Women’s hair loss: how to prevent and treat it – the lifestyle changes and products you need, and those you should avoid
When Jada Pinkett Smith started wearing turbans in public to hide her hair loss, the actress highlighted an issue affecting many women today. Here are the best ways to head off, and combat, the problem
Earlier this year, Jada Pinkett Smith made headlines when she stepped out wearing a series of turbans at public events. While many viewed it as a bold fashion statement, the actress revealed that she was struggling with a much bigger issue – hair loss.
Excessive hair loss has always been viewed as a serious social problem for women and men of all ages. Along with it come feelings of shame and embarrassment, although these are fortunately disappearing with the times.
“The topic of hair loss was very personal and private for a lot of women for many years. Today the whole stigma is becoming less because there’s so much information available on the internet, leading to more awareness,” says hairdresser and certified trichologist Andrea Clarke, who is based at the Mandarin Oriental in Hong Kong. “Plus there are so many more products and lifestyle changes one can implement to reduce hair shedding.”
Severe hair shedding – which shouldn’t be confused with baldness caused by autoimmune problems like alopecia areata – is something that most women will encounter at least once in the course of their life.
There are two types of diffused hair loss. The first often happens after a major life event such as pregnancy or a bout of illness or stress. Once the cause has been identified it is usually self-correcting. For others, however, persistent hair loss can be traced to nutrition and specifically the absorption of nutrients and problems with the gut.
“85 per cent of our hair is in the growing stage, but it also goes through what we call the sitting stage where it rests for three months before it begins falling. The majority of our hair has potential to be healthy, but if we are not treating right, it tends to stop its growing stage quicker,” says Clarke.
“The idea is to keep it in its growing stage for as long as possible by feeding it from within with nutrients. Optimal gut health is key to this so that nutrients can be absorbed properly. I would say ... 90 per cent of hair shedding or thinning can be attributed to gut health or vitamin deficiencies.”
So how do you know if your condition is serious in the first place? The first step, according to Clarke, is to do a gentle hair pull test to ascertain how much hair falls out each day. On average most women will lose around 100 hairs daily, although this number can fluctuate slightly due to seasonal changes, recent illness or even stress.
Clarke says to test the hair at least a day after it has been shampooed. Not more than 10 hairs should fall from the small area (bear in mind that wet hair looks much larger in volume than dry hair).
Getting to the root of the problem – pardon the pun – will involve a thorough investigation of lifestyle habits over the past few months.
“A blood test can identify any deficiencies when it comes to nutrients and rule out any other serious medical conditions. I also suggest that patients examine their diet or lifestyle as far [back] as three months ago ... Excessive hair loss is not usually related to a shampoo you used recently. What works the fastest is changing their way of life. It’s the cheapest and most long lasting,” says Clarke.
Vitamins and minerals that have been scientifically linked to improved hair growth include iron, ferritin, biotin, vitamins B12 and D, and zinc. A combination of these can be found in specific dietary supplements, which are designed to correct the internal balance and thereby strengthen the hair roots and promote hair growth.
Experts recommend brands such as Hair Fact, which features combinations of vitamins, antioxidants, minerals and herbs that need to be taken on specific days of the week. To see the benefits, it is recommended that any supplement programme be taken for at least four months.
There are also many topical treatments that can help improve hair health and thus minimise hair loss. Using the right shampoos is top of the list. Jenny Siu, training manager with John Masters Organics Asia Pacific, recommends looking for formulas with ingredients such as lavender, rosemary and peppermint to help normalise scalp conditions, while horsetail has been proven to reduce hair fall and improve hair growth.
Women should also be wary of shampoos with harsh chemicals including parabens.
“Sodium lauryl sulphate can strip your hair of its natural oils, leaving it too dry and prone to damage. This ingredient is particularly harmful to promoting hair regrowth. Products containing diethanolamine (DEA), MEA (monoethanolamine) and triethanolamine (TEA) can cause scalp irritation and bad allergic reactions, and they also destroy all the good stuff in your hair such as keratin, making your hair dry, brittle and lifeless,” says Siu.
Hong Kong hair stylist Shayne Chandler says: “I would steer clear of too many products, as its important to keep the scalp as clean as possible. Excess product such as sprays and waxes will weigh the hair down and leave a residue.”
Aside from the right products, there are certain habits and regimens that will benefit hair health. Since hair breakage can contribute to hair loss, women should avoid hairstyles that pull on the hairline, such as tight ponytails. Hair is most delicate when it’s wet, so always use a wide-tooth comb instead of a brush and avoid tying it up when it’s still damp.
Good scalp health is paramount, so simple acts such as scalp massages can stimulate hair follicles. Weekly treatments can also help nourish the hair and protect the scalp, as can products such as toner.
From an aesthetic point of a view, the right hairstyle or styling tricks can give the appearance of fuller hair.
“I always recommend shorter styles. Once the hair is longer it becomes heavier, thereby putting more stress on the hair strand itself. Also, with shorter hair we are able to create more volume, which gives the appearance of thicker hair,” says Chandler.