Hair loss among young women is a growing phenomenon. Meera Murugesan finds out why.
Thick, shiny, lustrous hair is what every woman aims for.
There’s no denying that beautiful hair makes everyone take notice. It’s quite literally the best beauty “accessory” one can have.
But there may come a time when one’s crowning glory starts to disappear, and young women are not immune to this.
Besides genetic factors, lifestyle related reasons can cause women in their 20s and 30s to experience hair loss.
These include not eating or sleeping well, yo-yo dieting, the over use of hair products and heat styling tools and colouring, straightening or perming.
Hair loss is almost as frequent in young women today as older women and it can begin as early as 16, says Candice Lim, principal trichologist at Tricho Hair Care.
Lim adds that it’s actually a growing phenomenon but rarely acknowledged or discussed because it’s just not socially acceptable for a young woman to have hair loss.
Instead we are constantly bombarded with images of young, pretty women with thick, long, shiny hair.
THE LIFESTYLE LINK
But in her practice, Lim is seeing more young women between 19 and 37 seeking help for hair loss and thinning.
She explains that generally, factors that adversely affect our body will affect hair as well. “In fact hair is a barometre of a person’s health.”
Given that more women today smoke, consume alcohol and have poor diets that are high in fat, salt and sugar, hair loss is almost as big a problem among women as men.
“My patient ratio between women and men is now 50/50 compared to 20/80 when I first joined the industry 16 years ago,” says Lim.
Lim explains that there is a connection between hair loss and high blood pressure, high blood sugar levels and heart problems.
So it makes sense for one to initiate serious changes to the diet and lifestyle if one wants to maintain a full, healthy head of hair and draw attention for the right reasons.
Eating healthy and staying healthy means she will be able to hold on to good hair for a much longer time.
Stress is another issue that has to be addressed.
Many young women today work long hours in demanding, challenging jobs while juggling family, work and relationship commitments. They lack adequate sleep and their stress levels are sky high.
Taking steps to de-stress is crucial as long term, prolonged or sustained stress may leave one not just physically sick but thinning on the top as well.
But another important factor contributing to the problem among young women is their love of experimenting with different hair styles and colours.
Lim says hair is made up of a special protein called keratin which is characterised by its high sulphur content.
Dyeing hair is a chemically damaging process. It oxidises the hair follicle, which breaks the disulphide bonds and this reaction is irreversible.
Similarly, when hair is permanently waved or straightened, some of the disulphide bonds are broken as well. Both these processes weaken the hair follicle until it becomes brittle and breaks easily.
Another problem is when hair is held under tight tension, such as with the use of hair rollers.
“The tighter the hair is wound, the more tension it is under and more disulphide bonds will be broken.”
Chemicals used on the hair during styling sessions can also change the pH of hair and the scalp will react to this. The chemicals itself can also cause inflammation and allergies.
Hair thinning as a result of changing hormone levels is also an issue and in women, often begins during menopause or after a hysterectomy.
But in women with a genetic predisposition to hair loss, the problem can surface as early as the 20s or 30s.
This is triggered by changes in the hormonal balance of the body which gives the male hormones (androgens) more influence, thus triggering hair thinning.
Extreme stress can also trigger hormonal hair thinning in women with this predisposition. This happens either because of increased production of androgens or increased cortisone levels which has a similar action as androgens on the hair.
Lim says the subtle signs that one is losing hair can usually be noticed during routine shampooing or combing. It is a problem if hair fall is excessive and continuous.
Visible thinning at the temples and or on top of the scalp are also indications of the problem among women.
THE HAIRY TRUTH
* A person has about 120,000 scalp hair follicles and each follicle produces a number of hairs throughout a person’s life.
* It’s normal to lose between 50 and 100 hairs a day as long as these are replaced by new ones of the same size and characteristic.
* But if each new emerging hair is not as thick or does not grow for as long as the one before it, then baldness starts to set in.
* Each individual is unique and hair production rate, size and shape differs for everyone. Asians have just 80,000 scalp follicles and this rarely gets above 120,000 scalp follicles. Caucasians have anywhere between 100,000 and 150,000 scalp follicles.
KEEP IT CLEAN
WASHING hair on a daily basis is advisable in our humid climate to keep it fresh and healthy.
But do keep these in mind:
1. Washing with water only will not clean the hair or scalp. You need shampoo.
2. Frequency of shampooing will not affect the rate of hair loss. Whether done daily or once a week, it will not make a difference to the total loss of hair.
3. Shampooing is not harmful even for people with hair loss. On the contrary, a dirty scalp can cause additional problems.
4. Well formulated shampoos should remove surface oil, dirt and natural skin secretions, residue from hair grooming products and skin debris from hair and scalp without adversely affecting the health of hair and the scalp.
5. Cleansing ability is not related to the amount of lather a shampoo produces. Some shampoos can clean exceptionally well even though they produce very little lather.
HAIR DO’S AND DON’TS
1. Don’t skip the conditioner
Conditioner for hair is as important as moisturiser for the face. If you’re worried about greasiness, opt for a lightweight rinse-out version and apply from the mid length to the ends. Never on the roots.
2. Don’t tighten up
Avoid pulling hair into tight buns or ponytails which cause strain and breakage. When you tie your hair in tight hairstyles or ponytails, it gets pulled from the roots causing damage to hair follicles and in certain rare cases, this damage may be permanent. As far as possible avoid these severe styles or don’t use them for prolonged periods.
3. Do use a heat protectant before styling
Heat protectant products help create a barrier between hair and the excessive heat from styling tools. They help protect the hair shaft from getting burnt or damaged. Ideally, they should be applied 20-30 minutes before hot styling tools are used.
4. Don’t use too much
Always stick to the general rule of a dime sized portion when using any hair product. Otherwise, read the instructions carefully to ensure you’re not overloading your hair with a product because it can cause hair to become either too dry or too oily.
5. Don’t over brush
That old adage of 100 brush strokes a night is not going to do your hair any good. On the contrary, over-brushing may lead to weak roots and hair breakage which means you’re going to be dealing with a less than full head of hair.
6. Do be gentle
Don’t roughly towel dry hair when it’s wet as this will lead to frizz and breakage. Gently blot or squeeze water from hair and always comb with a wide toothed comb when hair is wet.
7. Do clean your hairbrush
No matter how often you shampoo, a dirty hairbrush will still leave your hair in a mess because it transfers back bacteria and dead skin cells onto your scalp. Do give your comb or brush a regular wash with warm soapy water.
8. Do change your hair products
You can’t be using the same products all the time, especially if you have bleached, coloured, permed or straightened your hair. Pick a product that will protect your hair in its new look because any change in style will alter the needs of your hair.
9. Do limit sun exposure
Just like our skin, hair too suffers from over exposure to the sun. If you’re going to be out in the sun for a long period, it’s always wise to put on a hat or scarf to protect hair.
10. Do eat well
Lots of leafy green vegetables and foods high in zinc, iron and Omega 3 will ensure you have shiny, enviable locks. Don’t be tempted to skip out on vital nutrients as your hair will be the first to show it.