth of hair when applied topically. We all know that caffeine can give you an energy boost. Interestingly, its topical use has been shown to give hair growth a boost, too, by promoting hair growth by stimulating the metabolism and proliferation of cells. Research shows that caffeine in topical products, like shampoos and conditioners, can prevent hair loss as effectively as drug-based treatments. When it comes to natural oils; pumpkin, rosemary, castor, peppermint, jojoba, and lavender oils have all been shown to support hair health. One small study found that after three months, pumpkin seed oil applied topically significantly increased hair regrowth in participants with female pattern baldness, and Rosemary oil has been shown to be just as effective as minoxidil (the active ingredient in the hair-loss treatment Rogaine), at restoring hair growth.
4. Reduce external damage:
Bleaching, heat styling, and harsh brushing, are all highly avoidable factors that can significantly damage our hair, causing breakage and setting back our results. Although the occasional split end or snapped strand of hair is completely normal, having breakage-prone hair can make achieving your length goals nearly impossible. Bleach damages the cuticle of hairs, which leaves them more susceptible to breakage or splitting. The fewer chemical treatments, the healthier your hair and the better it will grow. Straightening and curing your hair (heat styling) works by breaking down the hydrogen bonds in hair to reform and restyle the hair. When this occurs too frequently, it can lead to breakage, altered structure, and suboptimal moisture in the hair.
5. Don’t brush wet hair:
Did you know that wet hair is especially susceptible to breakage? Water exposure swells and stretches the hair’s shaft, which causes the shingle-like outer layer to lift. Brushing hair in this wet state adds significant stress and is at a higher risk of resulting in breakage. If you need to detangle your hair, either do it gently while dry, use a detangling spray, or apply a leave-in conditioner and use a gentler wide-tooth comb or detangling brush to reduce friction.
6. Opt for protective hairstyles:
Protective hairstyles are great to keep in mind to safeguard your hair from harsh seasonal elements and damaging environmental factors. In general, too-tight hairstyles can cause friction, stress on the scalp, and pulling, so consider using soft hairstyles and ties. It is also helpful to consider switching up your style regularly, so you’re not putting pressure on the same spot every day. Some ‘Protective hairstyles’ to add to your rotation are braids (french, boxbraids, etc.) flat twists, and cornrows.
A 2018 review found that oxidative stress (an imbalance of oxidants to antioxidants) plays a role in hair loss in adults. An irritated scalp (caused by the build-up of product, dirt, oil, dead skin cells, etc.) causes an accumulation of free radicals over time. This build-up begins to slowly suffocate the hair root and is thought to limit hair growth by contributing to the hair follicle closing off, which in turn leads to shedding. To help avoid the negative effects of free radicle build-up, ensure that you regularly give your scalp a gentle wash. Another tool proven effective is oral intake of antioxidants (either via supplements or the diet- ensure intake of fresh, colourful produce). Research shows that internal antioxidants help hair aging by combating oxidative stress and neutralising free radicals.
8. Regular Trims:
Your childhood hairdresser was right… having regular trims really does encourage healthy hair growth! By maintaining healthy hair tips and avoiding breakage, hair can continue to grow. Infrequent hair cuts can contribute to split ends, which creates space for the split to continue to move up the shaft of the hair, and ultimately leads to slower growth. Since we cannot heal broken hair, regular trims are the only way to eliminate potentially irreversible damage and therefore ensure healthy hair and growth.
9. Protect your hair while you sleep:
There are 3 key factors to consider for hair health while you sleep: getting enough sleep, sleeping with dry hair, and using a high-quality fabric for your bed pillow. Sleep involves the heightened release of our ‘sleep hormone melatonin, which also plays a role in regulating hair growth. Therefore, ensuring 7-9 hours of sleep is a great way to promote hair health. Ensuring dry hair while you sleep is also essential, as laying on wet hair can weaken your strands and can lead to breakage or matting. Opt for a silk pillowcase while you sleep. Not only are they comfortable and dreamy, but the soft, smooth fabric helps prevent friction, tugging, and tangling, which may otherwise cause hair breakage (especially if you have long hair).
10. Protect your hair while you shower:
There are 2 key factors to consider for hair health while you shower: the temperature of the water, and how often you shampoo your hair. A hot shower can dehydrate your skin, as well as your hair-and we learnt earlier that suboptimal moisture in the hair is a contributing factor to damage. Many experts recommend only shampooing 1-3 times a week for a similar reason, as this allows the natural oils to penetrate the hair, allowing it to hydrate and repair itself.
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